Saturday, May 30, 2015

Qatar World Cup

migrant qatar

I can barely believe the news coming from Qatar.   And I can't comprehend the minimal response from much of the world.  In this world some lives are worth more than others.  It comes down to that.  Countries that have money and power are able to use people from poorer places, to use them up as though they were disposable.  The sports and entertainment of the powerful are simply more important then the lives and deaths of the impoverished.


You don’t have to look far to get a pretty clear vision of what has been happening as Qatar, an ultra-wealthy, smallish Middle Eastern country about the size of Connecticut that has won the bid to host the World Cup in 2022.  The stories coming from the construction of the stadiums are horrific.  We don’t know how many people have died in the construction of Qatar’s stadiums.  That in itself is a serious issue.  We do know that over 400 Nepalese migrant workers have died on building sites in Qatar. 

Migrant workers Qatar World Cup

Workers from India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and other countries have been dying by the hundreds.  Their deaths are often unexplained or attributed to accidents or cardiac arrest (heart attack).  Such terms thinly veil the fact that these people have been worked to death.  Every government, every soccer fan, everyone should be outraged. 

Despite inquiries, studies, criticism, recommendations to allow for a safe and healthy work environment for these impoverished migrant workers, Qatar continues to drag its feet, hoping that the stories of misery will simply die down and that the world turn its head in a different direction.  

While building for the London 2012 Olympics, not a single worker died.  Not one.  England wouldn’t stand for the torturous conditions under which the migrants work in Qatar.  Qatar has the richest per capita income in the world.  The entire world.

#1 Qatar

When we consider the great numbers of deaths and injuries in these building sites, it lessens the impact.  When we read 4,000 ( as the projected number of deaths) it is just a big amount.  The number itself obscures the humanity.  Each one of those 4,000 is a child born to parents with brothers sisters.  Every one of that number is a human being who has loved and laughed and cried.  Just like us.  Most of those who went to Qatar had the dream of sending money back home to provide for the loves in their lives. 

It is only when we know the stories of their lives that they become real to us.  While they were born far away and have lives far different from our own, those migrants are us.  They are our brothers because they are human. 

This single story of a man (from the UK’s The Guardian)  helped me to understand the humanitarian crisis (what my friend Alan calls the genocide) that is happening in Qatar.

The Observer has learned of the horrific case of Noka Bir Moktan, a 23-year-old who was said to have died of "sudden cardiac arrest" in October 2013, although photos of his corpse show he suffered a collapsed chest, apparently consistent with ill-treatment.
Moktan's family come from a poor village in Nepal's remote hill district of Ilam. His elderly father borrowed 175,000 rupees (about £1,000) to pay for his passage and agency fees to Qatar, in the hope that he would be able to send some of his earnings home. The money, was borrowed from a loan shark and was supposed to be reimbursed by Moktan's Qatari employer, but this did not happen. The family now fear that the loan shark will demand that Moktan's two sisters, aged 14 and 16, who were collateral for the loan, be sent to work in brothels in Mumbai to pay off the debt.

And this isn't really a story.  It is a shallow summary of a man who gave his life to benefit his family.  

The number of deaths, is numbly called a grim statistic.  Life and death should not be referred to as statistics as it cheapens the stories of their lives, the loves they left behind, the children and dreams.  A report I read in The New Republic states that at the current rate, more than 4,000 migrant workers will die by the time Qatar puts on the 2022 World Cup.   

How can we even think about the term – current rate?  We aren’t talking about the stock market or test scores or inflation.  As soon as these stories began surfacing, there should have been an end to it.  There should never have been a current rate.  Every country with a team competing in the 2022 World Cup should have refused to allow a single player to enter that country, let alone to compete in a stadium built on the blood and bones of immigrant workers.  Instantly.  Unequivocally.  But that is too simple.  Because in this world the poor are worth less.

There is so much more to this story, of course.  Corruption.  FIFA.  Blatter (the re-elected president of FIFA described the conditions of the workers as "infractions" involving a marketing company).  But what we must always think about is that under every statistic or rate or ridiculous fool using a euphemism for murder are the lives of humans.  Just like us.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mother's Day 2015

I miss my mom.  It comes and goes, this feeling of missing her.  There are some days when I barely think of her at all.  Others, when I see something she’s written or look through a leaded glass window or lampshade that she lovingly created, when I think of her and smile.  Then there are days when I just miss her.  When I’d love to call her on my way home from work, or drive up to her house in the NC mountains and spend the weekend with her, or play her a new song on guitar.  She would listen, my mom.  She would really listen. 

So the other day, when my second graders were writing their own cards and letters to their moms, I missed her in that selfish way; that way that is all about me.   Because for so many years I would write that letter along with my kids. While my students were busy writing about being thankful for their moms being their when they are sick, I would write about being thankful for our childhood memories.  While my kids were thanking their moms for making them food and getting them their favorite clothes or toys, I would write my own love letter reminding my mom of just how much she meant to me.  For the past three years, I haven't been able to do that. 

When we were going through my mom's few remaining things, I found a manilla envelope marked Keepers From Tim.  I think every letter I had ever written to her was in that fat envelope.  Along with years worth of Mother's Day letters and cards.

Yesterday was her birthday.  She would have been 89.  When she was looking death in the face and the Hospice person was there at my sister Ruthie’s house explaining what the transition would be like, my mom said something to the effect of, I’m 86 years old.  I’ve had a good life.  You think I need to live to 87?  The Hospice worker cried.  Saturday, she would have been 89.  And for some reason, this revolving around the sun, this human-created calendar to mark where we are I our orbit, and these special days we are meant to celebrate, Mother’s Days and birthdays, make me miss her in a way that hurts my heart. 

Yesterday, Ruck’s birthday, I was in the yard watering plants.  I heard this frantic cheeping and saw a rustle in the leaves in the natural area beyond our year.  A beautiful brown thrasher was swooping low around me.  She was putting herself between the thin chirping/rustling and me.  She flew up and circled my head within a foot of my face.  I could have reached out and grabbed her.  She knew it and I knew it.  Then out from under a bush came a little fledgling.  

It sort of hop-walked.  It hadn’t yet developed its flight feathers and had tiny, down-like feathers sticking up from its head in a mohawk.  This little thing was at its most vulnerable.  It was clearly unafraid and as I took out my phone to take a picture, it hopped right up to me, much to the consternation of its mother.  I was so taken by this.  That mother thrasher was risking her life for this little one.  She was putting herself directly between her fledgling and what she perceived to be great danger.  How selfless.  How brave.  And, of course, it made me think of my mom.

That little scene also made me think of this other wonderful mother in my life.  Heidi Mills.  The mother of my children.  Heidi who works many extra consulting jobs, countless extra hours to pay for our son’s college education, who calls or texts them almost every day. Who, when she knows they are coming home, buys their favorite foods, and prepares their favorite meals.  Heidi, who when she knows they are sad or in pain, when they have been laid low by life’s trials, feels their pain and sorrow as if it were her own.  Who still puts letters from their college congratulating them on good grades up on the refrigerator.  Heidi is a mother who spared no expense materially or emotionally to bring up those two little babies to become the good men they are now.  Time, love, resources, love, faith, love. 

She is fierce and feminine, kind and dedicated.  She has a hunger for justice and laughs out loud.  She is brilliant and sweet, gracious and gentle.  Talented, modest, beautiful inside and out.

And She gives us all the greatest gift of all.  Love.  As I woke up this morning, feeling her warmth next to me; as I laid quite still to listen to her breathing, I was especially aware of how much I love this good woman.  My best friend.  This good mother. 

I miss my mom this Mother’s Day.  I missed my mom on her birthday.  But my own family is blessed to have this Heidi Mills in our lives.  I am so grateful.