x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Labourers in RAK village take shelter in 'jungle'

The old quarter of Rams has become a labour camp, but its new residents like it just fine.

Fisherman prepare for the fishing season in the small harbour next to the old quarter of Al Rams, which lies 30 minutes drive north of Ras Al Khaimah city. ANTONIE ROBERTSON / The National
Fisherman prepare for the fishing season in the small harbour next to the old quarter of Al Rams, which lies 30 minutes drive north of Ras Al Khaimah city. ANTONIE ROBERTSON / The National

RAS AL KHAIMAH // At night, Al Rams is shrouded in darkness and silence.

The only light comes from the mobile phones men use to light their paths; the only noise from bicycle bells on sandy alleyways.

The old quarter has become a labour camp - a maze of overgrown papaya trees and crumbling sandbrick houses that are filled with rubbish. Streets smell of sewage.

"I felt before, Dubai was a big city with big money and big houses, that everything would be OK," says Sharif Mezi, a Bangladeshi bricklayer who moved to Al Rams three years ago. "But this is not a city, it's a jungle."

Mr Mezi, 23, wears a shirt with a picture of handcuffs and the word "wannabefree". It hangs off his thin frame.

He is paid Dh35 a day to build mansions in southern RAK. At night, he comes home to a house without running water.

Vine-covered family houses such as his have been converted into labour camps.

Bedrooms are crowded with bunks, sometimes sleeping nine to a room. Courtyards are filled with clothes lines, hanging electrical wires and buckets for showering.

The labourers have no privacy in houses built for intimacy. Personal space is not something one can hang on a hook. There is supposed to be running water once a night, at 6pm.

"It doesn't come every day," says Fayez Toufique, 50, an Egyptian accountant who has the privilege of a single room.

But the men agree that life in Al Rams is better than life in a labour camp or tower in an industrial zone.

"It's better," says Mohammed Jassim, 39. "City life is very expensive. Here I have a low salary but my costs are low."

Mr Jassim shares an eight-room house with 35 other men.

In contrast to their surroundings, the men are all well dressed, even midweek. They wear pressed, collared shirts and their hair is puffed and gelled to perfection.

They are across the street from the modern town, a beach and a harbour where they catch fish each night.

After dinner they sit by the "Old Town downtown" - three spartan grocery shops that sell phone credit and vegetables in cardboard boxes.

On Fridays, Mr Jassim walks around Carrefour and attends city mosques.

"We really like this place," he says. "I like the seashore here."

 

azacharias@thenational.ae