My name is Arith. I come from Kerla in southern India.
I grew up 2 hours drive inland from the city of Kochi on a farm. My brothers and sisters married other Christians in the locality. Yes. Christians. There are 40M Christians in India. Most of my siblings still live in or near the local village. Some moved to the city. My parents are dead and I now own the farm. Not a farm like you know in the West. Only 3 acres. Enough to grow some vegetable. I also own one cow, three goats and some hens. I sold vegetables, milk and eggs in the village at weekends to get some money.
God blessed us with three children. My wife cared for them and I worked the 3 acres as best I could. I also took jobs in construction from time to time for 160 rupees per day – about 2 dollars. Not much, but 12 dollars per week can buy food and other things a family must buy.
The children grew older and started at the village second school. A good Christian school. School uniforms, books and the other things for living were difficult to buy and we just managed. But a financial emergency was impossible. Many times my wife and I should have traveled to see a doctor or visit a hospital but we did not.
The day arrived when we made the difficult decision. My wife’s mother would care for the children and my wife and I would travel to the Middle East to find jobs that would give us the money to put our children through school, and maybe even to the university in Chennai. God willing.
Four years ago I contacted an agent in Kochi to organise the jobs and all the things my wife and I did not know how to organise. The first year of both our salaries was the agreed fee as we could not pay the 3,000 dollars each to the agent. The fee could be paid over the first 2 years of our new jobs. I signed some papers at Canara Bank in the city. The manager told me that if I do not pay the full fee in two years then the agent will own the farm.
It’s now 4 years later. I work on a construction project in Dammam in Saudi Arabia. My wife works in a hospital in Jeddah. I see her once every two months when my Pakistani site boss allows me to take Friday and Saturday free, instead of just the normal Friday one-day weekend. I pay him 50 Saudi Riyals (about 15 dollars) for his kindness and I lose one day salary at the end of the month. The agent in Kochi got his fee. The final payment was in the last week of the second year. A close shave, as you say in the West. Haha.
The accommodation I live in is called a Labour Camp. Some cleaners who are from Nepal clean the building two times per month. One of them told me he gets 100 dollars per month from the cleaning company. Only one-third of my salary. I share a small room with 5 others from my State. 3 are Christian like me and 2 Hindus. We keep the room as clean as we can. Many of the others do not do such a good job and do not respect themselves so much. The air conditioning is turned on in the evenings when we get off the company bus and turns off at 11pm. It turns on again from 5 to 5.30am in the morning so we can have comfort to eat some food and prepare for the arrival of our bus. If we wake in the middle of the night it is difficult to return to sleep.
We love Thursday evenings. Even after the long week of hard work, we run to get on the earliest bus and not get on bus Nr 10 which might arrive at the camp 1 hour after bus number 1. People shower and eat and talk. And walk on the street and smoke cigarettes and buy food in the local shops. Everyone is happy because we can sleep in our beds tomorrow morning and there will be no bells ringing.
And on Friday afternoon we will play cricket. If we did not have the cricket I do not know how we could live. We play on the road or on the sand. We think we are Sachin and the Pakistanis think they are Afridi. And we dream that our children might play in the IPL. Like you in the West think about your children playing the football. Cricket. Our life blood. And our life. On Friday evenings we talk about the games played that afternoon. The great moments and the great mistakes. Great for us at least. Some real sunshine in our lives in a land of too much sun.