Anthony Njogu got in touch with me via Facebook saying he’d like to share his “rudi nyumbani” story. I have to change his name to avoid any drama arising.
His diaspora returnee story broke my heart and made me question my own decision to move to Kenya.
Anthony lived and worked in Dubai for 4 years and 17 days. I wondered why he remembered that exact number of days.
I had a HR job in a good company in Dubai, lived in nice apartments, shopped, visited top restaurants in the city and led a very glamourous life in the city. So when he mentioned Dubai, this is what came to mind.
Anthony was a baggage handler at the airport; not employed by Emirates Airlines but by some shady Indian company that Emirates contracted the job to.
He told me he lived in a labor camp.
Omg, I’d heard of the conditions in the Dubai labor camps that very poor and uneducated Indian men lived in. They came from the Southern region of India, belonged to the lowest caste and mainly worked for construction companies in the Dubai building boom. Stories of these men falling off the tall Dubai structures to their deaths were rampant.
I had no idea a Kenyan would be among these Indians.
He described the labor camp conditions. Basically they shared one room with 10 men. A few were Kenyan, most Indian. They slept on thin mattresses on bunk beds and a mattress was placed in the middle of the room to accommodate more people. The beds and mattresses were ridden with bedbugs. He got used to their bites after a year.
Have you ever been bitten by a bedbug?
He described his work routine. They would load baggage on to different flights working under the scorching Dubai sun. They had no safety precautions to prevent a body injury. They had a 10 minute break to drink some water.
They were given gloves that were meant to protect their hands and last a week, but were razor thin and wore out on Day 4. They bought their own gloves for the rest of the days.
In addition to carrying heavy baggage, Anthony and his colleagues were responsible for loading bodies in coffins en route to a different country for burial.
“What?” I asked.
“That’s nothing,” he said, “Sometimes we had to load snakes onto the plane.”
“So how many times did you load a body?”
“It varied from month to month. Sometimes we would load 3 bodies in a day then not have any for a month or two.”
The company did not allow them to cook their own food and fed them rice and boiled beans or rice and lentils.
Anthony was very poorly paid but still managed to send school fees to his younger sister in Kenya.
Last year, Anthony decided to quit his back breaking job and stop living in squalor and misery.
I asked why.
“I felt I was wasting time since the company I worked for didn’t pay well, time was passing and there wasn’t much to show for it.”
He quit his job and the company paid him AED 2000 after working for 4 years and 17 days. That’s very little money.
At this point of the story, I’m breathing a sigh of relief and glad he is done with pythons and corpses. Majuu or not, school fees or no school fees I can not touch a body or an exotic snake.
This is where he returns to Kenya amid cheers at JKIA.
“How has your family received the news of your return?” I asked.
“My family wants me to go back to Dubai. Famo hawaelewi na hawajali pia.”
I intervened, and told him even if Kenya was tough now, things would work out over time and it would be better than the job he had in Dubai.
“Many people don’t have that understanding; they only think that pesa ziko uarabuni.”
”Mpaka tunaenda tao wanasema tuone mtu flani kumbe wananipelekea agent.”
”Wanasema urudi Dubai kisha wanasema umechelewa kuoa na utakaa huko 2 years, unashindwa si utazidi kuchelewa.”
”Anyway, walinijaribu wakachoka, sirudi.”
“At times I feel like running away na nizime simu.”
He explained that going back home was difficult not just because of his family pressure, but pressure from his friends, his neighbours.
“Angalia msee wa majuu amesota,” after his money run out.
The outside pressure subsided when his family moved from Githurai to the outskirts of Thika town.
“At least no one knows me or my story here.”
I asked Anthony what he was doing for a living. He said he loved writing and was trying to monetize that. He went on to describe the angst he went through with internet access, how he was able to get small academic writing jobs but could not deliver the articles on time coz he had no access to fast reliable internet.
I told him I found Zuku to be very fast on my Kenyan visit, so why not get it. He told me Zuku access was not very good where he lived. He had tried Safaricom and Orange modems but the speed and connectivity was really bad.
My friend Njambi, who actually makes money writing told me that money from writing came way after you build your brand and delivered very many free articles.
I do not know how to help Anthony. He sent me his writing; it is good, very deep. All I can do is encourage his broken spirit and give him the practical advice I get from my friends. I wish someone could help him.
“I thought that my family and friends would be happy to receive me alive. The most important thing in your diaspora journey is that you came back alive, and this surpasses your failures.”“These pale to a family receiving your body in a coffin.”