1st Prize 12-15 Years Category

Short-Story Competition 2020

Zayd Nadeem

(Lawrence Sheriff School, Rugby)

The Cost of a Dream

What on the BLT19.co.uk website inspired you?

I was inspired to write this story after reading the Building World magazine on this website. As the magazine shows, the construction of intricate and elaborate buildings required builders, carpenters, joiners, etc. It’s clear that many of these workers were unable to make a good living themselves even though they spent their whole day working on large and elaborate houses. Although conditions for workers have improved in the UK, workers in some other countries live in the same or similar conditions. One example is Qatar, which has come under scrutiny for its exploitation of migrant workers.

The Cost of a Dream

If you had told me ten years ago that I would be living in Qatar, a very rich country in the Middle East, I would have assumed that you were just making it up.  This morning I woke up from a dream – a dream that took me all the way back to my childhood ‑ my innocent childhood in my simple village with the sweet smell of jasmine that was always hanging in the air. Can you actually smell in your dream, or can you just dream that you were smelling?   Even though I am still half asleep and exhausted from the long hours of hard work all day yesterday, I still know that all this is a dream because there is no way of ignoring the tight space I am sharing  every night in this ‘glamorous’ city of Doha. And the smell of my seven roommates’ sweat and tears is always dangling in the air as if it is competing with the smell of jasmine from my dream.  

I grew up in a small village called Shefali in Bangladesh. Some people might have thought that it was a poor village full of desperate people, but I can tell you that it was a happy village full of hopeful people. I was always a dreamer – always dreaming of a fabulous fortune that could suddenly turn our little mud huts into splendid mansions.   But I didn’t know what mansions were until I came to Qatar. To my young mind, the only mansion I knew was a house in another village. It was really a small two-bedroom brick house, but we still used to look at the people who lived in that house and wonder if they felt like royalty.   The reason the brick house was such an amazing thing to us was that everybody we had ever known lived in mud huts of varying sizes depending on your or your family’s wealth.   I remember that I took every opportunity to visit the next village just so that I could have a look at the ‘mansion’ – that house represented the achievement of wealth for me.   When I heard that the person who owned the house worked in a country called Qatar, I knew where I wanted to be when I grew up.   I also knew that I wanted to build houses when I grew up; however, I wanted to build proper houses made of bricks, unlike the mundane mud huts that my grandfather built.  

My lucky day came when I was called in to help my father build some furniture for the rich man from Qatar. My father told him about my dream of going to Qatar and becoming a builder of brick houses. The man told my father how expensive it would be for me to get the right paperwork and then get a work permit to work abroad.   The whole way back, I was quiet, and so was my father. After a few weeks, my father told me that he had spoken to the man from the house and asked him if he could help me get all the necessary paperwork and the work permit. My jaw dropped upon hearing this. I never thought that it was even possible for us to come up with any extra money, let alone the thousands that we would need for my dream to come true.   Later I realised that my father and mother had sold their land that we used for growing rice for our family. I reassured myself that as soon as I reached Qatar, I would send them a truckload of rice every year. Unfortunately, the money from selling the land was not enough, so my parents had to sell all their land, including their hut. My heart sank the day they left their hut to move in with my grandparents, but I again tried to reassure myself that they would soon get a mansion instead.  

After seven months of anxious waiting, the day finally came. I had to travel to Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh, where everything looked so different from our village. If the people hadn’t spoken Bengali and looked like me and my family, I would have thought it was Qatar. However, I didn’t have much time to think as the man from the ‘mansion’ and I had to make our way to the airport. He knew everything about the journey as he had done it so many times.  

The moment I left my village, there were many firsts for me: the first time on a bus, the first time on a train and then the first time on an aeroplane! After two whole days of travelling, we finally arrived at Doha International airport in Qatar. The moment I stepped out of the aeroplane, I knew my dream had come true. Everything about the airport was dazzling. The floor looked like it was made of glass; the windows looked like they were fashioned to compete with mountains. I didn’t even want to blink, just in case I missed anything amazing passing me by.   Alas, the journey was still not finished. We had to wait in line for hours for the people to look through our paperwork. Then we had to take a bus full of people who looked like me, from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, to reach our work camp.  

As we reached our hostel, things didn’t add up. Gone were the dazzling buildings and large roads with lights that looked like pearls hanging from tall poles. These hostel buildings looked more like the congested buildings in Dhaka.   We got off the bus and had to line up again. Somebody came and took all our passports, which was very odd as I was told repeatedly that my passport was the most important piece of paperwork I had. I was told that I could never leave without my passport, so giving it away filled me with worry.   After a while, I was shown my room. When I say ‘my’ room, I should really say ‘our’ room as there were eight of us in it. The room was just big enough to have four bunk beds and to get in and out of them. There was no room to put our bags, so we had to keep them under our beds.   I might have come from a mud hut, but it was mostly neat and clean. This room, although a part of a huge building, was dirty and smelly. I couldn’t understand why Qatar contained such horrendous places when it was so wealthy. Little did I know that Qatar is different for different people. If you are rich, Qatar offers you the dazzling beauty; however, if you are poor, Qatar only has dirt and mess to offer you. I strictly belonged to the latter group.  

One part of my dream did come true: I was hired as a carpenter since I had years of experience from working with my father. I was part of a crew working on one of the new football stadiums they were making on a mind-boggling scale.   My working hours started at 5 am as we needed to finish most of the outside work before it was noon when the temperature could easily reach 35ºC.  After a one-hour break starting at noon my second shift would last from 1 pm to 9 pm. We had to work six days a week, but we were often made to work on our day off if we couldn’t finish all our tasks. I found it odd that we found ourselves working seven days a week most weeks.  Some of the workers, who had no choice but to work during mid-day, would become so sick and dehydrated that they would collapse. Two of my co-workers collapsed and never recovered. Moreover, accidents were a constant threat: one of my roommates fell from a high wall as he was working without any safety equipment. I later found out that it was easier and cheaper for them to lose a worker than to spend money on safety equipment.  

Even though my dream of coming to Qatar and working as a carpenter had come true, I was never able to send a truckload of rice to my parents, let alone build them a mansion.   I realised that what I thought was important was not important at all. A brick house is not all that it is cracked up to be, and Qatar is not a piece of heaven. Even the people who live in huge mansions cannot be very happy or they would not be so careless and soulless that they let my roommates and co-workers die due to dehydration and the lack of equipment.   I have calculated that I need to work for another four years in Qatar to be able to buy back my parents’ hut and their little piece of land since I am able to save so little money. I just hope that I don’t die from an accident before I do.