A Wednesday morning in October 2015. It’s 7 o’clock in the morning. I – totally nervous and ready to lose my mind – arrive at school. Pretty soon, I clap eyes on the only person who can help me now.
“Hassan, good morning!” I yell a little too loudly across the schoolyard. The young man turns around, startled.
“Good morning, ma’am”, he replies.
When I reach him, the janitor’s assistant, 34 years old and about 1,60 m in height, stands in front of me and smiles his warm smile. His white teeth are shining at me.
“Good morning, how are you?” I start carefully (although I wished this conversation was over already – inclusive the preferred outcome, of course).
“I’m fine” he replies and eyes me curiously. Never mind how I am, I don’t get angry that he doesn’t inquire about my well-being, he never does. It is not important, anyway. I am going to be busted if the administration finds out about my problem, that – and only that! – is my concern right now.
“Hassan, do you, by chance, have a key for me? I forgot mine at home today.”
I am lying, of course; I have no freaking idea where my key is!
The happy smile under the silver-framed -glasses before me fades away a little. Instantly, my heart skips a beat.
“I only need it for today, Hassan”, I try to assure him (even though my plan is a very different one, to be honest). “Mine is on the table in the kitchen, where I left it there this morning”, I try to convince him, knowing that I deserve a good beating for lying so bluntly to this super-friendly and ever-helpful person in front of me. I should at least blush a deep red, but I don’t. Desperation has rendered me shameless.
“No, ma’am. I gave the last of my three extra keys to you before summer break. ” He looks at me like a strict father looks at his daughter, the plural in his enquiry is costing me my last nerve – ugh! This is the fourth time I’m asking him him for an extra key? Embarrassing.
“You still have them?” He inquires further. I break out in a sweat and look around to check if anyone is listening to our conversation. I had recently moved to another apartment and left the keys in one of the boxes that are still packed and sealed and I assume that’s where they are. Too lazy to open them, I just keep asking Hassan for a key. To replace a school key means a lot of trouble – trouble that I just can’t use right now. Luckily, I see no one around.
“No, Hassan – I mean yes, Hassan. Of course I still have them, don’t be silly!’ I laugh at him, faking confidence.
‘It just so happens that I don’t have one of them with me.” Another ugly lie, darn! I don’t even wonder if he believes me, I have no patience for that – I do need a key now – I have seven lessons today! Being a teacher without key automatically downgrades you to student status – a disgrace that instructors best avoid, especially on a long day like this. If I don’t get a hold of one of those door-openers, I will have to ask colleagues to unlock doors for me at every single lesson of the day, which could be regarded as an equivalent to kids having to admit that they have forgotten their homework. And having to look at raised eyebrows seven times today? Seriously? No! My students would be so gleeful, they’d probably insist on calling my parents and report me.
“There has to be another key somewhere, Hassan!” I almost start crying, but he just shakes his head.
“No?” I swear inwardly and I want to scream the f-word! Because the worst thing of it all is that if the principal finds out about my wear and tear of these tiny metal things, she will have all locks in the building replaced and send me the enormous bill, just to set an example and to remind all of my colleagues of what happens if you lose the school key.
“No, I don’t have another one”, Hassan repeats and with that, rightfully, rubs it all in. All my hopes drop down to the floor. My stomach turns and I don’t feel good at all. Should I report sick and go home? I contemplate this idea for a moment – it is an option! But I decide against it – I am no skulker. Then Hassan clears his throat.
“Ma’am, I find key by the copy machine yesterday afternoon” Hassan continues. Ha! Could it be that I left the key in the teachers’ room? I did make copies last night! My hopes rise again. Now Hassan beams at me as usual and heads for the staff room. “I think they’re your keys”, he smiles. I follow him. And, what do you know? I find the lost treasure and feel a huge wave of gratitude wash over me.
“Geez, Hassan, you just scared me with your ‘No’ out there!” I arrogantly try to belittle this embarrassing incident and I decide to stitch the damn door opener to my body tonight so that it doesn’t get lost again, with the biggest needle I can find and without anesthesia for extra punishment! I also decide to finally get insurance in case this happens again (and i did!). “Thank you”, is all I bring out. And with a sly smile I put my index finger to my lips, silently asking him to keep quiet about all this, too. Hassan tries to smile back, but fails. He looks at me again with this fatherly stare.
‘Ma’am, please bring all my keys tomorrow.” I readily nod at him.
“I have to report to the administration if they are lost’, he explains. Good heavens, no! I obediently promise to find the keys and, content with my answer for now, Hassan walks away from me, shaking his head. Later that evening, I search my whole house and what do you know? I find all the keys and return them the next day.
Well, that’s just how cool and cruel the person with the steadiest and friendliest smile in Abu Dhabi is and how much I needed him to watch over me. He was one of my favorite people at school whe
n I worked there and he is the one who finds everything (provided you’ve lost it on the premises): keys, mobile phones, stationery, glasses, earrings, patience and hope – to name just a few. Please meet Hassan Taizul.
Born in 1983 in the South Asian country of Bangladesh, the oldest sibling of two sisters and a brother attended Bongshall Madrassa in the capital of Bangladesh, Dhaka, for ten years, an Islamic boys’ school. Working for his uncle in his wholesale cloth bed sheet – business after finishing his scholar education, he never attended college or learned a profession. Yet, Hassan wiped away all doubts about his future away and decided to continue his professional career overseas. He migrated to Abu Dhabi in 2008 because as the oldest son he had to help support the Taizul family of six. He now works at German International School in Abu Dhabi in his seventh year running and he still likes it.
What was your motivation to come to Abu Dhabi?
Bangladesh is a highly populated country with about 2000 people living across a square mile. The country is very fertile as it is a delta that is flooded frequently by monsoon rains and water deriving from the Himalayan Mountains in spring. Thus, most people work in the agricultural sector. However, a lot of people work in the garment industry, too. Still, poverty is widespread and it is estimated that almost half of all Bangladeshis live on less than $1 a day.
“I need for job – money” Hassan replies to my question using the Abu Dhabi pigeon English and smiles. His job algebra is just so down to earth and pragmatic – nothing like it makes coming to the UAE so logical!
“There are no jobs in Bangladesh”. Hence, there is no money to earn that the family needs so urgently, especially since the second son Tareq has fallen ill and needs medical care. Hassan’s
father has worked in the UAE in the 90s and highly recommended it to his oldest son. So one day, Hassan sees an advert in the newspaper and applies for a job with a cleaning company. After a successful job interview, he is hired and comes to Abu Dhabi. Ever since that day, he is the sole breadwinner of his family and thrives in that role.
Please describe a normal workday.
Hassan is a true glutton for work. No matter how early I arrive at school, he
has started earlier. At present, he works two shifts of seven hours (making it 14 hours per day!), six days a week. During the holy month of Ramadan, Hassan’s daily work hours are reduced by two. For one shift he receives a salary of 700 AED, for the additional one he gets 900. He makes a total of spotless 1600 AED per month. That is an impressive number of monthly work hours, especially on European terms, I should think!
The Bangladeshi expat starts to work at six in the morning and finishes around 8 o’clock at night. Always appearing well kempt and groomed himself, he has more to do than to clean. As a matter of fact, he does various jobs to do during the day. To name only a few, he sets up the amplifier for the flag ceremony every morning and takes it down again afterwards, he cleans the administration’s offices, replaces empty water bottles, refills coffee supplies, removes furniture from classrooms if needed and supervises the cleaners who come in the afternoons to put all the classrooms back in order.
And, as if that was not enough, Hassan works part-time on weekends. When his colleague Ashokan goes on vacation home to India, he does the gardener’s job at school as well. On top of that, he runs errands for the school’s staff. Chocolate, sweets, dry shampoo or deodorant are just some of the things he gets for needy teachers from the supermarket that is close by the school. He says he likes to work and one is inclined to believe him since he is always in a good mood. My guess is that his happiness comes from deep within. He likes the kids at school, too, he says. I am not sure if the kids take much notice much of him, unfortunately. I always yell at all those who ignore or forget to greet him.
Now, you would think this guy to be suppressed and a little shy, but just the contrary is true! Hassan is a fierce worker and – in a positive sense – a true capitalist. He could live in a work camp in Mussafah, in the industrial area of the town, in a room provided by his company. But for a a long time he was either too lazy or too clever to commute the thirty kilometers twice a day, you decide which one of the two! He used to just simply roll out a mattress every night and spend the night close to his workplace. The so saved money for rent went home to his family, that was why the school allowed this practice. But now he lives in Hamdam Street, in a shared room that is not far from his work place. And if Hassan is not another outstanding example for true, honest and consistent work motivation, I don’t know who is.
How many times a year and on what occasions do you go back to your country and to see your family?
That question is easily answered: Almost never! Hassan went home in his fourth year of being in Abu Dhabi and to my surprise – he went home for no reason at all! “It’s too expensive to go every year” he explains. And there he is once more – the little capitalist! However, this summer he went to see his family because there was a very special family event: Hassan’s own wedding. Yes, you read correctly, he is married now. I wish him and his wife Nasrin all the best!!!
What do you do when you feel homesick?
“I miss my family, but not too much.” He smiles at me again. I raise my eyebrows, indicating that I had expected a different answer from him. But he just chuckles. “I miss Bangladesh, too. But I like the money more.” He laughs out loud at my frown.
also have to organize a job for my brother, who is ill. And I pay for my young sister Reia’s school. I need the money”, he tries to make me understand and I finally stop judging. I am relieved, though, to hear that the thirty-two-year-old skypes with his people twice or three times a week.
“My parents tell me about problems only afterwards, not when problems are ongoing. They don’t want me worry about them. That’s why I don’t have problems.”
I wonder how he doesn’t like to go back more often to the tropical country of the Bengal Tiger, the diversified wild life, the abundance of plants and flowers, the country of the beautiful water lily. After all, compared to Bangladesh’s nature, Abu Dhabi is such a barren place! But Hassan is content with what he has here. He doesn’t complain.
What has your work-experience here in Abu Dhabi taught you about life in general? What have you gained from being in the UAE personally?
“Everyone is here for money”, he says and that is the summary of a fact that I have heard many times before. Even though he works at a place where German is spoken mostly, he hasn’t learned any of our language. His religion helps him live through the hardest times. He goes to the mosque every Friday, like every other good Muslim, too. Praying, and I hope this assumption is not just a mere generalization, helps most people cope with life’s demanding extravaganza’s and extravagant demands.
The answer to this last question is a simple one but filled with truth. To sum it all up, Hassan has been an inspiration and for the unorganized woman that I sometimes am, a reliable helper that I could always count on. I’m very grateful for his help!