Sometimes, while we are enjoying a life of considerable luxuries, the weight of the rest of the world gets to feeling really heavy.
From certain angles, we have an awesome view. To one side of our balcony, there is a marina which is home to many extravagant yachts and superyachts. To the other side sits a neighborhood of brightly colored, Venetian-inspired apartment buildings. Seated on our living room couch though, one looks directly at the building next door that has been under construction the entire year we have lived here.
For many months, looking over the edge of our balcony provided a view of the imported construction workers, a.k.a. worker bees or Lemmings, taking their midday nap. On the concrete. Mostly under direct sunlight. At the construction site that will eventually be a near carbon copy of our building.
One day, I was observing their building methods (ex: hard hats as buckets, lack of safety ropes when working on scaffolding, etc.) when I noticed a worker on a balcony who seemed like he might be looking my direction. So, I waved at him. He waved back, and we both broke out into huge smiles!
See, a lot of us Westerners like to frown on India’s caste system, but we all know damn well that we don’t interact with them, unless they have a service or product that we want/need. Many places here don’t even allow entrance to blue collar male workers.
The cool thing about smiles is not only are they beneficial to our health, but they are immune to language barriers.
Feeling inspired, I took off my jewelry, changed into workout clothes, and hurried to the building next door. I was going to make a difference. Free English lessons for all!
The construction site was teeming with dirty, dark, stone faced, fatigued men.
“Supervisor?” I asked one after another. “Supervisor?” Nobody spoke a drop of English.
Finally, a security guard approached me. I eagerly told him I am giving free English lessons, and anyone interested should contact me via SMS. I figured if I received a text message, I could use Google Translate to arrange, at minimum, a place to meet, then we could go from there. The security guard promised he would pass my number along to the workers. I left thinking this was the best idea ever, and the beginning of something amazing. Then it dawned on me… THESE GUYS DON’T HAVE PHONES. I have yet to receive a text regarding free English lessons.
The same kind of un-airconditioned bus that drops many of them off every morning also picks many of them up at 4:30PM.
The other day, I decided if I couldn’t help anyone with English, I would at least take them something cool to drink before the buses came. I walked to the store between my building and theirs, filled a shopping cart with 100 bottles of cold beverages (juice, water, pop), paid, and, much to the dismay of the grocery store employees, wheeled the cart full of refreshments off to the construction site.
I lucked out this time and found a worker of Asian descent who spoke English. I wondered why he was doing this shit job when his English was actually pretty good, but I didn’t get a chance to ask him because a bus pulled up. Workers started boarding when I yelled WAIT! and started handing them bottles. Bottles of mango juice, bottles of orange juice, bottles of kiwi juice, bottles of strawberry juice, bottles of apple juice, bottles of mixed berry juice, cans of Coke, bottles of water.
THEY WERE SO GRATEFUL.
The cart was empty in less than 30 seconds.
“How many workers are at this building?!” I asked the English speaking worker. “I only brought 100 bottles!”
“One towsan,” he replied.
“What?! One thousand?! This building?!” I couldn’t believe it.
“Yes,” he smiled.
By that point, a grocery store employee had tracked me down and was more than happy to return the cart for me. Empty handed, I walked home with more weight than when I had pushed over the cart full of drinks. It hadn’t been full enough.
I spent a few minutes on our balcony this afternoon, eyeing the under-construction building next door. A worker sat in the corner of a balcony at that building while his comrades tried to pull him to his feet. No luck.
Tomorrow doesn’t look much better.
Almost every time I go out on our balcony now, I find a worker to wave at. Sometimes I have to stand there and wave twice, or even three times, but I’ll be damned if I can’t get a return wave and a smile.
I want to say to these workers, I see you and I’m sorry. I’m sorry you are over here being exploited as all hell, making pennies and living in a labor camp, roasting to death (sometimes literally) under the desert sun. I’m sorry I moved into this building, because if people stopped moving into these places, you wouldn’t be building them. Every time I look out my window, I am so fucking sorry. You can’t even begin to imagine how sorry I am. My heart weighs a gazillion pounds when I see how thirsty and tired you look and I am just so so so so so so so so so sorry.
I’m sorry I have been here for a year and can’t think of a fucking thing to do to make anything better.
Until something comes to me, I am going to bake rainbow cupcakes and give them to everyone I see.