Ram first went abroad for work in 1998.
“Everyone said Arab is the place to be, so I too wanted to go,” he says. The names Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Dubai sounded familiar but it did not matter to him where he landed up as long as he could leave Nepal.
Ram was charged Rs55,000 for a security job in Dubai. There was not much documentation and process in those days. There were not many Nepalis in Dubai in 1998 but it was exciting to bump into them and ask how long they had been there.
“If they said 4 or 5 years, I would feel a mixture of shock and pity for them. The idea of being in a foreign country for so long was new to me,” he says. “Little did I know that I would still be here in 2020.”
In Ram’s memory, Dubai almost looked like Nepal when he first arrived. “There were no tall buildings. Even the airport was small and dingy. Look at this place now. Dubai has changed a lot, but I have not changed at all.”
“Back then, a 30 dirham phone card lasted 3 minutes. I used to use one to talk to the shopkeeper with the phone to arrange the time for the call. And another one to talk to my family at the pre-arranged time. I would make up my mind in advance about the things I wanted to say in those three minutes. The rest went in the letter,” he recalls.
Working as a security guard everyday for two decades have been a repetition of the previous day for Ram. “No career progression. No change in routine. Some clever Nepali guards become group leaders, but the rest of us are always security officers.”
Every year, he spends over 4,000 hours guarding either private residences or commercial buildings. “I usually get the 12-hour night shifts from 5PM to 5AM. It is difficult to feel rested when you sleep during the day. And it takes a toll on your health.”
With low incomes, saving is a challenge. And there are always new expenses. There’s children’s education and bigger investments like land and house. “Then it is your children’s wedding. And your parents’ health costs. Just when you think you are done some other expense shows up, and you keep postponing your return home.”
Ram’s elder daughter got married recently and he could not be home. “Remittances helped me pay for my daughter’s wedding. But my job did not let me go back to attend it.”
Now in his 50s, Ram says that unlike the lyrics to the song Saili that says, “we will return home at 40”, he is late by a decade. “My visa expires in 18 months. I think I will now head home for good. It is time.”