The compound of a labour camp in Al Quoz livened up as the long summer day came to an end and the residents of the camp awaited the adhan to open their fasts. After iftar and maghrib prayers, hundreds of workers sat down to complete a task they had last performed decades ago in school –– writing letters to their families and loved ones.
On the occasion of Eid, Goonj Productions, the local theatre group behind Mian, Biwi Aur Wagah (Husband, Wife and the Wagah Border), organised a letter-writing event at Al Meher Camp in Al Quoz late last week. The play is one of the first original Urdu plays performed in the UAE and is based on letters from expatriates about living away from home.
The team’s volunteers helped workers pen over 200 letters to loved ones in more than six languages in the course of a couple of hours.
"The last time I wrote a letter was in school," said Farooq Ahmed, a worker from Pakistan living at the camp. "My mother can’t read but I would write to her and then read it out to her. When she receives my letter, she will be happy to know that I am well. I speak with my family on the phone, but writing a letter to is like narrating a story."
Mr Ahmed wrote two letters, one to his mother and another for a loved one.
The team has promised to post all the letters to the recipients, wherever they may live.
"We are all expatriates and on Eid, we miss our families," said Sheherzad Kaleem, an expatriate from Pakistan and head of production at Mian, Biwi Aur Wagah. "We share that pain with them. At this time, they are possibly more lonely than anyone else. This activity provides a moment to connect and a moment of happiness."
"When writing a letter you reveal a lot more than the immediacy of technology allows," she said. "We thought it would be fun to write letters with the workers and then post these letters to their loved ones. When the families get the letters, I’m sure they would be happy."
Volunteers at the event were well versed in Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, Pashto, Bengali, and Tagalog.
Captain Amjad Hussain Choudhry, the owner of Al Meher Group of Companies which owns the labour camp, was at the iftar and said he tries in his own way not to let his employees feel lonely.
“On Eid, my family and I eat breakfast with them and then give them Eid money or gifts," said Captain Choudhry. "We try to ensure that they are not alone on Eid as they miss their families. Writing letters helps you reveal your innermost emotions and thoughts. When I was younger, I would send everyone Eid cards and letters."
Ramesh Chand, an Indian worker at the camp, wrote letters to his parents when he first moved to the UAE, 17 years ago. He penned a letter to his parents for the first time in 12 years.
"After so many years I wrote to them I know they will be very happy to receive the letter," he said.
Mohammed Ali wrote his first letter to his parents in seven years. "I informed them that I am well here and I pray that they are happy," he said. "I’m hoping that one day my salary increases and I can invite them to come here. Since I moved to Dubai I have never spent Eid at home. Eid here is not like it is at home in Pakistan."
Suffiyan, a workers from Pakistan, wrote to his family: “I have sent Rs 20,000. Buy nice presents and clothes for Eid. Is Abbu [father] okay? I hope everything is well at home. I am well here. Give my nieces and nephews lots of love. Please remember me in your prayers.”
Muhammad Majid, the writer of Mian, Biwi Aur Wagah, wrote eight letters narrated by workers in Punjabi and Urdu.
“Everyone says social media has brought people closer, but people still have an appetite for writing letters and want to indulge in this hobby again," said Mr Majid. "All the people who narrated their letters to me were asking their families about how they spent the month of Ramadan and if they have prepared for Eid. Some people were concerned if their wives had new clothes for Eid and were worried if their parents had enough to spend on Eid. They earn and send this money back home, and they get happiness from the fact that their families enjoy [it]."
Mohammad Mohsin, an expatriate from Bangladesh, wrote twelve letters on behalf of others as they narrated their stories to him. Mr Mohsin knows firsthand the power of the written word.
"This is the first time I wrote letters since I came to UAE 11 years ago," he said. "I enjoyed the experience and reminisced about the old days. I met my wife through letters."