Ramadan Mubarak

Today is the first day of the month of Ramadan, when Muslims like myself, who are able to, abstain from food and drink between sunrise and sunset. But much more than just that, it is about devotion to worship and about spiritual reflection. Pausing to think how I can be a better person. Striving to be kinder in deed and thought. Being more charitable to the less fortunate where I can and reminding myself to be grateful for the blessings I have in my life (regardless of how lousy I’m feeling or how shitty my day has been).

But in the world we live in today, I think millions of non-Muslims are also in deep reflection. The lockdown many of us are experiencing around the world is a wake-up call for many of us to how flimsy and unsustainable many aspects of society is. It really is a rude jolt to discover that so much of our food supply, our medicine and medical equipment among many other things, can suddenly be interrupted and be in drastically short supply, causing serious consequences and great concern. Things will never be the same as before, post-Covid-19. Or will it? We humans can have short memories.

How I wish the world will change for the better. That governments and politicians will finally realize they are governing countries, not business entities for profit, and have the best interests of their citizens at heart. That every country in the world will scramble to prioritize growing food and making sure they have their own machines or factories to produce masks, ventilators and other equipment, to never be at the mercy of other countries again.

It is unbelievable and unacceptable that almost 200,000 people have died from this virus for now. Hundreds of thousands of families and friends are in mourning, and many more will join them. I just desperately want all this to end. Dear God, please help us. Even though, this won’t be the last virus, and deep in my heart I know we will never learn, and history will repeat itself yet again. But it is just horrifying how people are suffering, whether themselves or people they love, and also economically.

I should stop before I start sobbing away at the computer like a bloody fool haha.

Wishing a blessed Ramadan to all Muslims.

*

I came across this video from the UK, on YouTube from the user account East and North Herts CCG. I like it a lot. Even though ‘stay at home‘ starts to sound like a drill to the head, it’s a very important message.

 

*

Other related links:

Some migrant workers are now housed in multi-storey car parks

Two days ago on Friday I wrote about the terrible living conditions of migrant workers in a dormitory in Singapore, and the outbreak of the coronovirus in their cramped living areas leading to dormitories being gazetted as isolation areas, which means workers are now quarantined in these dormitories for fourteen days.

I included some of the action taken by the government in handling this, because I felt so relieved to read in the news that something is being done. Not just about the spread of the virus but about the welfare of the migrant workers.

I had read that one of the actions being taken is to thin out the population in the dormitories (which can be in the thousands or tens of thousands) by taking out the healthy workers and placing them in alternative residence like military camps and vacant public housing blocks.

So I was really so disappointed and saddened to read in a Yahoo News Singapore article yesterday that some of these workers have been put in multi-storey carparks, instead of actual vacant HDB (public housing) flats, as shown in the video above and in the Facebook page of the HDB:

 

Questions I was thinking of when I read the Yahoo News article as well as HDB’s Facebook post:

  • Safe distancing measures, such as no visitation to other levels…“. But the person taking the video (featured at the top of this post) was walking freely between levels. And some of the men were gathering close together. So where was the safe distancing measures?
  • What happened to those vacant housing blocks the authorities spoke of previously?
  • Why this ‘temporary housing’ at car parks? The time it takes to set up the beds and other furniture at these car parks, is the same time it would take inside flats, so why not put them directly in those vacant flats. Do we have them or not?
  • Living in the ‘open air’ like this subject them to mosquitoes. Not only is it cruel to subject them to itchy, uncomfortable mosquito bites, but why risk a dengue fever outbreak on top of the existing logistic headache of the coronovirus?
  • Do those other alternative residence other workers are being moved to, such as military camps, also feature ‘open-air’ living like this? And therefore, also subject the workers to mosquitoes especially at night when the workers are trying to sleep?

Even refugees from war-torn countries are given tents to stay in which would protect them from mosquitoes. And these men are not refugees. That they are being put to live in car parks is just so terrible to me.

They live and work in Singapore, not some poor country. Not only do we fancy ourselves a First World country, not only are we considered a rich country, but our government collects a levy of between $300 and $950 for every single worker, every month. So I just don’t understand why we can’t even give them basic, decent, humane living quarters. Oh, the shame!

I hope these workers now living at the car parks will be quickly moved to a more humane living space. Whether temporary or permanent, one with walls, windows, doors. I can’t believe one has to write that, but yes, please give these human beings a place to stay with walls, windows and doors.

 

We treat our migrant workers shabbily, and we need to do much better.

On Monday 6th April, Singapore’s newspaper The Straits Times published an article: Coronavirus: Workers describe crowded, cramped living conditions at dormitory gazetted as isolation area. Among other things, it mentioned:

  • workers saying they do not have masks
  • that they are living in unsanitary and crowded conditions
  • their rooms are infested with cockroaches
  • their toilets overflowing with urine
  • having to queue for food with no social distancing measures to keep them apart.
  • trash not disposed of, and rubbish bins placed near their rooms

Such terrible living conditions for our migrant workers is not a new concern here in Singapore. It has been around for many years, and yet it continues. We have known for years of such horrible living conditions, and yet we are too selfish to do anything concrete about it. In the meantime, we continue to benefit enormously from having these foreign workers as cheap labour for our country.

As long as the government do not force the dormitory operators and the construction companies (the industry most of these workers work in) to improve their basic living condition to something more humane, this story will never end. We are all to blame for quietly allowing this to happen in Singapore, our so-called First World country, and for such a long time too. It’s truly shameful.

*

Writer Andrew Loh remarked in a Facebook post that:

Well, what else is new? Same old problems for 20 years – crowded dorms, bad and inadequate facilities, poor hygiene, poorly paid workers, etc.

These problems have been raised to death.

 

 

Retired diplomat and Singapore’s former Permanent Representative to the United Nations Professor Tommy Koh, also pointed out on his Facebook page that, among the ‘disgraceful‘ ways these workers are treated, the employers of these workers transport them in flat bed trucks with no seats. This is really like as if they are cattle, not human beings. And this has been going on for many years.

 

In a Coconuts Singapore article published on Tuesday 7th April titled: Filthy, cramped dorms come to light as virus afflicts Singapore’s migrant workers, I came across this scene from Facebook user Roy Prakash:

 

Just look at the overcrowding resulting in how they are forced to be cramped together. If it’s like that with the police officers stationed there now, I can’t imagine what kind of horrific chaos it was like before the officers got there. Is it any wonder if the virus spread like wildfire in there.

Another Facebook user Jason See shows some scenes from an S11 Dormitary:

And more here:

The plight of the workers came to light again because of Covid-19.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) announced on Sunday 5th April, that two dormitories housing migrant workers have been marked as isolation areas because of the growing number of transmissions of the virus among the workers. This means these workers living in those dormitories have to be quarantined in their rooms for 14 days.

Some of the action taken by the government

I read in a Yahoo News Singapore article published yesterday that the government is intervening in this “very major and urgent issue” by:

  • working together with dormitory operators to ensure effective management of basic issues like cleanliness, hygiene and food delivery.
  • putting in active screening and testing of workers. Medical posts on-site at the dormitories, first the critical sites, then scaled up to cater to some 200,000 workers spread across all 43 dormitories in the country.
  • Workers who are healthy are to be separated from infected or suspected infected, and placed at activated sites such as
    • Singapore Armed Forces military camps,
    • Changi Exhibition Centre,
    • ‘floating hotels’ (used for offshore accomodation), and
    • vacant public housing blocks in Tanjong Pagar and Jurong.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) published press releases on their website on Wednesday 8th April and Thursday 9th April. Some of the points detailed included:

  • Dormitory operators are stepping up on waste management and sanitation regimes.
  • They have been working with multiple caterers to ensure meals are distributed on time.
  • Initial logistical constraints have been progressively resolved, resulting in improved meal distributions. They have also roped in more manpower for cooking meals and engaged more drivers and vehicles for delivery.

*

Related Links:

  • Raising standards at worker dormitories is in everyone’s interests: Manpower Minister Josephine Teo (Channel News Asia Youtube video below, 6th April 2020)

Forza, Italia! I love you. Stay strong.

I have a special affinity with Italy, thanks to having met my Italian partner who I have been together with for just over 25 years now. Like millions of people before me, I fell in love with the country almost immediately upon my first visit, and fell helplessly in love with the culture, especially the language and of course the food. Their music, their movies, their art and design. I have been to Italy many times over the years to visit his family, around 20 times, and while I have not been to every single town and city in Italy, every single one I have been to is incredibly, stunningly beautiful and steeped in fascinating history, filled with people famous for their passion and zest for life.

*

Bergamo, which I am privileged to have visited many years ago, is the city hardest hit by Covid-19 in Italy, one of the hardest hit countries in the world. Singer Roby Facchinetti was born there and still lives there. He co-wrote and sang this beautiful song as a tribute to Bergamo, but now it has become an anthem for all of Italy, and for many throughout the world who have been affected by the pandemic.

Rinascerò, Rinascerai” means “I will be reborn. You will be reborn.”. If you don’t see the English translation subtitles when playing the video, please click the ‘cc’ button at the bottom of the screen to activate the subtitles.

In an interview with Billboard published a few days ago, I learnt that many of the people featured in the video are doctors and nurses from the Papa Giovanni XXIII Hospital in Bergamo, where Roby’s wife Giovanna is a volunteer. The video also features images from the city, as well as players and coaches from the city’s major league football club, Atalanta.

In that same Billboard interview, Roby spoke of how the song came to be:

It began when I saw the footage on the news of army trucks taking away coffins. This was just 50 meters from where I live here in the center of Bergamo, and so it was even tougher to watch. Two days earlier, two of my relatives had died. It was very painful, and so I sat down at my piano. This is because my whole life has been in music and it has always been the best medicine in the most difficult moments. I simply wanted to play the piano in order to take my mind off things, and the melody and harmony just came. I immediately rang Stefano D’Orazio. I told him about the tune and that I had these two words in mind — “Rinascerò, Rinascerai” — and I asked him, “Could you write the lyrics?” 

*

I love you, Italy. Ti amo per sempre. I will always have you in my heart and thoughts. Keep on fighting. Take care. You will come out of this stronger than ever.

To everyone, please stay safe. Love and best wishes from me.