Those of you who’ve watched Migrant Dreams might remember Abu Sama. He’s the little guy who ran away from his company after being slapped on the ear by his supervisor. The wound – a perforation in his eardrum – took months to heal.
He was frightened and overwhelmed when we first met. Scruffy, nursing a raging fever, hungry and sad. He often looked as if he was on the verge of tears. And who could blame him? Abu Sama had spent a small fortune coming to Singapore. He had heard so many stories about our wonderful country, thought he’d be treated fairly. But his employers made him live in a shithole, failed to pay him, and hit him when he dared speak up.
We wondered then how he would survive the ordeal. We thought he might sink into depression. But Abu Sama surprised us all. When the Ministry of Manpower told him that he was going to be sent home, he demanded to be paid before leaving for the airport. And when his angry bosses tried to drag him into their van, Abu Sama put up a struggle, escaped, and insisted on making a police report. A volunteer told us how he managed to wiggle out of his too-big t-shirt and run away. The image made us laugh. But Abu Sama didn’t find it funny at all – despite being homesick and short on cash, he decided to stay on in Singapore to pursue his case. It was, to him, a question of justice.
A few days ago, we received word that the police were letting Abu Sama’s bosses off with a warning. A warning. So apparently, it is OK for a person to rip a hole in another person’s eardrum. It is also OK for thugs to drive up next to you, and try and drag you into their car. A warning. That’s like a few words on a piece of paper. Gee, that’s really going to stop those guys from hurting other people.
Abu Sama left early this morning. We met at Sutha’s last night. He told me he wasn’t happy about going home like that. Who would be? He looked resigned. Kinda exhausted. And then he broke out into a smile, shook my hand, shook everyone’s hands and said goodbye, this tiny man who dared to stand up to his awful bosses. He had pressed on, believing in Singapore’s justice system. Good god we’ve failed him.