For many in Qatar, the month of Ramadan is a chance to slow down.
People work shorter days, giving them more time to focus on God and spend time with friends and family, while others enjoy five-course meals and food comas.
But for Khamis, a 38-year-old carpenter from Kenya, Ramadan is all about willpower and faith.
He and several of his Muslim colleagues have been fasting this month while working outdoors.
With temperatures regularly surpassing 40C this month, some Islamic scholars have previously exempted construction workers from fasting, saying God “burdens not a person beyond his capacity.”
But speaking to Doha News this week, Khamis’s colleague Hassan explained they continue to do so because “This is all for our faith. All for Allah (God).”
Sweating in the sun
Khamis said his day starts at 2am, when he wakes up to get ready for work. Suhoor consists of leftovers cooked from last night’s meal, and lots of water.
At 2:30am, he and 70 other men are already on a bus going from the Industrial Area toward a construction site on Salwa Road.
Even though transport for construction workers is now required by law to have air conditioning, this bus doesn’t.
“Our bus (is like) the sun,” Khamis said. “Too many people inside, too much sweating. I don’t know what I can tell you. It’s just too much.”
When they get to work an hour and a half later, Khamis, Hassan and their friend Sulaiman pray Fajr at a nearby mosque. They then carry out their respective tasks in 40C weather until noon.
Every day after work, the three head back to their camp for a rigorous clean-up routine. After praying Asr, preparations for iftar are carried out.
Although charities in Qatar have set up free iftar tents around the country, all are very far from their accommodation, the men said.
So Khamis, Hassan and Sulaiman cook for themselves – rice and chicken on some days, and noodles on others to get by.
After tarawih prayers, hardly any time is left for sleep, since eight men share one room with a malfunctioning AC, they said.
A good distraction is staying in touch with their loved ones. Khamis and seven of his roommates each pitch in around QR40 a month for internet in their room.
Sometimes, the wi-fi crashes due to overcrowding, and then the only time they are able to speak to their families is when everyone else is asleep.
When asked how they endure their difficult days, all of the men cited their faith in God and a desire to help their families.
Like many blue-collar workers in Qatar, the trio said they were misled while still in Kenya about their salaries, their job titles and their employer’s credentials.
They stay here to support their families back home, but their monthly salaries, which range from QR1,000 to QR1,500, make a comfortable existence difficult.
On the dusty earth, Khamis illustrated with his index finger what living on low pay is like:
“If your salary is QR1,350, and monthly you pay QR250 or QR300 for groceries, QR1,000 is left. Forty riyals per person for wi-fi. No medical coverage from sponsor. Only QR700 in pocket, (and) all goes to family,” he said. “Even clothes I can’t buy in Qatar. We can’t enjoy anything.”
But he added that his job at least puts food in his relatives’ stomachs. “We don’t have jobs in our countries… this is ok for us, better than no work.”
Though his contract is set to end in September, Khamis said he plans to extend it for another year, after having spent all his earnings on school tuition for his children.
“I don’t have anything in my account. If I go back, I don’t have any happiness for them,” he said, adding:
“Ok, I can be a father for them. But, they need also money. You can’t become a father if you cannot provide. So I decided at least to stay one year at least to save for pocket money.”
With Eid Al Fitr less than a week away, Khamis, Hassan and Sulaiman said that how they spend their two days off will depend on whether their salaries come in on time.
“If we don’t get our salary, we will stay in accommodation. If we get our salary, we will go to City Center (mall),” Sulaiman said.