BEIRUT: It is common knowledge that migrant domestic workers in Lebanon have a hard time. What’s not so easy to ascertain is how they view the country, their lives here and their employers.
In honor of International Migrants Day, which took place on Dec. 18 and in the aftermath of International Human Rights Day on Dec. 10, AltCity and the Migrant Workers Task Force are hosting two concurrent exhibitions centering on migrant workers and human rights.
A series of workshops led by multimedia producer and anthropologist Ann Megalla and AltCity co-founder Dima Saber resulted in “Lens on Life,” a series of photo essays created by 16 migrant workers.
The images convey the photographers’ daily routines and communicate their thoughts on life in Lebanon and their hopes for the future.
Each photographer has chosen between four and eight photos, most taken on their mobile phones. The captions, in English, Arabic and French, explain the significance of each image. Pegged in rows on a makeshift wire frame, the photos – some funny, some sad – provide an insight into the daily lives of maids, cooks, child minders, drivers and cleaners.
A photograph by Moussa Ibrahim shows him standing in the drab supermarket parking lot where he works.
Directly after it comes an image of him crouching in a playful pose inside a printing center, sporting dark glasses, a striped scarf and smart white clothes. “I wanted to work in a printing center to learn how to cut, print and write,” reads the caption, drawing attention to his disappointment with his current job.
Another photo captures the reflection of a slim woman, dressed all in red with big black tennis shoes on her feet, standing in front of an enormous mirror with an ornately inlaid frame. “One moment of fun during my busy workday,” reads the caption. “Taking a photo of a beautiful woman.”
Bzza Bkele, from Ethiopia, is pictured washing dishes in a stone sink. “Now I like what I do,” she writes. “It was difficult in the beginning. They told me they’d be working in a factory.”
Under a close-up image of a pile of bread rolls by Sudanese Adam Mohammad is the message: “A lot of food is ordered and wasted in restaurants. It is shameful to throw away food when people are starving to death.”
As a general rule the photo essays are overwhelmingly positive. Most focus on the small pleasures and joyful moments of daily life – a cup of Ethiopian coffee that smells like home, or an afternoon spent with friends of family.
The darker side to the realities of life as a migrant worker is communicated in the second exhibition. Eighteen local graphic designers, helped by information design specialist Joumana Ibrahim, have designed infographics, visually presenting data about migrant workers’ rights as well as the realities of their daily lives.
One displays a timeline of milestones for migrant workers in Lebanon, beginning with a 2005 communiqué from General Security denying workers’ freedom of movement, and charting the bans placed on nationals working in Lebanon by the Philippines, Ethiopia, Nepal, Madagascar and Kenya over the past five years, due to human rights abuses.
A circular chart at the bottom shows the “Rates of Abuse” – from some 99 percent of workers who are denied freedom of movement, to 14 percent who are abused physically, and 7 percent sexually.
Other infographics chart workers’ routes into Lebanon, helped by illegal recruiters, and their average working hours. One is even aimed at employers. The circular chart advises them to look after their employee’s health, remember to smile, try to give credit when something has been done well and allow their workers some privacy.
The exhibitions are open to the public at AltCity in Hamra until Dec. 22.