In the second part of Billy’s experience in Dubai, he reveals how life got tough during the lockdown. Due to financial constraints, he moved out of the apartment he was residing in and moved to Union Park. Thankfully, he met an old acquaintance who helped him get back to his feet, and even encouraged him not to lose faith, leading to his breakthrough.
Just when Billy thought everything was finally heading his way, life threw him a curve ball. When the lockdown was declared, it seemed like it would be transitory and life would eventually return to normal. He never imagined that it would get to the point where we would lose his job. Though unemployed and in a foreign country, he still had the responsibility of taking care of his family.
To avoid worrying his wife, he did not share his dilemma. Hoping the lockdown would end soon and he would return to work, he used his savings to send money home to cover family expenses.
When the lockdown was lifted, he returned to his former company expecting to be taken back, but unfortunately they were not actively recruiting. He decided to apply to other companies but they all had the same response, “Business is still down. We are not in a position to hire new workers.” He pressed on, hopeful, for a couple of months of paying the high rent, trying to survive, and taking care of his family. Eventually, he exhausted his savings. He changed his accommodation and started sleeping at Union Park so he could sustain taking care of his family for a while longer. On most days, he did not have a real meal for himself.
At Union, there are so many Africans, especially Ugandans. One day he ran into an old schoolmate, Jackson. It was the first time he had met someone from home that he knew. He felt like he had met a brother. On seeing his condition, Jackson offered him a bed for 300 Dirhams, which he would pay when he got a job. He grabbed this opportunity since he had had enough of the miserable life on the streets. It turns out that his friend was a bed space landlord. In order to make profits from renting his apartment, he sub-rented beds to other people.
Most of the bed space was occupied by Ugandans, which made him feel right at home. There were all kinds of local meals, they spoke their native language, and shared the same values, unlike in his first accommodation. Undoubtedly, he felt more at home in the new place than in his previous one.
He continued job hunting, which was now his only expenditure in Dubai through printing CVs and transport costs. He had foregone buying himself food in favour of providing food for his children. This was because he survived at the mercy of his housemates who used to share their food with him. Sometimes he would offer to cook for the busy ones, expecting to be part of the dish. In time, his money got spent completely. At this point, he had been unemployed for a year, yet his responsibilities kept on growing because the more his children advanced to higher classes, the more expensive their education became.
At this point, his tenacity started waning. He gave up on Dubai and started looking for someone to lend him money for a ticket to travel back home. His visa was also about to expire in just two days, which added to the pressure. He was aware of the fact that no one was going to lend him the money, so his plan was to go to the police and hand himself over before they come for him when he overstayed. He would be arrested and locked up for about two weeks, but eventually they would deport him, which he wouldn’t need to buy a ticket for.
A housemate came across a job walk-in interview post in one of the WhatsApp groups of Ugandans living in Dubai. He asked Billy and other housemates who were looking for jobs to try it out, but he brushed it off. After all, he had attended countless walk-in interviews in which he was not even interviewed due to the overwhelming number of job seekers. In addition to that, the company’s job posting was for restaurant waiters and runners, a field in which he knew he had no chance due to his large frame. However, Jackson encouraged him to try it and even offered to give him money for transport and printing his CV. Since he didn’t want to disappoint his friend, he went there begrudgingly along with other small framed colleagues he deemed suitable for the job.
At the interview, while everyone was nervous about facing the interviewer, he was relaxed knowing he did not come to get the job. He did not have any experience in hospitality, and was honest enough to reveal that. After a casual conversation with the manager, he was asked to stay and work for the company and would be trained from scratch. He was given a contract and an offer letter on the spot. He would be working as a runner with a salary of 3500 Dirhams plus service fee, visa and weekly tips, which was double the salary from his previous job. It all seemed like a dream. I always reference him as an example of how God intervenes at the last minute when we have given up hope. He was so excited that he doesn’t remember how he got home that day. All he remembers is walking out of the restaurant with his friends who were congratulating him.
In the final chapter of our ongoing series, Billy divulges how his situation made him cut off all communication with his wife, and how they came up with a permanent solution.