Monday, May 11, 2009

Event Review: Taste of Culture

On May 2nd, the “Taste of Culture” festival was held in Souk el Tayeb to honour the labour of migrant domestic workers in Lebanon, followed by panel discussions in the evening in Masrah al Madina, a photography exhibition, and a hip hop/reggae concert to end the long day with.

FC members, Zainab and deema, sat down and talked about the event.

deema: So how did the taste culture festival at souk al Tayeb go?

Zainab: It was good. Good food, good music. Simba Rousseau, who was responsible for organizing the event, said that she was very satisfied. Basically, it was Saturday, it was Souk Al Tayeb, and there were many people there, from Lebanon and other countries; they weren’t there for that particular event per se, but people seemed interested in approaching the people who were offering the food, asking about the dishes and then buying. And those who were selling the food—cultural dishes from six different countries, seemed to be enjoying their time selling what they had prepared. I tasted the Sri Lankan food, chilli chicken with rice—very delicious!

deema: The event was held to honour migrant domestic workers on Labour Day. Were there many migrant workers there?

Zainab: No, not so much, which is understandable, because many workers are not free to leave the houses they work at, or to attend events. And how about the panels at Masrah Al Madina. There were two panels there, right? What were the topics discussed?

deema: Yeah, there were two panels. The first one was a “Lebanese panel,” of “experts” giving an overview of the situation of migrant workers, presenting a gendered look at how racism and sexism of the Lebanese society is working against migrant workers, and talking about the efforts caritas is doing to help.

The other panel, which was by far the more interesting, and the more important panel, had the leaders of the migrant communities in Lebanon to speak about their situation. The first speaker, from Madagascar, told about her work with migrant women, how she listens to them and offers them affection. As she told us, these women have sad stories to tell, not just about their lives in Lebanon, but back in their home countries as well.

The second speaker, a woman from Sudan, also went over the particularities of the Sudanese migrants’ case, where they willingly flee their country and come to Lebanon with their families, but their visas expire and for political reasons, don’t get extended. And so they become unregistered. Sudanese migrants may not live in their employers’ houses, but they face similar attacks of racism from society: from harassment on the streets, to bad treatment and underpayment where they work, with their children also experiencing racism at their schools.

The speaker from the Philippines added her perspective, telling us that the minute migrant workers step off the plane, the bad treatment begins. Employers expect her to work all day, she said, from the moment she opens her eyes till they decide to go to sleep. And she has not yet found the family that treats her as a human.

Zainab: Could you talk a bit about what went wrong? Cos some of us, and not just from the FC, expressed dissatisfaction during the panels.

Yeah, what went wrong was that we seem to think that the migrants can’t speak for themselves. That we need “experts” to introduce the issue and to give us an overview. But those women know their own situation pretty well, they know about the law that doesn’t protect them, that throws them in prisons under the worst conditions and forgets about them there. So that first panel—the “Lebanese panel” was not really necessary. It lasted too long, and we didn’t really learn much from it. It should’ve been all by migrant women. So that’s a lesson for us for our next event!