Life is a misery for married bachelors

Leaving their families and children in their home countries, a large number of expatriates are forced to live a bachelors life in the UAE.

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Published: Sun 17 Aug 2008, 1:12 AM

Last updated: Wed 16 Nov 2022, 4:17 PM

They are unable to bring their families here because of high rents and the spiralling cost of living.They miss their children as much as their children miss them back home. The suffering is part of their deal for a better future as they try their best to cope with the situation, which is not always possible. T Ramavarman speaks to a number of expatriates to know their views.

When 33-year-old Jose Landicho, who works as a surveyor in a private firm in Dubai, receives a call from his two-year-old son back home in Manila, the Philippines, his heart aches.

However, he quickly recovers and consoles his son with the usual ploy, 'I will come home tonight, and bring a gift for you.'

Discreetly he tells his wife over the phone to buy a gift and give it to the son the next morning.

The following day, he makes the child believe that he had come home late at night and had left a couple of hours later.

The case of 40-year-old Hussein, a store-keeper-cum-accountant in a foodstuff firm in Abu Dhabi, is no different. His six-year-old daughter yells over the phone from his home in Goa, India: 'Papa, be with us. All my classmates are accompanied by their dads when they come to school. Why are you not here to drop us at school?'

'There is no life when the family is not with you. I can't bear this any longer. I'm planning to go back for good when my current contract comes to end by November,' says an exasperated Hussein.

Helmi Mohammed Saleh, 32, who hails from Yemen, leaves his family at Ajman to work in the Human Resources Division of the Gulf Contracting Company in Abu Dhabi.

'I'm very upset over being away from my family. But it is very expensive to get a flat in Abu Dhabi. So I stay here as a single and go to Ajman over the weekends to join my family. My mother is there with my wife and three children,' he says.

'I feel sad as well as happy to be staying here alone,' says Saud Afroze Khan, who works as an accountant with the firm, Olenter, in Dubai.

Saud left his wife in Karachi, Pakistan, soon after his marriage. 'Happy because I can lead a casual life without much personal responsibilities. I can devote more time to work and entertainment. But I feel sad because I miss a partner in life, especially on holidays,' he says.

Mohammed Baroodi, who hails from Hartoon in Sudan, says he has been here for the last 21 years working in the purchase section of a private firm.

'I had to send my wife and three children back about seven years ago because of the rising costs here. I miss my family. Initially it was extremely difficult, but now I've learnt to adjust with the predicament,' he adds.

These are only miniscule representation of the plight of the phenomenally rising population of 'married bachelors' working in UAE.

With the sky-rocketing rents and cost of living they cannot afford to bring their families here. Unfortunately, the rising cost of living has not yet reflected in the wage levels of the expatriates in the region. And with the growing travel expenditure, frequent travels to home have been curtailed.

According to recent reports, a survey by Arabian Business indicated that nearly 60 per cent of the expatriate population in the Gulf region are contemplating moving away from the region in the wake of the rising cost of living here.

The worst hit are those in the lower-middle class. For the low-income workers, labour camp accommodation and minimum level of food provide some solace. But those who earn between Dh2,000 and Dh7,000 struggle to find accommodation and lead a decent life.

'Until two or three years ago, it was possible to lead a comfortable life and make some saving, even in a salary of Dh2,000 a month. But now you can't get a single room accommodation in less than Dh3,500. In areas like Abu Dhabi there is also an acute shortage of rooms,' says Muralidharan from Kerala, India.

Muralidharan, who works as a designer with Emirates Steel Wool in Abu Dhabi, said he was now sharing a room with four 'married bachelors' at Electra.

'If the landlord asks me to vacate, I will have no option but to go back home. At the new rental levels I will not be able to take up a fresh place, unless my salary is doubled,' he said.

Some of the expatriates complain that the rent hikes are arbitrarily imposed on them by the landlords. 'Take it or leave it' is often their attitude.

'My landlord almost doubled the rent three years ago from Dh26,000 to Dh48,000. I was compelled to pay that rent. I could not have relocated to a new place with my family,' says Piroz Khan from Kerala, who works as accountant with a private firm in Abu Dhabi.

Piroz says he has now sent his family back to Kerala as his son wanted to study there, after completing the higher secondary here. The cost of education is certainly one factor that forces the expatriates to send their families. This often forces even working couples to send their children to their relatives back home for continuing education. Both the children and parents then endure the psychological trauma of separation.

Some of the Pakistani expatriates said they send their families back when their children, especially daughters, are of marriageable age, to find good alliances from their own clan.

Interestingly, may expatriates are reluctant to discuss their problems apparently fearing that it may not be liked by their higher-ups. Fear of disdain from the peers also seems to be pulling them back from such discussions on financial constraints.

Telephone is the main link between the expatriates and their families back home.

'My telephone bill comes to about Dh600 per month. My family back home also spends a substantial amount on telephone calls. Both of us have 3G phones,' says Jose.

Some expatriates use Internet chatting facilities with webcam to keep in touch with families. Still luckier are those who can afford to travel home two or three times. Some bring their families on vacation here.

The disintegration of the joint families in countries like India has aggravated the plight of the expatriates and their families there. In the fast-emerging nuclear families there are no support systems and children particularly feel the gap severely when one of their parents are away. This adds to the worries of expatriates.

The expatriates are also concerned about the security of their spouses in their home countries. 'Here a woman can be on the road safely even late at night. This is not the case in many countries,' recalls Hussein.

How do the 'married bachelors' spend their holidays and after-office hours here?

'There are several avenues of entertainment available for the rich here. There is hardly anything for the low-income groups. Our office is closed from Thursday afternoon to Saturday and that is the most agonising time for me. I miss my family. I engage in social activities like Malayalee Samajam,' says Piroz.

'I play tennis and pursue some hobbies' during my holidays,' says Jose.

'After completing washing and cleaning of room, I spend my time on some spiritual pursuits like bhajan (hymns),' says Parameswaran from Kerala who works as an accountant in a private firm in Dubai.

'I spend time with my friends in the evenings,' says Helmi.

Watching movies shopping and spending time with friends are the holiday agenda for Saud.

Happy to be working here

A number of "married women" also are among the expatriate ‘singles’ working in the UAE.

They mostly work as housemaids or bar attendants. They represent many nationalities such as Indian, Sri Lankan, Indonesian, African, and even East European, but a majority of them come from the Philippines. Married women workers opt to take up jobs here in order to tide over financial problems back home.

Like their male counterparts, most of them also face similar problems of home-sickness and loneliness. But there are exceptions too. Archana is one of them.

A 38-year-old married woman, Archana, who hails from Allappuzha in Kerala, is different from others. She proudly says she is happy to be working here, even though her husband and daughter are in Kerala. While her husband works with the Kerala Water Authority, her daughter, a student of engineering, was married off recently.

Archana is satisfied with her life and the way things have shaped for her in the UAE. She runs two trading companies — Phoenix Smart Systems and Golden Phoenix International Foodstuff Trading — in Abu Dhabi. “I have no problems here. I go home whenever I want, and bring my family here frequently.

My family is happy that I am able to lead an independent life and provide employment to several people. I am able to concentrate more on work since my family is not here,” Archana says.

Isolation, anxiety cause depression

The isolation and anxiety associated with the status of ‘married bachelors’ often leads to psychiatric problems.

Depression and anxiety disorders are the most common problems among such patients, according to psychiatrist Dr K. K. Muraleedharan, who works in Abu Dhabi’s Ahalya Hospital.

“Some turn to substance abuse and alcohol. There are some who might develop psycho-sexual dysfunctions. Forgetfulness, lack of concentration in work and low self-esteem are among the most prevalent symptoms among such patients,” says Dr Muraleedharan.

“But all these changes are reversible with proper counselling and medicare.” “Basically, in the absence of a family, such people lack the social support system. It may not always be possible to make friendship with such close bondage. The stress at the workplace and issues like the rising cost of living, add fuel to the fire,” he points out.

“The benefits of social organisations, like elite clubs, reach only to the few because they are very expensive. However, the low-cost community organisations are able to accommodate only a few people.

When people are able to talk about their problems, their worries lessen. That is why going to a psychiatric counsellor becomes important,” Dr Muraleedharan adds.

“The possibility of ‘married bachelors’ developing psychiatric problems depends on several factors like their genetic constitution, personality, background and cultural settings.

People, who are not social and who do not integrate with the mainstream, are more prone to problems of anxiety and depression,” says psychiatrist Nagesh Dhar of Prime Medical Centre, Jumeirah in Dubai. Another related issue is that when the spouses unite after long periods of separation they face several adjustment problems, Dr Dhar points out.

“Both the husband and wife would have developed independent routines and lifestyles during the long periods of separation. They sometimes find it difficult to reshape their life when they reunite. Keeping in touch with regularly and frequent visits from both sides are some of the ways to avoid such situations. Otherwise you lose touch altogether,” he adds.

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