It’s no secret that Dubai – as with the rest of the Gulf – imports its labor force, mostly from poorer countries in South and Southeast Asia. Built on the backs of these huddled men (and nurtured and kept clean by women – another story altogether), the metropolis’s shimmering, heaven-reaching silhouette nonetheless remains far removed from their daily lives, which sees them shuttle to and from construction sites and kept in concrete containers branded as “home” – labor camps to the more pragmatic observer.
“Despite all the favors of working in Dubai, a labor camp is by no means a pleasant place,” Lebanese filmmaker Mahmoud Kaabour, who grew up in the UAE, says. “It’s made of cement. It’s pretty large and houses up to 3000 to 4000 men and has very basic amenities in it and lacks in any sort of color. However, this is the sort of place that made the Gulf economy’s rise and this is how the Gulf came to be.”
Kaabour’s new documentary, Champ of the Camp, peeks within these stark walls planted on the outskirts of Dubai to give us a glimpse into how life pulsates in these labor camps. From the stifled ache of nostalgia burning in the men’s eyes to their fraternal bonds formed over a common commitment to unseen loved ones counting the time difference in a real home somewhere across the Indian Ocean, the film triumphs with its intimacy.
“On one side, some myths about camps and enslavement perhaps will be debunked. But at the same time, I hope that someone might watch this and think how these places can be improved or how the employment of these men and their contracts, and the nature of their stay, can be enhanced in a human direction,” Kaabour said.
Kaabour’s film concentrates on a camp-wide talent competition called “Camp ka Champ”, which he says requires a solid knowledge of Bollywood and a passion for singing. Launched by Western Union, the vessel of choice for overseas remittances, the contest serves as a mass outlet for the workers’ woes and a source of entertainment amidst the drudgery of their otherwise tedious time in Dubai.
Check out the trailer, below:
WE SAID THIS: On a lighter note, check out 8 Ways Dubai Rocked in 2013.