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Bangladeshi construction worker’s diary shares hardships of coming to S’pore, earning S$18 a day

Heartfelt.

Zhangxin Zheng | May 24, 06:03 pm

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In 2008, a 40-year-old Bangladeshi, MD Sharif Uddin, came to Singapore to work.

His writings were turned into a book

Since then, he has penned hundreds of diary entries and poems.

His writings between 2008 and 2016, about his experience as a migrant worker in Singapore, were turned into a bookStranger to Myself.

This is what he had to say about it:

“This diary contains the collected fragments of my experiences. It is not my intention to write anything against my homeland or this country. No hurt feelings, please. I have just written down the most valuable moments of my life here.This diary records observations from my reality.”

The book, which is published by local publisher Landmark Books, won Best Non-fiction title at Singapore Books Awards in 2018.

Business in Bangladesh failed

Before coming to Singapore, Sharif was a bookshop owner managing a few staff members, according to The Straits Times.

However, after his business failed, he decided to find work in Singapore.

He was introduced to a construction job after paying an agent fee of S$8,000.

To come to Singapore, he left behind his wife, who was three months pregnant at that time.

Life was tough working in Singapore

According to an AsiaOne report, Sharif had a hard time getting used to life in Singapore.

He shared that he had to share a dormitory with more than 20 construction workers in central Singapore.

He had to work for 28 days a month, for 12 hours (7am to 7pm) each day. He was paid S$18 a day, most of which would be remitted back home to support his wife and son.

In order to complete some projects, there would be months where he would not get a day off at all.

Being away from loved ones also made it hard for him to endure the gruelling life of a labourer. He wrote in one of his diary entries titled “exile’s life”:

“Maybe my exile from home and nation is a punishment for past sins.”

And here’s a poem that he shared on his Facebook:

Image from Sharif’s Facebook.

Managed to improve his skills, but still “struggled”

To improve his skills, Sharif took night classes and eventually qualified as a safety supervisor in 2009.

He subsequently found a job as a safety supervisor at a manpower supply company in 2012, which paid him about S$50 daily.

Image from Sharif’s Facebook.

While he appreciates having a job here, he shared that there are unrealistic expectations placed on him by people back home.

Some of them think that he earns a lot while living a luxurious life in Singapore.

Image from Sharif’s Facebook.

He was cited in an AFP report saying:

“Even after 11 years here I don’t enjoy life, I am always struggling”

Given the challenges faced, writing became a way for Sharif to express his emotions.

Raising awareness on migrant workers’ contributions

In his writings, he revealed that there is a lack of understanding towards foreign workers in Singapore.

Hence, with his work being translated from Bengali to English, he wishes to raise awareness on the nation building efforts of migrant workers.

He also hopes Singaporeans can be more empathetic towards migrant workers.

Top photo collage from photo from Sharif Uddin’s Facebook and Goodreads

About Zhangxin Zheng

Zhangxin’s favourite pastime is singing Mulan’s soundtrack in the mangrove forests. She hopes to perfect the art of napping in a hammock in the mangroves without being drowned by rising sea levels.

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