A Fisherman’s Story

When Henry Benjamin, 44, sets out to sea at 3 am, he is doing what innumerable fishermen from the Kerala coast have done for generations. Henry though, has just returned from a four-year break in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates (UAE).

When Henry Benjamin, 44, sets out to sea at 3 am, he is doing what innumerable fishermen from the Kerala coast have done for generations. Henry though, has just returned from a four-year break in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates (UAE).

For many, who didn’t get the chance to “cross the seas”, as Henry puts it, going to UAE is a dream. When Henry finally got his chance, he borrowed Rs160,000 (about $3500) from a local moneylender to pay one of the many recruitment agents in his small coastal town. Henry’s dreams were coming true when he flew to Sharjah in February 2005 to work for a construction firm.

The fisherman used to live with his wife and two children in a modest house in Kerala. In Sharjah, he was forced to share a room and bath with nine other workmen. Worse, for the first nine months, he had no work, and wasn’t paid, although he was given free food and lodging. Meanwhile, the loan he’d taken at an exorbitant interest rate kept growing.

At times, he found odd jobs, but Henry’s contract barred him from working for others. When he was caught, his contractor came down hard. For 59 days, he wasn’t given any work or food. “Had it not been for the kindness of my fellow fishermen who’d gone with me,” Henry says, “I don’t know what I’d have done.”

When he finally got a job, he earned 1900 dirhams ($517) a month. After paying for his lodgings, food and the moneylender’s installment, he could send up to Rs10,000 home at times – far more than he earned as a fisherman. Henry’s work was hard; he had to run errands and carry material up skyscrapers under construction. Even so, life had improved for his family back home. Henry’s son and daughter could go to college. But after four years, the global recession struck. He was laid off in July 2009 and returned home. Seven months on, his net worth is much lower than it was before he left for Sharjah.

Henry is back working on a fishing boat, earning just Rs150 a day plus a small part of the catch. That keeps the home fires burning, but there’s still the loan – the interest alone is now Rs4000 a month – and Henry can’t pay it back. Today, Henry’s Rs160,000 loan has more than doubled. “I like my job as a fisherman,” he says, “but I have to go back to the Gulf after the recession ends. Only then can I hope to become debt free.” Ironically, before he crosses the seas again, Henry may have to take another loan to pay yet another recruiting agent.

Source: Reader’s Digest

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About Manu Remakant

Manu has written 288 stories in Rum, Road & Ravings. You can read all posts by here.

Still quiet here.sas

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