Sunday, 5 November 2017

Construction worker writes memoir about working in Singapore

Book contains diary entries and poems by Bangladeshi on his experiences in Singapore since 2008
By Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 4 Nov 2017

The sacrifices of migrant workers are written in many parts of Singapore - in the bricks of buildings, ship irons and under the floors of houses.

Mr Md Sharif Uddin, a construction safety supervisor, paints pictures with his words.

The 39-year-old has written several hundred diary entries and poems in a memoir style in chronological order since he first arrived here in October 2008.

Now, more than 100 of his stories and poems written in Bengali have been translated, compiled into a book and published by local publisher Landmark Books.

Mr Md Sharif is believed to be the first Bangladeshi construction worker to publish a memoir in English about his experience working in Singapore.

"The book is (a collection of) my feelings and memories," he said.

To work here, he left behind his newly-wedded wife, who was then three-months pregnant.

He was running a bookshop in Rangpur, but the business failed after the local government declared that the building which housed his bookshop was being used illegally, he said.

He got the idea of working in Singapore from a customer of his bookshop and paid $8,000 to an agent in his country, who arranged for a construction job for him.

"I had no choice," he said.

He earned $18 a day, most of which he saved and sent home to support his wife and son, now eight.

Meanwhile, he took night classes and was qualified to become a safety supervisor in 2009.

But it was not until 2012 that he found work as a safety supervisor and his salary rose.

He now earns about $60 a day for a manpower supply company which sends him to construction sites that need safety supervisors.

While thankful for the opportunity to work here, he said employers and Singaporeans do not understand foreign workers well enough.

"Foreign workers contribute to Singapore," he said. "Some Singaporeans don't understand our sacrifices, feelings and problems. I hope the book can help Singaporeans understand us better," he said.

In his book, Mr Md Sharif writes about his journey to Singapore, how he has missed his family over the years and how upset he gets when employers ill-treat foreign workers.

The book draws its title, Stranger To Myself, from an essay he wrote in 2015.

The essay, The Death Of Dreams, is about how the dreams and hopes of migrant workers were crushed when they found that working in Singapore was not what they imagined it to be, he said.

"It is like the migrant workers don't recognise themselves any more," he said of the book's title.

Landmark Books publisher Goh Eck Kheng said he came to know of Mr Md Sharif's writing through the book Written Country: The History Of Singapore Through Literature, which was released last year.

Mr Md Sharif had been commissioned to pen a poem on the 2013 Little India riot for the anthology.

Mr Goh asked him for more of his work. "He sent in one whole stack of diary entries and poems," Mr Goh said.

On reading them after having them translated, Mr Goh said he decided to publish the writings because "there is a certain honesty in his voice".

"Anyone who reads the book will understand," he said.

The 176-page book, which costs $19.90, will be launched at the National Library today during the Singapore Writers Festival.

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