But first, we meet Najeeb, and he and a friend are trying their very best to get arrested. Life in prison is far better to what he has suffered through recently.
What could be worse than prison?
It is the 1990s. Najeeb is from Kerala, a state in India. He’s intrigued by all the stories of those working in the Gulf and thinks it a quick easy way to make some fast cash and take care of his pregnant wife and their future child. But things do not go the way he expects.
He is put to work with goats. He tended to goats, milked them, fed them, herded them. The goats were treated better than he was. He didn’t have a cot to sleep on, or shelter. And this is the desert, which means ridiculously hot days and freezing cold nights. The precious water was meant for the goats so he wasn’t allowed any water to wash up with. He is only given khubus (a kind of bread) to eat for lunch and dinner, and some raw goat’s milk in the morning for breakfast. And barely enough water to drink.
We follow him through his days. His hard, painful, extremely dirty days where the only other human he sees is his Arab owner, a mean man who watches him through binoculars to make sure he doesn’t run off while herding goats – and won’t hesitate to shoot. When finally Najeeb meets other people, two Sundanese men who come to shear the sheep, although they don’t have a common language, he is just thrilled to see different faces, to smell a different smell.
“The sense of dejection that descended one me as they departed! I had been enjoying the scent of two humans till then. Now, there were only the animals and me. Grief came, like rain.”
He didn’t expect to be a goat herder. He just wanted to make easy money – his relative got him a work visa. And when he landed in Saudi Arabia, not speaking a word of Arabic, not knowing any details except a name. Someone comes to claim him and they drive far off into the desert where he begins work. There is no choice for there is nothing but sand around. Where can he go? He doesn’t know where he is. He can’t speak the language. And somehow he survives three years, barely human, treated worse than an animal. He is a slave.
“My thoughts were not of my home country, home, Sainu, Ummah, my unborn son/daughter, my sorrows and anxieties or my fate, as one would imagine. All such thoughts has become alien to me as they were to the dead who had reached the other world. So soon – you might wonder. My answer is yes. No use being bound by such thoughts. They only delay the process of realization that we’ve lost out to circumstances and there is no going back. I realized this within a day. Anxiety and worry were futile. That world had become alien to me. Now only my sad new world existed for me.”
What a painful read, brutal even. It’s hard to attract people to read such a book, I know. But I am glad I read it. It is a short read, at just 255 pages, and essentially while it is a rather simple story, it is well portrayed, it is moving and a very unique look at life in Saudi Arabia, far from the towering skyscrapers and modern amenities, far from another human face. It is terrifying to think that this is happening out there.
“Every experience in life has a climax, whether it be happiness, sorrow, sickness or hunger. When we reach the end, there are only two paths left for us: either we learn to live with our lives or protest and struggle in a final attempt to escape. If we choose the second path, we are safe if we win; if not, we end up in a mental asylum or kill ourselves.”
I am using Goat Days for Asian Lit Bingo – Poor or working class Asian MC