Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Taxes and Credit Cards


I am not superstitious, yet I felt a little shudder when my Lucky Bamboo suddenly just died, and then on Chinese New Year’s, I shuddered again when I saw that my cookie, still in its little plastic shroud, was smooshed, not just broken a little, but broken a lot. (It turned out to be a good fortune.)

Things happen; as I said I am not superstitious. I’m a believer; I believe these things are in God’s hands.

So this week we were playing catch-up, and AdventureMan gathered all the materials for our taxes. He had a few extra minutes before our tax appointment, and made a phone call trying to straighten out a charge we had that was supposed to be removed, and we did not see that it had. While the customer service agent (who was really very good) was running through the list of charges, and I was saying “Yes.” “Yes” “Yes” she started running through a list of credits and I was saying “No, there is only a credit for X” and she is reading off a list that . . . is growing.

And then she says “I need to talk to a supervisor; I will be right back” and comes back very shortly and says there is some suspicious activity on my card and the bank will be sending us new cards immediately.

Just in time, because we have to go to the tax meeting. That meeting went well, except that there were a couple pieces of information our tax person needed and I knew I could get for her, so I would call her before the end of the day.

When I got home, I went to the file where I found two of the missing pieces of information, but not the third. I knew I could find it in my August credit card statement, but it was the only one I couldn’t locate.

Went online so I could download and print, but . . . there were only four months there. Call to the credit card company again, transfer to IT who says that once that card is cancelled, they can no longer “see” the information online, but that they can send me a copy. Yes, yes, good for documentation, but that doesn’t help me with the exact amount I need to provide to my tax lady. Aargh.

It wasn’t a big deal. AdventureMan tracks things through the year and the pieces of information are long-run things, not immediate tax things, but . . . all this happening on the same day.

“It’s a good thing I have my back-up card,” I say to AdventureMan, reminding him of a card I got for just these circumstances (yes, I charged ONE item during the period from Thanksgiving to Christmas at Target, ONE item) so I always have back-up, as well as in case a hurricane hits our house and we have to live in a hotel while our home is rebuilt, yes, I am a planner . . .

And AdventureMan turns white. “Oh no,” he said, ruminatively, “I couldn’t figure out why we had that one, so I cancelled it yesterday . . . ” and then he got on the phone to straighten it out. LOL, a lot of small stuff, all of which ended well, but I couldn’t help thinking maybe I need to get better at growing Lucky Bamboo . . . all these dribbles had to do with money.

My Chinese friend just laughed when we talked today; I had told her I didn’t notify my bank about the Target charge because I figured with 12.5 million people affected, I was just a drop in the bucket. I’ve had this happen now four times, and I was tired of re-doing my automatic charges.

Screen shot 2014-02-07 at 6.02.14 PM

“Oh!” she laughed, “You think it’s like the lottery, that you only had one chance in 12.5 million,” and she is laughing like a crazy woman – at me. Yeh. She’s right. Sometimes,it’s better to bite that bullet right at the beginning, before things get worse.

February 7, 2014 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Cultural, Family Issues, Financial Issues, Living Conditions, Privacy | , , | Leave a comment

Jennie Wants My Help, Sent Photo

I am willing to bet that some poor woman shared this photo somewhere, and the Nigerian scammer lifted it to include with this e-mail. If you want a hilarious read, check out I Do Not Come to You By Chance, by Nigerian author Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani.

Screen shot 2014-02-07 at 7.50.25 AM

Hello Dear,

With due respect and humanity, I am writing this mail with tears and sorrow to seek for your assistance regards to my present conditions since the death of my parents. My name is Miss Gwen Jennie, 21 years old Female, from Monrovia Liberia in West Africa presently seeking asylum in Dakar Senegal as a refugee.

I am now writing to seek for your assistance from Dakar Senegal where I managed to escaped to a nearby country through the help of United Nation authority and now seeking asylum in Dakar Senegal as a refugee,

I lost my parents and want you to stand as my foreign trustee to Receive this money from the bank Five Million United State Dollars deposited with a reputable bank in Madrid Spain while am the rightful next of kin to the deposited fund in Madrid Spain.

I tried to get this money out from the bank in Madrid Spain, but the bank management refused because of my age and present status as refugee, Now the bank management asked to look for a reliable partner abroad who can stand on my behalf and retrieve the fund and I shall send you the fund deposited documents and other information’s as soon as i hear positive news from you,

Please help me i am ready to give you anything from this total money Please if you can help me try to reply me urgently as i will explain more to you and we can discuss fully and God will always bless you for your help which I know you shall never regret.

Reach me faster on my Alternate email for security reason


Hoping to hear from you soon

February 7, 2014 Posted by | Crime, Lies, Nigeria, Scams | Leave a comment

Labor Crisis in Qatar as World Watches Labor Practices

Thank you, John Mueller, for forwarding me this story. We lived in luxury, next to a vacant lot where a few laborers lived with next to nothing. They were the lucky ones, but lived in fear of being caught without passports (their sponsors held their passports) and without any papers. The Indian and Nepalese were treated like animals, not like human beings. They are a means to and end, and treated as a resource, without humanity:

Azfar Khan: Workers’ Advocate | Rising Stars | OZY

Hundres of workers seen from afar wearing blue uniforms and yellow hats

Workers queue up in Qatar

Source: Epa/Corbis

Boarding the bus back to their accommodation camp November 19, 2013


Azfar Khan: Laboring for Labor

February 07, 2014By Laura Secorun Palet

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Why you should care

Because migrant workers finally have an advocate worthy of their wants and needs in a place that believes they deserve none of the above.

Defending the little guy is a stance old as time, but you wouldn’t think the glitzy world of professional soccer would need that kind of advocate. But for the people who work so that others can play in new stadiums and watch from secure bleachers, it’s an entirely different story. And it’s the story being told by migrant workers in Qatar who are helping the city prepare for the world’s largest sports competition in 2022.

Cue Azfar Khan, a Pakistani native living in an increasingly unstable Lebanon because he sees an even greater threat facing the regions’ migrant workers.

“Sorry about the bad connection. There has been an explosion in the neighborhood,” Khan says in a surprisingly relaxed tone over the phone.

When you do something like this, it’s not only about the job — it has to be personal.

The senior migration specialist for the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Beirut, Khan monitors and advises Arab states on how to protect workers’ rights. He is talkative and cheerful, even in the face of bombs and sectarian violence.

Azfar on patio standing outdoors looking away from camera

Azfar Khan

“The security situation is pretty dire,” he says plainly.

If Khan doesn’t sound overly concerned about explosions, it’s because he’s focused on helping the countless immigrant workers who don’t make the headlines. As their champion, he is counseling the Qatar government on how to host the World Cup without violating any more international labor laws.

Working conditions in the region are “pathetic,” Khan says. He believes the kafala system — a traditional sponsorship scheme that binds each migrant worker to a single employer — is incompatible with modern-day labor because it puts workers in a very vulnerable situation.

Last year alone, 185 Nepalese workers —  the single largest group of laborers in Qatar and also the lowest paid — died during the construction of the World Cup infrastructure. More than half, some as young as 16, died of heart attacks or workplace accidents, often after enduring 12-hour days and sharing unsanitary lodgings.

Surprisingly enough, Qatar has ratified most conventions on labor rights, which means all exploitative practices are technically illegal. But rules mean nothing if they’re not enforced.

”People with a little bit of assistance can do a better job about improving their lives than paternalistic policymakers.”

“The problem is an extreme lack of political will,” says Khan. “For example, Qatar has signed the convention on the elimination of forced labor but still allows the practice of withdrawing workers’ passports, which easily leads to forced labor.”

Man on stilts with blue sky in background with his back towards camera

Source: Narendra Shrestha/EPA/Corbis

Nepalese domestic migrant worker Om Kumar Chaudhary, aged 23, fixes a goods lift at a 60 feet high construction building in Kathmandu, Nepal, December 16, 2013.

The Qatari government thinks Khan’s concerns are exaggerated, insisting, according to the Emir, that the country is “on the right track” and “truly committed to treating all workers fairly.”

Yet Qatar refuses to sign one convention — the very one Khan considers most crucial: the freedom of assembly and association. “Without any organization to adequately represent their interests, no matter how much we discuss, we are going to have problems,” he says.

And if you thought it was just a regional issue, think again. This unwillingness to take action is not unique to the Gulf states. According to Khan, “Labor law doesn’t get much attention anywhere, whether it is in developing countries or in developed ones.”

Pushing countries to implement these laws without the momentum of political will is like pushing water uphill, but Khan perseveres in his quest with modesty and conviction.

“I know that what I can do will not be earth shattering, but at least it is a cog in the wheel,” he explains.

Khan is himself a former immigrant who moved to Canada with his mother and sister from his native Pakistan at age 14. Raised in a household partial to Sufi philosophy, he was instilled with a sense of social justice from an early age.

“We were told that we had a commitment to people, and I guess championing the underdog was implicitly part of this teaching,” he says.

Man drinking from thermos in small room with 1 fan and 4 beds in bunkbed positioning.

Source: Amnesty International/Corbis

Migrant worker sitting on a bunk bed in his accommodation in Qatar.

While in Canada, Khan’s dreams of cricketing stardom turned to aspirations of fighting for social justice. He studied economics at McGill University, specializing in development economics before moving to the U.K. and completing his Ph.D. on the impact of international migration on rural Pakistan. In the 1970s and ’80s, Khan noticed how many Pakistanis moved to the Gulf countries to earn money to send home and became concerned about the trend’s long-term effects.

In 1995, Khan started working for the ILO, where he promotes legal and social protection for migrant workers — a dream endeavor, but far from easy. A crucial part of his task is raising awareness among international organizations as well as the governments he already counsels. He thinks institutions should do more to empower those they seek to protect and stop viewing the poor as just another statistic.

What we really need are good institutions that will protect the workers like the unions used to.

Which explains why working face to face with people is Khan’s favorite part of the job. While running experimental community workshops in the region of Kochi, India, he realized “that people with a little bit of assistance can do a better job about improving their lives than paternalistic policymakers sitting in high offices can.” Grassroots work has become just as important to him as presenting reports in well-appointed meeting rooms.

Aerial view of area with new construction and several other buidlings during a sun filled day

Source: Fadi Al-Assaad/Reuters/Corbis

View of Doha city, under construction

The key to moving things in the right direction, he asserts, is public support — and Khan isn’t shy about using the media to get politicians’ attention. In Ukraine in 2003, for example, he surveyed how the restructuring of enterprises promoted by liberal policies was affecting workers’ security. The morning after he shared his results with the press, the issue was discussed in parliament, and his recommendations were adopted by the government.

Information is useful, Khan notes, but taking action is a whole other matter. “So what we really need are good institutions that will protect the workers like the unions used to,” he adds.

Unfortunately Khan’s work is as slow going as it is important, but he’s more than willing to put in the effort. Any moves toward social justice are worthwhile, he says, “regardless of the size.”

Khan’s genuine love of people seems to be the secret behind his boundless enthusiasm. After 20 years of working for the ILO, he will soon be forced to retire, but he plans to keep fighting for the proverbial little guy.

“When you do something like this, it’s not only about the job — it has to be personal. Do you believe in it or don’t you believe in it?” he asks rhetorically.

Spend a minute with Khan, and you too will believe.

Artist rendition of stadium in an aerial view. Very contemporary building with lots of curves and not many hard edges.

A computer generated image shows the stadium to be built in Al-Wakrah.

February 7, 2014 Posted by | Community, Cultural, Doha, ExPat Life, Qatar, Values, Work Related Issues | Leave a comment