Smilin' Vic is an avid newswatcher. Whereas I tend to be more of a Huffington Post/MailOnline aficionado, he can't function properly without a balanced daily dose of Al Jazeera English, CNN, France 24 and BBC News. (And FOX News for a laugh when all the rest get too depressing.)
This afternoon, shortly after he'd tuned in to the news, I heard him on the phone: ''Call them. Every last one! Find out if their families made it out.'' He hung up.
I know Smilin' Vic well. He gets slightly breathless and stern when he's upset. His ''commanding'' tone sets in. He dialled again: ''I'll call ''X'', ''Y'', ''Z''. I'll let you know how I make out. Get back to me to me as soon as you have news on the others.''
He came into the kitchen. ''There's been an earthquake, Babe. It's bad. Nepal. 700 dead and the numbers are rising. It's really, really bad. I spoke to ''R'' (Smilin' Vic's co-worker and number one man). His family and house are ok . But it's bad, Babe. A lot of them can't reach their families. The phones are out.''
He got back on the phone. He was visibly shaken. It stands to reason. He probably has about 100 Nepalis reporting to him directly and indirectly. Over the years, he's grown extremely close to some of them. It's not unusual for him to come home with anecdotes of their stellar performance, strong work ethic, loyalty, and ability to get the job done. He often tells me there's good reason the British recruited the Gurkha in service.
In 2014, there were about 400,000 Nepalis living in Qatar, representing about 17% of the country's population. Most of them are here working as manual labourers, security guards, maintenance workers, cleaners. Almost a quarter of this country's workforce will be in mourning tomorrow.
I'm not as quick as Smilin' Vic. I sat there focused on the forest and forgetting the trees. The devastation of a nation was overwhelming.
And suddenly I thought of ''P''. I've been working with ''P'' for the last 2 years. I've always had a soft spot for him. He's the only Nepalese in a company of about 200 Kenyans. I love the Kenyans he works with, as does he, but I can't help but think it's like putting me as a Canadian in the midst of 200 Brits or 200 of any other nationality exclusively. There's no doubt I'd be missing my homeboys. When I first met him, I asked him about it; how was life for him here? He smiled, as he always does, and said it was all good. He never complains. He always smiles. He always carries on. ''P'' has been in Qatar for 10 years; in that time he's managed to earn enough to build a house for his family back in Nepal.
I remembered ''G'', the first Nepali I met when I started working in Qatar. He was a cleaner at the office. He told me he worked every overtime shift he could so he could send enough money back home to his family. He said he once worked eighty (80) 16-hour shifts in a row. He carried on, carrying on. He went back to Nepal suddenly, in 2009, after an alleged fight with a Sri Lankan colleague. He was here one day and gone the next. I never heard from him again. I recall being sad. I remember hoping he'd earned enough money for his family. I remember hoping he wouldn't ever have to work 80 days in a row again. I carried on.
I remembered ''N''. She was a receptionist. She was always smiling. She was smart as a whip. She once told me she'd earned a degree in biochemistry before moving to Qatar with her husband and kids. She and her family went to Canada on vacation one year and never came back. I remember hoping she'd found a job as a biochemist. I carried on.
I remembered ''S''. ''S'' was a Sherpa back in Nepal. He was a tea boy when I met him in Qatar. Every morning he brought me cappuccino. I was trying to lose weight, and would ask him not to bring me anything; I'd go to the pantry and make myself a black coffee. And every morning, he'd show up again with a cappuccino. He was very artistic, and would always draw a heart, or a leaf, or a clover in the foam. Sometimes I'd feign getting upset with him, and tell him that I held him responsible for my expanding girth. He would smile and say ''it's ok, Ma'am''. I never really knew if he understood what I was saying. Perhaps he mistook my laughter, exasperation and jokes for appreciation of his artistic skill. Maybe he just liked seeing me laugh. Or perhaps he was in on the joke and enjoyed seeing me forsake my waistline for a hefty pay and a sip of sweet goodness. I left ''S'' behind when I resigned. I said goodbye, but for reasons I can't explain I never told him it was the last goodbye. I carried on.
Those are the ones that stand out, but there are so many more. The guards in our compound. The maintenance workers. The guy who delivers our propane tanks. The pizza delivery man. The garbage man. Our driver, ''H''.
As I remember the individuals, I realise my faults; faults as wide and as deep as those created by the trembling of the Earth.
I realise I've lost sight of the trees as I focus on the forest.
You see, when we first moved to Qatar, I was overwhelmed with the plight of manual labourers. I remember breaking down and crying in the car, and Smilin' Vic telling me I either had to toughen up and learn to live in this society or we would have to leave. I had to see the big picture. We were here making a life for ourselves, just like everyone else, including the labourers.
So I toughened up. I built an armour around me. Just enough to allow me to carry on. 'Know you, like you, laugh with you, lose you, carry on ... ' I learned to make life better for some while I could, and to carry on once it was over. But tonight I'm filled with remorse as I carry on. I'm not thinking about the big picture. I'm thinking about ''P'' and ''G'' and ''N'' and ''S'' and ''H'' and all the others. I'm thinking it's not enough to be nice and carry on.
Tonight I knew I had to focus on the trees.
I called ''P''. His family's ok. Thank God. But the house he worked 10 years to build? It's gone. After 10 years of hard work, away from his family, surrounded by strangers ... it's GONE. In the blink of an eye. Everything he'd worked for. Yet he'll carry on.
I called ''H''. He told me he'd lost his uncle in today's earthquake. His uncle ''N''. I told him he and his family are in our prayers. He said ''It's ok, Ma'am''. Uhmmmm, no, it's not. He lost his uncle. Yet he'll carry on.
They'll all carry on.
They'll remember. They'll hope. They'll be nice and carry on.
Loved ones are gone. Life as they knew it is gone. Yet they'll carry on.
I find no solace in that. I'm so sad. For them. For their loved ones.
Carry on ...