Friday, August 8, 2008

Know your market

All over Salalah, posters for a long distance phone company cover the sides of pay phone booths. They boast of 25 cent per minute rates to the Philippines, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and India. The promotion clearly caters to the guest worker population hailing from these respective countries, featuring versions of the ad in what seems to be Urdu, Bengali, Tamil, Hindi, and, of course, English.

It goes without saying that no matter what faraway place is called or what language is used to call that faraway place, this good looking man will answer and smile while holding his hand up to his ear mimicking a telephone.

Although marketing to the migrant population as consumers takes place in several languages, the labor market depends largely on English. Nearly all high-end jobs require English and it functions as something of a lingua franca in transactions between Arabic-speaking Omanis and Hindi/Urdu/Bengali/Tamil speaking migrant workers.
It also seems to be the language for labor recruitment. I found this advertisement on the corner of my hotel. It is clearly aimed at migrant workers; despite the government's Omanization program, in which all workers of a certain sector must be Omani (all taxi cab drivers, for example, are Omani), the construction workers that are building the roads, the office buildings, the banks, and the gigantic new Sultan Qaboos Mosque in downtown Salalah are South Asian. And for those of you who are wondering, 5 Riyals a day equals about $12, more than the maintenance people in the university at which I'm studying make.
Another interesting dimension to labor and migration in Oman is that as South Asians are traveling to Oman to work as unskilled laborers, some Omanis are traveling to the Gulf to work as unskilled laborers. They usually spend a few years there saving money for marriage before returning to Oman.
I wonder how migrant labor influences culture. The South Asian influence in Oman is clear. Every restaurant carries biryani and the cinemas in town only screen Bollywood movies. Do migrants bring Oman back to Kerala or Peshawar or Dhaka?