Thimphu is a city growing on the backs of temporary foreign workers.
With a current population of roughly 80,000 expected to double over the next 25 years, Bhutan’s capital is exploding at the seams. And because most native Bhutanese deem construction work below their social status, it’s Indians who are raising the new apartment blocks you see cropping up in every direction you look.
Similar to the situation in Dubai—though, it must be noted, nowhere near as extreme or as cruel—this expatriate labour pool is growing to constitute a sizable chunk of Thimphu’s population. It is also, as I understand it, a group vulnerable to be taken advantage of.
How do these thousands of temporary foreign workers live? Most, for the duration of a project, dwell in small, impromptu tin shacks erected on the construction sites employing them. With few women in the country willing to socialize with these men, how do they occupy their social time in a healthy manner? How are they treated by society at large? And what legal rights do they have?
I have a strong hunch that Bhutan’s international reputation as a nation of happy people is skipping over a significant segment of society. While Thimphu enjoys an unprecedented real estate boom, the Indian labourers making it possible are being forgotten.
Gross national happiness? Yes, for some.
More photos at my Flickr stream.
*I pitched this story to a few international newspapers back in April. The Globe and Mail‘s response was encouraging. One of their foreign editors wrote to say that they thought I had something, but that federal politics was squeezing the international section to a minimum; space couldn’t be made for Bhutan. The Financial Times and a couple of other media outlets wrote back with similar messages. Eventually, a magazine based out of Kathmandu said they’d buy the story. But the pay was low and since, technically, I’m not allowed to practice journalism in Bhutan under threat of possible deportation, I declined and let the project go. I still think there’s a real story here, though. Waiting in Thimphu for whoever wants it.Social tagging: bhutan > construction > indians > journlaism > labour > real estate > thimphu > work