Baghdad: Constantine Rodriguez had just fetched chilli peppers and was going out to get some onions when he heard the siren for an incoming rocket. All he remembered was a door blasting open and a loud explosion.
A quiet man from Goa, Rodriguez was working at a Pizza Hut restaurant at Taji, one of the main US air bases in Iraq, when he was caught up in an attack.
He is lucky to be alive, said Lieutenant-Colonel Matthew Martin, the surgeon who treated him earlier this month at the 28th Combat Support Hospital, Baghdad. Shrapnel took out an eye, pulverised one of his legs and damaged his torso.
“I don’t blame anybody. Just take care of me and my family. One leg. One eye. What can I do with my family now?” said Rodriguez from his hospital bed.
The Kuwaiti firm that employed Rodriguez, Al Homaizi, operates 11 Pizza Huts, 13 Burger Kings and five Taco Bells on American bases in Iraq, said Joe Petrusich, who runs the firm’s Iraq restaurants.
It employs about 300 workers, recruited in Kuwait but nearly all from poor countries in Asia: India, Bangladesh,Sri Lanka, Nepal and the Philippines.
They are a small part of the vast army behind the army— the tens of thousands of “TCNs” or “third-country nationals”—hired to feed US troops, wash their laundry, build their compounds and clean their toilets, for salaries of at most several hundred dollars a month. For poor countries, allowing their citizens to work in Iraq has been controversial and often politically sensitive.
India has told its citizens not to work in Iraq since 2004, when three Indian contractors were kidnapped. But there is little a country can do to prevent its citizens taking work that pays much better than jobs at home. The Philippines now puts stamps in new passports saying they are not valid for travel to Iraq. Petrusich said the firm still employed Filipino workers in Iraq, as long as they have old passports without the stamps.
Al Homaizi offers staff at its Kuwait restaurants double pay if they go to Iraq.
For Rodriguez, that was the equivalent of about $450 a month (Rs18,450) enough finally to find a wife and start a family back in India after 10 years of working in Kuwait. The average per capita income in Goa is about $1,100 a year.
Petrusich said Rodriguez would receive free medical care in Kuwait, including physiotherapy and a prosthetic leg, and one-off payments totalling 18,333 Kuwaiti dinars, about $55,000, if he is finally deemed permanently disabled. Reuters