Crowds are awe-inspiring. They make one nervous. They entice the breakdown of decorum, of self-interest, and make one move as one with a wider, almost irresistible force. A crowd can be a mob, and mobs are scary to those who like rationality. Crowds are capable of this:

London Riots, 2011.
London Riots, 2011.

But crowds are also capable of this:

There were amazing scenes at the Dubai World Trade Centre on Thursday, August 18th 2011. Volunteers gathered by the 1000s to make care packages for blue collar workers stuck in different labour gulags around the city. Snatches of conversation were heard:

Voice 1: If we didn’t have em, we wont be sleeping comfy at night in our beds, yo

Voice 2: Word, sista. Alhumdulillah. Time to give back.

And give back they did.

The Adopt-a-Camp initiative was started by Saher Shaikh, homemaker and mother, but possessed of a waistline about half that of your average cheerleader. She started doing the rounds of labour camps personally years back, handing out care packages. Since, it’s become an annual community event. The Facebook page sold it as a chance to see Dubai at its best. I rather agree.

People were milling around in a frenzy of helpfulness. If anything, there were more people than tasks at times. Everyone wanted to help. Everyone DEMANDED to help. The team leaders, wearing officiously official blue t-shirts, seemed a bit overwhelmed by it all. They ran around, countermanding each others’ orders, getting in the way wherever they could, and standing around observing the chaos. And generally adding to the atmosphere of doing a good deed without having a clue. All good fun.

But managing a mob is never easy. And for the running around, things DID get done, and rather rapidly at that. The trucks were eventually loaded, with towers of uniform (almost) brown boxes stowed next to one another. And off to the labour camps.

Saher’s got some on the job experience with this. She used to push fancy toiletries into boxes when she first started out – to give workers a bit of a treat. She realized later that what they clamour for more are the simple bare necessities, the simple bear necessities – sorry, couldn’t resist the jungle book riff there.

What they wanted was prickly heat powder to deal with rashes and clothes burn, delousing powder to make sure their linen was bug free, and basic toiletries like toothbrushes, razors, soap, etc.

This crowd of mobsters i was proud to be a part of. Well done, Saher and gang, for starting something that’s now an annual community staple. And well done everyone who helped put it together, and who helped pick, carry, stuff, or organize, that night.

PS: Check out Adopt a Camp’s Facebook presence here.