I often get drawn to the simple lives of Asian labourers. I was never sure why until a couple of months ago when I wandered in a small labour camp. I was looking for a carpenter to replace my door and it was the only place I knew I could find one in a hurry.

About half a dozen, skinny and gaunt souls stood up to welcome me as I walked in. They told me to wait for the carpenter, who they expected to be back in a few minutes. I was about to say that I would come later, but somehow lingered a little longer.

They motioned me to sit on a worn-out mat under an old tree. One of them bought a drink from an adjoining shop and offered it to me. We were sitting in a smelly, open yard and the source of the stench was an overflowing septic tank in the middle of the enclosure.

They explained that their employer did not bother to repair it since it cost money to do so. There were three huts shared by sixteen of them. I knew they were sixteen because I counted the beds in that courtyard. Since the huts did not have air conditioners, they slept half-naked and in the open air.

Their bathroom was a small, roofless wooden shed that had tiled floor. The branches of two big trees provided the support of the covering of their kitchen, which was made of canvas. This was the home of a team of labourers that made their employer a very rich man in the last 12 years.

As I was talking to them, I looked at their weather-beaten bodies ravaged by hard labour. Their weak voices somehow did not lack humour and their eyes radiated life despite the hardship they endured. There was something good emanating from them and it was hard for me to understand.

They knew they were treated as sub-humans by a man, who lived in a mansion just hardly a kilometre from their labour camp.

Despite all that, they had no hard feeling because they had nothing but warm words for him. They were no fools and they understood their limitations. Why fight something that they could not change?

Five minutes later, the old carpenter walked in and I was introduced to him. He promised to come over to my house the next day and I left the yard immediately. He turned up as promised and did his work.

When he finished, I asked for the fee of his service and he said I could pay him anything. I refused until he named his fee. He did eventually and it was below the average standard for the work. I paid him and he walked away happily.

A week later, my mother came to visit me and she admired the new door. She asked me how much I paid for and I boasted that I got myself a bargain. It was then my mind drifted to the labour camp and the appalling condition the workers lived in. I already condemned their boss, but I also took advantage of one of them by paying him almost a pittance.

It was too late and he would not have accepted if I had gone back to offer him more money. So I left it like that, but the truth is that we all take advantage of the little people no matter how much compassion we have for them. I guess they remind us of the widening gap between them and the people they serve for.

The writer is an Oman-based freelance columnist. This article has been reproduced from the Khaleej Times.