This week, my husband decided to write the article, as he is home all day, exploring the ins and outs of living here. He has had to do a lot of the busy work, as well as the daddy work…which includes taking sick kiddos to the hospital. His recent experience made him realize just how things work here when it comes to social structure. I think it was a bit of a wake-up call…but more importantly, a valuable learning experience.
Since the day we arrived here in the UAE I’ve had a strange feeling. I was expecting to feel more like a foreigner, but I really haven’t ever felt like a stranger in a strange land. I’m not really sure why. It’s pretty evident by looking at us that we are not locals! The reason is probably because people here mostly keep to themselves. Now, keep in mind that 80% of the population are expatriates. Most of them are of Arabic descent and have come from other parts of the Middle East. (Interesting geography side note: Arabia is considered to be the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa. Persia is the territory North of the Gulf: Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan. In fact, here in Arabia “The Gulf” is labeled “Arabian Gulf” where most world maps list it as the Persian Gulf.) Sorry, I digress. The reason that only 20% of the population is Emirate (em-er-ah-tee) is simply because of the money in this country. They have the ability to hire out almost every type of service you can imagine, and much like America, people come here for the opportunity. So far it seems that the immigrants mostly keep there heads down, work to send money back home, and keep to themselves.
Fast forward to Sunday.
My family and I have all been very sick. I took Ellison to the hospital last week. In that first visit I learned that you essentially take a number and sit in a waiting room until your number comes up on an LCD screen. In most public places you will find Male waiting areas, Female waiting areas, and Family waiting areas. In the pediatrics and specialty clinic there are only Female and Family waiting areas, so this is where I waited with Ellison for our turns. At any given time there might have been five or eight other people in the waiting area that could have easily seated 30. In my two visits to the hospital this week, the other people waiting have been very nice. Nobody really starts conversation per se, but once you make eye contact and your kids start to somehow innocently interact it breaks down some perceived walls. It was a comfortable environment in which to wait, which was nice because I was very tired. My energy had been drained from being sick. All I could muster up for the past couple days was basically getting up to take the kids to and from school, and that’s all. The other time, back at the hotel, it was the most I could do to get up to get the baby a glass of milk. No matter how friendly, sitting in a hospital waiting room is the last place I wanted to be.
First it was Ellison’s turn, and then we waited in the same area for mine. My ticket number was 8010. On the screens we see 8003, 8004, 8005 ……. 8009, and then … new number sequences appear. And we waited. Although it is common to see numbers slightly out of sequence, I thought it was odd that I didn’t see my number, so I tried to ask and showed them my marker in the line. They assured me my turn was coming. And we waited, and waited, and waited. After over an hour-and-a-half I had a tired, sick, restless baby begging and crying to me “Daddy, I want to go! Daddy, I want to go!” over and over in unintelligible words that only a parent could understand. Meanwhile my throat was on fire, and the only voice I have was a whisper, or even a wimper. I was trying to talk to hospital staff to let them know that I think my number was skipped. Again, they assure me that I will be next and a nurse asks me to follow him to another hallway. “Wait here please. You will be next.”
I see a sign that reads “Male Waiting Area.” When I get there, I see a room about the same size as the last room, but packed to the gills with 50+ men. Now, there I stand with a blond-haried, but tired and crying baby girl, in front of 50 men who just stared at us. My guess is that most of the men were Arabic, but not a single one was Emirate. Some had more fingers than they had teeth. You could tell that most of them had not bathed recently, from their appearance and the stench of body odor. I tried not to look at them rudely, but I’m an observer. These man were not looking at me in the same way as the Emirate men and women in the other waiting room, who would give a smile and try to say in broken English, “What’s wrong baby?” or anything for an excuse to touch her golden strands. I can’t say that I know what the looks meant or if they meant anything at all. It didn’t occur to me until later that I had been moved to segregated waiting area, probably by mistake. In fact, I didn’t think too much about it in the moment because I was just so tired and overwhelmed that really just wanted to collapse and cry. All I could do was hold my baby’s crying head on my tired shoulder while we comforted each other.
There is no way to know for sure WHO was in that waiting room, and what nationalities they were, or what they were thinking with those blank, although penetrating stares, but I do know one thing for sure. There were no Emirates in that room. There were no “Westerners” in that room. There is a class system in the UAE. Emirate’s are, obviously, at the top of the totem pole. Out of respect for everybody else on said totem pole, I’m going to refrain from listing who fits where. It should suffice to say that I’m betting that most of these men were near the bottom. The previous waiting room that I was in was for “important” people and now I had been moved into the room with “the others.” Interesting position to be in. Here I am, in this a country, very near the top of the proverbial food chain (which by the way I had never really put to much thought into), moved into a room of laborers from all around the world. I was very suddenly the distinct minority. For the first time in my life I knew what it felt like to be among the castaways. They were probably all really nice guys. Nearly EVERY person with whom I have interacted here, especially the Asian workers) has been nice and genuine.
In the USA we have been bombarded for decades about the people in this part of the world who want to inflict harm upon Americans. Especially in the last 9 years. The part that bothers me is that I have to take with me the fact that the thoughts even went through my head. The men in that room never did a thing to me. Their religion (Islam), which is one of peace, love, and caring for the less fortunate, has never done anything to me. In fact it’s religious fanatics who make unsolicited attacks on others in the name of their God and not religious doctrines that preach doing so, but I digress.
Having said all of this, the point is that there is far too much intolerance in this world. Even back home right now the same theme litters the papers and it makes me crazy. The best I can do is expose myself and my kids to these exact types of diverse situations now while they are young. These types of situations that get us out of our comfort zone are the ones that help us to expand our comfort zones. We’ve always wanted to live outside of the U.S. to expose ourselves and our kids to other cultures. If I do still carry hints of prejudice carried down from many generations, then hopefully this experience as an expatriate will stop that cycle and open their eyes beyond looks, so they they will never make anybody else feel like a stranger in a strange land.