UAE, and Qatar
Sun 16 Mar 14 - Sat 22 Mar 14 79 °F
This past month I spent a whirlwind week in 3 cities - Doha in Qatar, and Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
Observations, facts and musings follow...
UAE Arab Immigration officers are superbly well put together - crisp white robes, elegant cuff links and precision groomed beards. Ridiculously expensive watches. Didn't get to interact with a single Emerati man or Qatari man outside of the immigration desk.
The hotel driver, an Indian Muslim, was happy to speak to me in Hindi, and we chatted a bit about his hometown, Hyderabad, where I too had lived for a couple of years. He proudly showed me pictures of his fiancé, his 16 year old fiancé, who he was going to allow to finish 10th Grade. He has a college degree so I asked him about letting her study further and he responded with "what will she do with a college degree." Thinking about it now, I too am not sure what she will "do" with a college degree because more than likely she will have 2 kids by 20, live with her in-laws, and might actually be quite happy with her lot in life. The argument that education makes for a more empowered next generation and all that just seems to fall flat in this context.
The cities seem to be run with imported labor. Sorta like Singapore. Brain labor provided by the white man, relationships with the ruling class by other Muslims like Jordanians and Egyptians, service from the Philipinos, physical labor by Bangladeshis and Indians. It's all purchasable labor, albeit at different prices. All just a commodity.
Dubai has the veneer of liberal - white women in tank tops playing volleyball on the beach, moneyed Indians sitting at coffee shops, that sort of thing. Yet, seeing a skimpily clad woman made me want to shake her and say "have you not read a single thing about not doing this. It technically is called 'asking for trouble'" - and yes, I know I sound old fashioned.
Qatar has no coins - or at least no one gave me any change! And the UAE Dhirams small change has numbers only in Arabic - so I don't quite know how much change I got back.
Doha is a city rising out of the desert, a purpose-built city for the Qatar 2022 Football World Cup. The streets are not busy although construction sites are buzzing. Saw a lonely Hop on Hop Off bus with not a single person on it.
Met my one and only Qatari - and that too a woman! A veiled woman in a leadership position. I can count the number of Qatari women in leadership on one hand, actually I just need 3 fingers. There must be something exceptional about her for her to be "given" that position. Apparently Qatari citizens do not have to work, though they are recently being encouraged to. So as a Qatari if she has chosen to work, that itself is commendable. And then as a woman if she wants to work, that is remarkable! The kind of challenges she must face, I don't think I can even begin to fathom.
Lean In and other Womens Rights stuff takes on a whole another dimension- she ordered tea for us, and she drank hers by holding her teacup under her veil. And this woman is responsible for millions of dollars of investment and she has to drink her tea under her veil. In comparison, I am happy to simply cover my arms, and to live among friends and family who let me say what I want, and live life the way I wish to engineer it. Now that is free, and liberal.