Living with intent, social engagement, learning, growing, giving
My 3 1/2 week trip to the Middle East has drawn to an end. I spent time in 4 countries, did a lot of work, made many presentations, and met a lot of people. Even one year ago I would have found such a trip exciting and would have buzzed from the interactions and business opportunities that will come from the trip. For various reasons though I spent most of my spare time (of which there was precious little) wondering why on earth I wasn’t at home with my precious family. My job is no longer fun. I wonder if it’s because my responsibilities have multiplied along with my workload? I feel like I don’t have time to do anything properly so I’m skating over the surface and doing what is good enough to satisfactorily complete the task. I’m also removed from the science which is a real pity. I find that when I’m talking to someone, part of my mind is occupied with evaluating my to do list and wondering at the value of the conversation compared to the cost of not doing time-critical tasks. This can’t be sustainable.
Anyway, I’ve written some notes here about some of my experiences as an Australian, agnostic woman, travelling alone in the Middle East.
I spoke to a Bedouin man (Ahmed) who said that he has a large tribe to whom he must show hospitality and he’s the only member of his tribe living in this region, so his hospitality is often called upon. The first time that a clansman visits Ahmed’s home, Ahmed must have a lamb slaughtered and served to the guests. The lamb costs more than 2 weeks salary and most months he has one first time visitor. Ahmed can stay afloat financially in months with only one first time visitor but sometimes he has two and that is financially crippling. Ahmed also says that he misses his wife because there are so often visitors in their home and they must remain gender segregated that they don’t get enough time together. I don’t know anyone else that could cope with such heavy demands on hospitality, not emotionally or financially. Ahmed said that there are some Bedouin who are asking that a lamb not be sacrificed when they visit, both in recognition of the financial cost but also the wastefulness. It will be interesting to see what happens with that tradition.
On the hospitality of the Bedouin:
No matter how poor a Bedouin may be, one is certain of never being without supper on entering his tent. Northern Najd by Carlo Guarmani
About an impoverished Bedouin family that Carlo Guarmani encountered:
The Scerarat expected us to be their guests for the night. We entered their miserable tent, out of which the women and children were turned, and it was with difficulty that we persuaded them to allow the children, at any rate, inside to sleep. A little semek flour, a loaf of tartut bread and camel’s milk was all the little feast consisted of. I call it a “feast” because, in order “to get the maggots out of our heads ” … (the host) improvised a long poem, stimulating thus out appetite with the … monotonous cadence of his verse. The final word was like a refrain, repeated by the empty mouths of his family and by my companions, between their mouthfuls.
This is by far the most relaxed that I’ve been in the Middle East, partly due to familiarity but also because I didn’t have any negative experiences. I almost forgot to put on my abaya before crossing the border one time! Another example of my comfort this time was that (while in the expat compound), I drove my colleague’s car! He has a comfortable girth and was parked in by another car, whereas I was easily able to climb into the car, so I backed the car out of the space. He was so delighted by the novelty of a woman driving his car for the first time that he got me to drive to our building. It was entirely with the expat compound where the usual rules don’t apply but it was still an interesting cultural experience. In the past he has lamented the terrible driving of women in Dubai and Bahrain. I’ve always suggested that with proper and extensive training women can drive as well as men. He was pleasantly surprised and said that I’m a good driver.
While there, I went to a dinner and technical talk with a local professor I know. He always dresses immaculately in traditional clothes. So, I wore my most conservative black hijab with my abaya. Imagine my surprise when I saw expat women there in normal clothes and no hijab and boy did I get stared at! I was even asked why I was dressed so conservatively and whether my husband insists upon it! I was comfortable however, partly because of the anonymity that the loose black garbs afford and the protection from criticism. Also, the last time that I attended a technical talk with dinner there, I wore an orange hijab and was hit on by a sleazy Balkan man, so I hope that the black hijab will protect me.