“Sometimes I feel quite distinctly that what is inside me is not all of me. There is something else, sublime, quite indestructible, some tiny fragment of the Universal spirit. Don’t you feel that?” ― Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn
I read a report by Al Jazeera dated 28 Jan 2019 about how ‘Twitter users mocked authorities in the UAE after it emerged that winners of an initiative designed to foster gender equality in the workplace were won entirely by men.’
The report also referred to the status of women in UAE, saying:
‘The UN was concerned that it was still possible for a man to prohibit his wife from working and to limit her freedom of movement.’
This last paragraph took me back to our first years in Dubai in 1984 when we first went to work and live there. We were part of the foreign workforce in Dubai. For any of us in to be able to work and live in Dubai we had to have an employment contract and a sponsor, primarily the employer.
As I have mentioned in my earlier blog posts, the advertising company that my husband worked for transferred him to Dubai before closing its offices in Beirut due to the ongoing civil war. So his company, in this case his sponsor, was responsible for his work permit and thus his residence visa.
As for me, even though I had a signed contract with a company, my husband suggested at the time that it was better if he sponsored me so that I would have the freedom to change jobs. Something he didn’t have then. To change jobs you had to also change sponsors and your visa would get cancelled; you had to leave the country for six months and only afterwards could you apply for a new job. Back then that was definitely not an option for my husband and for so many of our friends.
I was lucky that my husband belonged to the category of workers who could sponsor their wives. Not everyone could do that. However, before I could even work my husband had to write a letter to the Ministry of Labor. In the letter he wrote that he had no objection for me, his wife, to work, and hence I was granted a work permit.
He did the same afterwards for my driving license. Once again he wrote a letter to the authorities concerned saying that he, my husband, had no objection for me, his wife, to drive a car. Hence I was allowed to register with a driving school and get my license.
We didn’t mind doing whatever was necessary. I had my family and a great job teaching mathematics to high school kids and coordinating the entire Math department in an international school of over 3000 students, so it wasn’t a big deal writing all those letters and filling out all those forms.
In my spare time I was also taking correspondence courses and writing a book. When I finished my manuscript I started looking for publishers. I got a list from Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and I queried them. Unfortunately 9/11 had just happened and all my manila envelopes were returned back to me unopened. So I had to look locally and was lucky to find one publisher.
The first and most important thing the publisher informed us was that the manuscript had to be approved by the Ministry of Information and Culture and that my husband had to write another letter saying that he had no objection for his wife to write a book, and what’s more, that he did not object to have it made public. The publisher then instructed my husband to take the letter and my manuscript on a floppy disk on my behalf to the ministry for approval and censorship. Only then was an ISBN assigned and the disk went directly to the printers, in this case Al Bayan Printing and Press.
After the book was published, my husband had to deliver ten copies of the book to the ministry, as required. All the talk and negotiations were carried out on my behalf by my husband. I was never present in any meetings and yet the book got published. There was no press release or anything. The book was placed in Book Corner, a bookstore that sold English books.
When it was time for us to leave the country for good in July 2006 and immigrate to Canada, a representative from my husband’s company drove us to the airport and accompanied us to the departure gate to make sure that we were leaving the country and that our visas were cancelled.
Despite all that I felt sad at the airport. Sad that a part of our lives, a good part of our lives, was over. All rules and regulations set aside, we had a good life in Dubai, we met so many good people and made many good friends.
Twelve years later as a Canadian citizen, I feel blessed to have a place to finally call home. I feel blessed to be valued as a woman and treated as a first class citizen. I feel safe knowing that I won’t be escorted out of the country when I lose my job. And for the first time in a long time I feel that I belong.
“When traditional rationality divides the world into subjects and objects it shuts out Quality, and when you’re really stuck it’s Quality, not any subjects or objects, that tells you where you ought to go.” R.M. Pirsig
Have a great week!