December 12, 2009

Aggression and Testosterone

Anyone who knows me knows that I like men. I've worked in male-dominated departments for years with few incidents. I don't think I've ever been accused of being a feminist man-hater.

Having said all that, however, I've come to find myself quite ill at ease in this male-dominated society I now live in.

I am surrounded by men and more than that, I am part of a society that seems to have no place for women. And certainly not Western women.

There is an aggression here that is unsubtle. You see it on the roads, and in the sheer numbers of men out on the streets. But I don't fear for my safety; I fear for my visibility and my sense of self.

In this society, I don't really exist. And that's weird. And rather than inspiring me to step up, it has made me shrink back. Serious business deals aren't done with women. The real estate agent addresses Paul and I'm just in the back seat of the car, along for the ride.

Women here wear the abaya for religious and cultural reasons. It protects them from the prying eyes of men who are not related to them. And I actually get that. But it also puts them in the background. They are shadows that fill in the margins around the men.

And so I struggle to find my place among all of this.

December 7, 2009

Junk Mail -- Any Mail Will Do

I've been looking fairly compulsively at my mailbox at work lately. And I know this is silly, because who would send me mail?

But it's not entirely , because there is no national postal system here, in the way that people in most other developed countries think of it. Yes, you can send mail to and from the UAE, but where it ends up ... depends on how you address it. Because there is no street address system here.

For example, I live in the Sahara Residence 9 on Electra St. If you send mail to me at that address, there's a good chance I would get it. And my laundry, Atlas Cleaners, lists its address as: Behind the Green House Building on Najda. If you don't know where the Green House Building is, you're out of luck. (And behind is rather relative -- there is a two-sided alley "behind" the Green House Building)

My company has a PO Box for mail, and so everyone has everything sent to that address. And while the system seems odd to me, it also seems to work. I actually received mail addressed to Leah and Paul, The National, Abu Dhabi, UAE.

And that was from my bank.

I don't have an address for our new apartment. The broad description on the contract is Street 19, Flat No. 11, Al Muroor. When I go to sign up for Internet service, I will also tell them the sector and plot number -- in the hopes they will find me.

There are rumors that a new mail system is forthcoming. But it won't be based on addresses, it will be be based on GPS coordinates. That should be interesting; one wrong number and your mail ends up in Namibia.

This is not to suggest, either, that the mail works well going out. Stamps seem available only at the post office, and I have seen just one of those. A colleague tells me they are available at certain hotels as well -- but not mine. There also are very few post boxes. I tried to mail a letter from work, but was told there was no option for that. Which is funny, because you would think if mail comes in, at some point it goes out. But nevermind.

We discovered when we finally were able to get a stamp and mail a letter that it takes three weeks to get the U.S.

Maybe they use carrier falcons.

(And for those of you who would like to send us real, actual mail, this is how best to find us: The National/Abu Dhabi Media Company/PO Box 111434/ Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates)