What is real

Yesterday a wonderful friend treated me to luxury- a mani- pedi at a spa possibly run by the sheiks impossible rich sibling. I was brought into a darkened room, my feet were washed, massaged for over an hour and then given a manicure and pedicure with one woman on my hands, another on my feet. It was sorely needed on some levels, coming to Abu Dhabi has been complicated- the day I left I saw my only child for a few short hours after he narrowly escaped death in a car crash and two days on my 88 year old mother put herself into the hospital, again a car crash. I arrived and was left in the wrong hotel without a guide and then told I was supposed to fulfill a job no one who had just arrived could have handled. Meanwhile, it's full summer here- over 100 degrees everyday and its a city without a proper infrastructure, no public transport, taxi drivers who have no idea of addresses because there are none.

But then there are people cleaning my room, washing my dishes, replacing my towels, bowing and smiling and opening doors because this is a society of class- one class rules, the next class- profits from the rulers need and lack of training in many jobs and the next class, the Pakistanis, the Philippines, the Indians and other immigrants do everything else. You can have a maid, a nanny, a gardener and be merely middle class because they are paid so little. And people like me can grow accustomed to being waited on while understanding the system- a system that will do nothing to an emirate who has committed a crime while the passports of maids and kitchen workers are confiscated and you hear terrible tales of people kept in slavery until they escape or commit suicide or the ordinary situation of the two Philippine women I spoke to who have been separated from their small children for years fulfilling a contract here in the UAE.

I talked to a woman who described this country as inherently evil saying the ex- pats who love it here are idiots who swill alcohol at the lavish brunches held during the weekends, who have no intellect and no real understanding of the way they are regarded by the Emirate but love to shop at the lavish malls and drive massive cars, selfish and greedy outsiders living off the inherited oil money of the original families.

Teachers in my school,cannot mention politics, religion, sex, feminism, war, or human rights. I am pretty sure there are more issues, oh, alcohol of course. I think this is sad for a number of reasons but especially because it is the young that often teach us how to fight for human dignity. I was so passionate about civil rights when I was 11, my father gave me a copy of Wrights brutal story collection, Uncle Tom's Children and I discovered my country's history of lynching and violent repression. A few weeks later, Martin Luther King was gunned down in Memphis and I felt such sorrow it was practically unbearable. There seemed no answer to the question of how we might change the world for the better but I was willing to fight. These girls can' t receive this education from me or I will be deported.

So, how will this time be marked? Possibly with laziness and self-indulgence, throwing my towels on the floor and having them be cleaned and pressed on my return. But I think it will also make me very, very grateful. Not for the fact that we have street addresses but for the truth of our country which is that while we have terrible issues with poverty and inequity, no one is considered above the law and no one is encouraged to regard another human being as less than.


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