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Monday, June 05, 2006

LIFE: Saudi Arabia: 'These Things Happen, You Know'

Friday, 5, May, 2006 (07, Rabi` al-Thani, 1427)

‘These Things Happen, You Know’
Lubna Hussain, lubna@arabnews.com

One of my friends, a Saudi, announced that he was leaving
the country. I must say I was a little taken aback by his sudden plans
for departure because he was very successful, from a merchant family and
appeared to have a bright future ahead of him.

“But I thought you loved it here?” I asked amazed at his decision.

“I did,” he replied sounding unconvinced by his own admission.

“Well then,” I said, “you’re being stupid. I think you’re too
idealistic about what life in America is all about. And besides, you could do
so well in your own country and supporting your own people.”

He sniggered at my optimism and finally apprised me of what it was
that had made such a move essential.

“Lubna,” he began, “ever since I got married things haven’t been the
same.”

I found this odd as he had tied the knot with the love of his life.
They had met at university in the States and his wife was a smart
beautiful Oriental woman whose uncle was the president of a Far Eastern
country.

“Oh,” I sympathized. “These things happen, you know.”

“No. You have misunderstood. I am extremely happy. But I am just sick
to death of the way we are treated as a couple. Whenever we go out,
people here instinctively assume that I am with my servant! In restaurants
they have attempted to seat her at a different table to the rest of us.
I don’t need to tell you how some people here are accustomed to
bringing their maids and drivers to dinner as glamorous accessories and then
shoving them into a corner because they are not fit to share the same
space as them.

“At the immigration she is always treated like a domestic helper and
they love to question her rudely and act as if the status on her visa
is a mistake. I mean how can someone with Oriental features aspire to
the heights of marrying a Saudi? Surely they have given the maid the
wrong visa? This kind of blatant disrespect is incredible.
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you some of the stories. At a
family wedding my wife was not even allowed into the main hall and ended up
sitting in the section with the maids until one of my sisters went to
fetch her. I am just finished dealing with this sort of rampant
humiliation. Worse still, people aren’t even embarrassed by their derogatory
behavior. They look at me as if I have issues. As if it’s fair game to
treat my wife badly because she is Oriental. Even members of my own
family treat her with a sort of indifference and find her presence hard to
swallow.”

“That’s weird,” I said, “because your brother is married to a
foreigner. It’s not exactly new to the system then is it?” I commented.

“Yes, but she is a pure white American. Come off it, Lubna. Whether
you like it or not, a Katie from the great US of A is any day more
preferable to any woman regardless if she happens to be from one of the top
families of Asia,” he retorted in disgust.

This made me think about how judgmental our society is and how
terribly ill-equipped we are to judge. We seem to think that our oil wealth
and subsequent nouveau riche status gives us some sort of divine right
to treat certain categories of people with unconcealed disdain. Because
we happen to be blessed with a huge expatriate community among us who
have been drafted in to do the work we think is beneath us, we
automatically assume that everyone from India, the Philippines, Sri Lanka or
Bangladesh is work for hire. We seem to think that back home in their
countries there is an entire absence of social class. What is the need for
one after all when these countries only augment their populations to
serve us? These are worker countries. They exist to produce maids,
drivers and garbage collectors for our great nation. How on earth then can we
reconcile ourselves to the fact that there might actually even be rich
people who dwell in these places? That such countries might have
such redundant citizens as intellectuals, businessmen and academics
that thrive within them? Impossible!

The whole sorry irony of all this is the fact that we are sadly not
educated enough to recognize these great civilizations for what they are
or for what they contribute to the world. Countries in the Far East
that were destroyed in World War II have rebuilt themselves into being the
envy of the Western world. Through sheer determination and innovation
they have gone from having no infrastructure to becoming the most
globally advanced. All of this achieved with little or no natural resources.
And yet, we churn out the oil with a self-prescribed right to sit in
judgment upon everyone else.

I still fail to understand how we can persist in being so
superficial. How we can judge people with such pathetically short-sighted
indicators. I think that it’s bad enough that my friend’s wife was treated like
a maid, but what is even worse is that maids should be treated so
contemptuously in the first place. At least he has the ability to transport
his wife away from the absurd treatment of certain elements of this
society. I wonder what it must be like to be left with no such option.

And in the final analysis, we may think that when we judge people
according to what we think is their social status we are definitely
mistaken. For to judge them in such a manner with such shallow criteria does
nothing more than to amply demonstrate how we lack class ourselves.

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