Here I am, an Irish journalist based in a country in the Gulf . The idea was to take a break from an over-hectic life in Dublin, where I live and work as a sports columnist with the Evening Herald. Since Muslims are determining world policy at the moment, I thought it might be interesting to spend some time in the lion’s den and perhaps learn something about how the Arab world works.
Where I am living is a black and white country: the women wear black and the men white. You get used to it; it’s like men in business suits back home(never trust a man in a business suit).
My favourite shop here so far is called “My Fair Lady”; it’s based in the City Centre Mall (the biggest in the Gulf, natch) and there you can buy your own abaya in any shade you like so long as it’s black. Prices seem to go upwards from about Eu30.
Ther’s not a lot to do here – any museums or art galleries are still under construction and in the cinema, you find only the blockbusters. So far I have located one book shop and it sells mainly stationary (Easons or WH Smith would be the nearest equivalent, but both are far superior). People here clearly don’t read much, although there are quite a few newspapers. Still, you can get a decent cup of coffee there and sit for half an hour or so reading, without feeling that perhaps you are in the Wrong Place.
For women, there are plenty of Wrong Places here. In the bank for example, there is a special section for women (excuse me, ladies). Which means that when a local bank for instance wants to build a new branch, they have to add an extra space for women and employ two or three women to look after it. On the plus side, queues are a lot shorter.
Women in theory are treated like precious jewels (I’m not joking; that’s the phrase they use here). In practise, you feel your are being watched all the time and get beeped as you walk along the street. The temptation to give them the finger, especially when the window winds down and you get some incomprehensible Arab comment is overpowering. I have given in only once.
This is a country where women have their place – and that is as the second wife, or one of the women at the back of the mosque (men would not be able to concentrate on their prayers if they had a woman prostrated beside them, with perhaps a hint of ankle visible, guaranteed to send them into paroxysms of lust; it is also a mark of “respect”).
Parks here can be reserved for women and families, though as a single woman (armed with a camera I admit) I was accosted by an Indian gentleman holding a child in the biggest park here last weekend and was made to feel that yet again I was in the Wrong Place. Single men or “bachelors” are banned from these parks, but single women?