Tuesday, May 28, 2013

What lurks behind the veil? RAK 1999, UAE

What lurks behind the veil? (Only her hairdresser knows) 1999 UAE
My dear friends,
I have been unceremoniously dropped from the starting rotation of the Women’s College in RAK. Yes, it came to a shock to me as well!
I went in to teach today and I saw a note from my advisor (Jude) instructing “that we need to meet”. As I turned a corner, I saw Jude down the corridor and she was trying to get my attention. She came by and said, ‘we needed to talk’.
OK, but then she motioned me towards a glass office whereupon she shut the door so that no one else could hear.
Hmm, I thought, this must be serious. Little did I know how serious it was to be? Jude spoke in a very grave tone and having just studied stress and intonation, I realized an axe was about to fall and it looked like my head was the only obstacle.
OK, give it to me straight with no candy coating.
‘Many students have been the counselor’s office and her phone has been ringing off its hook,’ she added.
Apparently, there had been a stampede to the student counselor’s office after my class last week.
Uh, huh I thought. It was that dreadful lesson I gave on the Dog Palace that had upset some students. This is a ‘true story’ in a series of English reading comprehensive books called—Even More True Stories. The story is about rich, Americans who go on holidays and have to put their pet dogs in hotels. This story talks about dogs in hotels, dogs sitting in hot tubs, dogs watching TV…etc.
Naturally, there are reading comprehension questions and other such things that follow the text. Questions like—
‘Would you let a dog sleep in bed with you?’ (Depends what he looks like?)
‘Would you let a dog lick your face?’
‘Would you kiss a dog?’
And equally, other harmless questions that I guess insulted some of the Revolutionary Guard students, those covered girls who sit quietly at the back of the class. The class is divided between the chatty, talkative girls who sit at the front and the more somber, straight-faced mob at the back. Yet, during the course of the class no one protested.
I explained to Jude, ‘I thought afterwards that I shouldn’t have taught that lesson’
‘Maybe it was culturally insensitive’. 
‘Yes it was,’ she said.
‘But Unit 12, the one on Dog Palace,’ I said, ‘had been included in a course outline of materials that were supposed to be covered in the course.’
 So, I reckoned that some one else had previously covered this topic and that it was OK for the women—perhaps not.
‘I am sorry but I have to let you go.’
 She told me that parents had phoned the office and that this was gravely looked upon by HCT.
‘If the parents were involved then they had signed my death warrant,’ I added, ‘but I wanted to know exactly what I had done wrong.’
But, there was more.
Jude decided to meet with the Arabic-speaking student counsellors who had felt the full force of my student’s indignations.
OK, so off across the campus we go in search of Amal Qasimi, another female counselor and some mysterious character called Nasser. Jude, Amal and I sat around and Jude acted as the go-between. Last Wednesday, my female students came into the office after the “Dog Palace” lesson. It came to light that I had used “language that was inappropriate for the students”. In fact, I had used inappropriate Arabic language.
I had to think back and I told Amal, ‘I have taught some of the girl’s brothers and some of the brother’s friends.’
I also knew their full names as well as their nicknames. I told Amal that a number of girls had asked me if I knew Toto, Nimla and Bish”. To which I answered “Yes”, as I had taught them at Digdaga Secondary School. Perhaps, I should not have allowed this as the Revolutionary Guard may have been offended that these girls were asking me about boys (which is haram=forbidden) and that I had acknowledged them. No doubt, these offended girls went home and said that Hanan and Samira were talking about Toto and this may have horrified the parents. But is that my problem? Yes, I should have gone onto the present tense but I was only trying to do the Communicative Approach--wasn’t I? Apparently, this wasn’t harmless.
Next, I was using “inappropriate” language when addressing the girls. The word “habibti (darling)” came up.
I told Amal, ‘but that’s what the girls were calling each other’ and that I addressed them by their rather long, paternal name—Fatema Murad Ahmed Eissa Murad al-Belooshi. I was finished with Amal.
Next came another Arabic-speaking counsellor (Aisha) who took me into a side room to have a head to head.
She was quite serious. We talked in generalities about teaching the girls and how some things were forbidden and that “part-time” teachers need to have a crash course on Islamic culture. I told her in no uncertain terms that I had taught women before for 4 months at an evening course in Digdaga and that there hadn’t been any problems. Moreover, I had a spotless record of teaching at RAK Men’s College for more than a year and that, indeed, I had been studying both Islamic culture and religion academically since 1990—hence, a BA in Middle East Studies and an MA likewise!

Aisha mentioned that there was an ongoing change with some of the women who wanted to be more liberal and casual than the Revolutionary Guard. I told Aisha, that in fact, 2 girls had told me in class that they wanted to come and visit my home. I told the girls that this was haram and to forget it. But, you can well imagine that when the Revolutionary Guard got home that they blabbered this to their parents that so and so had talked to Mr. Emerson about visiting his home... 
Aisha’s jaw dropped and she said that I should have told her this straight off as this is unacceptable for Muslims. I then proceeded to tell her that these same 2 girls continued their exploits and at a later class, told me that they had got their father’s permission to come and visit me. Again, I protested and told them, in front of the class, that this is haram and their brothers and uncles would come after me—this all met with murmurs of glee. However, there was no protestation of a religious variety from the Revolutionary Guard.
Next point, I had made lewd suggestions to ‘body parts’. My mind swirled back to my lesson on “Prepositions of Place”: on, in, at, beside, next to, in front of, behind-ah, that’s it, that’s where I fucked up. Pretty harmless stuff, but lurking underneath is the very smut of western civilization! (How could they?)
Yes, I told her. I had talked about “the front part of your body as your front and something at your back as behind you or your behind”. Sounds pretty evocative to me, especially my big fanny.
Then I remembered that I had also talked about top/bottom and that I had made a passing remark about a baby’s bum being called it’s bottom and motioned how you burp a baby and pad it’s bottom. MIGAWD, BUT THIS IS GETTING RACEY, ISN’T IT? I can barely get a hold of myself, er, I mean control myself. It’s a wonder this will get by the ‘thought police’? It’s a wonder I didn’t lose it in her office. I mean this is so fucking pathetic.
OK, so if I was offending some one at some point—why the hell didn’t they or them speak up earlier? I think it was the “Dog’s Palace” that put them over the edge—the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Bottom line—you never know what is lurking under the veil. I thought the girl’s enjoyed the loose banter that went on in class but I was clearly offending those girls from the more conservative families and I guess they were in the majority.
Aisha explained to me that there are undercurrents who are trying to liberalise things but there is still a strong backlash against it from within the women. These sisters better get their act together as the millennium is upon us or maybe they just want to be repressed and dominated. There’s no glass ceiling over here—just a glass floor and the women are tripping over it trying to reach the ladder.