It’s Time to Get Real

fujairah fishing history

Long, long ago, the mountains were rich with lush vegetation. The rains fell regularly, and they ran through the mountains, creating rivers that carved their way into the landscape offering nourishing water and refreshing joy for the villagers. There were herds of goats and sheep and camels, and there were plenty of fruits and vegetables. The sea was full of fish and pearls. The villagers were saturated with satisfaction.

Then, the rains no longer came. The land dried up. Vegetation turned brittle. Colors faded away. The villagers were weary; life was very difficult for a very long time.

In the middle of the 20th Century, the villagers found oil. Oil filled their pockets and turned to gold! The villagers gave up their efforts at pearl diving and animal husbandry because they no longer needed to toil for their livelihood. They brought workers from impoverished lands into their villages and gave the foreign laborers tiny drops of oil in exchange for their work. The villagers hastily abandoned their farms and directed the laborers to build big stone mansions. The villagers brought more workers from more impoverished lands to cook their meals and clean their castles and even to raise their children. The villagers made the laborers transform their villages into cities and to fill their cities with tall, marvelous buildings. The villagers commanded the laborers to build long highways that connected their new cities. As they grew fat from their oil and the oil continued to grow, the villagers traded in their dhow boats for petrol-guzzling SUVs that they could race on the roads that hug the coastline where big ships arrive with more oil that turns to more gold in their pockets.

mountain range

And when no one was looking, the desert sands blew silently over the land, burying their memories. When no one was looking, the mountains turned ashy gray and the rivers morphed into gashes in the rock.

 

Today, as the villagers speed with careless disregard on the ribbon of highway at the base of the mountain range, no one sees the land as it once was. No one remembers the colors. No one remembers the flowing waters of the rivers. No one sees the mountains. Today, no one even looks.

And this is where I enter the story.

They didn’t recognize me when I came. They had no recollection. They had no reference. At first, there was a curiosity, then, there were battles. My presence made them work, like trying to tread over the rugged mountain range as opposed to speeding on the highway as they had come to know so well.

Then, they suddenly stopped the interactions. Curiosity was gone, and my presence was an inconvenience, so they simply returned to life as it had been before I came. To do this, they ignored me. By ignoring me, they didn’t have to change. And when no one was looking, I too, dried up and became a gash in the rock.

me doing EMsat master class

I have been in the UAE now for one year. The first 11 months was more difficult than I fully understood at the time, but summer break has offered me insight that I need to share here.

 

In this past year, I wasn’t’ brave enough to speak the full truth in this blog. There are many reasons: I didn’t want to be another of the expat complainers; I didn’t’ want to appear offensive; I was afraid that by revealing my hurt and confusion, I would only attract more pain and isolation. In addition, I couldn’t figure out how to articulate the “river” and “desert” stories without the details, and the details are ultimately, irrelevant. Perhaps most of all, I was afraid of who might find my blog and what reprimands I might suffer from my words. The bottom line is that I just wasn’t brave enough, and so I didn’t really find my voice.

Instead, I fell into a downward spiral: suppressed voice led to misunderstanding that led to insulation that led to self-forced silence that led to ….. you get the point. I’m not proud of this, but I tripped, and then couldn’t get back on my feet, and the cyclical movement of my downfall was a head-spinning confusion that tormented me in growing increments.

And then, it was time for summer break.

I spent the month of July in Dubai doing a 200-hour yoga teacher training course,

ytt-certificate.jpg

and while it was mentally and physically challenging,

YTT lecture time

Study time in the studio

there was enough space to connect with spirit – that place where nourishment and well-being embrace the soul.

me at break time YTT

Break time overlooking Dubai

Spirit, a gentle presence.

Spirit, a mighty force.

Spirit, a hand that appeared deep into the desert

to the place where I got lost

and lifted me out of the gritty fog.

 

After the yoga teacher training, I came to Sri Lanka where I am now.

Again, I find the gentle presence of Spirit. The hand that lifted me out of the desert now raises me to the winds where am being nourished in body, mind and soul.

path on meditation island sri lanka 2017

Spirit, a gentle presence.

Spirit, a mighty force.

Spirit, a hand that sends me out to the world

with freedom to explore, discover, and BE myself.

triangle pose on meditation island 2017

During this break time, I have been processing my experiences in the desert and returning to the truth of who I am. I hope I am gaining enough soul-fuel to get me through the next year with new insights and a stronger resolve to not just endure, but to be a full-flowing river in the desert.

And as I do so, I believe I am ready to get real and be brave enough to speak the full truth in this blog.

 

Ah, Friday! Beautiful, beautiful Friday!

Friday here is the Holy Day, and like Sundays back home, the quiet mornings stretch out on the horizon offering a new, pristine canvas for me to design as I choose.

blank journal pages

I spend my Thursday evenings in a kind of zombie state to allow the fatigue of the week to drain from my whole self. Thursday afternoons and evenings are the winter season of my week; they are for death: death of noise, death of confrontations, death of worries, death of thought.  As the shower pours over my weary figure and I wash the dust of the desert from my body, I also rinse the week’s conflicts and confusion away from my mind.

I bow my head and beg for both forgiveness and rebirth.

My soul begins to peek out from its protective corners, then it retreats again, calling my mind to settle into its silence. Yes. Silence like an Indiana cornfield in the late night after a heavy snowfall. Silence that makes you stop, notice, listen, and then heave a long, alluring sigh.

snow open space

Thursday evenings are for solitary time; putz around the apartment, do laundry, maybe read a book for a while. On Thursday evenings I am void of creative energy, blank in my head and hollow in my whole being. Sometimes I emerge from the shower and go straight to bed and stay there as the hours fall away from the day and I finally slip into slumber. Whatever I do, Thursday’s downtime is always a prelude to a beautiful Friday!

Every Thursday night I have faith in the arrival of Friday morning; I honor that promise.

sun_4

Promise delivers; every Friday morning Sun welcomes me to the new day with gentle patience. She slips in through the window unnoticed and mists me with diamond dust; she lingers until I begin to stir. Like a lover’s gentle coaxing, she kisses my eyelids and warms the side of my neck. And then I hear the whispers, “Hi Baby. Let’s get up.”

 

Upon recognition, I spring from my bed and ride the waves of new inspiration that spill from my mind.

Ah, Friday! Beautiful, beautiful Friday!

First I write; then I shower. Then my driver arrives and we pack ice and water and fruit for our journey. Sometimes we have a plan, but usually not. We set out to see what Friday will offer this time. Quiet roads, lazy hours ahead, freedom to stop any time and every time we want.

me mt. winds

Ah, Friday!

Beautiful,

beautiful Friday!

 

 

We wind through the hard, rugged mountain range; we cruise along the coast. The desert opens like a curtain, tail sweeping the earth, and we comment on her beautiful colors: beige, brown, muted oranges and shimmering golds.

Ah, Friday! Beautiful, beautiful Friday!

I recognize the importance of my solitude and the necessity to cleanse and empty my being, as that is the ritual that prepares for the sanctity of the Holy Day. Emptiness is not to be feared, but rather to be revered; emptiness is the only way to be filled anew with the Divine that awaits my time.

Holy Days are known by many names, but the what’s in a name, right? The name is irrelevant. What matters is the gift; what matters is that we recognize and receive the gift. We all have a Holy Day; every week we all get one. Here’s it’s Friday.

Hello Friday! I welcome you with praise and thanksgiving! Fill me today with the offering that has been consecrated just for me!

Ah, Friday! Beautiful, beautiful Friday!

Car Shopping

 

hot winds thermameter

Have you ever stood in a furnace? Like inside it? With the hot air blowing against your face?

 

Hot. Really hot. That’s what it’s like here.

Add to the hot air is the sun, sun so hot it’s like putting your face under a really intense desk lamp. For a long time. One that’s been on for hours. And your face is only inches from the bulb. Yeah, that’s what it feels like outside.

mercurochrome pic

And add to the burning sensations of the sun on your skin is the brightness in your eyes.

Even from behind sunglasses, you feel the brightness pierce pupils like Grandma’s mercurochrome iodine on a skinned-up knee.

 

So we went car shopping. Outside. In the heat. We tried to do it 3 times before in the evenings, but it’s dark outside where the cars are, and so it’s hard to see the options. Add to that the problem of getting information.

The road is car shopsnarrow and old. On one side there is a long line of low buildings sliced into narrow shops. Most are used car businesses. In between are a few other businesses, a massage parlor, a travel agency, a mechanic here and there. In between every few shops there is construction. A shop being torn down, another being built. On the other side of the road there are fields of used cars.

The fields are full of cars, but It isn’t clear which shop is selling which cars. The cars are jammed into spaces like make-shift parking lots at county fairs. Every now and then you see a couple of men sitting on plastic lawn chairs between some cars. They are chatting easily, joking, but they look terribly bored.

We drive by slowly, eying the various cars, wondering what year this one is, what condition that one is in, how much that nice Mustang might be. No one gets up or looks our way.

“What do you like?” My driver asks.

“I don’t know. I don’t know what any of these are. I mean, I see they are cars, but I need to know what options I have in my price range.”

“That one?” He points out the window.

“Which one?”

“That Lexus there.”

(That one or that one or any one, I think to myself. This place is full of Lexuses.) 

“Hmmm. I don’t know. Let’s ask.”

“Ask who?”

“I don’t know. Ask one of these men. Pick a man. Just ask anyone.”

“OK,” he says. Zaheer stops the car in the middle of the road and gets out.

I wait.

He comes back. “It’s 25,000.” (AED)

I don’t know what to say. He looks at me. My face is blank. We drive on.

“There’s an Infinity,” he says.

I don’t see it. “OK. Let’s ask about it.”

“Who?”

“I don’t know. Let’s find another man.”

Again, Zaheer stops the car in the middle of the road and gets out.

Again, I wait.

 

Each time, Zaheer discusses with the salesmen for several minutes. Some sort of information is shared I assume, but I never get any details. Zaheer just says either “I think it’s good,” or “No. Not this one.”

I’m exhausted. He’s frustrated.

black lexusWe chose a black-colored Lexus. Next step – pay to have it mechanically diagnosed by some government office. “OK,” I say. “Let’s do it.”

The next day when we arrive, the man then tells us that we have to get some specific papers from the previous owner and the owner is in Dubai. Apparently he broke his toe the night before and can’t come to Fujairah today.

We wait. Two days later the man calls to say that the previous owner had delivered the necessary papers. But when we arrive, the man tells us that we have to pay a large fee to get some papers to change the registration because this particular car is,… I don’t know, somehow different. “OK,” I say. “Let’s not take this one.”

We are both exhausted. We are both frustrated.

avalonWe begin the process again. We choose an Avalon. We pay for the inspection. The car passes. We are finally allowed to drive it. The next step is to go to the police station in order to get another official paper. But the police station is only open between 9am and 2pm. I have to miss a day from work to get this step completed.

We set off for the police station when I need to get another official paper. Smoke billows out from the hood. Zaheer is furious. We return the car.

 

Persistence is the lesson here:

FINALLY we get a new car!

photo 1 credit

 

Response to wounded soul

Momma always accused me of “telling tall tales” and that always hurt me a little because for me, I wasn’t trying to be bigger than life, but rather telling the truth exactly as I saw it and experienced it. I have a higher tmom in libraryolerance for physical pain than many people, but as I’ve matured, I’ve come to understand that on the flip side, I have a lower tolerance for heart / soul pain than many others.
Momma also used to tell me not to “wear [my] emotions on [my] sleeves”, but through therapy, I came to understand that my way to overcome negative emotions was a process: observe, contemplate, evaluate, and finally discern the value and meaning of the components of the difficult conflict / “assault” (that word “assault” is in quotation marks because a conflict may feel like an assault even if it isn’t really an aggressive attack). Only then, through this process, could I make sense of things, release the pain, and begin to heal. That process takes time and sometimes, others may witness it. Whenever Momma saw the process, she told me not to wear my emotions on my sleeves.

If my emotions are on my sleeves, then that’s just where they are; I can’t move them. But from Momma’s words, I learned to try to hide them, and to do that, I learned to go inward. My inward journey taught me to embrace my beautiful, sensitive little introvert, and in the embracing, I’ve adopted strategies to hide, or take the emotions off my sleeves, so to speak.

All the strategies involve isolation: withdraw from social media, group settings, intimate conversations with loved ones. I go inside myself; I hide. I work the process through writing, sleeping; and I “putz”. (Momma also told me not to putz.)

Apparently not everyone needs to process experiences to such an extent; but I do. Without the process, I form erroneous theories (judgments) and hold fast to them for way too long. I do not want that in my life, so I accept this process and embrace the introvert and do so with conscious self-love because I want to understand the world as authentically as I possibly can.

Wounded soul was written immediately after I entered my apartment that day (only posted many weeks later). It was simply an observation. I had noticed my appearance in the mirrors; and I noticed the contrast between that image and the happy-go-lucky, free-spirited me that people usually see and are attracted to. The observation was both hollow and insightful. The look in my eyes made me understand that I’d spent the day in extrovert mode and that my introvert was dying. She, the introvert, needed to be nurtured; my process needed to be activated.

I decided to post my observation because I know that everyone feels that way sometimes. Haven’t you also had days when you came home from work feeling completely empty? Maybe even defeated? Haven’t you also felt the “spunk” drain from your soul? I think we all do from time to time, and I think that stress and fatigue are expressed in the condition of the soul.

I believe we must address the condition of our souls, even when that condition is not so pretty, if we are to live happy, healthy lives. We cannot avoid heart-pain, but we mustn’t try to ignore it because of any sort of fear. We must face it!

For me, seeing and describing is a way of claiming. Only by owning the truth of my condition can I begin to address needs and readjust; and in the re-adjustment is the beginning of healing; mom in natureand in healing I can seek new energy. In the seeking, there is finding.

Seek and ye shall find. (Matthew 7:7)
And when I find renewal, I can claim that, too.

Momma loved Springtime because of the renewal of the earth, and as she worked the gardens, she taught me to believe in renewal, too.

Wounded Soul

 

full body in abaya in elevator

I stand in the elevator

at the end my work day

and observe the image

that stares blankly back at me

from the mirrored doors.

The snaps on my Abaya have popped open. First the bottom half when I got out of the car. Then the top third when I slung my backpack over my shoulder. Now, only the two in the center – the two snaps between bellybutton and pubic bone – are still stuck together holding this gloom, this, this obscuration, this dark umbrage they call “protection” vaguely in place. I notice that I look the same as I feel: beat. exhausted. defeated.

I do not feel feel protected.

in elevator with abaya 2

The baby blue camisole, damp from sweat, shows my form:

cleavage2-inch cleavage, a deep slit that divides me – left and right – straight as an arrow, bold as an arrogant threat;

2 sagging bulges, heavier than the polka-dotted brazier I chose to hold them in today;

soft, swollen belly, vulnerable, but proud of its efforts – mindless laboring to keep me alive;

shadows of stilt-like legs that hold heavy, aching hips that brazenly reveal their shape, even from behind the black curtain I wear to work.

My eyes move up to take in the image of my face:

tired self

 

Cheeks flush; freckles faded from winter’s gentler sun; dark bags sit under my eyes.
Eyes. Green. More green than normal today.

Hmmm, kinda pretty, I muse.

 

 

tired eye

 

I lean in closer

to my image

in the door

to better examine my eyes.

Shit!

The wounded soul is showing!

 

Thank God I’ve arrived.

The fifth floor.

The doors open.

 

I deliberately blink my eyes, rapidly fluttering the sticky black lashes.

Yes, I’m trying to conjure up some wind.

Yes, I’m trying to push the wounded soul back into hiding.

As I plod the dark hallway to my apartment, I exhale heavily with each left step

(breath rebounds as right foot thuds, like a heavy limp),

cleavage 2

 

and I push

the wounded soul

back down

into Cleavage Canyon.

 

 

Yes, but not today

building on fire

image credit

The building was on fire. Winds were relentless. Oh, the furious energy of anger.

after fire

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In the morning, the flames were gone. The building was consumed. Nothing but rubble and ash remained. Anger no longer had any flames, but it was still there, smoldering.

uk-thewaitingroom

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Cleanup will begin, but not today. Leave the ash alone. Let it settle.

A new building will replace the old one. But not today. No, not today.

can't be strong all the time pic

 

 

 

Pain and Praise

Holy Mother

When prayers and lament swirl into song the expression is too bold, too genuine, too raw to not be heard. And when it is heard, the healing begins. It is the expression and the reception that unites the human form, one with another, and in the presence of God, we find hope.

When pain finds voice and the soul finds song, we unfold from defeat; reaching out in faith, believing. Believing. Faith forges forth and turns into praise, and praise produces peace in the soul. It is then that we know we are alive, truly alive. And feeling fully alive, still in the center of our lament, we discover the strength to face another day with gratitude.

clapton and Pavarotti

image credit

Front Seat River

Front Seat Rider

He in the driver’s seat and me beside him in the front, I begin to notice that as we speed in and out of the traffic flow, we are like two branches floating on a river’s current, separated from our trees, now interlocked by the movement, now being carried by the river of life around the same bend in her channel as she cuts through earth.

front seat pic2I’m a front seat rider now in Zaheer’s taxi. I remember the first time I moved from the back seat to the front passenger’s seat in the taxi. After sharing 3 Friday adventures with Zaheer driving my car where, of course, I sat in the front, I began to feel strange sitting in the back of the taxi. So one day, when he came in the taxi to take me on some errands, I first opened the back door as usual, then looked in shyly and asked if I could sit in the front.

“Absolutely,” he said, using a word common in my lexicon.

The view from the front made me feel privileged. He’s MY driver, I thought to myself, unashamed of my possessive claim. It was kind of like being “teacher’s pet”. Sitting in the front sealed the status of our relationship in my mind: on the one hand, he the driver and me the “madam”, and on the other hand, “we”, the odd-paired two in an unlikely friendship.

This definition of the boxes where our friendship / partnership / customer and server dynamic exists has been difficult for me to determine and navigate. I want to move easily in and out of these boxes in an effort to develop a friendship, but I also don’t want to overstep my boundaries, or for Zaheer to be put in a strange or difficult position as a result of my relaxed attitude regarding socially set boundaries. I am keenly aware that this person, target of my friendship intentions, has no background knowledge or experience with friendships between people socially defined as we each are: (i.e., man / woman; worker / customer; older / younger…). As I learn more about him, and share more of myself with him, I continue to tread carefully between the boxes we individually occupy.

I found that my move to the front seat helps blur those box walls without either of us actually stepping out of any socially-designed boundaries. Fortunately, Zaheer is easy-going and adapts to non-verbal clues and unfamiliar circumstances with ease. He never acts surprised, though I may find out later in a conversation that something had been strange (like the first time I asked him to go into the market with me as opposed to waiting outside while I shopped alone). As I behave in my typically American ways that drop me awkwardly into spaces a woman from his culture could never enter, and pull him into spaces normally taboo for him, I am always aware of my desire to blur lines without crossing them. My move to the front seat seems to be an acceptable means to that end.

My front-seat position fosters an interactive experience. There is banter and laughter in the front; we talk about things in the friendship box of our relationship: his day, my day, our next adventure plans… But when I am in the back seat, we only talk about things in the “Madam and Mohammad” box of our relationship – the immediate purpose of the trip: stop by the bank, please, then I need to go to the fruit market

So now, I always sit in the front. He lets me sit in the front seat of the taxi as if it’s my own personal queen’s seat, as if it’s perfectly normal. And maybe it is normal, I don’t really know. Zaheer has other customers who will only ride with him – dedicated customers who call him regularly, some even daily, and I don’t know if they sit in the front or the back because I have never asked him that, but I think they sit in the back. I believe they sit in the back. I will probably not ask where these other regular customers sit because I prefer to think that MY position there in the front is mine and mine alone.

Zaheer doesn’t say if he likes my front seat position, but his smile as we chatter indicates that he is as comfortable with me beside him as I am. This comfort is expressed without words as he cruises along the city’s ribbons of avenues and alleys taking my trust and my life in his hands and my stories into his personhood. And I, from the front seat view, surrender my authority and give in to the enjoyment of the ride – both literally and figuratively.

Oh yes! I’m a front-seat rider!

front seat pic1

Different Styles of Communication

Different Styles of Communication

miscommunication 3

image source

Americans value information. At the core of all communication among Americans is the aim to get information. That’s why we ask a lot of questions. And that’s the point behind idioms like “cut to the chase” and “get to the point”. We believe that inquiries about one’s health and the health of their various family members do not belong in every conversation, and we don’t really care much to engage in small talk beyond generic one-liners that are nothing more than rhetorical questions and statements. Those things are an obligatory tap on a door before we enter. Our real aim is entering the room, i.e., the conversation. We bee-line into a conversation and head straight for the necessary facts. Once we get them, we are done, and the conversations closes with a polite “thanks,” and we are on are way. Other cultures, on the other hand, value relationships and the other person’s feelings above all, so their style of communication is less direct. Arabs fall into this latter category. In the case of Arab speakers, at the core of all communication is the aim to foster a relationship.

As a result of these different communication goals, Americans may accuse Arabs of lying when facts are omitted or altered; the Arab speaker however, truly believes he is being honest and respectful. On the flip side, Arabs may accuse Americans of being insensitive or rude, which is not at all the intention of the American speaker.

This is not to say that Arab speakers do not value information or that American speakers do not value relationships. All humans value both. The difference is in how we value them. And in communication, different cultures simply value one thing more than another in discourse. Although this difference may seem small on the surface, it is really an important underlying cause for major conflicts in cross cultural communications.

The technical terms for these different styles are High and Low context; the American style is low context because we use words to say what we mean. Exactly. Words. There are no assumptions that the listener(s) will have a shared background knowledge and shared hierarchy of values (i.e., context) to decipher a meaning from less direct language. Arabic speakers are high context because they rely on contextual assumptions to imply meaning and these indicators are as important as, or even more important than, the actual words used to convey a message.

miscommunication image

image source

I know these things in my brain, and yet I continue to struggle with either a lack of information or incorrect information; I want information to be clear, exact, precise and correct – factually correct, not socially correct. I cannot change this deep-seated American value that directs my communication style.

Cases in point:

Case One

When the English teaching staff visited one of our colleagues who had just given birth, one of them said to me that I should not take any gift at all. I believed her, and assumed this was a factual statement regarding Arab culture. Imagine my discomfort then, when we visited the new mother and all the Emirati guests reached into their bags and brought out beautiful envelopes full of cash to give to our host and I had nothing to offer! In hindsight, I realized that the speaker had told me not to bring anything because she didn’t want to inconvenience me or cause me the burden of giving money; her intention was not to hide the truth or set me up for embarrassment. In other words, the context was that as a guest, I was not expected to do the same as the locals, and therefore didn’t need to know what my Emirati colleagues would do. But from my perspective (i.e., my American style of communication that values full factual information over politeness aimed at protecting or fostering a relationship), I felt I’d been given false information regarding the protocol for such an occasion.

The key term here is “need to know”. In a high context communication style, the speaker is given liberty to determine “need to know” for the listener(s).

misunderstanding picture2

image source

Case Two

Before I had surgery, the doctor told me I’d be back to normal after just 3-5 days. Even though everything I read online said the recovery would be 4-6 weeks, I believed my doctor because she is a doctor! I couldn’t imagine that her information was rooted in a desire to make me feel comfortable (i.e., protect me from concern – a high context form of language) that took precedence over telling me the reality of my recovery (i.e., objective facts – a low context form of language). Even the day after surgery when I was being discharged from the hospital, the information from the doctor remained the same: 3-5 days and I would be back to my old self. My pain medication ran out after 8 days so I called the doctor to request a refill and when I told her I was still in pain and terribly uncomfortable, her response was, “You just had major surgery. Of course it will take time to recover. You just need to be patient.” I felt betrayed. Why did she lie to me? My objective mind knows the answer – she was speaking in a high context communication style caring for my mental state because, as the doctor, she knew there was no cause for worry. In her mind, she was telling me enough. She, the speaker, determined what I needed to know. As an American with a low context style of communication, of course, she clearly did not tell me enough.

Although I tell myself that my challenge is how to form my questions so that I get the information I am seeking, the truth is that my real challenge is figuring out how to live in a constant state of vague fogginess and to simply accept my ineptness at high context communication.

I am far from having this mastered. The only consolation for me is in knowing that these different styles of communication are the result of deep cultural values and they have nothing to do with malice on either side.

I believe that by being aware of different styles of communication and considering these differences before judging the character of the speaker is the first step to our wobbling balance on that line between cultures with sensitivity and tolerance.

I hope that one day I will write a post that includes cases in point where I have done this successfully.

miscommunication 4

image source

The journey continues…

 

The Moroccan Woman

Note: I am curious about a Muslim man’s religious right to have up to 4 wives at the same time. This post is the first in a series of stories about Arab wives who live with this either personally, or the ever-hoovering possibility of it becoming a personal reality.

The door to the teachers’ room swung open and a tall, elegant woman entered with the confidence of a privileged princess. “I need to see you,” she said to Maha, then began her promenade toward the row of teachers’ desks.

This is a fairly common occurrence: the mother of a student in the school comes into the room and requests the teacher of her daughter to meet her outside in the hallway for a conversation. But the hush that fell over the room when this particular woman entered told me that this case was somehow different.

We all sat up straight on our chairs behind our desks and awaited her greeting. The woman’s hijab sat perfectly balanced and symmetrical over her head, covering what I assumed to be long mane of hair wrapped into a large bun at the back of her head. Only a glimpse of hair could be seen at the hairline above her forehead – a puff of rich, black strands teased, combed, pinned and sprayed in place. The porcelain complexion of her face was angelic, though her eyes were less so; her eyes were solid, firm, determined. The bright pink on her manicured toes flashed with each step in her black, designer, high-heel shoes, and as she glided across the room, her black Abaya, accented with ornate stitchery, swished seductively at her feet and trailed behind her across the floor.

“Salam Aleikum,” she said.

“Wa aleikum salam,” we replied in turn.

Sweet female voices exchanged the formal greeting, one by one, as the guest reached over each of our desks with a fragile arm, shaking hands. Her bony fingers were limp in my warm, fleshy grip. Last in the line was Aliyah. I noted the lethargy in Aliyah’s voice as it was so unlike her usual gregarious way.

Then the guest left the room as dramatically as she’d arrived, followed by Maha, teacher of her daughter.

“She’s Morrocan,” Alyiah told me as soon as the door closed behind them. “And that’s Hannan’s sister’s husband’s first wife.”

“Wait. What?”

My request for clarity was lost in the Arabic banter that arose as soon as the door clicked closed.

“Yes, it’s true,” Hannan finally said, leaning forward to be seen from the line of teachers’ desks when there was a lull in the Arabic exchange. “But they are divorced. When he asked my sister to marry him, my sister said she would never be a second wife, so if he wanted to marry her, he would have to divorce his first wife. So this Morrocan went back to Morroco.”

Again, all the teachers started speaking at the same time. The Arabic was too much, too fast, too colloquial; I couldn’t follow it.

“But she’s back,” Aliyah said in English. “Yup. She came back to be close to her kids.” Her eyebrows rose and fell; her lips pursed.

I looked to Hannan, wondering what, and how much I could ask.

“She wants to be near her children. Do you blame her?” Hannan barked her rhetorical question into the air, aimed at no one.

“Of course,” I said, feeling sympathetic toward The Moroccan Woman.

“She lives right next door,” Aliyah said under her breath. I took that information in, recognizing that it was for me to know, but not to be a part of the conversation.

This time when the Arabic took over my opportunity to pursue more information, I was grateful. This was a lot for me to process: The Moroccan Woman was the first wife of Man X; Man X wanted to marry Hannan’s sister, so he divorced The Moroccan Woman. With the divorce, she left her children and returned to her home – far, far away from here. Man X married Hannan’s sister and they had some children. Questions swirled: How much time between The Moroccan Woman’s divorce and her return? What happened to The Moroccan Woman during that time? What caused her to return? Hadn’t she always missed her children? Why now? Why return now?

Suddenly I noticed an opening in the Arabic conversations and I filled the gap with other questions. “How does she live?” I asked. “How does she get money? Does your sister’s husband pay for her needs?”

“No, he doesn’t have to,” Aliyah answered.

Hannan huffed.

Aliyah continued, “She got an Emirati citizenship when she married him, so coming back here means she gets money from the government to live on. The government here pays for divorced women until they get married again. Then when she gets married again, the husband has to be responsible.”

Why anyone would want to remarry? I wondered. With financial security and freedom, what could possibly be better than that? Having the government pay for a house and living expenses; hmmm; sounds like pretty good arrangement to me, I thought.

“But you know people are talking,” Aliyah said.

Hannan got up to turn on the tea pot for hot water. She looked to me because clearly, I was the only one in the room not privy to such talk. “Some people say maybe she and my sister’s husband are getting back together,” she said. “But my sister won’t talk about it, so we don’t know.” Then she looked hard at Alyiah, “We don’t know!”

“But she can marry him again,” Alyiah said.

“Wait. What?”

“Alyiah!” Hannan took on a tone of reprimand. Then the room erupted again into animated Arabic chatter.

Aliyah derailed from the Arabic and said to me in English, “In Islam, people can get married again. But only if the woman marries a different man first and then and gets divorced from him. If she doesn’t get married again, she can’t remarry a man who divorced her, but if she marries a different man, then yes, she can remarry the first one. But only if that other marriage was real. I mean, the man who divorced her can’t just say to another man, ‘ hey you: marry my ex-wife and divorce her so I can marry her again’. No. it has to be a real marriage.”

My head flooded with questions – not only about Islam, but about divorce and marriage and remarriage and the logistics, the emotions, oh! The complications!

“Aliyah, we don’t know about that other marriage either,” Hannan countered. “Maybe she’s just not a good wife and that’s why she got divorced. We don’t know! And besides. Maybe my sister’s husband doesn’t want her back.

The bell rang. Maha returned to the room. Everyone started shuffling papers on their desks. We gathered books and papers and filed out of the teachers’ room to go teach our next class.