Monday, February 16, 2009

Monday, 2/16

Long day. 3 writing workshops, each unique and wonderful. The young women here at the University are hungry for this type of exposure. I was shocked to see barbed wire surrounding their dorms. Most live on campus, but life is still quite restricted and homogeneous.

The boys are on a completely different campus and unrestricted. They can basically come and go as they please.

The girls range in age from 18 to 25 or so and most will graduate (many are the first in their families, as females, to get a college education) and then will be expected to marry. As restricted as their
college life is, this is the first time for most of them to be away from family in any way at all.

Except for 3 young women I saw today, they all wore the abaya (a loose, black robe worn by Muslim women, covering from head to toe, typically worn with a head scarf).
It is very hot here and I don't know how they can manage. Some of the abayas are ornately decorated with sequins or embroidery and quite beautiful.

What I find interesting is what they wear underneath - Nikes and jeans, spike heels and tight tops, I saw a pair of dirty Converse sneakers today, pajamas. Not what you might expect to see peeking out from underneath.

And they often use the head scarf (khimar)
to hide behind when I ask a question they do not want to answer. For the most part though, they were eager to write about themselves, their thoughts and desires.

A workshop I like to use when first meeting a group is to ask - If you could be any color, any sound, anything in nature, etc. what would you be? Some of the responses today:

I would be the sound of a door opening, leading me to freedom.
I would be the color white, spreading peace throughout the world.
I would be the angry sound of thunder.

And they were all willing to share out loud, individually and within groups. I was so very impressed with their courage to speak and be heard.

At this point, I am feeling quite comfortable, safe and well-taken care of. I have not been able to explore beyond the hotel and the University, but on Thursday a group of us are going to go 4-wheeling in the desert and ride camels. Photo ops. And on Saturday, we're going to explore Dubai proper.

I was just listening to the 'call to prayers'. A type of chanting, almost humming music (sort of). It comes over loudspeakers throughout the hotel area 5 times a day. It sounds other-worldly and at first was disturbing, but I kind of enjoy hearing it now.

Here at the hotel, there aren't a lot of Muslims. Even the staff is a mix of folks from other countries. 5 times a day though, the call to prayers is sounded.

It's early here yet (8:30pm), but I think I'm off to bed.


  1. E, I am fascinated with your comments. I can tell poems will be coming from this experience. Have to tell you that I heard and spoke briefly to Greg Mortensen at NCTE in Nov. It was thrilling to see and hear him. Penguin has just come out with an easy reader version of Three Cups (grades 4-8) and a picture book version. Many activities on web site. When I was in LR, a Pakistani MD where my sister works has Greg's picture on her office wall. Back in the fall he was awarded a high honor by Pakistan and I think the ceremony is some time about now. Cool, huh?

  2. I would love to meet him! I'm almost finished with the book and will be doing more research on what he's been up to since the book was published. And very cool about the easy reader version. I'll check out the website.