Sunday, September 14, 2008

Adjusting

I'll preface this by saying that I'm very tired and that it has been a frustrating day - lots of meetings, little productivity. I remember when I took cultural anthro in college, the TA was talking about how the researcher goes through some psychological changes during his or her immersion in another culture. This isn't an uncommon idea; the same thing was mentioned to us in A-100 so we'd be aware of what was happening to us once we got to post. The time scale on this graph (thanks, Google!) is a little longer than what I'm experiencing - obviously, since I'm writing this 2.5 weeks into my stay in Saudi Arabia.


I think I'm at the point where things have just dipped below the dashed line. A lot of things have piled up on me in the past few days, and they're starting to wear on my mind. Here's a few things I worry about/stress at the moment.
  • Women and the way they're treated here. During interviews of married couples, I have to speak to the wife as part of the interview. Not always, but often she will be very shy and will turn to her husband to ask him to repeat every word I said - even if I said it all in perfectly comprehensible Arabic. Less frequently, she will just stare at the ground and refuse to answer while her husband leans over to shout her answers to me. I'm having to fight a habit I already see developing in me - the tendency to direct all questions to the husband in English, even though the wife doesn't speak the language. The worst is seeing the husbands who are in their early thirties and the wives who are barely 19 or 20. The absolute worst is seeing those wives look so listless and resigned. (To be clear: it's not every couple that's like this; indeed, it's nowhere near a majority. Still, one or two a day of these interviews gets you down quickly.)
  • The gravity of my job is finally sinking in. I have laid awake in bed for the past five nights, either having trouble falling asleep or waking up in a nightmare, thinking that a visa I issued will turn out to be the key to the next terrorist attack. I have dreamed about specific cases, held the transcripts and passports and paperwork in my hands in my dream. Don't get me wrong, my job is fascinating. I'm finally doing something that matters, and I'm so glad that I have this opportunity. It's just that I now fully realize that lives literally may depend on the decisions I make every morning.
  • The class hierarchy is starting to wear on my nerves more and more. It's hard to maintain contact with what I consider normal society. (Not that any of my friends qualify as normal, but that's a different issue.) Life in the DQ is screwy, but Riyadh itself is even worse. I can see why they give us two R&Rs at this post.
  • I did my first representational event last night (more on that later, it deserves its own post), and it was underwhelming, to say the least. I assumed that "business attire or traditional dress" meant that my suit was acceptable... yeah. I was one of two people in suits, whereas the roughly 70 Saudi women (and all but one of the American contingent) were in gorgeous, expensive, showy robe-dress-caftan thingies. (I'm going to kill the person who introduced me to the crowd and said that I work in the consular section.)
However, life has its good sides, too. Several friends of mine from the consulates in Jiddah and Dhahran will be in Riyadh at the end of the week for a conference, so I get to see people I haven't seen in a while - it promises to be a fun weekend. Also, I adopted a cat from one of my neighbors. Sheikh A'jan al-Beeji (or Beeji for short) is very shy, to the point of not letting me get within two feet of him, but he yowls when I leave the room, and he follows me at a safe distance everywhere I go. I think he's warming to me. In six months, he might even let me touch him!

Beeji does not like flash photography.

Also, I came home from a crappy day at work to find a note that Fathima (see last week's post) left me when she was here today, telling me that she prays for me every night. It's a nice feeling.

4 comments:

  1. I don't know...Beeji looks pretty contented to me.

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  2. Your stress is natural for a beginning consular officer. I know that my experience was somewhat different - if I made a poor choice in issuing a visa, then a Mexican got to live and work illegally in the U.S., terrorism wasn't a major concern.

    Still, at the end of the day you need to reach a point where you let it go. There's no way to know with one hundred percent certainty what people will do, what their true intentions are. You do the best you can, make a decision, then move on to the next case.

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  3. Awesome post....wow, just reading this made me feel like I was there. It must be like a whole other world. You are one of our best and bravest, that's for sure. Oh, and you're pretty bright, too. ; )

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