Journal notes from the Middle East

MY HUSBAND , Richard, and I have lived in and out of the Middle East for the past several years. Initially, living in company-provided housing on a residential compound designed to approximate a small California desert community mitigated the sharp cultural change from life in the United States. It comfortably housed up to 10,000 predominantly Western expatriate workers and their families. We had a grocery store, two Americansystem schools, a golf course, a hobby center, a post office, riding stables, tennis courts, and several Olympic-sized pools. We lived in a stucco townhouse, landscaped with fragrant plumeria trees, birds of paradise, hibiscus, a large palm tree, and a small lawn. With double security checkpoints and guards to check the cars and occupants driving in and out, we called our compound a "minimum-security country club."

At first, the adjustment to cultural differences was amusing. I was required to dress conservatively, loosely covered from the neck, past elbows to ankles—with no bright colors. And this also applied to walking in and out of my own front door, as I learned during our first furniture delivery, when I wore what any normal person (from my part of the world) would wear on a 125ºF day with 90 percent humidity—a tank top and shorts. I couldn't understand why the seven men—all third-country nationals (Indian, Bangaladeshi, Pakistani, etc.)—were overtly grinning and wide-eyed every time they saw me. A day or so later, on an orientation tour, I was handed a dress-code flyer.

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Tolerance in Bombay's railway station
January 14, 2002
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