As part of my job, I often design trips for students which require international travel. In the Middle East this is a new counter culture concept for many families who do not let their daughters out their sight. Most of my students have never traveled without their families and in the instances they have, they are usually returning to their countries of origin for a summer trip. Family travel can involve six or more people and is never a casual affair. Given the 40 days of annual vacation allotted to most employees in the Gulf, it stands to reason that traveling 10+ hours for a week seems like a tremendous amount of hassle for a short period of time.
Yet, these international trips are increasingly popular for the female students where I work because they too are catching the millennial fever to travel the world and see all that it has to offer.
What I found interesting, yesterday morning at the check in counter of the airport, was a father’s reaction to seeing me at the head of the group.
“It is only you going with them?” He asked me, eyeing me up and down.
I smiled and nodded.
“But there is a team of people on the other side to receive us,” I assured him.
This is the second year that I have planned and taken students to Mauritania (a country in West Africa) to see how
a Qatari created NGO does work with local people towards sustainability. The first trip was last summer and one of
the best student trips I have ever been a part of.
“Are you Indian?”
This question surprised me, but it’s not unsual for people to assume your place of origin based on your skin color. With so many transplanted people in the Middle East, living outside their countries, Iraqis, Palestinians, Lebanese,
no one would have a country of origin if they got absorbed into their countries of residence. So you are where you come from.
“Yes,” I said, taking my American passport back from the check in agent, not wanting to get into a long conversation about my accent, dress, or years abroad.
“Don’t leave my daughters in Mauritania and go back to India,” the father said, laughing.
Now, this took me completely by surprise, as did the two hours it took for our group of seven to get boarding passes for our connecting flight in Tunisia.
At the end of the processing, one of the woman behind the counter was holding my passport.
“May I have my passport please?” I asked her, ignoring the fact that in the past two hours I watched two of the employees at this desk get into a screaming argument, another employee walk off her job to collect her children from an arriving flight, and accept the profuse apologies of the desk manger.
She nodded and held up one finger, Arab hand signal for WAIT.
She flipped to the first page of my passport, read something there that she found interesting, and flipped it closed. She nodded to her friend and something in a mix of French and Arabic that none of us watching needed a translator for.
“Not really American,” is probably what she said to her friend after reading my birthplace on the first page of the passport.
It appears that Americans are not the only ones who discriminate based on color.
Discrimination is alive and well the world over and yesterday’s reminders took my breath away.
Have you had cases such as these? Or feel that your identity is more complex than most people want to deal with?
Share and join the club!