One last test before Easter

 Or a few, I suppose.

On Friday I was shoe shopping and the woman who was managing the store had her children in the store with her. The kids were running up and down the aisles (as they could have been doing in a park if their mother wasn’t trying to make ends meet working even on Good Friday when their schools had sent them home) and instead of getting angry, I asked them their opinions on my shoe selection. The girl was full of shy pleasure and said “good” at the first pair of black pumps I tried on. In addition to being a fast runner, she had good taste.

Then on Saturday, on my way to Memphis, TN, I had an unexpectedly flight delay. The flight delay cost me several hours with my neices (who had been jumping up and down at home, each with their own plans of how to spend the weekend) and several hundred dollars to get on a earlier flight than the one the airline would provide for me. At 5:30, a few minutes after I was supposed to depart, instead of rage, I felt – confused? I had no one to get mad at and so instead I called a few friends to commiserate about domestic airlines, and then read a few chapters in my book, sent a few work emails, and in general got on with the business of waiting. Thankfully, for both myself and my neices, there was a flight at 7:50 p.m. so the delay was only three hours instead of six.

So on Easter eve, here’s to a clean heart and mind, rage free, that can cope with life’s tumults. 

(Of course I called the airline service number and tried to work it out with them, but we all can guess how that went. But still I didn’t lose the cool….)

An angry mob

It was Palm Sunday yesterday, or the day in the church calendar that symbolizes Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem. This week he is treated like royalty; by Friday he will be tried for blasphemy and then hung on the cross.

And this means that my six weeks of focusing on anger, or rather letting go of angry impulses is almost up. Will I return to the rage letting beast I was before Lent? That remains to be seen.

But back to the most recent incident of rage I was privy to earlier this week. I was traveling with students to participate in a leadership conference focused on women “learning leadership.” Notables including Jane Fonda, Sarah Ferguson, and several Emirati leaders challenged the 1000+ audience with their lessons learned, words of caution, and courage to push forward.

Then, on the second day, a routine procedure: the collection of all cameras and cell phones due to the afternoon address by a female member of the royal family. If you haven’t spent time in Southeast Asia or the Middle East, then you might not know that photography of women is often controversial. A family’s honor is comprised of the purity and modesty of its women. Thus, many women don’t allow photographs or videotaping by the public – they don’t want their images to be in public circulation. This kind of conservatism might sound odd, but take a look around the Internet and might wish more people have this sense of restraint.

At any rate, there we were, listening to a commentary on how far Emirati women have come and their list of accomplishments. I had a translator set because the talk was in Arabic and simultaneously translated via headset into English. The translator dispenser had not given me an assigned number for my headset as the woman who took my cell phone had done. She took my ID. Inefficient, I thought, but handed the ID over.

At the conclusion of the event, I came out of the arena, and handed over my headset. The staff member had lined up everyone’s ID so that you could see the photo and recognize yourself. I picked mine up and proceeded to the mobile/camera station.

Where I found complete and utter chaos. Despite assigning us all number, in clear adhesive which was placed on the phone itself, and a written card with the corresponding number in our hands, the table contained a jumble of hundreds of phones and cameras. What was even worse, was that in front of the very small table, about 10 feet long, were hundreds and hundreds of women, jostling, elbowing, demanding, yelling, to get their phones.

“Come back in an hour,” a conference organizer kept saying, “we’ll have this sorted out.”

No one paid her any attention.

Gone were Sarah Ferguson’s admonitions to think of others before oneself.

No one seemed to recall that Jane Fonda had told us it took her 62 years to realize she was a leader and that had been eight years ago.

Everyone wanted her phone, and she wanted it now.

She could not wait because she “had a very important call.”

She could not wait, because, “What if it was gone later?”

A few of the women, myself included, found ourselves meeting each other’s eyes and laughing.

“This is madness,” I said to a woman who was putting her arms up just to avoid being hit by anyone.

“I know,” she said, rolling her eyes, palms up.

Then, despite several pleas that we attend our sessions and come back (all unheeded) someone came with a box and scooped up all the phones so we had no other choice.

What had been a positive, nurturing group of listeners was transformed into a seething toil of hands grasping for their possessions, in less than a minute.


When you give up the right to be angry

It happened again: out in public, another angry foreigner speaks to a room at large of his disbelief at the lack of efficiency that surrounds him. I’m using ‘he’ because it was a he; a large man, over six feet tall, lumbering into the Qatar Airways office, escaping the rising afternoon heat. I was idly playing with my mobile, draped in a chair; waiting for the agent working with me to come back and help me untangle the Gordian knot my noncommittal students had made of the group travel plans to a conference (see Lack of commitment continues, March 4th entry).


The belligerent European came in, looked around, took off his sunglasses and said, to no one in particular:

“Is anyone working today or what?”


Now, the thing is, I’ve had this same feeling, dozens of times, and in more countries than just the one I’m currently living in. China, Peru, India, even your local U.S. Social Security office, can evoke feelings of despair at Byzantine bureaucratic inefficiency.


The thing that piqued my interest was that this man had just arrived. He wasn’t even sitting down. He hadn’t even taken a number from the electronic dispenser as the one other waiting customer had.


Essentially, he didn’t have the right to be angry. At least not from where I sat, having waited at least one hour before on a similar visit for similar services.

A sales agent came from the back and the man persisted.


“There are only two people working right now?”

“I just came on duty sir,” the petite Pilipino woman said, “I’m turning o my machine.”


Now, there are lots of things about class, power, and gender politics I could say here. I could tell you that this same scenario gets played out all over this city but instead of European, there are Americans, Qataris, Brits, Aussies, Kiwis, and the receipient is almost always either Pilipino or South Asian. Even in the instances when it’s two men, the service provider is always subservient in the presence of more power, wealth, or a higher ethnicity than his own. It’s a stunning example of how race and class conmingle in a heavy handed way.

But instead, I’ll say I thanked my agent several times for her wonderful assistance, thanked the cashier when he gave me my change, and walked out of the office leaving the steaming over weight Euro behind.


 I am really learning the hang of this non-anger thing.