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.