Being a black “American” in al-Khaleej

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Ok, so this is another theme among many that I have been thinking about since being here. As expected, being an American i.e. having an American passport has made life so much easier… I thank God that I have it in this place.

I live in University dorms, where the all knowing powers that be refuse to house people of different nationalities if they can help it… Yup that means ALL the Americans are in one house and are roomates with each other. It’s the stupidest thing ever…Well it makes me feel weird as it is one of the many things I am confronting here… having to decide whether my ideas/problems with the way things are done here have to do with a sort of ethnocentrism endemic to people who go abroad, or having more to do with actual innate problems in the cultural outlook of folk here. Case in point, here is the story of How I felt when I landed in Doha and (some of) the rigmarole I have been through since coming here.

The Airport:

When I first came to the airport, there was no one there to pick me up. I waited for two hours and as you can imagine I was pissed off, scared and tired. There was no one, no sign with my name on it, no one inquiring as to who I was. Just lots of random men staring at the strange spectacle… at least that’s how I felt. I hadn’t even changed money and was looking at the payphone like how in the world will I be able to make a phone call on that.

In the end, after changing money only to be told I needed a special card for the payphone and getting tired and worried as the night grew darker, I talk to a black woman there who let me use her work phone to call the school. There too was drama as the person on the phone rather than sounding the least bit sympathetic simply barked at me that someone was coming. After waiting another 20-30 minutes, looking at random men and women as they came in, hoping that perhaps one of them was for me, a woman in Niqab walks up to me and says are you Ga-zeeeele (totally mispronounced my name, but whatever) “I have been looking for you all over, where have you been.”

I was in disbelief, I had seen her come in, I could tell by her leopard print purse. She stood there all that time looking for God knows who, completely ignoring the Black woman with the stack of suitcases who was clearly standing and waiting for someone/thing. She had nothing besides my flight itinerary and so I must confess In light of these things, I think she was expecting a white person. There is no way she did not see me when she came in as she was right by the door, and I certainly had seen her looking around or least going from place to place like she was looking for someone. I guess I didn’t fit the script of American. At any rate, whatever the reason for such a strange welcome, I made it. Thank God I got there.

But of course, the drama just started.

The following morning, just as I opened the door to get some breakfast, or at least some water, (the water in the dorm was not working).

I was told that the room I was assigned was not mine and that I needed to move all of my stuff to the house next door because two Indonesian girls were moving into my room. The woman who said this was ridiculously brusk, no just plain mean, and she refused to let me say anything.

No one helped me move my suitcases down the steps, which I had labored to bring up to the room the night before. This is even though she saw me with a leg brace (I have a condition where the cartilage in my knee is damaged/wearing out). It was humiliating, I wanted to cry in fact, I had to take a moment to hold back the tears. She just stood and watched me. Up till now, I can’t stand the sight of that woman. Not just for how she handled the situation, but for why I believe she treated me the way she did.
She kept telling me that my name was sa’aada and I said no, but she still kept insisting that it was and that I did not belong in the particular room. So I left, and said, well, “God you know why all this is happening.”

My new roommate is/was a Muslim woman from Nigeria and all the girls in the dorm are from outside Qatar. She found it very strange that she would be housed with an American, but we were both like eh, whatever. I didn’t mind the change for the most part. although I think the ideal living situation for me is probably no roommate at all. (he he he). She is nice as are her friends…. a really nice sense of community can be found among them and I really like that (incidentally none of them are Qataris….but that is whole other story I guess).

My roommate had completed the Arabic program I am in now two years before but is now here as a regular student. She introduced me to two other Yoruba Muslim girls. Malika* (my roommate) got locked in the room (the door swelled I guess) so I had to run to maintenance for help. When I got there they were more interested in the fact that I was not in the room I was assigned last night, they told me that I was not supposed to move! meanwhile the girl is locked in the room. The worst part is that no one wanted to understand that I was told to move! It’s like they are all chronically hard of hearing. But I digress

Long story short, that is how I found out that they house all the nationalities together and have a BIG problem with me rooming with a Nigerian. So much so that they kicked the Indonesian girls out of the room (and out of the dorm, they are living in a house with non-American nationals even though we are all in the same Arabic program….) . and I moved back in, but at my own pace, to my original room. The way the whole thing was handled was so messy and confusing!

Apparently the woman who brusquely told me to leave, saw my skin and didn’t believe when I said my name was Saa’aada (which is a corruption of on the two Yoruba sister’s name– Sayeeda*. It’s sad but that is what I think it comes down to. Apparently Sayeeda was supposed to room with Malika* but asked to be placed with her sister instead—- granted this was months ago.

And so the mystery unraveled and I Thank God for a US passport, but it is so sad that people will treat people like trash because of their nationality. I tried to explain to that woman but she was too hung up on my skin color to listen to me. Instead she just wanted to be happy to kick me out of my own room!

I think what adds insult to injury is that she never apologized (apologies are a rare form, despite the craziness everyone has had to go through since arrival) and that now she’s not the mean you-know-what that she was that day since she knows I am American. Apparently it is perfectly fine to treat a non-Westerner like garbage.

That is something I will not get used, and it pisses me off that it is so apparent here. Case in point. In order to get a residence card in Qatar you have to get a chest x-ray and blood drawn. It was pure chaos of course, but one event that ticked me off was when one woman in hijab had to remove her abaya because the sleeves where to narrow to just pull up for her blood work. She wanted to close the door so as to expose herself to men that might be walking past the door and a woman in charge literally screamed at her menacingly shouting that she had better not touch the door and better go sit down! Then this same woman proceeds to chat with the lady taking my blood about how you have to keep them In check. How embarrassing and ridiculous!

Needless to say my first week here has been interesting, eventful etc. There are other accounts of craziness and weird discrimination but ya’ny khalas ( that’s it/enough) I think this is enough to give folk a feel for what has been happening. It’s only been a week but it feels like month… in a good way though. Despite the hot mess that is the administration, my classmates are literally from all round the world and I feel like not even in the US can you meet so many people from so many different places- Bosnia, Nigeria, Eritrea, Poland, Malaysia, China, Turkey, Korea, the Phillipines, Ghana, India, Bangladesh, Croatia, the UK and the list goes on. Unlike the US immigrant communities these people actually call their home countries home in the sense that they have addresses and lives in those countries— that they intend to finish and go back to their home countries. That’s hotness.

Ok,I have been somewhat negative, the next post will have to be about something positive, maybe abaya chic. I’ve mentioned before I want to get one, but there is much to say about that too.

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9 thoughts on “Being a black “American” in al-Khaleej

  1. eccentricyoruba

    Wow this is very sad in a way. Hope you are settled in now and won’t have to change rooms again. I’m a bit confused though, in the end are you living with the Africans or the Americans? And do you mean that nationalities are not mixed on form buildings or rooms. Somehow that sounds like segregation…

    P.S Yoruba Muslims are cooool! I say that with no bias 🙂

  2. I keep trying to explain to Black Muslims (or just Black people in general) that Arabs absolutely hate Black people but noone ever listens to me. Arabs in Arab countries are extremely racist towards Blacks and I get very annoyed with Black Muslims that keep flocking to Arab countries or associating with Arabs under the delusion of Muslim Brotherhood (or Sisterhood).

    The truth is; there is no Muslim Brotherhood or Sisterhood. As long as you have brown/black skin you are less than human in the eyes of a domestic Arab.

    Now I say domestic because Arabs living in other countries often live in countries that won’t tolerate their racist bullshit so those tend to be a lot more mellow, but as far as Arabs in their natural environment???

    Forget it. If you don’t believe me, make sure you spend the next two weeks attempting to get a boyfriend.

    Or even better ask any of the Arab (Qatari) girls you meet there if she has a brother you can marry. Watch as her face crumples in absolute horror, and prepare to be vigorously shunned.

    Welcome to the reality of Arab-African relations.

    Cute and Cuddly isn’t it?

    • gazelledusahara

      I’ve been in the Arab world before,so racism is no stranger to me. and have no intention of meeting Arab men or marrying one… so no worries.

      Racism, or shall I say colorism is indeed a problem here as it is in many places, I would hardly expect my welcome to be any better in a lot of places, even some circumstances in africa.

      I am just more surprised at how the color of my passport changes things. The responsibility of being an American is donning on me in a way it couldn’t have before I came here with a US passport. Nationality trumps color… it’s ridiculous.

      But I don’t want to wipe them all with the same brush. When I was in Yemen there was a man who wanted to marry me…lol… I thought it was a joke, but the brother was serious… of course that was not going to happen, but it depends on the person, even if the community has its peculiarities and out right prejudices.

  3. ans

    I feel sorry for u Gazelle. You would think that if your’re in another country it would be kinda nice if different people are roomed together then you’ll have a chance to get to know the locals and others from other countries. Maybe Qatar wanted to put people together that may have something in common or that they may relate to. The story about the woman didn’t belive you were American, i’ve heard stories from other black people that have traveled outside of America and people always assume that they were from any and every other country except the U.S.

    Sugabelly i think you’re on to something as well. Some people have brought up the things u are talking about on other blogs, but u know the funny thing is that Arabs are the ones who are facing descrimination just like black people especially in the west and i bet they are some religion and God loving/fearing people while at the same time they hate and decriminate.lol Just look at the situation in Sudan the muslim and Arab world is and was silent during this genocide. If these were Palestinians there would be protests, demonstrations and terrorist attacks all over the muslim and arab world but what did those Muslims in Sudan get? They got silence from their supposed Arab bro and sisters because in reality, they care more about the people who look like them (palestinians) they don’t care about those black people in Sudan because if they cared, they wouldn’t be silent.

    • gazelledusahara

      Hello ANS,

      I see the pros and cons of housing people this way, but it still feels wrong — but that’s just me.

      I’m actually enjoying myself here, a lot of the women are kind, caring and thoughtful people and so far so good. I just think administratively things are not as smooth as they could/should be. It’s not like discrimination doesn’t exist in the US, but its not this ridiculously blatant, or else people would complain.

      I think with the Darfur issue it is about color a little but it’s more a case of Muslim on Muslim crime. Palestine gets more play because governments want it that way it’s helpful to parade Israel around as enemy number one because it keeps people’s attention away from the injustices that their rulers are thrusting upon them… that’s the way I see it anyway. Sadly the thing that moves diplomacy is expediency and protecting one’s interest. Unfortunately no one has done a good enough job of explaining why stopping the madness in Darfur is in the interest of other countries that can actually make a difference…. sigh.

  4. I’ve lived in Kuwait, Egypt, and spent a considerable time in Morocco. So, I can relate to the power of the blue passport. I have written about the racism I’ve experienced and I’m not going to deny it exists. However, I think Sugabelly is a bit dramatic. When I was in Kuwait one woman was interested in me meeting her brother. She wasn’t so much concerned about a green card, since he was naturalized in some European country. In all three countries there were men romantically interested in me and a couple who did want to marry me. Kuwait has a large Afro-Kuwaiti population.
    One of my favorite Afro-Kuwaitis:
    http://www.aljarida.com/aljarida/Article.aspx?id=28070

    I’m definitely going to keep following your adventures in the Gulf. May friend may move out there, so I may have to put you in touch.

  5. cossondra

    to sugabelly, i don’t understand something here. in one of your statements you said ask some arabic girls if their brothers are interested in meeting you. why is it do you feel that men of arab or any ethnic/racial group would want to meet you and date you? you have to understand the majority of people in every country of the world tend to marry people of their own culture/ethnic group. yes i know in many western countries, there is a lot of interracial dating, but you will be surprised that even in america, canada, u.k., most whites and blacks, asians, marry or have relationships with people of their own race/culture. that’s not racist. yes there are always few people who will marry someone of another nationality, and although it may seem like a lot nowadays, in reality it’s not. you see this interracial dating/marriages in major american and european cities but still the majority of whites, blacks, asians stick with their own. sorry but not every arab or white person finds a black woman or man attractive, let alone marriage material.

  6. gazelledusahara

    Actually Cossondra, I beg to differ. On a lot of different counts.

    First…. while I don’t think I agree with Sugabelly 100% Arabs are not a race… they are an ethnicity (meaning that just like latinos, they come in every shape and color. There are Arabs of African descent, plenty of them). So when they stay withing their own, what does that really mean?

    While you have a point that most people tend to stay withing their race. (that’s statistically true even in places like the US) Sugabelly is pointing to a larger problem of people and cultures that view being black or view black heritage as a negative.

    Is it wrong to marry withing your cultural circle? No, especially if you are in a country where everyone comes from the same background.

    However, it IS ABSOLUTELY WRONG to look down on someone because of their race/ethnic heritage. and in the Arab context this is what Sugabelly (I believe is talking about). If you are not attracted to black, white, Asian etc. that is your perogative, but when you think that black, white, Asian etc. is simply put not good enough for you then there is a problem.

    This is a big problem even within Arab society (and a lot of others). There are too many women of African descent, who think/are treated as if they are uglier, inferior etc. just because they are darker.

    Now again, Sugabelly was a bit extreme, but there is more than a grain of truth to her commentary. I know it, because I have lived it, experienced it and seen it in the lives of others.

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