Abu Dhabi Days, Dubai Nights – Jillian Schedneck
Pan Macmillan Australia Pty. Ltd., 2012
The Middle East is for many Westerners a confliction of mental images, a confusing cross between the exotic allure of the Arabian nights and modern terrorist propaganda. So what is the reality? For American university lecturer Jillian Schedneck, her two years in the United Arab Emirates changed her perceptions not only of their culture but of her own. Teaching young men and women in first Abu Dhabi and later Dubai, her day-to-day conversations range between arranged marriages and relationship breakdowns, the delicate negotiation of eating during Ramadan and the sexual allure of a kaffiyeh. Schedneck encounters generosity and humour side by side with intolerance and arrogance, an over-entitled wealthy elite co-existing with passionate activists and talkative taxi-drivers.
So…just like everywhere else, then. That was my general impression on finishing the book, the sheer ordinariness of life in two cities on the other side of the world. The only real difference that struck me was, perhaps inevitably, the position of women. This is a society dominated by tradition, where men are simultaneously possessive of the women in their lives and intensely protective of them. When it works, it works well – when it doesn’t, the women are usually the ones who pay the price. Alternately fascinated and frustrated by her experiences, Schedneck came across to me as a very open-minded woman prepared to re-evaluate her own social norms. She certainly doesn’t profess to have all the answers, but understanding only comes by asking questions, and that’s what this book does.