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Holding hands in a foreign land

“Why are the men in this city holding hands?” My Canadian editor, Dawn asked me a few years ago. Having recently relocated to the Middle East, she was unfamiliar with this peculiar custom. She had never seen young men hold hands in public before.

For the expatriate men leaving their home shores to work in the Gulf, holding hands in public is perfectly normal. Most often stuck in difficult jobs, these men have no family or wives to talk to and share their woes with. Holding hands becomes a way to make up for the lack of intimacy in their lives. You probably wouldn’t find the same men walking hand in hand back in their native countries.

I wonder why most of us shudder at the sight of men holding hands. Is it because women are considered to be naturally more inclined to show their affection? What happens to the thousands of women separated from their families, who are equally lonely?

My domestic help, Julie, shares her story. Having moved to the Middle East when she was only a teenager, Julie cried herself to sleep every night for the first few months. She was expected to manage a house full of very difficult children, who’s language she did not understand. The family couldn’t pronounce her name and so she accepted a new one. She got little sympathy from her own mother back in India who had also worked as a domestic servant for most of her life.

Julie’s parents quickly found their daughter a groom back in India, but she realized a little too late that her new partner was an alcoholic. Not only was she expected to fend for the family, she was also pregnant. She had no choice but to return to the Gulf and leave a new born baby behind. Two decades later, loneliness has become her constant companion in life.

This is a familiar story for many domestic servants. Some carry the silent scars of being sexually abused by their employers. Too afraid to turn to the police, many maids run away hoping to find a way back home.

Julie’s mother recently suffered a massive stroke. She had no choice but to rush back to her aged mother and teenage daughter. After years of living alone in the Gulf, her family must seem like strangers.

Women like Julie make solitude a part of their lives.


Carri Pence's picture

You have two very interesting

You have two very interesting topics here. It is a shame that men neglect their intimacy in other parts of the world due to society. Thus, the need to share themselves on a sensitive level through being physical is often abandoned. Second, women are often forced into a life that is a negative situation causing them to neglect their own intimacy. The lack of intimacy is due to not feeling secure in her environment. In both cases the need to feel physical is ignored causing loneliness to increase.

abigail's picture

Hi Carri

Wonderful to receive your feedback. Its true, the lack of intimacy and loneliness often manifests itself in negative ways.

brianna.warren's picture

I am sorry to hear about

I am sorry to hear about Julie's experiences, especially since there are so many women who suffer from similar treatment. No woman should be neglected or mistreated in this way; each woman deserves to be respected by her employer and to have an opportunity to find happiness. I hope that by acknowledging the circumstances of women like Julie, we can find a way to create change in their lives.

abigail's picture


Thanks for writing in Brianna. It is comforting to know that by highlighting Julie's story one can attempt to throw light on her predicament and that of so many millions like her. I was a bit hesitant to do this at first as I didn't want to 'use' her story in a way. I'm just glad that she feels comfortable to share her life's experiences with me. Your feedback and that of the others is reassuring. Cheers.

mrbeckbeck's picture

Thank you...

Hi Abigail,

Thank you for sharing these two interesting perspectives. As a man, I think it is really interesting that there is such a taboo and stigma around men showing affection for each other, but with women it is "natural" or "normal". I think that it's a great question you bring up here... and a question that isn't likely to have a clear answer!

And, I find Julie's story heartbreaking, mostly because it is such a common experience. I appreciate your effort to shed light on the situation and hope that as these stories of loneliness and isolation are told, they become less common.

Thank you again, you're a great story-teller.

Scott Beck
World Pulse Online Community Volunteer

abigail's picture

Your comments made my day

Thanks Scott. Not just for posting your feedback on my piece but also for supporting women in such a wonderful way.

As I watch my three year old boy willingly hug his parents, grandparents and friends I hope he won't completely shrug from showing his affection when he is say 33:)

After almost two months away Julie had to leave her mother, (who is too old to be operated on), and come back to continue to earn a living for her family. She says her mother has lost the ability to speak and is what is considered brain dead. Julie calls home every day hoping that her mother's situation will somehow improve. I'm so glad her very real story touched so many people. I'm praying that things become easier for her.

abigail's picture

with a heavy heart

I'm horribly sad to say that Julie lost her mother last night. What's worse is that Julie is unable to travel to India to lay her mother to rest due to the fact that she doesn't have all her official documents in hand. I will soon share the warm sentiments you all have rendered in response to her story.

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