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.