Respect

This piece was originally written for and published by TheCnnekt. You can see the original post here.

“We need to talk about how she disrespected me.”

The large man who does social media at my company has run over and cut off the productive discussion between myself, the marketing director, company manager, and the entertainment director, my boss.

“You need to learn respect.”

I have been living and working in Dubai for nearly a month. In a country ranked by the UN in the bottom 5 as “not free”, I am a young, foreign, female stage manager leading a team of male technicians, surrounded by men on all sides. The only American in a sea of expats from the UK and the Middle East.

Despite a bit of boundary testing my first few days, I have yet to experience any blatant sexism from my crew or superiors. We are a team and they trust my judgment. It is the most supportive work environment I have found in a long time. If it weren’t for the desert sand coating my stage, I’d forget I was in the Middle East, I’d forget there’s a reason I cover my shoulders and knees when I leave my apartment, I’d forget that my sex matters at all.

Until this man arrives.

He’s done this before. Come on stage without warning and demanded on photos and access. He was denied, I kicked him offstage for his attitude problem. He tried a bit harder to follow my rules this time. He stayed offstage, but was insistent and pulled me away from my work, messed up my schedule, and cornered my cast because his deadline was immediate. I owed him my full attention now, my own responsibilities would have to wait.

When my cast consented to work with him, I let them go. I ran back onstage to catch up my schedule and shouted back to him to please stay after. We need to talk about this. It cannot happen again.

This is my mistake. This is my disrespect. I raised my voice at him as I ran back.

My boss has gotten wind of this. In the time it takes me to launch my next show, there’s a group of my superiors waiting in the common area. We’re having an easy, productive conversation. Let’s figure out what was missed this time and how to fix it. That’s when this man bursts into our conversation, cuts me off, and demands that I be reprimanded and taught respect.

I know this fight very well and I know I’m alone in it. I am not a stranger to these comments. Nor am I a stranger to watching every man in the room look away with their mouths shut tight as I get reprimanded for the grave error of being female.

But I will not be quiet and I will not take it, not now and not ever again.

He starts to talk again, wagging a finger in my face. I take a breath and prepare to rip him apart when my boss puts a hand out forcing the finger-wagger backward.

“Whoa whoa whoa, mate. Stop. Do you know who you are talking to? You do know who she is, right? That here, where we stand, we all answer to her, right?”

I don’t know who is more stunned. Me, or the man who thought he had every man in the room on his side.

This is the first time in my decade in this field that I have not gone to bat alone.

“If we’re going to talk about disrespect, let’s talk about your disrespect for this stage, the cast, the schedule, and protocol. Let’s talk about your blatant disregard for the people managing this space. You’re done here. Get the photos you need and go.”

And that ends the conversation. My boss changes the subject while the finger-wagger slinks away. Not once does he try again to get backstage for the remaining 5 months of the season.

It’s four months later when I find myself talking to the marketing director over coffee. He spent the weeks following the incident with his photographer tiptoeing around me and driving me crazy with his trepidation.  It’s as much a surprise to us as to our colleagues that despite our rocky start, we have become friends. When my mother visited, he complimented her on “raising a lovely daughter, but she’s a beast. Lovely. But really. A beast.” He also informed my boyfriend that he was brave for sleeping next to a terror.

But here we are drinking coffee on a Sunday afternoon talking about culture and our lives. We have discovered more similarities than differences which shocks us both.

He interrupts a comfortable silence to tell me “I wouldn’t have been able to do it. What you did.”

“I know what the west thinks of the Middle East, especially Americans. The stereotypes, the rumors, and the expectations. You’re a tiny, American woman used to a different environment. You knew absolutely no one, had no idea what to expect from us or from this job, and had no escape hatch if things went south. And I bet people were telling you all sorts of terrible things to expect here too. And still, you left New York City to live here in the Middle East for 6 months.

“And I admit, I go back and forth on thinking whether you are incredibly brave or absolutely insane.”

I think about our first confrontations, the challenges, the hard work, the growth, and learning we’ve all done these last 5 months and grin at him over my coffee.

“Most definitely both.”

Culture Shock; The Reverse

I’ve been back from my 6-month stint in the Middle East about a month.

I’ve noticed several changes in my body and temperament.

To put it mildly, I came back from Dubai an Emotional Wreck.

I got off the plane and wanted to cry. My initial thought upon entering JFK that morning was “I want to go home”

But I was home. I was coming home after being gone for so long.

The boy who had waited for me brought wine and cheese to my house, all waiting for me when I arrived. I wanted to cry again, for all the wrong reasons.

I have an event that day. I sit with my business partners and run our tech rehearsal. The performers were so good, again I was nearly in tears after our Hamlet spoke.

I went to dinner with these partners and friends I hadn’t seen in 6+ months and wanted to cry in relief at being with them again.

At the event I gave a speech and raised over $400 in donations for #TimesUp and felt so alive in my skin, skilled and connected, I was brimming with pride and love and ready to cry in sheer joy.

My best friend and roommate reunite again. It’s not instantly joyous and we slowly adapt to sharing our lives again. We get there, but it takes time. In that time every bump, every brush off, feels like a burn. I forget how to live here. I feel out of place in my own home, my own city.

This is all within 18 hours of my landing in the USA.

This does not go away.

A boy who is not the boy I am dating messages me. We met in Dubai and are now 8,000 miles apart.

We talk about life and love and our separate futures.

He tells me how he misses me. He describes a woman I do not recognize. But a woman I desperately want to be.

And I realize something. I realize why I am an emotional wreck.

Because in Dubai, amidst the stress, the chaos, overstimulation, and drama, I was happy. I had a purpose and a job I enjoyed. I was eating well and doing yoga daily, I had a supportive network and professional team and was surrounded by friends and some really good people.

Somehow, I had become a happy human being. And had not recognized it.

I had spent years in NYC struggling through my anxiety and depression, finding pools of sunlight in the murky dark of my mind for so long that I had confused contentedness for being happy.

But in New York, I had been merely surviving.

In Dubai, in this job, I had thrived.

And now, my entire physical being was fighting against going back to the familiar murky depths of my broken mind. Against going back to the patterns I’ve kept up for years because they were safe, small pockets of light that allowed me to ignore the dark,

I will not be put back into survival mode.

I will not let these small lights and glimmers of love distract me from the gloom trying to take me back.

I know better. I can be better.

I am better than my complacency and laziness. I am stronger than my darkness.

And I have a freaking awesome support network.

A week later, I end things with the boy in New York.

I admit to myself (and him) my feelings for this boy halfway around the globe in Mumbai.

We start talking about finding each other again.

I roll out my yoga mat and I attach a pen to my physical being at all times.

I start to rebuild my body and sharpen my mind.

I start to pray again.

I’m learning Hindi.

I’m writing every day.

I get a small contract to pay me for my writing and PR assistance. I’m learning how to sell my mind and get paid by the hour.

I surround myself with love. My friends, my roommate, my chosen family, my books, my stories,

And I celebrate them.

I am still far from free. But the happiness and hope I am cultivating and working on every day are real.

And they are still beating back the darkness.

I am still a weepy mess at happy news. because joy and hope in this world are so important. Sometimes the only way I can honor it is by blessing it in salt. ❤️