Phew! Things have been a bit tense and serious around here lately. Let’s take a much needed break from discussing heavier things and share some comedy. Recently on Twitter, the lovely @Lekarmasucre asked me some questions about my job. I realize that I haven’t said much about work on the blog. Most of that is by design because… Well, I’d like to remain gainfully employed. While there are many, many things I will not divulge or discuss about my job, there are still plenty of things I can and most certainly will discuss. But before I do, let me give my general disclaimer: the contents posted on Livetravelmore.com are my personal opinions and do not in any way reflect or represent the opinions or positions of my employer or the UAE government. Ahem! Now, let’s get to it…
I’m a professor at a college in Abu Dhabi. All of the students are Emirati nationals and most of them (90%) are female. Many of the students are young and single, others are married with children. While there are several female instructors, male instructors also account for a reasonable amount of the faculty. The instructors are PhDs (and a few Master’s) from various countries in North America, Europe, and the Middle East. Classes are taught in English – a language that is not the mother tongue for 99.9% of the student population, but is the lingua franca of the UAE. As you can imagine, working at a place with these demographics sets you up for some interesting dynamics and amusing interactions.
Due to Islamic traditions and Emirati culture, males and females do not mix and mingle. Unless, of course, they are married to one another or they are brother and sister. In fact, gender segregation begins in education as early as the elementary school years. Last semester I taught 2 sections of a course for 1st year students. One section was only ladies and the other was only guys. To accommodate the particularities of each section, I sometimes used 2 different versions of my lecture slides, lest anyone be offended.
Imagine teaching about topics such as prenatal development and puberty. The guys, save for 1 who was married with kids, received the shock of their lives when we talked about pregnancy and childbirth. I showed them something similar to the following medical illustration.
Student 1: “Miss! The baby is where?”
Me: In the uterus until it’s time for birth. Then it goes through here (pointing to vagina).
Student 2: It goes through there?! But that’s so, so, soooo small and the baby is so… Big!!
Student 1: How does it fit?
Me: It stretches.
All students: Wallah, Miss?!
Me: Yes, I promise. The next time you see your mother, say thank you and give her a big kiss.
For the ladies, it was really easy to discuss childbirth since
they all have vaginas a few of them were already mothers. When we talked about the physical changes that happen to children during puberty, the guys were happy for me to quickly gloss over this topic as I it was embarrassing for them to discuss pubic hair growth and menstruation with a female teacher. Then again, those are probably uncomfortable topics to discuss with any stranger.
This semester, however, the boat has been rocked. The college now has a co-ed class for first year students. About 10 brave ladies have integrated the former guys-only class and the results have been entertaining so far. The same guys who I had to beg to be quiet last semester are now shy and withdrawn this semester.
Formerly loud and talkative male student: (whispering) Miss, I can’t talk.
Me: Stop playing, Formerly Loud Student! You’re always talking. I don’t believe you.
Student: Seriously, miss. Since yesterday (the 1st day of classes) I have not said one word in any of my classes.
Me: Why not?
Student: I can’t talk in front of the girls, Miss. Please don’t make me.
Me: But I’m a girl and you have absolutely no problem talking in front of or to me.
Student: No, miss. You’re different.
Another male student: Yes, Miss. You’re special. *looks at me with pretend twinkling eyes*
Me: I’m not that special. Nice try, Another Male Student. Formerly Loud Student, I won’t make you talk to the girls, but speaking in class is a must – at least try to answer my questions and talk to the other guys.
The guys are shy and the girls are shy… for now. Immediately after the first class, the boys stayed behind to have a look at my roster. They were speaking in Arabic, but young men are the same in the presence of beautiful women no matter what language they speak. Though they deny it still, I surmise they were looking at the ladies’ names on the list and trying to learn who was who. During today’s class, I watched amusedly as both the guys and the ladies snuck glances at the other side of the room when they thought no one was looking. I’m giving this “I’m shy” business another week or 2 before these kids get back to normal and the fun really begins.