Wednesday, January 04, 2006

"I think I've said this before..."

Those seem to be the words that I find myself using so often during my presentations recently because I truly feel that the DWC women have all the skills and concepts that we've been presenting about these last four days.

The last two days of our training program really brought things together for me with the goal setting sessions and our discussion of how they will use these leadership skills once they graduate from DWC.

Working with my small group on refining our goal of "creating more clubs at DWC" into a clearly thought out plan of action proved what I had thought all along-that the DWC women really knew everything we were supposed to be teaching them, they just needed to hear someone say that they believed in them. I'm pretty sure that the women got tired of hearing me say that they had all these skills before we came, but every day I find even more proof that my supposition was correct!

When we were talking about using these re-discovered skills outside of DWC I was again truly impressed at what everyone was saying. Nawal said that she'd be teaching her son that women can be leaders and making him do chores when he is old enough (I guess 7 months is a little early to start helping set the table...). Fatma and Amal talked about being role models in the classroom when they being jobs as english teachers (or when they enter the Ministry of Education and redesign curriculum which I think is a possibility). Khadija started planing a huge awareness campaign about the dangers of smoking and was critically assessing current campaigns to stop smoking.

But the one that stood out was when Hamda talked about how much privilege they have as Emaratis and as educated young women; especially the importance of giving back to the community and engaging in jobs, such as pumping petrol, that are normally taken by workers from India, Pakistan and other nations. This is where I really saw a lot of hope because it meant that they were thinking critically about their own society and finding ways to better understand all the different roles that people have to take to make it function.

All in all, (and I know I've said this before!) I was so impressed by the wonderful women we got to know and become friends with over the course of our training program. And I know that in the next 5, 10, 20 years, we'll be reading about how they are redefining women's roles in the UAE and in the world by being the great leaders that I know they are!

"...come to our home..."

"You are ladies, so you must come to our home...because most of our life is in our home." - Amal

And so we did. Tonight's adventure was to a student's home for tea, and another home for dinner. WOW! I don't want to ruin the surprise for the photos we'll post, but I will say that our trip would not have been complete without this adventure in the Emirates!

"Tea" at Hamda's house consisted of a full meal of delicious traditional foods of the region, several of which are eaten during times of celebration or during religious occasions such as Ramadan. We ate seated on the floor, and got some friendly coaching on the customs. The family was SO welcoming, giving, friendly, talkative, and appreciative of our visit. Her sisters were very kind and friendly, her mother very sweet and giving (though she did teasingly communicate through Hamda that if eating were a competition I'd lose for my slow pace and lack of consumption!). Hamda's Uncle tells us he'll greet us or our families at the airport next time we come to Dubai, will take us around the area, and we can stay in his home. Sounds like a plan! When it was time for us to leave they gave us the traditional gift of perfume on our skin...a custom that leaves you smelling nice and conveniently gives you the message that it's time to go (though in our case they actually wanted us to stay longer, whew.)

Dinner at Alia's was just as amazing in different ways. New foods to try, prepared by her father (very unusual for this culture) were all delicious. Alia's 4 brothers were very cute...with 2 of the younger ones paying more attention to us and entertained us the whole night. Her sister and mother joined us, as well as Hamda and Amal. I learned a lot about the customs of the family from her mother, a native of Boston, MA. I'm sure my fellow bloggers will tell the tales or post the photos of us getting dressed up in abayas and shailas (black dresses and head scarves), or the more colorful traditional costumes - whoa! Never have I been so jeweled or so bright! I'm feeling pretty plain these days, Petite Sophisticate just doesn't compete with this traditional garb. Her mother would have kept us there all night to keeping feeding us and dancing 'Egyptian Dance' as new scarves and belly dancing costumes appeared every few minutes!

The most fascinating part of the evening was seeing our students without their abayas and shailas. Off came the covering when we got to their homes, since they don't cover for family, only male in-laws or men they don't know. And they look great! Fashion is very important, hair is beautifully done, and while clothing isn't revealing, it's more flash than I imagined! It's a choice to cover, fully their choice to embrace this custom and to what degree (scarf &/or dress, etc). As with any "choice" family has influence, certainly, and it's likely not a "choice" for all. But these women wear the coverings as way of carrying on tradition, and because for them it's what they prefer. We've seen varieties here, and have learned a lot about the custom.

Tonight was a true gift to our group. We have definitely received as much or more than we have given to Dubai.

Oh Democracy...

To begin with, I just realized that I haven't posted for a few days what with all the training sessions, spending time with the MHC and DWC students, eating (something we do quite often) and, if we're lucky, sleeping just to do it all again the next day! Here's hoping that this post won't be too long, but not actually expecting that to happen...

The second day of training went extremely well, partly because we had a break on New Year's Day to evaluate what had happened on the first day and restructure some parts of our program to respond to what the women from DWC said they needed. It also helped because we were able to sleep and have a calm, relaxing day with the Saunders and at the Global Village. During this session, I presented on "Democracy in the U.S.," and "Elected Representation," both of which seem to be hot topics in the international community.

While there were many reasons why I was excited to discuss democracy and then more concrete issues like representation, the main one was to challenge the students to move beyond the common conception that democracy in one form will work in exactly the same manner when applied to another culture or group of people. To me, a "one-size fits all" framing of democracy leaves out the essential idea of democracy, rule of the people for the people. Although I didn't have very much time to talk about the theory of democracy (my favorite part) and details of the federal U.S. system with checks and balances (the necessary part for the training) in addition to the fact that there wasn't time left to have a real discussion, I have seen many of the ideas and concepts that I put forth being implemented in the ways in which the DWC students are interacting in training and as future methods of running their Student Council.

Elected Representation was where I was really able to engage the smaller groups in a dialogue about what it is, how it works and ways to implement in on their campus. One of the groups I had was extremely informative in discussing all the challenges that they have faced with representing DWC students to the administration. Many of these challenges revolved around students not wanting to be involved in the Student Council or the Student Representative Groups (SRGs), a lack of communication with the students and not really having the power to create some of the changes that they feel are necessary for the SC/SRGs to run properly. This truly opened my eyes to the enormity of the challenge they face in getting their new, revamped Student Council running next term, but towards the end of our 45 minutes, they were beginning to brainstorm ideas to meet these challenges. Of course, finding out the real story about the Student Council and SRGs meant that we needed to totally change the morning of our third day of training...which I'll cover in the next post since I think this one might be a bit long!