Seeing But Not Seen

By MOHANALAKSHMI RAJAKUMAR, special to The Daily Damn

DOHA, QATAR — Regardless of where we live, there is more than one city: the one we live in and the other versions lived in by those who are not in our position. Whether it’s a different socio-economic status, gender, or overall lifestyle, the divisions exist: singles versus married, parents versus the child-free.

The experience of men and women in this particular city differs because of sheer numbers. There are so many migrant workers that they – the hired construction hands putting together stadiums, driving cars, serving food – are the majority of the population of 1.5 million.

I have a female friend who does research on migrant labor. Some of the interviewees say things like, “it’s been so long since I touched a woman”.

“Okay, shake mine again,” she replies. She is more generous than me, much more than the rest of us.

If you are a woman who does not wear hijab – the Islamic head covering that is accompanied by modest, loose clothing – this guarantees an intrusive audience wherever you go. The eyes, they follow you everywhere, very much like an observation wall. Whether it’s workers on a school bus going back to their labor camps on the outskirts of the city or the men on the scaffold of the mall being built next door, who tower over the boundary wall of my car park, watching as I start each day.

Sometimes I’m angry at the men who linger at the entrances of the shopping malls. They have nowhere else to sit but inside their vehicles, waiting for their employers to return, so they loiter, sometimes leering if you are a woman, or two women alone, without a man. I snap at them, “What is your problem?” or “What are you looking at?!

After all, many of them are from India: a country where I know a woman of a good reputation – at any age – would not tolerate being stared at. Sometimes they look away. Other times, I flip them the bird (like last week). When I finished fixing my makeup while stuck in a traffic jam, I look over to see the guy in the car next to me watching intently. He smiles when we make eye contact. Middle finger rising.

No wonder the windows of many Qatari-owned cars are tinted.

And that’s my giving a damn.

###

Dr. Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar is a well-traveled scholar of literature and a freelance writer based in Qatar. She is a co-founder of the Maktaba project, a Children’s Library concept starting up in Doha. Follow her on Twitter @moha_doha.

More: On-Stage But Off-Camera

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