Friday, April 26, 2013

My Night Out

Painting a Nuremburg street with sleek cobblestones, I cleared my mind of all stress. Then my phone rang.  The very nice driver I call upon whenever I want to go places phoned me to tell me he was downstairs. I quickly washed my paintbrush, wiped the splattered paint off my glasses with the front of my shirt and ran downstairs.

Talking with my driver is almost as much fun as going out and I think I substitute talking to him for a real social life on most days. Well, last night I desperately needed a night out. A real night out. Not just driving around, talking to a cool, middle-aged Sri Lankan guy who calls me Madam.

I accompanied my friend Karen as she got glammed up, first at one salon, then another, then to her apartment for the final touches. 

At the hair salon, waiting for Karen, I sat on a sofa and flipped through a Qatari fashion magazine. I looked at a “before” and “after” photo of a woman. The after photo claimed an amazing transformation, although I think the woman looked better in the first photo, wearing blue jeans, zebra high-heeled boots and a white lacy top. For her transformation, she was cloaked in black fabric with small silver spikes studded down the sleeves. Her hair was piled on top of her head and her eyes were lined in black. The beauty ideals here are very different. Black is encouraged and aggressive spikes cover clothing and accessories.

A woman sitting next to me introduced herself and we got to talking. There is a lonely desperation in this desert country that compels people to spill the contents of their soul upon first meeting someone, so I wasn’t surprised when she told me her husband left her after the birth of her child and that she came here hoping to earn enough money to send him to school. But what happened when she arrived is all too common here. Her passport was taken by her employer. She earned slave wages and never got a day off. Luckily, she managed to escape that employer. When I met her, she was relatively happy because she landed a job at the hair salon as a receptionist, where she would earn more money and be able to send some of it home. Things were looking up, but her smile faded when she showed me a photo of her little boy on her phone. “My mother looks after him. I haven’t seen him in two years.”

one of my drawings
Karen and I went to a rooftop bar and I tried to smile and not think about the sad story of the woman I’d just met. I think the Filipino community is very kind here, so I introduced myself to two beautiful Filipino ladies at the bar, hoping they would have more cheerful stories to tell me. “What do you do?” I asked them. They looked at each other, unsure of what to say. “What all women here do,” one of them answered. I would have thought most women worked as nannies, cleaners, or teachers, but I figured out they were prostitutes. I wanted to continue talking to them, but they kindly excused themselves to go look for male clients.

When I got home, my mind returned to the woman I met in the hair salon and I felt very sad.

On my wall I have a postcard with Thomas Jefferson’s face on it. I look at it sometimes and think about the rights I have as a privileged American and how these rights are non-existent for others.