First published in Woman Today, April 2009
Sometimes I cannot believe that I am 23; I always feel 17. I just cant wrap my mind around the fact that I am a professional working woman who is part of the productive work force of Qatar. That sounds too serious and maybe scary too. I have been working since August 2007 which means 19 months in a female only office where all women from different departments are on the same floor. Luckily, this will change when we move to the new building. Time passed by very quickly, I still feelthat I have graduated a month ago. But when I contemplate at the time I spent at work, I realized that I have learnt a lot from the many awkward situations I have been through with the people I work with. So I would like to share some of these things with you.
I first learnt that there are some people who simply do not know what privacy is. They do not have a problem asking you a very personal question or saying an embarrassing comment about you infront of others. One time a lady asked me “why aren’t you married yet?”. I don’t know what kind of answer she expects! Would I say “because I do not want to” or “because no one have proposed yet” or can I simply reply “non of your business”. I simply gave her a smile, and pretended to be shy. The same lady invaded my privacy while I was writing my diary. She jumped from behind my desk and asked “what are you doing?” . The first thing I thought when I heard her creeping behind me was Uh-Oh! Then I said like I was scared or unsure of what I am doing “um … writing!” she suddenly got very enthusiastic and said “Oh let me see your handwriting” then she took my journal from under my hand and opened it. I panicked and tried to snatch it back from her and said trying to be calm and polite “No no, there are some private things in there that I do not want anyone to see”. She didn’t give the journal back, she kept holding it from one side, pulling it towards her and I was holding it from the other pulling it towards me. Then she said “I just want to see your handwriting, I wont read what you wrote, I will just have a look”. What does she mean she wont read what I wrote? That does not make any sense! If she wants to see my handwriting style she will defiantly read what I wrote. So I tried to convince her politely to give me back the journal and that if she really is so enthusiastic about seeing my handwriting, I would write her something in another piece of paper. It took me five minutes to convince her. Then I wrote something very quickly trying to get rid of her. She took the piece of paper to see my glorious handwriting and said “wow you have great hand writing! why were you so protective of it?”. I couldn’t believe this lady, I was not protective of my handwriting I was protective of my secrets in my journal!
One of the most important things I have learnt is that people could misinterpret the things you say or your behavior according to their own beliefs. Therefore, we should always be careful and think twice before we say or do anything. But this is a difficult thing to do, because at the end we cant help but be ourselves. Because of the genderseparation environment in my office, it is difficult for me to communicate with my department. Thus, sometimes I have no choice but to go down to attend meetings and finish some documents. One time, I had so much work to do and I was going up and down between the women floor and my department. This behavior was not common among most girls because only two or three including me work with men, the rest are conservative and not accustomed to direct communication with men at work; because they usually communicate through the phone. So, on that day while I was rushing to go down, one of ladies said infront of other women “Oh Maryam, don’t you think it is not appropriate that you go down a lot especially that the place is full of men and that you are not engaged yet!”. I paused for a second trying to comprehend the relation between working with men and being engaged! Would being engaged make me more respectful or that it would protect me form something I cant foresee!. So I laughed as if I didn’t take her seriously, and said “you are so old fashion!” . Another time, I was on my desk when I wanted to open the door and walk in the hallway towards the bathroom. All the sudden, two ladies came out of no where and said in a loud voice “The repair man is here, do not go out without covering up, go back inside and wear a scarf, do you think you are in London or Paris to walk around like this infront of men?” . I didn’t know that when the door was shut it meant that the repair man was in the hallway! And who cares anyway! I felt attacked, and simply said “ok” and went back to my desk. If I argued they must think that I am not raised properly or that I have other mean intentions! Who knows maybe I am interested in seducing the repair man!
Another thing that makes work a place you dread to go to every morning is competition and secrecy between colleagues. Some might be very jealous of others for silly reason and create problems out of their jealousy. Luckily I didn’t encounter any of this because I was the only girl in my department and all the men were respectful and always very helpful. But I see what goes around between other groups of men and women. And I am so glad I am not in the middle of this, I am sort of like Switzerland I guess. It is also because I always keep quiet and do not interact a lot with others. I just do my job, and when I have nothing to do I would rather read or write instead of chat. But it is not nice that I exclude myself from everyone if I want to keep good relations with everyone. I might be very passive most of the time but I try to be interested in others sometimes. So I learnt that it is a nice gesture when I listen to my colleagues and share their thoughts every once in a while. But also with limits, because I do not want to get involved in long silly conversation where I have to keep a fake smile on my face; and I also do not want anyone to think they are my best friend and have the right to invade my privacy or allow themselves to be rude. At work it is good to be kind, helpful, smiley but also formal.
Sometimes I feel frustrated and feel like saying something mean. But I couldn’t be rude to any of them because my manners wont allow me. I also do not want to create any drama where I work and just want to be left a lone in peace. Plus, I do not want Karma to get back at me!