I was recently on a work trip that I was very excited about. When I found out I had been selected to go I was thrilled. I promised my girlfriend I’d get her all the little soaps and shampoos that were in the hotel room I’d be staying at; she loves collecting them!
I pick myself up, and fly half way across the world, and find myself in the company of people on my team who I’ve only ever corresponded with by email. It’s great; I’m meeting new people, putting faces to names, and learning quite along the way. Everyone working in the middle east branches has been invited to this event.
One evening we go out for dinner. We are sitting at a nice table in a cool diner with candles and a wonderful ambiance. I’m nose deep in whatsapp when, all of a sudden, one of my colleagues mutters something under his breath, and then more loudly warns us – the people sitting across from him – not to look behind us.
“ya te3teeri…Allah ysabberna”… or something to that effect is what the other colleague sitting beside hims says.
I look up at them, curious. What is going on? I ask them: Shou fi?
“Fi bentein 3am bi bouso ba3don 3al tawle warakon… shou hal araf…”.
The reactions around the table are those of disdain and disgust. I absorb them as I ponder the irony of this situation, and I tap send on the “I miss you so much…” I had just typed into the whatsapp conversation I was having with my female love interest. I lock my phone and put it on the table before me.
I guess there’s no escaping homophobia, it follows you everywhere.I just really wasn’t expecting it. I had been somewhere else in my mind, enjoying the trip and the experience; happy. And in that instant, when I least expected it, that remark stung.
It was a reminder that while I know about each of their personal lives and partners and families, mainly because they won’t shut up about them or stop showing pictures of them, I do not have that same privilege. Who I love is not something I can share as we dip bread sticks into olive oil and munch on them. What I consider my family and my source of joy is not a suitable topic of conversation. And I have to smile and shrug as the conversation comes my way in these matters, and I’m told that I need to partner up soon; the clock is ticking…
I turn my attention back to the conversation. The colleague who had made the first remark is now saying how he found out his 16 year old had a girlfriend which was a relief because he’s finally sure that “ebno tabee3i”.
I sigh. And I let the remark and their reactions go. They are of no significance. I plunge myself back into what I am now painfully aware is shallow conversation and in the back of my mind I am thinking about what is to come… a certain bathtub, certain little soaps and shampoos, and a certain lady that takes my breath away.