An Irish Woman's Account of Life in The Middle East 5 years ago

An Irish Woman's Account of Life in The Middle East

Jenny Bradfield is a project manager based in the Middle East. Inspired by recent demonstrations in Dublin Jenny contacted us to share her experiences of life in the Middle East and how her experiences have redefined her concept of home. Jenny writes: 

"I have watched the news over the past months and this morning when I look at the Irish news I see demonstrations in Dublin, it makes me want to tell me people a little bit about the Middle East that many people don't know.

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I believe, quite a few people need to understand things a little bit better about the Middle East and Islam. I am an Irish female expat living in the Middle East for three and a half years. I work as a project manager for a construction company, an industry where the average of women is roughly 6% across the globe.

Let me be very frank and honest to all those of you who are “Anti-Islam”. The Middle East has become my home from home. The people, the culture have accepted me within their country with respect and recognition. The country of Ireland didn’t have any opportunities when I graduated from University. So I had to leave to the UK and then on to the Middle East.

When my friends and family heard I was moving to the Middle East, all I heard was oh “you will be disrespected”, “You will be down the food chain”, “How can you move to a place where they disrespect women and you are going to be a white blonde woman in the middle of it all?” I ignored it and decided that even if I tried it for a week at least I tried.

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For the first year, like anywhere in the world, it took time for me to get into the swing of things, and understand the new culture. Now after three and a half years I can safely say it is my second home.

The local people are a minority in this country, which is, if we remember, what happened with us in Ireland many years ago. It is a growing country and within 40 years they have done what has taken Ireland and many other European countries hundreds of years. It is understandable that when you are a minority in your own country you get defensive and on first impressive may be silent to outsiders. Let me tell you a secret of how to break that barrier: “Salam Alaykum”, the equivalent of Dia Dhuit in Ireland.

When a stranger from another country passes you and says “Dia Dhuit, Conas ata tu?” we as Irish are amazed. By saying those simple words to a local can break down all the barriers that seem to be in place at first glance. The people smile and return the greeting and they say goodbye to you, “M’a Salama”, once you leave. On further observation, I noticed that no matter the person, the race, the hijab, the burkha everyone will greet each other with a hello and goodbye in the lift, a mannerly gesture that a lot of people have long forgotten across the globe.

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Last year I was lucky enough to be invited by a friend of mine, who is a local, to celebrate a tradition during Ramadan called Iftar with her and her family. The Iftar, for those who don’t know, is the breaking of fast in the evening where families and friends gather around to eat together, a bit like after mass on a Sunday in Ireland. I sat, in amazement, as I watched what was a custom so similar to our own.

The ladies gathered around to have a chat and a gossip, to talk of all the goings on in their families. The men were not there, yes, however, that is not any different to on our Sundays after the roast dinner when the men go in to watch the footy and GAA and the women in the kitchen have a good natter about the world, putting it to rights. The ladies at the Iftar spoke to me as if I was something new altogether, they couldn’t believe I started to learn their language. They made me feel at home drinking copious amounts of tea and eating treats. The tea cup was rather small, mind you, but by the time I had my cup refilled numerous times, I had drunk the equivalent of two decent Irish mugs of tea. They were no different from me and my friends.

My mother has come to visit a number of times to give it the Mammy’s inspection and overview and even she loves it. She recognises the similarities and she’s more amazed at the similarities we have more than the differences.

When I worked in London I had to fight to have my voice here amongst a bunch of burly Englishmen and in the Middle East, I also had to be heard however I didn’t need to shout. Once they heard they respected me every day that I had to tell them what to do. They stand to shake my hand when I enter, some of them even scatter but that’s because they’ve done something wrong and know I am going to give them chewing! Even more similar to the Englishmen on the sites I worked with before.

What I am trying to say really is to understand before you judge. There are 3,000 + Irish registered in the country here. That’s 3,000 that our own country couldn’t give jobs too. There are many more countries in the Middle East that have housed many of us Irish over the years, and they will do it for many more years to come. The Middle East can also teach Ireland a few things:

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  • No matter the people that have come to their country they kept their culture and language.
  • Their traditions whilst “different” they have held too, and not let the modern world change them.
  • When their country is in recession, they tell the government to ensure that the locals all have jobs and are looked after and if cuts are to me made their own people must be kept safe.
  • They don’t charge their own people for the utilities, they are given them for free.

Now that is something that Ireland and many other countries should look at and learn from.

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In the end no matter what skin colour, culture, race, origin, religion or anything else believed to make someone “different” from another doesn’t stop love, life or happiness. A heart is a heart, a smile is a smile, laughter is laughter, no matter what human it comes from. The fact of the matter is that if love and life can go beyond these “conditions” then it’s stronger and more powerful.

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People of the world are not so different. It’s difficult, I understand, for those who have not yet experienced it to really comprehend what a country or culture is like. I love Ireland and it will always be my home. News and propaganda have a tendency to be angled towards that entity underlining objective or opinion so be careful. All is not as it seems. Take it from me, the Irish Lass living in the Middle East and thankful to the country for giving me an opportunity when Ireland failed.

I am aware of the war, the disasters and awful goings on in this world now. It is a scary world we live in. Do not tar all people with the one brush just because they note a religion or faith. We as a nation have grown past the Catholics and Protestant barriers so let's show the world how we do it for all other religions. After all we are the only country that voted for the Marriage Referendum, something tells me that we can make a difference on this too. We might be a small country but we are mighty".