Inshallah: A Teenager Comes of Age in Abu Dhabi
Notable Special Issue Award for Best American Essays (2015)
Every day I am late picking up my daughters from their high school. By the time I wrestle my way to the front of the school and illegally park my car, the bell has already rung. This alone takes ten to thirty minutes, depending on the day. There are no rules in this pickup line, no parent volunteers with neon vests directing traffic or helping children cross the street safely. I am routinely cut off by angry drivers who swerve in front of me in enormous Hummers or ostentatious six-door Bentleys. By now I know enough to give them a wide berth; as soon as they are close enough to the entrance they will slam on their brakes without warning, and only long enough for a harried maid clutching her hijab to jump out and scurry into the school to fetch her charges. Through my untinted windows in my rented minivan, I hear the cacophony of horns. There is no politesse, no gestures of "after you...no after you, I insist." No one is worried about how rude they might appear. In fact, most of the people here are not the parents of the students behind these gated walls. They are the hired drivers, the bodyguards, the servants who are sent to collect the children from school.
Because so many royal family members are educated here the security is tight and I worry constantly about my lack of wasta, or privilege, and never honk my own horn or do anything but meekly wait until I can find a spot. It's so hot that I leave the keys in the ignition and the air blasting on high while I wait in the queue to be let in by the guards. I lower my sandaled foot onto the pavement and nearly swoon; my body still hasn't adjusted to the heat, even in six months.