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The Cost of Freedom…

22 December, 2008

The New York Times has published an article today about Arab women leaving their families and countries to become flight attendents in the United Arab Emirates.  These women are doing something that was once unthinkable in the Middle East.  It is a step driven by the desire for freedom and/or the desire for money.  In some cases, the women have become providers for families in their home countries; in other cases, the women have experienced a desire to break out of the familiar constraints and see another world.  This situation as the story points out is the proverbial “two-edged sword.”


“Flight attendants have become the public face of the new mobility for some young Arab women, just as they were the face of new freedoms for women in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s. They have become a subject of social anxiety and fascination in much the same way.”


Freedom/Anxiety.  Not just for the social order, however, but many of the women themselves. While on the job, the women wear makeup, tailored suits with short skirts, and a hat with a white veil that wraps around their neck instead of their face.  When not flying, they live in well-guarded buildings with individual two bedroom suites.  According to the story, some women become reclusive in their new situations while others go night-clubing, begin dating, and probably become a little promiscuous.  

Freedom has its costs and not everyone is willing to pay the price.  Some women have decided to return to their homes, unwilling to live with the disconnect they feel from their families, their close knit communities, and their religion they can not pray while flying, nor fast during Ramadan. (One woman said ” said she hoped to wear the hijab one day, “just not yet.”)

The problem?   As one woman speaking of a friend who did go home said, “But she can’t tolerate living in a family house anymore. Her parents love her brother and put him first, and she’s never allowed out alone, even if it’s just to go and have a coffee.”

“It becomes very difficult to go home again,” she said.”


You can’t go home again, not ever.  The gate to Eden has been shut tight.  You ate of the fruit of knowledge and now you are alone – one individual, conscious now of what was but unable to return to what was.

It is the price the human race has paid throughout its long and episodic history.  Women gathering together, men hunting together; women growing food together, men herding together.  

Tabu, mythology, religion, and fear separating us, stigmatizing us, driving us apart.  

And then it began:  the Industrial Revolution, people leaving their families, their communities, their homes and farms, moving into ramshackle tenements, alone, without the ones who shared their food and their history of despair or laughter.  People working in isolation, first in mills and factories, assembly lines and checkout lines, offices and cubicles.  All strangers, or acquaintances.

We have became so “individual” that we feel isolated from one another. Our society falls apart around us and we blame it on others: they don’t share our morals, our language, our customs, our religion, our race, on and on.  

What we don’t see is that it is us. We don’t remember what was lost, but we feel the isolation.  We form “groups” and “gangs” and “societies” and then we retreat into our comfortable individual homes, our “own” families.    


These flight attendents are taking the next step into our modern world.  Every culture that “modernizes” has to sacrifice.  Do you remember what you lost?  Was it worth it?      


read the story here:

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