"The committee that interviewed you saw you best fit for working at the English Desk," the editor-in-chief said.
"But I don't want a desk job! I want to out in the field reporting!" I objected fiercely.
"But you're a girl! We don't want you to burden yourself with tasks best left to men. When you get married and have children you will thank me. The decision is final!" (Appendix - Note 1)
With that, I had once again been brushed off as a "girl", which to many might as well have been a synonym for fragile, incapable, frail - I think you get the picture. What the editor-in-chief of our local news agency didn't know, however, that I had long ago taken an oath that I would never step back and let someone else run my life for me, especially not when it’s because I'm a woman!
It was January 1991, and the Gulf War had just started. I was a 13-year-old Kuwaiti girl fending off looks of pity in the eyes of the people of Riyadh where my father was serving at the Kuwaiti Embassy at the time that our country was invaded in August 1990. To the world we were refugees; people who had lost their homeland overnight.
As if our plight was not enough, we transferred schools over the Christmas holidays. Westerners were warned to stay out of the war zone and so many didn't come back after the school break. I found myself - the quiet and shy "new" girl - in a classroom with six boys! The very thought was horrifying! The air strikes and sirens kept us up all night, and in the morning I had to face a war zone of a different nature.
"My father says it serves Kuwait right!" It was Asif again! We were in the middle of the playground and everyone was suddenly staring at us.
SLAP! Just like that, I'd snapped... and there thebright red imprint of my hand across Asif's face to prove it! Total silence descended (Appendix - Note 2). This was a turning point in my life; no longer was I going to allow anyone to taunt me, and NEVER will I allow anyone to think they could simply walk all over me. It may not be up to me to get my homeland back, but I sure wasn't going to let people dictate how I was going to live my life (Appendix - Note 3).
Eighteen months later, while being presented with the award for outstanding academic achievement and social networking, my homeroom teacher who was there on the playground that day said to me, "You showed them who was boss that day and they marched behind you after that." I remember her words today with a smile.
Growing up, my role model was an 18-year-old detective girl with strawberry blond hair - Nancy Drew. My fictional heroine was popular among her peers, but was also so smart that she outdid murderers and criminals with little more than the help of a flashlight and some common sense. I wanted to be just like her when I grew up.
Armed with determination and a passion for investigation, I set out to fulfill my dream to report live stories instead of just translating and editing them. I tagged along with colleagues after my shift was over, helping them out with interviewing foreign delegations and covering events taking place at Western embassies. Soon these very colleagues began to formally request my assistance from the editor-in-chief. A year into my career I referred to as the "foreign correspondent" and I was always a member of any team covering important events and conferences taking place locally. I was often dispatched with government delegations traveling to take part in global summits. I had met and interviewed leaders, heads of state and ministers from all over the world. All of this alongside my standing position at the English Desk.
This extra work that I took on to fulfill a passion and to prove that a "girl" was just as worthy as any man meant that I always worked weekends, I often worked 12 or 16 hour days, and was on call all the time.
One night, I was out with a group celebrating a friend's birthday. The Japanese food had long been wiped off our plates and we were just bringing in the surprise chocolate cake when my phone rings.
"Eman, the NATO Secretary General is arriving in 30 minutes and the National Security Bureau has arranged for him to be interviewed by the agency." It was 9:45 p.m. and the caller was none other than the editor-in-chief who was asking me, a mere girl, to come out to the VIP airport to conduct an interview in the middle of the night - oh sweet poetic justice! Well, excusing myself from my friends' company and longing for a slice of cake, I rushed off. I finished the interview write-up just after midnight, and I went to bed satisfied that the one person who'd been convinced I wasn't "man enough" for the job had finally given up the battle.
I learnt that success comes at a price, and that people often have preconceptions that can leave them blind to the truth. As women, we should not fall victim to these assumptions of the patriarchial societies we live in. It's up to us to believe in ourselves and to show them that we have what it takes!
At yet another cousin's wedding, a great aunt comes up to me, puts her hand on my shoulder and sighs. "Inshallah (God willing) it will be you we rejoice for next."
There is this obsession in our culture about marrying off the young. Elderly women make it their mission to channel their prayers to line up the cosmic powers and bring about happy marriages. No one could understand why I wanted to "go against nature" and not get married (Appendix - Note 4). They simply couldn't see how I could be so preoccupied with all the "wrong" things. Worse yet, they didn't see how I could be surrounded by so many men and not to have "caught" the eye of any of them. Little did they know how insecure men could be when engaging with a woman who spoke to them as an equal.
I am not going to pretend that having such a demanding job was socially easy, marriage issues aside. The ungodly hours I worked were unheard of, and my mother was wondering if I had been better of studying medicine - something her side of the family lobbied against precisely because of the overnight shifts! My biggest challenge was dealing with my Mom's disappointment every time I had to forego a family obligation. She understood that I had to do what I had to do, but that didn't mean she looked forward to being asked where I was for the zillionth time. I am thankful for her support, without which I don't believe I could have come so far. My father? He was proud of my accomplishments, and he loved hearing from his colleagues at the Foreign Ministry that they'd met me and were impressed with my dedication and hard work. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
There were countless hobbies and interests that I simply didn't have the time for anymore, and worse yet, I couldn't plan a couple of days ahead. There were friends who understood, and for that I am grateful; I cherish what we have and value it. There were those who couldn't take it, and frankly, I can't say I blame them!
I have learnt that success doesn't come easy, and that the better you do the greater your responsibilities become. You cannot do it alone; you need the support of your family and friends. Besides, what fun is it to succeed if you're going to end up on your own?
After working at the news agency for seven year, I left to pursue a career in public relations. I miss journalism greatly, but it was time for me to move on in life and to grow in other media-related areas.
Today, ten years into my career, I am the PR manager in one of the largest holding conglomerates with over 60 companies across the Middle East and North Africa. Just last month I started setting up my own coffee shop which I intend to make the quietest place in the world for book lovers such as myself to enjoy. And I have finally revisited an early draft of an abandoned script of a children's storybook which I began writing years ago - and I'm doing the illustrations myself! Not bad for a "girl", don't you think?
I leave you with James Brown:
"This is a man's world
But it wouldn't be nothing, without a woman or a girl."