Last week, as I arrived at Tawdheef, an employment fair in Abu Dhabi aimed at getting young Emiratis into employment, I was struck by the sight of hundreds, perhaps thousands of white kanduras.
Such a sight meant two things. One: the exhibition was full of men. Two: no way was I going to be left in peace while making my way to the media room to register.
While a few politely moved out of my way, the majority of them joked around making "funny" comments at my expense, making me feel even more uncomfortable than I already was.
I persevered and managed to register before getting to work with Fatima the photographer. Of course, this was easier said than done. As Fatima snapped away, some of the men covered their faces or turned their back, while some screamed at us “What are you doing?”. A few funny guys just smiled and pulled funny faces at her. Like a true pro Fatima ignored their comments and kept snapping. I guess she’s used to this sort of thing by now.
As I walked through the company booths and stands I would approach the managers and ask them about their expectations of the exhibition.
Most of them assumed I was a student looking for a job, despite me clearly telling each one that I was a reporter with The National.
The shock on their faces when they realised I was quoting them for an article was indescribable. Many asked me to scratch out everything they had told me, while others took the chance to try to add more information about their company, hoping for a freebie advertisement.
Just as dumbfounded by my presence were the job seekers. The women would look at me with eyes wide open and most struggled to talk to me (I wonder why?)
One seemed so affected she stuttered the whole time, making it hard for me to understand her. Eventually, she sternly asked: “What kind of job is this? And what exactly do you do?”
After explaining my role at the newspaper, she began laughing, saying this was not a job for me. But another young lady was excited that I was a reporter, saying it must be great to have such a job. “You need to fix your hand writing though,” she joked.
And then came the hard part – approaching the men...
I bit the bullet, walking towards a group of four, hoping I could just get their feedback and call it a day.
But as soon as I said “Hi”, three of them disappeared. This, I should clarify, was before I had even explained I was a journalist.
The one that remained looked at me like a trapped animal.
As I explained to the last man standing that I was writing an article, his confusion began to show.
He asked if I was from a school or university, and when I explained that no, this is my job, he just stood there looking at me dumbfounded.
After I explained myself a few more times, he blurted out a couple of short, sharp responses, but the answers were hardly worthy of inclusion in an article.
But despite the many stares and jokes, not all the men were hostile. One group were happy to see me doing such a job, and one of them even asked if I thought he could get a similar job since he had a bachelor’s degree in media studies.
I encouraged him. After all, that’s what Emiratisation is about, isn’t it?