During the first half-year I lived here, the acquaintances I made were overwhelmingly male. My roommates are male, most of the National newspaper reporters with whom I socialize on a semi-regular basis are male, and my boyfriend, my companion for most of my leisure-time activities, is--of course--male. Although I had frequent opportunities to observe the female citizens of Abu Dhabi at malls, grocery stores, and through the tinted windows of their Land Rovers, my contact with other human beings who share my anatomy was nearly nil.
At a gender ratio of almost three males for every one female in the 15-64 age group, members of my sex are a distinct minority in this country; on a busy Thursday night in the capital, you would be hard pressed to find a single female amid the crowds of South Asian men talking, eating, and smoking cigarettes in front of the lighted storefronts on Hamdan Street. Women are scarce in the Emirates, and those that do live here are hard to access. Local women shut themselves away in gated villas and only appear in public swaddled in the visually and culturally impenetrable armor of an abaya, while the majority of foreign women are employed in the service sector, so although I exchange words with them every time I eat out or shop in a clothing store, the power differential of our relative positions in society makes it difficult to transcend these determinedly formulaic and impersonal interactions. Both the statistics and the anecodotal evidence were on my side, excusing my lack of female friends.
But though I could justify the pitiful number of other females in my life, I wasn't happy about it. So two weeks ago, I set out to change that. My first step has been to join a women's a cappella group, which goes by the rather pedestrian name "Voices of Harmony" but which nonetheless maintains a large and surprisingly quirky repetoire of American pop songs that it performs several times a year at concerts around the city. The women in the group are a diverse bunch, hailing from places as far removed as South Africa and Spain as well as Britain and the U.S., and seem to be generally genial people who enjoy getting together for a few hours each week to sing, socialize, and partake of the seemingly requisite tea and cakes that are served halfway through each rehearsal by the group leader's Filipina maid. So perhaps among these harmonious ladies is a friend or two for me.