October 30, 2013
Work has begun; finally, most of the time.
I’m working as a Marketing Consultant for Al Burooj, which basically entails going around to lots of businesses in Muscat (schools, car companies, factories, hospitals, electronics stores, water companies etc.), introducing myself and “building rapport” with the General Manager or HR person.
This typically involves a humiliating combination of a) baldly assuming I will be admitted and made time for singularly by virtue of my whiteness and Americanness and b) trying to seem genuinely interested and human and bidoon (“without in Arabic”) alterior motive despite being at the office in the first place with the explicit alterior(?) motive of only BEING there because I want to make money. Capitalism, oh what you do to me. Lesson #1: Business is REALLY hard. It follows in some ways the most natural, validating contours of the human spirit, and yet in some ways the behavior it requires is unequivocally nauseating and spiritually inorganic.
On a personal level, because I find people compelling and I truly believe that, for instance, Jimmy’s Kitchen Restaurant, Maliha’s coffee shops, our Nestlé contract, Vitamalt beverages and catering/event services have a lot of real value to provide customers, I am not a swindler; I believe in the products we have to offer. I honestly want both sides to benefit from a transaction that would simply not be possible without facilitation by a middle-man[sic] with the unusual privileges of ‘passing’ that I enjoy. Nevertheless, I am in many ways a glorified travelling salesman[sic], and if you’ve ever a) had a sales job or b) read Arthur Miller, you know how hard that can be.
In Oman, as perhaps anywhere, going into a business as a marketing consultant is a professionally, emotionally and ethically complicated endeavor. They may, for instance, offer you a 5000 rial contract for a year’s worth of your product; not because they can afford it (often they cannot) but rather because you are whiteAmericanwoman and they – particularly if the management is neither white nor Omani (i.e. southeast Asian, for instance) – may want to impress you.
This creates a difficult problem, this combination of racialized and gender-valenced posturing/emasculation that one must navigate every time one enters an office. For instance, I may remark that I feel a huge wave of relief upon walking into an office and seeing that the manager is an Indian man, whereas an Indian woman might be less impressed and interested by the mere fact of my presence, and an Omani might be more likely to give me a hard time or just flatly tell me he/she was not interested. Similarly, if an southeast Asian woman were to walk into many of these companies doing my job, marketing identical goods and services, the 5000 rial offers I might get maybe would be dismissively maxed out at 1000 rials (these are hypothetical figures and situations). Whereas I can enter any office here and usually people go out of their way to connect me to the relevant person and facilitate my visit without an appointment, I have watched in many instances other similar characters who are non-white being abruptly turned away for the audacity to show up at one of these big corporate buildings without an appointment – and trying to sell something no less! The nerve!
Bobby said at one point that this sounds good: I’m mobilizing my cocktail of privilege to benefit someone else, specifically, the Omani woman entrepreneur with whom I am working. Right? Yet I fear a less charitable read might be that I’m taking advantage of people by deliberately stimulating/fomenting/encouraging/manipulating the many manifestations of racism in this country, both external and internalized.
As Saumen says, “There is a saying in English: Do as the Romans do in Rome; or, When in Rome, be a Roman.” I guess for the moment I’m working within the prevailing restrictions of Omani social dynamics. It’s taken me this long (nearly two months) to get a solid grasp on how all the interlocking statuses here even operate, undoubtedly it will take me a good deal longer to elaborate a coherent way of challenging the negative aspects of that system on the personal micro-scale of my own behavior.