When Amy first moved to the United Arab Emirates, she quickly learned about the customs, the world of sheikhs and their royal entourage. Working as a new English faculty member at a women’s technical college, Amy recalls an incident at a conference in Abu Dhabi: let’s follow Amy’s adventure as she takes us to meet her prestigious Arab sheikh
I faced a very important meeting with the sheikh and I didn’t want to mess it up.
That day started with a flight to Abu Dhabi. Strapped into the seats of an old military airplane, the teachers from the Men and Women’s colleges chatted and laughed as we waited for take-off. That year we had an unusually large number of new hires as well as the old teachers on board, all looking forward to the big day in the city–away from the goats and camels.
Hundreds of beaming faculty members from around the country congregated in a fancy hotel there every year. Between speeches, the teachers networked with each other in informal meet-and-greet time-outs. I recall looking across the length of polished tiles and seeing a mixture of international and local (Emirati) faculty members reaching for heavy water goblets, sipping from tea cups and nibbling date cookies on silver platters.
Everyone looked scrubbed and clean
All had smiles on their faces. The local women stood in clusters with their black sheylas covering their hair and floor-length black abiyahs, revealing an occasional colorful peek at a fold of their dresses underneath. The local men wore white or checked ghutras hanging from their heads and ambled comfortably in their customary white dishdashas and sandals.
The heavy sweet perfume, which I later learned was Oud, clung to the folds of fabric around me. Not everyone dressed in traditional attire, however. Some of the locals wore western suits. With conference bags slung over shoulders or briefcases in their hands, my colleagues awed me. Then we ate a sumptuous meal.
Like all the new hires, I could hardly wait to meet the sheikh and his entourage. Each director led his or her new flock to a special receiving room to wait in line for the honor of shaking the Chancellor’s hand. We were briefed on the protocol. The director would formally introduce each faculty member to the Sheikh. “You take his hand, shake once and move on”.
I could do that, couldn’t I?
The procession started.
I was carrying a bulky present to give a friend who worked in Abu Dhabi but I hadn’t found her yet. I tried to pawn it off on a teacher with a bigger purse. She leaned toward me, distracted, “Dear, what is it that you want?” She didn’t take the bulging parcel. What would I do with it when I shook the sheikh’s hand?
We crossed over a plush carpeted area in the hotel with the quietest of feet. The room took on a hushed tone of formality. My heart beat faster. In the next room, I’d come face-to-face (rather, hand-to-hand) with the sheikh. In a matter of minutes, I’d be facing a line of Very Important Men in silk robes.
I inched forward. Stayed in line. The line moved faster and faster.
I kept my eyes on the entourage. I didn’t want to miss a second of this experience.
My heart pounded. Soon it would be my turn. I could see the sheikh in a traditional gold thob, looking regal and benevolent, as he leaned over to shake each hand.
Suddenly Ed, my director, disappeared from my view. Oh no, not my dumb vision acting up again! No, eyes, not now! Stop playing tricks on me! I surged forward, frantically seeking even a glimpse of Ed’s lanky form. I turned from side to side. Nothing.
Until…”Whoa!” Ed’s astonished voice was so close that it startled me.
“You passed right by the sheikh!”
Hand to which hand?
“Amy Bovaird, English faculty member from America,”
At Ed’s nudge, I reached out with clammy, trembling fingers and took the sheikh’s hand with my free one–the LEFT hand!
I shook the sheikh’s hand with what the Arab world considered to be the TOILET hand!
My cheeks flamed as I moved away and let the next honoree greet the sheikh.
It took time to get over this faux pas but now the memory makes me laugh. It might have been awkward but I don’t believe the sheikh, with all his education about western practices, thought my hand was dirty.
Maybe he even chuckled. I’d like to think he was the kind of sheikh who wouldn’t get all shook up over the wrong hand shake.
© Story and Photos Amy Bovaird, 2013.
Amy and I first met a couple of years ago when she responded to my first guest post on, My name is not Bob blog. We discovered we have so much in common, sharing an optimistic view as we write about our journey toward blindness.
Amy is a vision-impaired Christian author, experienced world traveler, and caretaker for her elderly mother. She was diagnosed at 28 with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) and lives in Pennsylvania US. She has worked as a specialist in second language acquisition for nearly thirty
Years and is a seasoned world traveler.
Amy views life as a personal adventure and writes about the challenges she faces as she loses more vision, her unexpected interactions with the environment often create hilarious insights, leading to faith-building circumstances.
View Amy Bovaird – Author & Ghostwriter at: