The contrast could not have been starker. On one day in August two glossy magazines showed up in my mailbox. One, the Barnard Magazine, showed three beautiful young women, elegantly dressed and beaming, holding champagne glasses and enjoying the festivities around their fifth reunion. The other, TIME, depicted a once equally beautiful woman, looking out from her head shawl and into the camera, revealing nothing. Her nose had been cut clean off—punishment by the Taliban, the article explained, for having fled her abusive in-laws. The woman, Aisha, was 18.
One of the more disconcerting parts of growing older, I’ve discovered, is watching the subtle change in who remembers your birthday. When I was growing up, my father would herald the occasion by marching into my room in the morning with a yellow rose he had picked from the garden. My mother would follow behind with balloons and presents. That was nice. More recently, though, the most regular celebrants have been my dentist’s office (Happy Birthday! Time for your annual cleaning!) and, sadly, my insurance agent (Happy Birthday! Time for—what? Another tick up the actuarial charts??) This year, my daughter inaugurated the day by throwing up in the kitchen sink and then, somewhat sheepishly, wishing me well. At least she remembered.
Everything in Dubai is tall, it seems, and everyone is from somewhere else. The man who greeted me at the airport was from Bosnia. The cabdriver was Sri Lankan; the hotel clerk, Nigerian. (Yes, I am one of those annoying travelers who ask a lot of questions.) Like the buildings that tower over what was recently desert, the people of Dubai appear almost to have dropped from the sky, hailing from across the planet and now mixed randomly, picturesquely, in this tiny crossroads by the sea.
Portrait of President Judith R. Shapiro by Thomas Loepp, Photograph by Aaron W. Kinard