On Monday morning, Dec. 1, 2014, I put David on the bus in front of the Boutik Mall on Reem Island. His bus is the only one that doesn’t bear his school’s name. I presume that is because his school has the word American in it. Last month, his school warned us that the American Embassy had received credible threats about potential violence against American teachers in Abu Dhabi.
Ten hours later, around 4 p.m., an American teacher was murdered in one of Boutik Mall’s bathrooms by a traditionally dressed Emirati woman — now in custody, thanks to some very quick police work — who appears to have been laying in wait, with a large kitchen knife, for a victim. I frequently use that restroom after dining, shopping or getting my nails done.
I didn’t hear the breath-taking news until a full day later. By then, I had been over the to Mall again, on Tuesday (a national holiday), to get Subway sandwiches and Greek salad. I shopped at my favorite grocery store right at the scene of the crime. I took notice of the police tape by the elevators, but I assumed they were under repair like the ones in our building. We were about to leave for a three-day vacation in Dubai and I was in terrific spirits.
My pal in Portland, Maine actually sent me a link to the news on Gawker.com. I couldn’t believe what I was reading, or what had happened. For four months in the UAE, we have enjoyed a very peaceful, quite quiet way of life. We rarely watch the televised news here because the rest of the world is so inflamed: People of all colors and creeds are being felled by friends, disease, war, police, accidents, typhoons, famine, lone gunmen, pirates, ISIS, etc.
But the first person who came to mind, upon hearing about the Reem Island incident, was Carolyn Joyce Abel, an American teacher and my colleague, who was killed by a kitchen knife on Dec. 20, 1988 in her apartment in the nonviolent city of Seoul, South Korea. The Korean Police, and the Korean news, and the Korean People told us Americans that THIS TYPE OF CRIME AGAINST AN EXPAT WAS UNPRECEDENTED in their country.
It took me 26 years to come to grips with Carolyn’s horrific murder, a timeframe that included approximately 1,000 pages of words (four complete rewrites of a book about her, over the course of six years) as well as a trip back to Seoul last January to replay the story in my mind one last time.
You know how Carolyn’s murder played out: she was killed by another American teacher at our school, who claimed to be her best friend and who set up a situation in which she “found” Carloyn’s dead body. We’d mistakenly comforted the killer for weeks, protected her from the police while we worried about a Korean threat against us. Soon thereafter, with our coaxing, Carolyn’s killer went back to the States where she is free to this day because of international loopholes, bureaucratic bungling — and, partially, my naiveté.
Not again was my initial thought reading about Iboyla Ryan’s murder, even though (as I had learned from a CID Army officer back in Seoul) this sort of thing happens all the time all around the world. People die every day and in every way, he said then. And as I have since learned.
Even though Seoul was safe, and even though Abu Dhabi is safe, murder can still come to call. Sometimes by knife-weilding friends and sometimes by knife-weilding unknown enemies. There is no sense to make of it.
While in Dubai, Allan and I watched the news and read the papers hoping for an arrest and grappled with the inevitable questions. Will our son be safe at his school? Why did we move here? We kept coming back to the same answer: there’s no place to run and nowhere to hide. A year or so ago, many families in Connecticut sent their little children to school, and many didn’t come home. Yet the American government continues to let ANYONE buy a gun. Rights trump wrongs?
Arriving back in Abu Dhabi today, I decided that I needed to visit the Boutik Mall BEFORE going over there to put David on the bus tomorrow morning. I walked across the street where the flags still flew in honor of National Day and where people continue to come and go for groceries and socializing. I walked passed the Waitrose store and stopped in front of those elevators that you have probably seen on tv or that horrible video on YouTube.
Dozens of flowers, candles and notes form a shrine there to Ibolya Ryan. I read a few notes, remembered similar notes to Carolyn, and took a picture. An Emirati woman in an abaya walked up and startled me.
“Excuse me,” she said.
“Yes?” I had to stop my rising discomfort because she was wearing traditional Emirati clothing — which the international press couldn’t stop talking about when describing the suspect. The same traditional dress I WORE LAST WEEK to celebrate the peaceful 43 years of the UAE nation.
Clothing is not the culprit. Good cops wear the same dress as bad cops. (By the way, my brother is a cop, and he is kind and righteous. My stepbrother, who died by suicide, was a superb cop, too.) Likewise, of course, wearing a hoodie doesn’t mean you deserve to be shot.
“Did you know her? Are you friends or family?” the woman at the Mall asked me. “I’m a reporter with Gulf News.”
“No,” I answered. “But I knew someone like her — killed for being.”
The reporter shook her head. “I was born here and I have never ever heard of such things happening.”
“Was the suspect just waiting for a Westerner to come into the bathroom?” I asked, surprised by my audacity. Old baggage. New fears.
“We’re still waiting for answers from the police about that,” she responded.
“There’s just no sense to it, no matter what,” I added, sorry that I had been abrupt.
The reporter and I shook hands. I was glad to have made a physical and emotional connection with her. I love her country and her people. I refuse to give into hate, the way I did in Seoul, where I was on the wrong side of everything. Maybe even the world.
We both stared at the outpouring of grief, and sighed.
Breathing, in unison — despite our differences — on behalf of Ibolya Ryan on Reem Island and symbolically for Eric Garner on Staten Island, as well as every single soul lost to hatred from here to there.