Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Life in the Data

data-destinations

On the Destinations of Species

• July 22, 2014 • 12:00 PM

It’s almost always easier to cross international borders if you’re something other than human.

We never planned on adopting a cat in Abu Dhabi.

For a couple of years starting in 2008, my husband and I lived in the Persian Gulf emirate just south of Dubai. One day, some expatriate friends of ours—a couple from New York—adopted a litter of kittens they had found on their stoop. Soon their apartment was overrun, and they talked us into taking one of the growing felines.

She came home with us in a cardboard box, a scrawny orange and white runt, stubbornly affectionate and smart. We called her Zardaloo, the Urdu word for apricot.

I spoke a lot of Urdu in those years. A common language in Pakistan and parts of India, Urdu also serves as a kind of lingua franca among the enormous South Asian migrant class in the United Arab Emirates. The fact that I spoke it—I studied Urdu years ago—opened me up to dozens of friendships with guest workers.

The lottery is only open to immigrants from countries with low rates of immigration to the U.S. and even then, offers just 50,000 visas for roughly 13 million qualified applicants annually.

One such friendship, which I am reminded of sometimes when I think of Zardaloo, was with a man named Mohammed, an elderly Bangladeshi with a short white beard, a skullcap, and jaundiced eyes. My husband and I met him one evening while taking a walk around the docks by the municipal fish market. He worked as a security guard at the fishing wharf, and he also sang the call to prayer at a small mosque in the dockyards.

Mohammed was tickled to be able to communicate with an American, and he told me about his life. As a young man looking for better wages, he had traveled overland from Bangladesh to Iran and then taken a boat to the Emirates, surviving a shipwreck on the way. He’d been in the country for 30 years, and made only rare trips home to see his family. He lived in a tiny, windowless cement room on the wharf and earned about $200 per month, most of which he sent home to support his wife and five daughters.

We exchanged phone numbers and paid each other occasional visits. Mohammed was always lavishly hospitable with sodas and meals, yet when we had him over to our place, he bashfully refused most of what we offered. We tried buying him a present once—an analog watch—but noticed when he put it on that he didn’t know how to read the time.

In mid-2010, we decided to leave Abu Dhabi and return to the U.S. We were in the midst of packing when Mohammed made an appointment to come over for tea one afternoon. I had spent the morning arranging travel paperwork for our two cats (in addition to Zardaloo, we had another, Jackson, that we’d brought from America). Now they needed microchips, rabies vaccines, health certificates, airline cargo tickets. Their big yellow plastic carrier was sitting in the hall.

Mohammed wasn’t alone when he came to see us. With him was a young man he introduced as his nephew. We sat down in our living room, and the conversation turned serious: Mohammed wanted us to help his nephew get to America.

It seemed like he had researched the options. When I said the best way to get to citizenship in America would be through the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, also known as the Green Card lottery, he dismissed the notion. (The lottery, I later learned, is only open to immigrants from countries with low rates of immigration to the U.S.—ruling Bangladeshis out—and even then, offers just 50,000 visas for roughly 13 million qualified applicants annually.)

Mohammed had more daring ideas: Could we bring his nephew with us as a domestic servant? Could we find a wife for him to marry? Could we help him emigrate to Mexico, so that he could cross the Rio Grande into America at his own risk? (This is surprisingly common.) For each of these schemes, Mohammed offered to compensate us.

I said I would do what I could to help. I told them I would email a friend who’s an immigration lawyer and another friend at the State Department to ask what avenues were open for U.S. citizenship (I did). I told them I would keep an eye out for a suitable bride (I didn’t, really). No one was satisfied with my response, including me.

As we all walked to the front door, Mohammed asked what would become of our cats. “They’re coming with us on the plane,” I said.

Mohammed turned to his nephew and pointed to the cat carrier. “They are taking the cats,” he said in rapid Urdu. His tone was painfully wry. “If only we could be transported in a cage.”


This post originally appeared in the July/August 2014 print issue of Pacific Standard as “On the Destinations of Species.” Subscribe to our bimonthly magazine for more coverage of the science of society.

Rose Dakin
Rose Dakin is a writer living in Albany, California.

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 1 • 2:00 PM

Most People With Addiction Simply Grow Out of It. Why Is This Widely Denied?

The idea that addiction is typically a chronic, progressive disease that requires treatment is false, the evidence shows. Yet the “aging out” experience of the majority is ignored by treatment providers and journalists.


October 1 • 1:00 PM

Midlife Neuroticism Linked to Alzheimer’s Disease in Old Age

New research from Sweden suggests that the personality dimension is connected to who ultimately suffers from late-in-life dementia.



October 1 • 11:11 AM

The Creative Class Boondoggle in Downtown Las Vegas

On Tony Hsieh and the pseudoscience of “collisions.”


October 1 • 9:14 AM

Mysterious Resting State Networks Might Be What Allow Different Brain Therapies to Work

Deep brain stimulation and similar treatments target the hubs of larger resting-state networks in the brain, researchers find.


October 1 • 6:00 AM

Would You Like a Subscription with Your Coffee?

A new app hopes to unite local coffee shops while helping you find a cheap cup of good coffee.


October 1 • 4:00 AM

How to Plant a Library

Somewhere outside of Oslo, there are 1,000 newly-planted spruce trees. One hundred years from now, if everything goes to plan, they’ll be published together as 100 pieces of art.



September 30 • 10:09 AM

Trust Is Waning, and Inequality May Be to Blame

Trust in others and confidence in institutions is declining, while economic inequality creeps up, a new study shows.


September 30 • 8:00 AM

The Psychology of Penmanship

Graphology: It’s all (probably) bunk.



September 30 • 6:00 AM

The Medium Is the Message, 50 Years Later

Five decades on, what can Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media tell us about today?


September 30 • 4:00 AM

Grad School’s Mental Health Problem

Navigating the emotional stress of doctoral programs in a down market.


September 29 • 1:21 PM

Conference Call: Free Will Conference


September 29 • 12:00 PM

How Copyright Law Protects Art From Criticism

A case for allowing the copyright on Gone With the Wind to expire.


September 29 • 10:00 AM

Should We Be Told Who Funds Political Attack Ads?

On the value of campaign finance disclosure.


September 29 • 8:00 AM

Searching for a Man Named Penis

A quest to track down a real Penis proves difficult.


September 29 • 6:00 AM

Why Do So Many People Watch HGTV?

The same reason so many people watch NCIS or Law and Order: It’s all a procedural.


September 29 • 4:00 AM

The Link Between Depression and Terrorism

A new study from the United Kingdom finds a connection between depression and radicalization.


September 26 • 4:00 PM

Fast Track to a Spill?

Oil pipeline projects across America are speeding forward without environmental review.


September 26 • 2:00 PM

Why Liberals Love the Disease Theory of Addiction, by a Liberal Who Hates It

The disease model is convenient to liberals because it spares them having to say negative things about poor communities. But this conception of addiction harms the very people we wish to help.


September 26 • 1:21 PM

Race, Trust, and Split-Second Judgments


September 26 • 9:47 AM

Dopamine Might Be Behind Impulsive Behavior

A monkey study suggests the brain chemical makes what’s new and different more attractive.


September 26 • 8:00 AM

A Letter Becomes a Book Becomes a Play

Sarah Ruhl’s Dear Elizabeth: A Play in Letters From Elizabeth Bishop to Robert Lowell and Back Again takes 900 pages of correspondence between the two poets and turns them into an on-stage performance.


September 26 • 7:00 AM

Sonic Hedgehog, DICER, and the Problem With Naming Genes

Wait, why is there a Pokemon gene?


Follow us


Mysterious Resting State Networks Might Be What Allow Different Brain Therapies to Work

Deep brain stimulation and similar treatments target the hubs of larger resting-state networks in the brain, researchers find.

Trust Is Waning, and Inequality May Be to Blame

Trust in others and confidence in institutions is declining, while economic inequality creeps up, a new study shows.

Dopamine Might Be Behind Impulsive Behavior

A monkey study suggests the brain chemical makes what's new and different more attractive.

School Counselors Do More Than You’d Think

Adding just one counselor to a school has an enormous impact on discipline and test scores, according to a new study.

How a Second Language Trains Your Brain for Math

Second languages strengthen the brain's executive control circuits, with benefits beyond words.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.