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

December 19 • 4:00 PM

How a Drug Policy Reform Organization Thinks of the Children

This valuable, newly updated resource for parents is based in the real world.


December 19 • 2:00 PM

Where Did the Ouija Board Come From?

It wasn’t just a toy.


December 19 • 12:00 PM

Social Scientists Can Do More to Eradicate Racial Oppression

Using our knowledge of social systems, all social scientists—black or white, race scholar or not—have an opportunity to challenge white privilege.


December 19 • 10:17 AM

How Scientists Contribute to Bad Science Reporting

By not taking university press officers and research press releases seriously, scientists are often complicit in the media falsehoods they so often deride.


December 19 • 10:00 AM

Pentecostalism in West Africa: A Boon or Barrier to Disease?

How has Ghana stayed Ebola-free despite being at high risk for infection? A look at their American-style Pentecostalism, a religion that threatens to do more harm than good.


December 19 • 8:00 AM

Don’t Text and Drive—Especially If You’re Old

A new study shows that texting while driving becomes even more dangerous with age.


December 19 • 6:12 AM

All That ‘Call of Duty’ With Your Friends Has Not Made You a More Violent Person

But all that solo Call of Duty has.


December 19 • 4:00 AM

Food for Thought: WIC Works

New research finds participation in the federal WIC program, which subsidizes healthy foods for young children, is linked with stronger cognitive development and higher test scores.


December 18 • 4:00 PM

How I Navigated Life as a Newly Sober Mom

Saying “no” to my kids was harder than saying “no” to alcohol. But for their sake and mine, I had to learn to put myself first sometimes.


December 18 • 2:00 PM

Women in Apocalyptic Fiction Shaving Their Armpits

Because our interest in realism apparently only goes so far.


December 18 • 12:00 PM

The Paradox of Choice, 10 Years Later

Paul Hiebert talks to psychologist Barry Schwartz about how modern trends—social media, FOMO, customer review sites—fit in with arguments he made a decade ago in his highly influential book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less.


December 18 • 10:00 AM

What It’s Like to Spend a Few Hours in the Church of Scientology

Wrestling with thetans, attempting to unlock a memory bank, and a personality test seemingly aimed at people with depression. This is Scientology’s “dissemination drill” for potential new members.


December 18 • 8:00 AM

Gendering #BlackLivesMatter: A Feminist Perspective

Black men are stereotyped as violent, while black women are rendered invisible. Here’s why the gendering of black lives matters.


December 18 • 7:06 AM

Apparently You Can Bring Your Religion to Work

New research says offices that encourage talk of religion actually make for happier workplaces.


December 18 • 6:00 AM

The Very Weak and Complicated Links Between Mental Illness and Gun Violence

Vanderbilt University’s Jonathan Metzl and Kenneth MacLeish address our anxieties and correct our assumptions.


December 18 • 4:00 AM

Should Movies Be Rated RD for Reckless Driving?

A new study finds a link between watching films featuring reckless driving and engaging in similar behavior years later.


December 17 • 4:00 PM

How to Run a Drug Dealing Network in Prison

People tend not to hear about the prison drug dealing operations that succeed. Substance.com asks a veteran of the game to explain his system.


December 17 • 2:00 PM

Gender Segregation of Toys Is on the Rise

Charting the use of “toys for boys” and “toys for girls” in American English.


December 17 • 12:41 PM

Why the College Football Playoff Is Terrible But Better Than Before

The sample size is still embarrassingly small, but at least there’s less room for the availability cascade.


December 17 • 11:06 AM

Canadian Kids Have a Serious Smoking Problem

Bootleg cigarette sales could be leading Canadian teens to more serious drugs, a recent study finds.


December 17 • 10:37 AM

A Public Lynching in Sproul Plaza

When photographs of lynching victims showed up on a hallowed site of democracy in action, a provocation was issued—but to whom, by whom, and why?


December 17 • 8:00 AM

What Was the Job?

This was the year the job broke, the year we accepted a re-interpretation of its fundamental bargain and bought in to the push to get us to all work for ourselves rather than each other.


December 17 • 6:00 AM

White Kids Will Be Kids

Even the “good” kids—bound for college, upwardly mobile—sometimes break the law. The difference? They don’t have much to fear. A professor of race and social movements reflects on her teenage years and faces some uncomfortable realities.



December 16 • 4:00 PM

How Fear of Occupy Wall Street Undermined the Red Cross’ Sandy Relief Effort

Red Cross responders say there was a ban on working with the widely praised Occupy Sandy relief group because it was seen as politically unpalatable.


Follow us


Don’t Text and Drive—Especially If You’re Old

A new study shows that texting while driving becomes even more dangerous with age.

Apparently You Can Bring Your Religion to Work

New research says offices that encourage talk of religion actually make for happier workplaces.

Canadian Kids Have a Serious Smoking Problem

Bootleg cigarette sales could be leading Canadian teens to more serious drugs, a recent study finds.

The Hidden Psychology of the Home Ref

That old myth of home field bias isn’t a myth at all; it’s a statistical fact.

The Big One

One in two United States senators and two in five House members who left office between 1998 and 2004 became lobbyists. November/December 2014

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