Friday, December 28, 2012

Who is Doha?

There's Construction Doha where architects, engineers and contractors from the East and West meet to create miracles of steel and stone and cranes march across the sky.
In this Doha, Qataris are the owners and Westerners the professionals.  Filipinos sit at service desks, manage shops and care for local children while Indian laborers live in camps outside the city - after 12-hour shifts building, scraping, cleaning, dusting.  Here, everyone speaks English and no one speaks Arabic.  Rules, restrictions and requirements for everything from travel and housing to occupation and permission to drive is determined by…nationality.
There's Social Doha where Qataris host the world, providing facilities for non-Muslim churches and a liquor store too!  Westerners in their 30-60s visit high end jazz bars and kick back $100USD+ bottles of wine while 20s-30s of all nationalities (purport to) mix with locals and engage in the kinds of activities 20-30s engage in everywhere.  In this Doha, there is driving too fast, drinking and…secrets.
There's Local Doha, the mystery that is Qatari life behind 10-foot high walls, under brightly lit desert party tents and in parades of abaya covered women and dish-dasha garbed men.  In this Doha, there is tradition and cultural cohesion.  There is very little mingling between Local Doha and…the rest of Doha.
There's also My Doha:  a jog along the Corniche, trip to the beach.  Watching trucks loaded with…whatever…parade in and out of the desert from my perch at the top of the Singing Dunes.  Arabic classes, Swalif, whole mornings, as in: as-much-time-as-I-can-get-because-it-seems-to-be-the-only-place-anyone-speaks-Arabic-and-the-ladies-are-super-nice, spent here:
My Doha is Fanar, a job at Weill-Cornell, laundry, dishes, a walk around The Pearl at night, dinner-for-two.  My Doha is Bob - and for a little longer, these two travelling wonders of God's creation:
Like most of Doha's majority population, My Doha is temporary. Eventually (inshaa-allah), I'll return home, to my son and grandbabies, house, garden, job-I-love(d), fabulously supportive, perfectly created extended family. To an outdated (due to absentia) desktop setup, rusted (due to age and disuse) cars.
So who exactly is Doha? An ultra-modern, English speaking, fast Porsche driving, night drinking metropolis where expats in transit outnumber locals four to one - and many longtime foreign workers have never even met a Qatari?
Or maybe Doha really is all of us, as stated in the recent campaign "Kuluna Doha (We are all Doha)" which aims to encourage unity (ostensibly through a higher standard of expat dress):

No answers. Just questions.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

It's Doha Time!

Where an 8:00p appointment could mean 9:00p, 9:30p, tomorrow…or never. Where an hour-long class begins 30 minutes late, breaks for prayer (15 minutes), and Teacher takes a phone call at her desk for another 10. Where restaurants are out of cheese until…well, whenever more arrives - and important life decisions (like taking a job in a faraway foreign nation) are determined with a week's notice.
Time: it's such an arbitrary term.
In his book, Don't they know it's Friday?, Jeremy Williams writes:
For the Muslim, God alone controls the future (and now) and therefore any attempt to lay down what shall happen, such as agreeing a date or time for a meeting, is presumptuous and for the very religious borders on the improper.  For Muslims timekeeping is not under human control at all; God will decide what shall happen, not humans - and certainly not non-Muslims...
There's a word for this: Inshaa Allah.
Literally, Inshaa Allah means "if God wills." Figuratively it means, "Yes (unless something more important comes up)."  It's used when scheduling business meetings, doctor appointments, class schedules, lunch dates - and sometimes to say no.
How can you tell the difference between a "yes, of course I'll be there" Inshaa Allah and a "not going to happen" Inshaa Allah?  (According to my Qatari conversation teacher), consider the tone of voice in the following use of the phrase:
Your teenager wants a car for Christmas. No way that's happening, and he knows it.  You smile, raise an eyebrow and respond, Inshaa Allah.

Yeah, like that.

The up side to the no-clockwatching-lifestyle is that Qataris (at least those I've met) never seem to be in a hurry.  No handshake-on-the-run from the businessman who both greets and pushes you away at the same time.  No harried "yeah-yeah-yeah" from the soccer mom as she rushes the conversation to get to the next activity.

No clockwatching translates to focused attention. This is pretty nice if you're the activity of the moment.
Kind of a bummer if you're the next patient in the ER.
Of course none of this applies to driving - where everyone, Qataris included, is in a hurry. But that's another blog for another time…when I'm not so busy.
Inshaa Allah.
Not me windsurfing at Zekrit

Thursday, December 13, 2012

On Family, Foundations and Being Together

Family Friday at Aspire Park, Doha
I want to tell you about Family Friday in Doha: when related groups picnic at the park, hang at Starbucks, walk the Corniche, pray, eat and laugh together. When malls restrict men from wandering shops alone and eating in certain areas of a restaurant unless accompanied by a woman.
Family Friday at Costa Coffee
I want to outline how an individual's name traces lineage for generations - and how signatures give away secrets.  How young couples live with the man's family and title babies after dad's parents.  That a married woman keeps her name to conserve her own tribal line.
That dad's word may be law but businessmen cancel meetings to drive mom to the mall:
(Sniff. I love you, Mom.)
I want to tell you about Qatari hospitality: if your hostess pours you 1/3 cup of tea it means you should stay for more (a filled glass means it's time to go).  Your hostess waits nearby ready to refill the moment your cup is empty.  She'll continue to offer more until you shake your cup gently from side to side.  When your visit is over, she coats you in sweet, perfumey, smoke-like incense and waits by the door until you're safely inside your car.
I want to outline how Qatari faith is a lifestyle that strengthens families.  And Qatari hospitality is a principle that builds relationships and reinforces foundations.
But right now all I can think about is this:
Katie and Kimberly - now in Doha!
And this:
Chris, Krissy and Killian - faraway in Kansas City.
No matter how customs, habits and traditions differ, here's one way families are the same no matter where you're from:  it's hard to be separated from the people you love most. And there's nothing better than being together.
We miss you, Chris.
Family Lake Vacation c. 2009

Friday, December 7, 2012

Ten Random Doha Somethings

  • The name QATAR means "drop of rain."  
Once upon a time it rained a lot on this desert peninsula. Now there's so little moisture that the country didn't bother putting in a stormwater system.  When the sky does shed, water floods the streets until a truck appears with a great hose, sucks up the pool and hauls it off. (The city's sewage system consists of a series of trucks that collect waste matter and...take it away.) 
Nine more random somethings:
  • Most (as in: all but the most rebellious) Qatari marriages are arranged and inter-familial.  Mom and Sis find Bro a bride - sometimes at family weddings. 
  • A woman is not allowed to attend funerals or burials.  Nope, not for her children or husband, either. Because it's "a woman's nature" to cry - and her tears disturb the deceased's journey.
  • Family and friends give money to children during Eid.  How much?  Teens may collect "a few thousand" Qatari Riyal while younger kids typically walk away with "a few hundred."
  • Extended Qatari families live together in one big house behind a high concrete wall.  A bride moves in with her husband's family, but she doesn't change her name. 
interesting door and gate surround an Al Khor home
  • Oil gets its own aisle in the grocery store. (Chocolate has its own aisle too but there were too many people there to snap a surreptitious photo.)
  • Toilet paper, generally speaking, is not provided in public facilities.  When toilet paper is utilized, it is disposed of in an open trash can, NOT the bowl.
toilet paper wall dispenser; take what you need BEFORE entering stall

  • Actual restaurant napkins:
    Yes, it's a box of Kleenex
  • It's acceptable to park near the front door of any random restaurant and honk your horn repeatedly.  Someone will appear, take your order and bring it out to you.
  • There aren't any palm trees on Palm Tree Island (a deserty mound in the middle of Doha Bay). Just one lonely Eucalyptus:
My head's over occupied this week:  there's that Arabic final coming up and a work thing to learn.  And, oh yeah, Christmas, which we plan to spend with other wayfarers cruising Doha Bay on a dhow.
But mostly Bob and I are all-a-jumble-flump excited about the upcoming visit of our wondrous misses Katie and Kimber.
It's K TIME!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Salaam! (When Qataris Say Hello)

… a man asked the prophet (S.A.W.), "what in Islam is the best?" He (S.A.W.) answered, "To feed people and to say salaam to everyone whether you know them or not."

Traditional Qatari men greet one another by lightly touching noses twice.
Young Qataris say hello to a parent or older relative by kissing the elder's forehead.
Everyone (within the same gender) shakes hands.
But when Qatari women greet one another, there is grasping, kissing, bouncing, shaking, touching, nodding, smiling and talking.  Lots of talking!
It's a gymnastics event performed inside a tornado of words. Here's how it works.
While talking ("Sister!  I've missed you! I'm happy to see you! Welcome!"), move toward her.  Grasp her hand.  Pull her close. Bounce right cheek against her right cheek 2-4 times while performing air kiss, smiling and responding appropriately to a series of traditional verbal greetings:
Peace be with you
And with you, peace
God welcomes you
And you God welcomes!
What's your news?
Great good news! And you, what's your news?
Great good news! And again your news?
Praise to God! And again how are you?
Fine! I hope you are well?
I'm great! I hope you are well?
There are so many potential ways to continue the greeting (transforming gradually into regular conversation) that there's a formal way to end too:
Pardon me, sister I'm in a rush
To which the other replies:
I leave you in God's protection
And then:
May God keep you in good health
Move away from her, stepping slowly backwards, remembering to smile and continue talking.  The greeting isn't over until:
May God protect you.
There are plenty of other things to know about greeting Qataris (and other Arab nationals).  Formal stuff like 
  • smaller group greets the larger group
  • younger person greets the older person
  • person walking or riding greets the sitting person
  • people on your right are greeted first

And if you enter a room where people are eating, don't disturb the meal by greeting people individually.  Instead say "Peace be to God" loudly (so as to interrupt everyone equally, perhaps).
Then there's stuff to know like, when asked, "how are you?" one should respond, "Praise God, I'm great."  Even if you're not.  Because it's better to be thankful for the good than spread the distress of the bad. Or if he/she places a palm to her chest, it means she doesn't want to shake hands. And most importantly, whether in food, hospitality or a simple hello, it's important to give more:
"When a courteous greeting is offered to you, meet it with a greeting still more courteous..."
This seems like a lot to learn, say and do when you come from a country where the traditional greeting is (exclamation optional):

And the response:
This short standard may be easy to remember and perform. But the Qatari greeting is just…so much more fun.
group of ladies walking at The Pearl

Friday, November 23, 2012

What Thanksgiving Looks Like From Here

On the 8th day, after a nice rest…and to reward the Expat Traveller…God created Skype.
In KC:
In Buffalo:

In Doha:
Oh sure, Skype is bits and bytes.  Frozen images, lost words, broken connections.  Skype is not: turkey smell, two-arm belly hugs, pumpkin pie tasting, backyard soccer, babies tossed into piles of leaves.  Skype doesn't offer up the togetherness that prompts deep conversation - like sitting at table beside a loved one you haven't seen in a while, sipping, supping…touching fingers, minds and hearts.
Skype can't fix a 9 hour time difference that means it's 11pm, three movies and two (and a half) bottles of wine late in Doha before the main event begins in KC. 
Skype won't let you reach through the computer screen and wrap arms around beloved, adored, miss-them-so-much-can't-talk-about-it:
Huggy, Squeezy, Melts-in-your-lap; Best Valentine's Present Ever
Fun, Funny, Fabulous; Best Birthday Present Ever
my mom is adorable
It's true that Skype isn't the most perfect of God's great inventions.  It's not even the "next best thing."  But when you’re here and they're there and the miles are long and far and deep…and you consider that it wasn't that long ago that there was No Such Thing as phone, computer, internet…and families had to rely on (gasp!) MAIL that took weeks to arrive, if it arrived at all…Skype's pretty darn awesome.
Killian IMs while skyping with Pop: note fingers at "home"
In Doha, Thanksgiving Day meant laundry, Arabic study, battles with housekeeping for Cindi; ten hour work day for Bob.  Frozen something that looked good in French and Greek that turned out to be mushy eggplant casserole.  MI2, MI4, wine…and waiting to Skype.
The next day we head to the Fabulous John and Jeanne Irvin's villa for turkey, rolls, corn, pie, beer, music, friends.  Can't wait!
Later, at our apartment, we'll huddle around our laptops and tap-tap-tap, warming fingers as if in front of a fireplace on a snowy day.  Because when you're far, far from the people you love most, and if you're very, very lucky - this is the what the best part of every holiday looks like:
miss these precious darlings

Friday, November 16, 2012

Question: "Is the Call to Prayer like a Siren?"

asked Cute Ken With Dimples, friend of the original Darling Dimples:
Yes.  Sort of.  In that Adhan (Call to Prayer) is broadcast through speakers set high above the city to assure everyone hears and has opportunity to react in an appropriate manner.
And No.  In that a siren is discordant and designed to annoy, while Adhan is a warm, melodious, inviting sound.  Listen for yourself:
Adhan for Maghrib (evening prayers) near Bob's job site (ie, that skyline full of cranes)
This is what you're hearing:
Allahu Akhbar (4 times)                                                   Allah is Most Great
Ash-had an la ilaha ill-Allah (2 times)                             I bear witness that there is none
                                                                                              worthy of being worshipped except Allah
Ash hadu anna Muhammad ar-Rasoolullah (2 times)      I bear witness that Muhammad is the
                                                                                             Apostle of Allah
Hayya 'alas-Salah (2 times)                                              Come to prayer
Hayya 'alal-falah (2 times)                                                Come to success
Allahu Akhbar (2 times)                                                    Allah is Most Great
La ilaha illallah                                                                  There is no deity except Allah
With one exception, this is the very Adhan recited throughout the world 5 times every day: before dawn (Fajr), at noon (Dhuhr), afternoon (Asr), sunset (Maghrib) and nightfall (Isha).  Because prayer times are determined by the sun and not by the clock, the moment of prayer changes from day to day, location to location.
The exception:
This phrase is added after "Hayya 'alal-falah" (Come to success) in the first Adhan (which can occur as early as 3am):
As-salatu khairum minannaum (2 times)                             Prayer is better than sleep
Once upon a time, the muezzin climbed into the top of the minaret to complete the Adhan.  Today, he stands at a microphone inside the mosque to perform this sacred duty. His voice is broadcast to the community via speakers set high in the minaret.
Mshiereb Minaret at night
Minaret at the Pearl's mosque - hmmm
Gold mosque and minaret at Katara
There's a second call that occurs a short time after the first: the Iqamah.  Directed toward faithful inside the mosque, the Iqamah is recited quickly and with less intonation, and includes this line after "Hayya 'alal-falah" (Come to success):
Qad Qama Tis-salah                                                              Stand for Prayer
The Adhan isn't limited to the muezzin or the minaret.  I've heard it broadcast inside the mall, through my tv, coming out of a group standing on a boat, from a man alone under a tree.
"…the Prophet said,…whenever you want to pronounce (Adhan) for the prayer, raise your voice in doing so, for whoever hears the (Adhan), whether a human being, a jinn or any other creature, will be witness for you on the Day of Resurrection…"
Prayerful, warm, inviting, sacred. Musical - but not music.  I like it.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Expat Wife Life

What do I do as an expat wife?  When I'm not cooking, cleaning or shopping?
In the fountain at the Islamic Museum (Bob was not pleased)
After all, Bob works 12hours/6 days/week and is unavailable to entertain me.  Our babies are grown, so there are no kids to manage, carpools to drive, recitals to attend.  No Great Job I Loved at Barnes & Noble (sigh).  We live in a resort, with laundry services, restaurants and adorable uniformed guys who clean our apartment each week.  There are yachts docked outside our window, along a boardwalk where fancy shops display 4000QR ($1000USD) dresses for sale.  Taxis are easy to find, but there's also a guy available to haul the little woman about. The official line is: spouses should not expect to find work.
What does one do when one doesn't have to do…anything? And...WHY?
Sure, there's shopping - a Doha sport.  There are souqs, outlets and malls aplenty.  An entire city block features stores selling only computer goods. Bright windows are stuffed with lights, lamps and bulbs for sale.  A three-story fabric souq offers tailor services on each floor. Ultra-modern malls feature H&M and Virgin with Baskin Robbins, KFC and McDonalds a heartbeat away.
Lagoona Mall near The Pearl
Grocery shopping must be done frequently - as in every couple of days - since bananas brown overnight and even refrigerated food spoils (ie, no preservatives).
There's sight-seeing: singing dunes, inland sea, beach, Islamic Museum, camel races, Ramallah Park.  The gym, running the Corniche, pool, meeting-Bob-and-the-guys-for-lunch.  And driving, which gets a category of its own, since there is no such thing in Doha as running-to-the-store-real-quick.  A 6-mile long errand can take an entire morning given the horrendous, unpredictable, crazy-making traffic.
Some expat wives keep busy with the American Women's Club, Doha Mums, the Tuesday Group, Girls' Lunch, daytime tv (it's easy to transport your home country's cable services across the miles with slingbox) and fabulous meal-making.  Others, like me, take Arabic classes, attend the monthly Ladies' Coffee cultural information sessions, seek opportunities to interact with locals and ramble into the desert searching for camels.
Plus, I work. (It's not completely true that there are no jobs for American expat wives.)  I read.  And I write (ie, my true job).
But the real reason I'm here (adventure) and the most important thing I do (write) is…TAKE CARE OF BOB.  While he's taking care of me.
Maybe it's not a "modern" concept, this quitting-your-job-to-fold-your-husband's-underwear-in-the-desert thing.  In fact, for every bright, interesting, hardworking (American) Doha expat wife, there are three bright interesting, hardworking (American) women (and men) who do not make the trip…for solid financial, family, job and personal reasons.

I understand this. I choose to see the light in the cloud - but there IS a cloud: dust; missing kids and grandkids; that little spray thing instead of toilet paper; empty shelves at the Carrefour where there should be crunchy Cheetos or Folgers classic medium blend coffee; whole days lost in traffic; July and August.
Who needs "modern."  Isn't he cute?
Bob's Birthday brownie

Friday, November 2, 2012

Four Days, One Mistake

I messed up.  But not until the last day.
Bob got four days, 96 hours OFF:  No traffic. No yellow vests or steel-toed boots. No stacks of "packages" with the ever-cheerful "Must Be Reviewed Yesterday" stickers.  No no-work-talk-allowed-by-unspoken-agreement lunches, "tea boys" bearing coffee or surprise visits from plan-wielding contractors.  Go, they said.  Play. Rest. Relax.
With a little pressure from The Wife, Bob decided to do what few others did: stay in town.  No planes to catch, money to exchange, rising early to make the short lines.  Instead, we'd sleep, watch movies, drink, eat. Drive into the country.  See stuff Bob couldn't normally see because everything's closed on Friday - his only day off.
But…Relax?  This is a language Bob speaks only sporadically.
Searching for Relax
We started out slow by sleeping in:
Inland Sea camping the weekend before :)
And moved on to exploring, discovering, beach-finding:
men wear swimsuits, but women who cover dress in abayas, even at the beach
We saw weird stuff:
Checked out heritage sites:
follow the signs
Toured Zubarah Fort
undergoing restoration: among the few full forts remaining here
and Film City, a (mostly) historically accurate walled town created for a television show (JOE BRING A PROJECT TO DOHA) built in an isolated area at the heart of the peninsula, surrounded by sand, rock and a natural oasis (difficult to find unless it's in your gps):
Wandered this wide expanse of empty-appearing desert:
think about it: where you gonna pee?

Met camels (we're told there are wild camels in the desert, although we haven't seen any...yet):
Saliva drenched kiss, yum
And watched nighttime crowds promenade from our balcony.
The Pearl: a great place to walk, sight-see, meet & greet
And on the last day, a holiday highlight: Missouri's own Adorable Super Couple, Curtis and Mary Gentile joined us at the Pearl's little beach for sun, fun, friendship, good conversation.
Are they beautiful or what??
Sun shone.  Water glittered.  West Bay's tall, twisted, uniquely shaped towers watched from the horizon.  Bob left his shady place under the umbrella, picked up a floaty…and entered the water.
He paddled.  He floated.  He slept. He…relaxed.
There are no pictures because I didn't bring my camera; OOPS and DARNIT!!  But I'm not sorry; I'm not! Because I relaxed too.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Muslim Advantage

Some of my Arabic classmates are fluent native speakers.  Nearly all of the rest are Muslim and read the Koran regularly - in Arabic.
Level One group
It's like learning the ABC's in a room full of English professors.
Here's why we're in the same class:
1) The Arabic of the Koran and the Arabic of the street are not the same thing
2) There are roughly 17 billion (might be exaggerating a little) Arabic dialects
3) Dialects are not taught in school; they are learned at home
4) Arabic of the Koran is not taught at home, it's learned at school
4) Non Arabic speaking Muslims can and do read the Koran in Arabic - without knowing or learning the language
According to (, there are 1.3 billion Muslims in the world.  That's 1/5th of the globe's population!  In other words, all Muslims are not Arab.  All Muslims do not speak Arabic.  However, as Muslims believe the Koran contains the actual words of Allah (not merely "inspired") most prefer to read the Holy Book in its original language.
Similar to the American "whole word approach" - where students learn to read by recognizing words instead of focusing on individual letters and sounds - non-Arabic speakers read the Koran in a sort of look, listen, repeat manner, one section/surah/block at a time.  Afterwards they're told what they read.
Many Muslims - non Arabs and young children too! - memorize the entire Koran this way.
(WATCH THIS AMAZING MOVIE which follows three 10-year olds through a Koran memorization competition:
The Arabic of the Koran is called fusHa.  It has form, structure, rhythm, grammar, rules…and vowels. FusHa is a written language while (generally) dialects are spoken and not written.  FusHa is the Arabic utilized in textbooks, movies and news programs. It's not spoken on a day to day basis.  Consider these two responses to "Time for dinner!":
FusHa: "Yes, I will attend the family meal, my Mother."
Missouri Backlander: "Comin'!"
Merchants laugh when attempts are made to negotiate in fusHa.  Street vendors often don't understand.  Everyone else (in Doha, anyway) responds in English.
Although fusHa is a language all its own, Arabic speakers/reciters have an advantage over non-Arabic speakers/reciters in Arabic class: their tongue can form the sounds, some of which do not exist in English (or other languages). Native speakers own an often similar vocabulary.  They understand untranslatable words and phrases.  They "feel" the language faster.
But when it comes to grammar?  We're equally confused.
Random page from my Level Three book