Friday, July 27, 2012

Ramadan Rules (for non-Muslim expats)

Exhibition at Souq Waqif

Be respectful while living in an Islamic country during Ramadan.  It's required.

1.  NO eating, drinking, gum chewing, M&M-popping, candy sucking, spitting, smoking from Suhoor to Iftar.  When in doubt, consider: does it go into or come out of my mouth? If the answer is yes, don't do it.

Suhoor: Morning meal, predawn, last eats before sawm - the fast

Iftar: Evening meal, post sunset, begins with dates, a sip of water, prayer

2. NO singing, dancing, laughing, joking, music-, tv-, iPod-playing/listening, noise or other potentially misunderstood revelry during daylight hours.  When in doubt, consider: does it make fun?  If the answer is yes, don't do it.

At night, traffic again clogs the city as the faithful head to family homes for Iftar or to party "tents" - which are actually not tents at all, but pricey buffets organized by hotels and private groups.  Government offices, pharmacies, malls and businesses stay open into the wee hours as all activity moves from daytime to nighttime.

3. NO short skirts or pants, tight blouses, skin hugging jeans, cleavage bearing tees.  When in doubt, consider: are my knees, shoulders or any part of, including the outline of my awesome body visible? If the answer is yes, don't do it.

This is an always-rule…especially important during the holy month of Ramadan.  You can be ticketed, fined, arrested or verbally castrated for showing too much skin.

4. DO hide in a manager's office to enjoy a cuppa joe or bag of nuts (bottled water hidden under Tom's desk).  Close door, pull curtains before imbibing.
Bob in the corner, behind the door, tucked away in Tom's office

6. DO take a turn or two having everyone over for eats, drinks and (low volume) daytime merry in the privacy of your own home.

Bob's turn to host the invisible office meal

 Eat! Drink! But no take-away.

7. DO celebrate the bosses' birthday while he's in Scotland.

Happy Birthday, Garth…we enjoyed your brownies!

8. DO enjoy the relative quiet and traffic free roads while remembering not to eat, drink or chew anything in your car.  (Avoid driving at 1:30pm when fasters are required, by law, to leave work and the roads clog up again.)
Souk Waqif at Iftar

9. DO Sympathize.

The blazing, broiler-like sun is now filtered through an ocean of air; the kind of weather that cooks your skin like cinnamon toast while sucking every last bit of moisture from your body…all before you reach your car.  Consider: you can huddle along the floorboards and suck liquid from a bottle (after you squeeze-dry your shirt), but fasters are thirsty all day.

10. DO Empathize.

Read the Koran, learn some Arabic (if you can find someone who speaks it), attend an Iftar (don't forget your wallet).  Meet a Qatari (ask Curtis, Mary and Alex to find you one - or go to any government office and talk to an employee.  Or go outside scantily clad - they'll find you).

Follow the rules.  Or do like a lot of people, Qataris included:  leave town.

Bob-and-Cindi-on-the-Road:  Rome, August 17-23

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Ramadan Kareem!

table display in the Carrefour (grocery store)

Beginning at sunset on July 19 and for the next 30 days, Muslims around the world abstain from all things sensual from first light until dark.  Yes that means no nookie.  But more importantly, it means NO FOOD OR WATER.  The most conservative faithful will not even swallow their own spit.

In Qatar temperatures often exceed 115F. And now it's humid too!  Water leaks down the sides of buildings.  Glasses fog.  Computers and phones drip.  Moisture shields the cityscape like a sandstorm.  And during the day, when the sun burns hottest: Muslims. Do. Not. Drink. Water.

If Lent was a track meet (when Catholics cut a meal and abstain from meat on Fridays) - Ramadan would be the fasting Olympics.

Ramadan is the holiest month of the year for Muslims and one of the Five Pillars of Islam.  The first verses of the Quran were revealed to Muhammad (PBUH) during this time. To Muslims, Ramadan means more than no food, drink or (ahem) relations:

"...The Arabic word for "fasting" (sawm) literally means 'to refrain'... every part of the body must be restrained. The tongue must be restrained from backbiting and gossip. The eyes must restrain themselves from looking at unlawful things. The hand must not touch or take anything that does not belong to it. The ears must refrain from listening to idle talk or obscene words. The feet must refrain from going to sinful places. In such a way, every part of the body observes the fast...Ramadan is a time to practice self-restraint; a time to cleanse the body and soul from impurities and re-focus one's self on the worship of God..."

According to my Arabic class friends, Ramadan's sacrifices are met with great joy.  Families are together, friends visit.  People sleep late, read, pray.  At night time, families gather to eat, drink and rejoice in the day's successful fast.

Non-muslims are not required to fast, but must follow the rules of Ramadan in public…or RISK ARREST:  no eating, drinking, gum chewing, PDA, visible knees or shoulders.  Morning coffee happens in manager's offices, quietly and behind closed doors.  Since restaurants are closed during the day, coworkers host lunch in villas and apartments.  On unhosted days, lunch happens in hotel back rooms - entrances hidden, drapes closed.

It takes some heavy-duty remembering not to sip water in the hot car as we zip about the city.  But we'll find respectful ways to learn:

Cindi reads the Koran and studies Arabic (next class doesn't begin until the end of September!).

Cindi's pretty Koran

Bob (gasp!) works. 
Bob and Krishna head for a site visit in 110 muggy degrees F (Bob keeps a tee shirt in his desk for these moisture rich inspections)

And after dark, when the cannon's boom indicates the end of the day's fast, we'll wander the city - and take in the happiness.


Saturday, July 14, 2012

Trip to the Inland Sea

Rar'in to go!
Climb those dunes:

Good start:
Sand Mountain:


Yeah, Stuck again:

(Yawn) stuck:
And again…stuck:
Tired of pushing:

Tour Guide Rescuer - came back later and passed out business cards.  "Call for lessons," he said.
And finally:  Payoff:
More pics on my facebook page:

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Death in the Family

The call came at 5am, Doha time.

Two days away, in Kansas City, USA, Therese's husband, Rob, collapsed while playing a board game with a treasured niece.  Efforts to revive him were unsuccessful.

Work, eat, sleep, breathe -

Feed the cat -

Take out the trash -

The alarm goes off; a bright new day begins.

And then - the phone rings.

Booked flights.  Packed bag.

Go.  Just go.

It's hard to be away - so far away - from family, friends, the familiar.

But unless you're Paul and Linda McCartney - you can't be with the people you love all the time.

And sometimes, no matter where you are in the world, crappy, awful stuff happens.

You can't plan or prepare.  You can only live:

Go to Australia
Book Vienna

And when things go terribly, horribly wrong - book the 9am flight.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Arabic is Easy


So every Arab country has turned Modern Standard Arabic (fusha) into its own indistinguishable-even-to-one-another spoken language.   Every Arab still reads, writes and attends plays wrapped in fusha.  Nouns, verbs, adjectives - it's all just lines on a page.  Put 'em together you got an alphabet.  Mix those alef-bah-tahs up, you got words.  Send 'em out to the world and boom: conversation.

Arabic doesn't use capital letters or is.  How hard could it be?

Every word in Arabic (there are well over a billion) has a unique singular and plural combination of letters, each with its own male, female and dual (ie, two) forms.  Present and past tense verbs are conjugated by adding and removing prefixes and suffixes like a speed-dating runway model.  There are (at least) 12 pronouns - first, second and third person; male, female, male and female, dual.  And numbers? (Copied from my workbook): 
    ·         numbers 1 and 2 after noun!
    ·         from number 3 onwards all numbers before noun!
    ·         If the noun is masculine the number is feminine!
    ·         If the noun is feminine the number is masculine!
    ·         This is valid for the numbers 3-10 as well as for all higher numbers
    ·         In consequence the units of the numbers above 10 take the opposite gender to the noun

Each of the 28 letters in the Arabic alphabet has three shapes, depending upon whether it appears at the beginning, middle or end of a word.  There are special letters to indicate no sound.  Only beginning Arabic readers use vowels (harakat).  "You figure out what the word is and how to pronounce it from how it's used in the sentence," explains a teacher.  She shrugs.  "Or ask someone."

no harakat

An American says, "Hi." Arabic speakers say "Salaam alaykum wo rahmahoo Allahi wo barakaatoo."

Every greeting has a special, often lengthier response.   Because, whether entertaining or speaking, "It's important to give more," says a teacher. 

Instead of aunt or uncle, Arabs say my mother's sister, your father's sister, her mother's brother, their father's brother, his mother's father, our mother's mother, my father's father, our father's mother (and so on).

Okay, so Arabic isn't easy and I titled this blog just to get your attention.  Truth is learning Arabic is kind of like driving in Doha:  blazing fast with words speeding along outside your field of vision, on the sidewalk, cutting across fields, squeezing in where there are no lanes and tickets issued for breaking invisible rules.

light traffic at 6am
Of course, I'm just a beginner - hoarding harakat like a baby with her blanky.

"This class is very easy," says my wonderful, patient, unflappable teacher, Doctor Menal.  "Next level - it is very hard.  Long sentences, small print, many words."

Okay. I'm game. As long as they don't take away my vowels.