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

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Five Favorite Doha Somethings

In honor of the anniversary of Bob's first year in Doha (October 16, although he didn't actually arrive until nearly October 18) here are five of my favorite somethings about the country:
The People
Family Day at the park
It's hard to meet Qataris.  Women cover with niqab.  Locals live in walled compounds, rest in the  mornings, and do what they do in the afternoon, evening and overnight.  Women and men (officially) don't mix so I won't be able to tell you much about the men.
But the women?  The few I've met in a personal setting are smart, kind, hard-working, interested and interesting. They work in education, politics, travel and family…and roll their eyes at the Western notion that Men Make Them Cover.  I like them.
Seventy years ago Qatar was a vast expanse of sparsely populated land with Bedouins meeting seaside for summer pearl diving and doing the camel and goat raising thing in the winter.  Drinking water was shipped in from Bahrain.  The country's first schools weren't built until the 1950s.  Oil and gas was discovered in 1939 but took ten years to produce since the British were busy with WWII.  Even then, the people didn't share in the wealth until Emir Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani came to power in 1995.
That's not even twenty years ago! Qatar hasn't had time to produce its own experienced architects, engineers, contractors, lawyers…there are no local professional mentors and internships, as we (ie, Americans) know them.  Rules are inconsistent because Qataris are still figuring out what works.  Some say that the under-30 generation has been handed too much too soon too fast - and that subbing out the lowest level jobs (ie, starting their kids out at the top of the food chain) hurts the country in the long run. 
Yet, somehow, in under one generation Qataris have gone from this:
my photo taken of a museum video, early pearl diving and fishing in Doha
to this:
West Bay from the Pearl's beach today
I think that's pretty amazing.
Call to Prayer
There's a saying: the family that prays together stays together. What about a whole country of people worshipping side by side?
Once upon a time the muezzin climbed to the top of the minaret to announce prayer. Today, a select few who've learned the recitation rules called Tajweed intone from a microphone inside the mosque, broadcast to the city through speakers in the minaret.  Sometimes individuals recite from boats, sitting cross-legged in a park, standing alone on a street.  Prayer times are determined by the sun and moon, but the moment the muezzin steps up or the individual begins varies slightly.  The result is a sonorous, peaceful sort of musical round that coats the city five times a day.  I always stop to listen.
minaret from inside the Grand Mosque
West Bay at Night
No worries over the light bill here.  Empty buildings and those under construction are lit too. It's doggone purty.
West Bay at night via Cindi's little camera
A green-lined boardwalk that circles the water overlooking lighthouse Fanar, funky cool Islamic Museum, step pyramid Sheraton Hotel and Palm Tree Island with its one lonely Eucalyptus.  Where dates hang in heavy bunches from palm trees and dhows wait for passengers.  It's a scenic, popular, marked 6000-meter run/walk that spans West Bay and leads into downtown.  Ladies in abaya wearing red adidas stroll alongside Europeans in shorts and tank tops.  Children ride bikes, pull wagons and toss birdseed for flocks of pigeons.  Awesome.
Plus, if you park close to the Sheraton, there's free internet.  :)
While folks in my homeland (Missouri, USA) toss ice-melt on the driveway, crank up the heater and haul out the snow shovel, we're waking up to Spring breezes, California beach sun and endless (constantly tended) rows of flowers.  Survive July and August - and, okay, September…and, yeah, most of October…winter is the payoff.
But the best thing about Doha in the Winter?  When these two endure the two day journey (again, soon!) to give me a holiday squeeze:
Christmas 2011 in Doha wit' me gurls: happiness redux very soon!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Bob and Cindi do Greece

Just one of many perks to life in Doha is the proximity to great travel destinations.  Last time, Bob and I did Rome.  This time, Greece.
First a respite on an island called Karpathos.  Unless your Mom and Dad, like mine, stumble onto the calm, clear, clean water and spend the next six years getting to know its private beaches, coves and bays, you've probably never heard of Karpathos.  Don't expect me to tell you about the blue skies, rolling hills, or pristine, aqua hued water either.  Where you can swim out so far your husband waves his hands and exclaims, "Do you know how far out you are?"
I'm not blogging about the sand and rock beach surrounded by green studded hills.  Or going on about peeking at topless women (and wishing you had the nerve to go for that all-over-tan yourself)... because all the tourists (when you see tourists) here are from Europe and nobody wears clothes in Europe if they don't want to.  Or how later, the proprietor of the cute-little-out-of-the-way-studio-hotel whips up calamari, fava beans, fasolakia and more, which you eat on a patio just below your private outdoor space...and listen to water lap at the beach a quarter mile away (that's just how still the dark is).  And clichĂ© though it may be: the stars glitter in a slate sky and, oh!  The moon!

I'm just not going to tell you about it.
Because part of the island's charm is the seeming absence of tourists.  Karpathos is calm, peace, sunshine, sand, hiking.  It's listening to Mom and Dad speak German to the Austrians and Germans and Greek to the Greeks (you answering in Arabic because too many languages at once is confusing).  It's refilling water bottles from a mountain spring and a trek into the clouds via winding, queasy-producing narrow strips of no-barrier-sheer-cliffside-roads to tour Olympus, a village built on the side of a mountain 2,000 years ago.  Where residents dress in traditional clothes and give you food and tea.
If I told you about Karpathos you'd want to go there.  And once there, you wouldn't want to leave.  But you would, eventually - because the next stop is Athens.
Athens is the Acropolis, of course.  Parthenon. Athena.  Zeus's Temple, Zeus's Cave and Mountain of the Muses. The Stoa of Attalos with its unfinished statues and busts. Tall, short, broken, repaired columns and headless women with monstrous sized feet.  Pebbles, stones and boulders.  Stacks and piles and shelves and mounds of rocks. 
Slabs of marble, inscribed, plain, whole and broken.  How exactly did you think those columns have stayed put all these years?  The very mountains are made of marble.
Narrow streets, plakas, churches, shops, and everywhere you turn, all hours of the day and night - the Parthenon is right there, high on that mountain, standing sentry above you.
I'd like to say Athens is quaint and lovely.  I'd like to say Athens is safe and joyful.  However. Graffiti marks walls and doors and those sliding metal grates shopkeepers pull over storefronts at 5pm.  Multi-colored paint slashes temples and ancient palaces as well as billboards. (Sadness.) 
Rifle toting police - male and female - in flak jackets and boots, pace near motorcycles parked on every corner.  Watching, listening, randomly searching bags.
Women huddle in church vestibules with sleeping babies across laps, and beg.  Barefoot men crouch in the train station under blankets and ratty sleeping bags, money tins ready.  Twenty-somethings wearing rags and what you hope are on-purpose dreadlocks play music in the park for coins.  Waiters shoo beggars from cafĂ© tables. Stray cats - and dogs! - wander in and out of archaeological sites and restaurants.
And yet, at night crowds gather in the plaka to listen to a live band sing Elvis hits under that amber-lit Parthenon.  Children play accordion for Euros and vendors tote evil-eye beads and baskets and golden (Greek Orthodox) chalices.  Tourism exists in Athens - it always will.  But now foreigners wear canvas satchels over chests instead of down backs, eye police and head back to hotels early.
But, heck, we do that in Doha too.  Which is where this blog ends and the next story begins. Because, right now, for us, just for a time - all roads lead back to Doha.