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.