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 To an outdated (due to absentia) desktop setup, rusted (due to age and disuse) cars.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!