Thursday, June 27, 2013

Peace, Love and a New Emir

"Put it on facebook!  Put it on twitter!  So they will know
 about God's Peace and Love."***
He's at all the events in his painted truck:  No Racism: Peace and Love In God We Trust.
Qatari flags wave from antennae, silver posts, rear view mirrors.  The bed is open and speakers line the sides.  The sound of male voices and traditional drums boom, merge and dance in the air.  Spades flank the back.  There is a trophy cup, globe, painted hearts, flag stickers, a circle with a line through it: No Racism.
Everything is maroon and white like the Qatari flag.

"The nine points are symbolic of Qatar as the ninth member of the 'reconciled Emirates' of the Arabian Gulf…the white…a symbol of peace…the maroon a reminder of the wars in which Qatar defended itself."
Qatar Kaleidoscope, Doha, Qatar: Marhaba-Qatar, 2009.
Happiness, joy, surprise!  Today is a National Holiday:  Qatar has a new Emir.
He's 33 year old Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani; (former) Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani's fourth son.  Emir Tamim was appointed Crown Prince and Heir Apparent in 2003 when his older brother, Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani abdicated the position.  Both Tamim and Jassim are the sons of Sheikha Moza bint Nasser al Missnad, the (former) emir's second wife - a beloved local personality and internationally recognized leader.
For a month or more, there were rumors that Emir Hamad was preparing to abdicate in favor of younger leadership.  But…really?  In a region where authority is wielded and strength asserted - until death?  Abdicate after only 18 years?  Give up power…when you don't have to?
C'mon.  Nobody does that.  Not in the Middle East.  Not 100 years ago, not today, not ever.
Except for Emir Hamad.  Who did exactly just that.
For two days, locals are called to appear at the Amiri Diwan to perform an oath of allegiance to the country's new leader.  In Islam the practice is called bayah (بيعة).  The custom differs by culture and region.
With regard to how the allegiance should be given to the leader, in the case of men it is done in word and in deed, namely with a handshake. In the case of women, it is done by word only. This is proven in the ahaadeeth which speak of how allegiance was given to the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him).
By 10am it's 109F and steaming, broiling. Bob and I are expat paparazzi incognito, in jogging togs and tennis shoes.  Out for a stroll along the Corniche. We don't expect to make it all the way to the Amiri Diwan.  We expect to be invited to return to our vehicle, one hand waving us back the way we came, the other poised over a holster.
On the street side of the Corniche, red suburbans, carrying gun wielding representatives of the Emiri Guard stream past, park along the curb.  Officers in blue and white police cruisers appear to check identification before allowing cars through the narrow street leading to the Amiri Diwan.

On the bay side of the Corniche, official looking black boats patrol the glittering blue water.

The sky is clean, clear, fireball hot.  A dry, torrid wind burns tender skin - kind of like standing too close to an open oven.  A fair haired Norwegian with painfully rosy cheeks stops us, points to his chapped arms, says, "excuse me, do you have any protection I can borrow?"
Earlier that morning Emir Hamad's abdication was broadcast live on Al Jazeera:
"…The time has come to open a new page in the journey of our nation that would have a new generation carry the responsibilities (armed) with their innovative ideas and active energies.
Our young people have proved in recent years that they are people of strength and resoluteness who comprehend the spirit of their time and fully understand its necessities while keeping up with what is new. Furthermore, they contribute with their ideas through the process of innovation.
And fit for this occasion is what Ali bin Abi Taleb said: 'Teach your children the best of what you have been taught for they have been created for a time different than yours…'"
TV footage shows a sea of men in white, gold garnished dress thobes greeting (now) Sheikh Hamad, welcoming (now) Emir Tamim.  Tapping noses twice in the traditional hello, kissing shoulders and cheeks, tight hugs, loose hugs, shaking hands.
Gathered to hear Emir Hamad speak (Al Jazeera screen shot)
traditional male greeting: two light nose taps (Al Jazeera screen shot)
Emir Tamim and his father, former Emir Hamad (Al Jazeera screen shot)
We do not see any women.  Perhaps they were off camera.
On the Corniche, we wander undisturbed all the way to the Amiri Diwan.  We take photos, relax in the shade.  We are not berated or turned back.  The only one stopped, in fact, is the Peace and Love guy, who is asked to move along.
Seems he's blocking traffic.
Oh, and that sword?  Heavy.  Sharp.  Real.
*approx 1:20 Bob's job site to the left
*approx 1:30 look for Bob seeking shade
*at end police arrive

Friday, June 21, 2013

Service Hours for God

You ask for nothing in return.  Yet you sit with me for hours, over coffee and croissants.  Speak with me in Arabic, correct my grammar, feed me vocabulary.
You're just 17 years old and I'm an "imra' al kebeera" a woman of a certain age - older, even, than your mother.  You're a recent high school graduate, preparing for university.  It's summer and you have friends to see, parties to attend.  You talk on the phone, walk the mall, listen to music.  You know the cafes and shops, carry a leather covered cell phone that rings and rings.
young girls get hands "henna-ed" for special events, at parties, "just because"
You won't let me pay you.  For your time, knowledge, help.  Why?
You shrug, ask: "What shall I call you?"
The question is respectful.  It acknowledges the sanctity of my name and my position (ie, age).  In Middle Eastern culture, names reveal secrets as they outline a family's history.  And, while Middle Eastern women in the same generational bracket refer to one another using first names, some older women prefer youth to use the Kunya (mine is Umm Chris, "mother of Chris," who is my son and first born child).  The question also recognizes the practice in my culture to refer to an older, married woman using her husband's name: "Mrs. Kennaley."
I prefer to close the gap:  "Please call me Cindi."
You are fashionable in long skirts and blouses with color coordinated head band and hijab.  Your dark eyes are bright with enthusiasm and fun, your smile patient ("try to remember the word, Cindi; I will wait").
You are goal driven, motivated, inspired, intelligent, fun, funny, beautiful (ما شاء الله)*.  You speak Arabic and English and a multitude of dialects: Egyptian, Syrian, Gulf, Moroccan and others.  You claim your English wasn't as good two years ago (when you transferred to the American School) as it is now.
Your English is very, very good.
You want to go into politics in your home country, with an outspoken desire to attain a status never before achieved by a woman there, veiled or otherwise.  "It will be difficult."
You nod, "Maybe I begin with a position in the ministry."
You speak eloquently about the problems facing your country (not Qatar): poverty, mismanaged agriculture, poor use of historical sites, corruption.  Your ideas for improvement are mature, thoughtful, reflective, wise.
We are serious, silly.  We laugh, joke, tease one another.  "Titkallameen 'araby, speak Arabic," you say, when I lose the words.  "Mooreh, relax," you remind, when I am frustrated.  You are a patient, knowledgeable teacher and it's easy to forget your relative youth.
When the check ("al fatoorah") arrives we battle over it - and not in a playful way at all.  "Tafaddali, please accept," I insist.  It's crazy, but we're both near tears.
After a pause, I ask again: why do you help?
You smile.  "In my religion, one who helps another without return is rewarded in Heaven.  Being good, kind, helpful.  It's expected.  This is Islam."
ladies prayer space

 "One who moves to fulfill any need of his brother, and makes effort for it, will find it better than itikaaf [to remain in masjid with the intention of worship] of ten years; and one who performs itikaaf for one day for the pleasure of Allah, he will create a distance of three ditches between him and the hell - and each ditch has a width which lies between East and West, or between the heaven and earth." (
"…In Islam, helping others and solving their problems is not only an important virtue, it is also a profound act of worship.  It is a means of righteousness that promotes peace on Earth and allows us to earn Allah's eternal reward in the Hereafter…This hadîth shows us that the greatest form of devotion, the best way to please Allah, is to provide service to humanity…" (
It's kind of like (in America-speak): service hours for God.  Nice.

Perhaps my desire to learn Arabic is not as critical as building an orphanage in Ethiopia.  This doesn't minimize the value of your aid:  humble service shares faith through action.  This concept exists in Christianity too:  " love, serve one another."  (Galatians 5:13)
Still.  It can be hard to accept favor from another person, whether it's a family member solicited for financial and occupational counsel or a 17-year old girl giving up a summer morning to tutor a conversation-hungry foreigner.  Part of the gift is allowing the person on the receiving end the dignity of reciprocation, however modest the effort.
I unfold the bill.  "Please let me do this small thing."
You smile and the room warms like sunrise at the dunes.  "Same time next week?"
Yes, please.

* ma-sha'-Allah: "What God Wills," spoken after a compliment to acknowledge appreciation for God's everything comes from God and anything divinely gifted may also be divinely re-acquired.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Happy Father's Day - in Arabic

Every day is Father's Day in Middle Eastern culture!  Children are expected to respect their parents both culturally and in Islam.  The importance of one's behavior toward parents is so important, it's mentioned eleven times in the Quran.  Poor behavior toward one's parents is considered a major sin:
"And your Lord has decreed that you not worship except Him, and to parents, good treatment. Whether one or both of them reach old age [while] with you, say not to them [so much as] 'uff' [i.e., an expression of irritation or disapproval] and do not repel them but speak to them a noble word. And lower to them the wing of humility out of mercy and say: 'My Lord! Have mercy upon them as they brought me up [when I was] small.'" [Quran 17:23-24]
"I asked the Prophet : 'Which deed is the most beloved to Allah?' He replied: 'Prayers performed on time.' I then asked: 'Which one is next?' He replied: 'Goodness to parents.'…"
In Islam, first respect is due Allah, then your mother, then your mother, then your mother…and then your father.
To celebrate Father's Day in America I've written a poem for my dad.  In honor of my mother (who also loves Arabic), I've written the poem in Arabic (it's okay to laugh):
سلام عليكم!  مرحبا!  اهلا و سهلا!  كيف حالك!
هذا اسبوع ستكون عيد في امريكا الذي اسمه "يوم الأب."
ابي يسكن بعيد من لي لانه في امريكا و انا اسكن في الدوحة.
كتبت قصيدة لأبي التي سوف أقرأها لكم قريبا.
و لكن الأول ساتكلم كلمات قليلة باللغة العربية المصرية لأبي:
"يا بابا ازياك؟
كوايس؟ طيب؟ مزبوط؟
اي حجة حبيبي؟
اوزة بتكلم معاك... تعل هنا  !ممكن؟ او بكرة في مشمش؟"
باس. مافيش كمان. خلاس. دلواءتي أقرأ قصيدة لأبي.
احب الشاطئ
احب الجزر
احب الشمس
احب البحر
احب الصحراء
احب الهواء
احب الريح
احب السماء.
لكن ابي, ابو, بابا...
أكثر احب انت.
كل سنة و انت طيب!
العيد سعيد يوم لآب!
Peace be upon you, welcome, hi, how are you!
This week is "Father's Day" in America.
My father lives far from me in America while I live in Doha.
I wrote a poem for my father which I'll read to you soon.
But first I will speak a few words in Egyptian Arabic for my father.  [As most of you know, my parents lived and worked in Egypt for many years and our family has a special affection for the country.]
"Hey Dad, how are you? Good? What's up, love? I want to speak with you, come on over here! Is it possible or not?"
Never mind.  Now I'll read a poem for my dad:
I love the beach.
I love carrots.
I love the sun.
I love the sea.
I love the desert.
I love the air.
I love the wind.
I love the sky.
But Father, Dad, Daddy,
Most of all, I love you.
Every year, you are great.  Happy Father's Day!
(A private message to the HWKT writers, especially Judy, Lisha and Ann): This represents my first (self) published work in Arabic.  Shall I bring cookies?  :)
With the World's Best Parents - I love them

Friday, June 7, 2013

Chasing the Bus

I drive my car slowly between the line of humming buses parked along both sides of the street.  I take extra care this sunny afternoon not because the road is narrow but because of the men running in front, behind and alongside my (um, Bob's) black xterra.  The men wear boots, heavy blue work pants, yellow vests.  Masks in place over mouth and nose in some cases and in others pulled back to let the hot, dusty air in.  My window is closed to it, but I know there is odor here, too, salty, thick, permeating.  Black, oily, hair bounces in congealed clumps over faces darkened by 12 hours laboring under the broiling Middle Eastern sun.
Nearly all the men are from India or Nepal - I knew this not out of prejudicial instinct but because I've come to recognize the physical differences in people from various parts of the world:  stature, shape of the nose and jaw, color and texture of hair and skin…and also because only Indian and Nepalese men are hired for certain jobs in Doha.
Before you begin name calling, realize it works both ways.  Yesterday, the Arab cashier at the Carrefour counted my change back to me in German.  If I keep my mouth closed, people will sometimes speak to me in French or Spanish, and I was once asked if I was Lebanese…but nobody ever mistakes me for Filipino or Pakistani.  When I speak Arabic to a Middle Easterner, sometimes they don't understand me right away because my hair, face, skin and the way I move flips the switch in their multi-lingual brains to English.
On the sand and rock beside the curb where the buses are parked, grown men sit, legs crossed, shoulders hunched.  Some hold hands - a non-sexual, cultural thing - others lean tired heads on another man's shoulder.
My swift moving escorts don't give me a moment's concern as they hurry toward the circle of roosting men:  first to board the bus gets to sit for the long drive in traffic to the worker's camp outside the city.
Although it's smaller than Connecticut (Qatar: 4,416 sq. mi/Connecticut: 5,544 sq. mi.), Qatar employs more than a million people from all over the world in a wide variety of occupations.  There is no minimum wage, opportunity for advancement (by law, a Qatari must own 51% of every business here), non-discrimination policy, Fair Housing Act, Title IX.
There may (or may not, depending upon your political party) be recession in America, overpopulation in India, hunger in Pakistan and Nepal, homelessness, under- and un-employment throughout the world…but in Qatar there is work.
Lots and lots of work.
If…you're the right sex, nationality, age, speak the necessary language, and are willing to accept the position's wage, work week and living conditions, in Qatar you might be a:  nanny, maid, housekeeper, sweeper, scooper, driver, railing duster, stander, leaner, plumber, electrician, carpenter, builder, hammerer, follow the emir's horse guard cleaner-upper.
first comes this
then comes this
In this category of employment, participation in local activities is limited, wage is low, exit visas are guarded and one is often separated from family for years at a time.
If…you're the right sex, nationality, age, speak the necessary language, and are willing to accept the position's wage, work week and living conditions, AND have the education and experience to procure the proper visa, in Qatar you might be a:  doctor, nurse, architect, engineer, administrator, contractor, teacher, librarian, broadcaster, journalist.
This category of employment means living allowances, perks like cars, luxury apartments, cell phone packages, funded trips, tuition reimbursement, free stuff.
It's "rare to doesn't happen" to see even the youngest, hungriest, least experienced (American, British, Australian…) scooping, shoveling, hammering, herding, stand-here-and-wave-this-flag-ing.
But it's not uncommon at all for educated, experienced individuals of (every nationality) to earn a living in Qatar as architects, engineers, nurses, doctors, physical therapists, and more.
Because even in a place where housing perks - and chocolate - are distributed based upon where you're from…education matters.
Wealth in England isn't the same as wealth in Saudi Arabia.  Poverty in America does not equal poverty in Nepal.  Children go hungry, men are unemployed, women disrespected…everywhere.  To some, life in a laborer's camp is unfathomable.  To others, it means sleeping on a mattress instead of inside a box, money sent home, clean clothes, a hot meal…and dignity.
Life is not "fair" and opportunity is relative.
Then again, it seems to me that…if you're lucky enough to be born into a place of possibility and promotion, surrounded by family and friends who love and support you…you should follow your dreams!  But earn that piece of paper that validates your knowledge and experience too.
Defaulting to a lifetime of minimum wage jobs, unemployment checks and daytime tv when a smorgasbord of opportunities was bestowed upon you simply because you were born is just another way of…chasing the bus.