Friday, July 26, 2013

This Week in Doha: Fasting, Garangao-ween, Unlawful Sex

Fanar offered non-Muslim expats three opportunities this week to share a "traditional" iftar experience (breaking the day's Ramadan fast by eating together) in a program titled, "Come Fast With Us."  Fasting before the meal was not required.  To enhance the experience, I decided to fast anyway.
Fanar: Qatar Islamic Cultural Center
Every year Muslims all over the world abstain from food and drink (this includes water) for the 30 days of Ramadan, from dawn (about 3:30am) to sundown (about 6:30pm).  All Muslims…excepting the insane or children under the age of 10 years.  Those who are sick, travelling, pregnant, nursing or menstruating are not expected to fast, but must reschedule the missed experience for a later date:  "a day for a day."  People who are old or chronically ill feed a needy person in lieu of fasting.
Ramadan occurs during the month of the Islamic ("Hijri") calendar when it is believed that the Holy Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH: this means "peace be upon him" and is the English equivalent of what follows the Prophet's - PBUH - name or title).  Each year the date Ramadan begins changes slightly as the rhythm of the Islamic calendar is affected by the moon.
Fasting is one of the Five Pillars of Islam.  It is a gift to God, opportunity for prayer, introspection, self-reflection, empathy. If you're Muslim, fasting earns you reward in the afterlife.
The Five Pillars of Islam:
1.  Faith:  the Shahada
2.  Prayer
3.  Zakat:  charitable giving
4.  Fasting
5.  Pilgrimage: the Hajj
If you're non-Muslim, expect a body cleansing, soul freeing, emotion enhancing experience. Do not expect to earn points toward the (Islamic) Heaven.
How to begin fasting:

1) rise before dawn (unless you're the mom, sister, aunt or other able bodied female, in which case you get up even earlier to cook…or if you're like many young Muslims who stayed up all night feasting/playing, you would make your way home to gather with the fam and eat some more before the new fast begins).
2) enjoy a pre-fast meal called "Suhoor."  The meal may consist of anything you like except alcohol or pork, which are forbidden in Islam.
3) express your intention to fast: "I intend to fast today."
4) stop eating and drinking.
5) pray.
At dawn, approximately an hour and a half before sunrise, the muezzin chants the first Adhan, called "Fajr."  All eating and drinking ceases about 5 minutes before the call.
At 3:15am I drank a bottle of water, said a prayer.  Catholics, like Muslims, have standardized prayers - the Lord's Prayer, Hail Mary, Angel of God, etc.  But when I talk to God (especially at 3am) it's usually in the Baptist way, ie, a variation of this:
Dear God, Bless my babies, Chris, Katie and Kimberly, Krissy and Killian.  Bring them happiness, peace, joy, love.  Send angels to guide their decisions, guard their hearts and keep them safe.  Thank you for Amazing Bob, his wisdom, kindness and all the sacrifices he makes for our family.  Thank you for Mom and Dad and Kitty and Kay and Charles and Bernie and  (insert your name here).  Help us to love one other.  Let me make a difference in someone's life today.  Amen.
I won't detail the rigors of my first Islamic fast.  Let's just say:  it was difficult.
I read.  I napped.  I (tried to) write.  I watched "Dora the Explorer" in Arabic and baked brownies for the next day's Secret Ramadan Lunch.
The no-food part wasn't that big a deal for me.  The no-liquid part, however, was a moment-to-moment challenge.
(In the interest of full disclosure:  because of the extreme heat, I'd made plans to stay inside most of the day, which is not usual for me.  While temps soared to a scalding 105F, it was not humid and there was a rare, God-gifted breeze, so I was able to sit on the balcony.  I did not sleep the day away.  But I cannot claim to have done my "regular" thing while fasting.)
By mid-afternoon, I couldn't type straight anymore and my eyes had stopped working.  I was exhausted, dull, cranky and sad.  But I was no longer hungry or thirsty.  (Kind of like when you stop feeling cold just before you freeze to death?)
With the end of my first fast in sight, I joined a group of other non-Muslims at Fanar as Brother Domenic, a bearded Irish convert with Leprechaun-pink cheeks, twinkling eyes and an impish grin outlined Islam, explained Ramadan and detailed how fasting works.
Brother Domenic:  "When is orange juice like alcohol?" Answer: "During daytime hours in Ramadan."
The group separated by gender.  In the ladies' area, we sat on the floor and enjoyed the communion of (vacuum packed) dates and (bottled) water and a traditional rice, lamb and salad feast.  We learned more about Islam from an eloquent, fun and funny niqab-wearing convert from Virginia, USA, who speaks fluent Egyptian and Gulf dialects - and was the only participating Arabic speaker.  (To my knowledge there were no Qataris - or Arabs - present.)  Each guest received a tee shirt and a book about Ramadan.
tee shirt
Later, I ate a bowl of popcorn, nibbled a few cookies and fell asleep watching "Conan" (the talk show host , not the Barbarian).  I didn't feel the need to stay up all night eating, but then…I wasn't going to be fasting the next day (or the next or the next or the…) either.
photo ops galore
 (camera trouble: please forgive pic quality!)
Once upon a time, the full moon on 14 Ramadan (the day that marks the celebration's half way point) meant children dressed in traditional costumes going door to door to collect treats and money from family and friends.  Today, tribes are spread throughout the city and unrelated multi-ethnic strangers hunker next door.  Instead of the traditional door to door-ing, parents and children gather at specified locations and, in the same way that America's Halloween has become "Trunk or Treat," children move from station to station showing off costumes in exchange for bags of candies and nuts.  (Click here to read more about Garangao.)
"Cauldron" of goodies outside a restaurant reinforces Halloween analogy
(same disclaimer about photo quality)
Garangao-ween (without the devils, demons, zombies and fairies)?
Garangao is a Gulf tradition.
Unlawful Sex
In March, 2013, a 24-year old Norwegian businesswoman from Doha is raped by a coworker while at a business meeting in Dubai.  She reports the assault and is charged with having unlawful sex, making a false statement and illegal consumption of alcohol.  She is sentenced to 16 months in prison.
Her (alleged) assailant, who is married, is convicted of public intoxication and having sex outside of marriage.  He receives 13 months in prison.
This week, following a world-wide outcry against the treatment and sentencing of the victim, all charges against the young woman are dropped.  She is pardoned by royal decree.
Since there is no longer a case, all charges against the (alleged) rapist are also dropped.
"While Dubai has a reputation as a cosmopolitan city that boasts Western influences, where visitors can drink at bars and restaurants and unmarried couples can share hotel rooms, the country adheres to Islamic laws and traditions.
Having sex outside of marriage and public consumption of alcohol are both violations of the law in the United Arab Emirates."
The young woman and her (alleged) attacker are both fired from their jobs in Doha for "drinking alcohol at a staff conference that resulted in trouble with the police."

Friday, July 19, 2013

Ramadan: And Then Comes the Eating

Iftar is the meal served at sunset during Ramadan, as Muslims break the daily fast with dates and either water or a yogurt drink…very much a social event, involving family and community members…
Iftar: it's like Thanksgiving dinner, all night, every night for 30 days straight.
Qatar Tribune, Friday, July 12, 2013/Ramadan 3, 1434, page 1

A traditional Middle Eastern meal consists of one big plate of food and a mat on the floor.  In Egypt, we scooped communal fare with bread.  In Qatar, family members dine from the same tray, feasting out of the nearest spot using the thumb and first two fingers of the right hand.
During Ramadan in Qatar, restaurants and hotels offer nightly special deals for a bounteous iftar feast involving multiple courses.  Businesses sponsor "iftar tents" where Muslims commune for free eats.  In modern and becoming-modern Middle Eastern countries like Qatar, families also eat out - at Chili's, The Outback, Bennigans.
But first, after as many as 16 hours without food or drink, the faithful break their fast with dates and sips of water.  For some, the custom is a sort of religious communion.
the sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings, especially on a mental or spiritual level; shared participation in a mental or spiritual experience
In the Protestant church where I grew up, monthly Communion was celebrated after a hearty greeting that involved hand shaking, smiling, laughter and words like "Welcome! How are you! Glad to see you!"  Music played.  A silver tray pocked with holes that fit the (shaped-like-a-shot-glass-but-smaller) crystal-like cups was passed from person to person.  When each of the faithful held a glass of the blood-red drink (ie, grape juice: "as the body and the blood"), the minister said a few words and congregants consumed the liquid, all at once, together.
Afterwards: potluck supper.
In the Catholic church where Bob and I raised our children, Communion was celebrated after a structured greeting that included a hand shake, nod and the words, "Peace be with you."  Specially trained ushers ("Eucharistic ministers") received a single goblet of blood-red liquid (ie, wine: "is the body and the blood") and waited at the front of the sanctuary.  As music played, congregants quietly exited to the aisle, one row at a time, before returning in orderly fashion to the same seat previously vacated.
Then: McDonald's drive thru and kids' baseball games.
In the unmarked (by law) Catholic church Bob and I attend in Doha, multi-national communicants greet one another by placing palms together at chest height and bending at the waist.  There are approximately 200 masses a week to choose from (I might be exaggerating a little) offered in an ever evolving variety of languages, which currently include Tagalog, Malayalam, Urdu, French, Spanish, Arabic, English and more.
Our Lady of the Rosary Church, Doha: inside
As music plays, white robed male and female ushers position themselves throughout the sanctuary.  And then, tsunami:  all at once and in no particular order, parishioners rush forward.  From the sides, middle, front, back.  Climbing over people, purses, strollers.  Stepping around, hurtling past, creating lines…of a sort.
Sometimes it's hard to tell who's moving forward and who's moving back.  Sometimes, after making one's way through the crowd it's hard to relocate one's originally vacated pew.  Sometimes it's hard to relocate one another.
Then, Bob and Cindi time: popcorn and Conan O'Brien, Jay Leno or an edited-for-Doha movie.
At the end of a day's fast during Ramadan, Muslims greet one another with kisses and exclamations.  The call to prayer is rhythmic, peaceful and calming.  There is the nibbling of dates and the sipping of water.  There is (the separation of the genders and) community prayer.
During Ramadan, Doha's Fuddruckers
is open from 6:30pm-1:30am
And then comes the eating.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Gonna Be a Bright, Bright Doha Day

Temperatures in Doha may reach 119F today, this first Friday of Ramadan. Ouch!   As a special (inside day) treat, I share (with permission) the most wonderful Esther Popp Myers singing "I Can See Clearly Now" (popularly known as "Bright Doha Day"), words by Melissa, music by Esther:

(forgive the videographer, just enjoy the music!)

(Bright Doha Day)

I can see clearly now the (dust) is gone
I can see construction that's in my way
Gone are the dust storms that made me blind...

It's gonna be a bright, bright Doha day.
It's gonna be a bright, bright Doha day.

I think I can make it now the maid is here
All of the piles of laundry have disappeared
Ordered that shwarma I've been longing for...

It's gonna be a bright, bright Doha day.
It's gonna be a bright, bright Doha day.

Look all around there's nothing but white thobes!
Look straight ahead ... nothing but black robes!

Gettin' my business done... In sha allah
Just made a call, Q-Tel is on their way
Waited at Carrefour till the cows came home...

It's gonna be a bright, bright Doha day.
It's gonna be a bright, bright Doha day.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

When in London: Don't Pick the Flowers

"If you can drink it, pour it, rub it or wipe it, put it in a plastic bag.  If your bag requires review, you may be delayed up to 40 minutes…"
- Customs Official at the UK Border, July 2013
At the top of the Arc de Triomphe, Paris
Qatar is an interesting place to live and there are plenty of things to do.  But most hardworking foreigners occasionally need to "git outta Dodge," especially in the summer when temperatures hover between 105 and 120F.  Since overland travel is only possible through Saudi Arabia (rental cars not allowed, women to travel with a male relative and cover head to toe, even in the car), most of us travel by air.  And, hey, if you're gonna fly, you might as well go somewhere interesting, right?
I walked under the x-ray arch as my purse, laptop, suitcase, and baggie loaded with hazardous shampoo slid via conveyor belt into the mouth of the machine and disappeared.  Behind me, the crowd shuffled, people from everywhere removing jackets, isolating lipsticks.  The guard motioned me forward: cleared.  I stood behind Middle Eastern guy, Asian guy, athletic American girl…and waited.
Popular expat jaunts include African safaris, cruises to the Greek Islands, treks to Thailand, China, India, Iran, Yemen, Oman.  And the favorites: Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Athens, Rome, London, Paris, anywhere in Italy.
The conveyor belt stopped.  Bob materialized behind me but no one else came through the x-ray arch.  The clock ticked.  The crowd hummed.  My bag didn't appear.  Middle Eastern guy raised his eyebrows at me.  I raised mine at him.
Katie at the Tower of London
Bob and I met Katie in London, where she'd spent the last few weeks completing an internship to satisfy requirements for a Master Degree in Dietetics.  While in London we drank wine, dodged speeding bicycles, rode the Big Bus, climbed into a vault to view the Crown Jewels, took the Chunnel to Paris.
To exit the UK, passengers place personal items in a large rectangular bucket, which slides via conveyor belt into a machine for review.  Cleared possessions slip out the other side and are retrieved by travelers.  Possessions requiring further evaluation are pressed to the left where they queue behind a clear, plastic screen.
The belt squeaked to a start.  Middle Eastern guy's bag slid forward.  Asian guy's bag appeared.  Athletic girl picked up her stuff, put on her jacket and departed.
Finally, my possessions popped out of the machine.  Only…the bucket was pressed left -and I was moved to a new line behind a manicured European couple and twin teenage girls from Virginia.
We learned: Queen Anne had 14 miscarriages, drank 4 bottles of port a day and was so fat that she was buried in a square coffin.  Piccadilly Circus is not a circus.  The Tower of London is not a tower.  It's illegal to pick flowers in London.  And the famous London Bridge is a "disappointment" (Big Bus Tour Operator):
London Bridge: concrete walkway
Tower Bridge: leads to the Tower of London
Inside the Europeans' bag:  lipsticks, lotions, mascara, shampoo.  Three jars of Nutella.  Jellies stuffed into the toes of shoes.  "She didn't take anything out at all," hissed a twin.  Customs Official confiscated the jellies, allowed the Nutella and helped repack the Europeans' bag.
The Chunnel is a train that travels underwater between England and France.  The underwater portion of the trip takes 23 minutes and is like driving through a tunnel:  dark.  The tunnel is not made of glass; there is nothing to see.  Katie and I walked the length of the train, all 18 cars.  There were 4 sleeper rooms, two cafeterias, a cabin for the engineer, and two first class cars where food and drinks were being served.
In the twins' bags:  a plastic bottle of lotion, regulation sized.  Lollipop and M&Ms: no problem.
In France, natives speak French.  Billboards are in French.  TV shows are in French, even CSI.  Mona Lisa is spelled with TWO "n's": Monna Lisa.  There's an apartment at the top of the Eiffel Tower where the structure's designer and his daughter once entertained guests.  People gather in parks to kiss, drink wine and sing.
In Paris, we ate chocolate croissants with eggs for breakfast, French fries and eggs for lunch, steak and eggs for dinner.  In London, we enjoyed bacon for breakfast, ham for lunch and pork for dinner.
In my bag: newspapers, magazines, and a crossword puzzle book created an organic clump over a suspicious configuration - my cell phone and small metal rosary.
"As you can see, on the video the image looks like an explosive," said Customs Official.
In London, people walked the street and sipped beer from glass bottles.  In Paris, people drank champagne at bus stops.  We enjoyed mugs of Chardonnay while watching the London production of Billy Elliott.
"Are these procedures new?" I asked.  Lipstick, chap stick, makeup, jelly, Nutella: not usually an issue.
Nearby, a TV flashed images of the crowds gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square, post coup.

Customs Official wiped the tip of the long, blue wand he'd  just used to check my compact for extraneous substances.  He didn't respond.
Most days, Westminster Abbey is open for tours into the evening hours.  On Thursday it closes at 3:30pm.  If you arrive at 3:35pm, you're too late.  But you can still walk around the building:
"Just look at those flying buttresses." - Bob, outside Westminster Abbey
I repacked my own bag.
"They say that if the ravens ever left the Tower of London, the ci'y would fall.  So, optimists that we are, we clipped their wings so they cawnt gi' away."
- Big Bus Tour Guide, London