Friday, September 27, 2013

Fat in Doha

Sports Day fruit bar

In Doha, beards and neck scarves camouflage double chins.  Abayas and thobes hide protruding bellies, wobbly arms and wide back ends.  A niqabat wears tight clothes under her robe to remind herself not to overeat.

mafee mushkilla - no problem!  Weight reduction surgeries are free for Qataris at government funded Hamad Medical Center.  And card toting expats (like Bob and me) pay only 5,000 Qatari Riyal (approximately $1,400 USD).
Hamad performs 70-100 weight reduction surgeries each month, 85 percent of those on Qatari women.  There are 2000 people on waiting lists lasting 6 months to 1 year.  The youngest patient at HMC was a 13-year old boy who lost nearly 60kg (132 pounds):  "he had become obese only because his parents gave him too much to eat." (The Peninsula.)
Fat in Doha by the numbers:
  • 30 percent of the Qatari population is overweight
  • 28 percent of Qatari children are overweight
  • 50 percent of Qatari boys between 12-17 years old have BMI* between 22 and 36
  • 20.2 percent of the overall adult population suffers from diabetes
  • 4th highest rate of diabetes in the world
  • 2nd highest rate of diabetes in the GCC

The Peninsula
Individuals who don't want to wait for surgery travel to other countries or go to private local hospitals where the procedure can cost as much as 50,000 Qatari Riyal (approximately $13,000 USD).  Al Ahli Hospital performs 80 to 100 weight loss surgeries per month, most on women ages 15-40 years old who are preparing for marriage or having difficulty becoming pregnant.
"In our society men would like to marry slim women.  For some women obesity is a hindrance to getting pregnant."
-Dr Abdul Azim A W Hussain, Senior Consultant Surgeon, Medical Director and Director of General Surgery Department at Al Ahli Hospital
Fat in Doha is not just a Qatari issue.  And western expats in tight jeans and snug tops with popping buttons do not necessarily intend disrespect.  Sometimes it's just a Middle Eastern flu known as, I-moved-to-Doha-and-now-I'm-fat.
It's not food's fault
Doha's "VLCC" teaches more than 250 people a day (80 percent are Qatari women) how to manage weight issues through nutrition, diet and exercise.  Grocery stores sell crisp apples from France, crunchy cucumbers from Saudi Arabia, Hillshire Farms' deli thin oven roasted turkey breast and the very same frozen vegetables we pick up stateside.  Restaurants serve halal grilled chicken salad and low fat vegetarian pizza.
And the whole "you gotta drink the sugary tea and eat the fried-to-juicy sweets or offend your Middle Eastern host" thing?  Doesn't apply when expat/local interactions are rare, nonexistent or with modern Arabs (who only eat like that at home, behind those 10 foot high walls where, btw, YOU are not invited).
Marhaban (welcome)?

Don't blame exercise
The Walk the Mall guy
 drinks water
It's true that under construction Doha is not a walking city.  There is no (safe) jogging route that extends from one end of town to the other.  Plus, traffic is so dense that our 6-mile job site commute can take more than an hour to drive - one way.  Factor in a few torturous round trips to the grocery store, work, class, social events - and that's a lot of muscle-atrophying, brain melting, energy-sapping, butt-widening time in traffic.

No worries - chances are there's a work out facility close by.
Gyms in malls, hotels and every tower at The Pearl.  Sporting clubs.  Sport Day.  Weight loss centers.  Joggers pound the boardwalk under our balcony, clog the Corniche, dot Aspire Park.  All over town, billboards promote fitness.  Step into Health Magazine offers weight management support and fitness tips.  The Walk the Mall program features a "perfect workout, alongside controlled temperatures; it provides a clean and safe environment to exercise."

Join up and you'll get a free pedometer too!
The AWOL workout in between
"But, Cindi, how do you manage?"
-a non-Western friend when she learned that I don't have a maid
What's missing: mow yard.  Weed, hoe, till, plant garden.  Collect trash, sort closet, sweep garage, spray foundation.  Change oil, wash car, tickle baby, climb jungle gym.  Chase neighborhood kid, walk around the block.
You know, everyday life stuff; chores and personal responsibility kinds of things.  Car, yard and household maintenance tasks.  Unclog drain, dust, vacuum, move furniture.  Pick up Carrefour display your kid knocked down, bus table at the food court.  Push grocery cart, load van, change baby's diaper while cleaning house, fixing dinner, doing laundry and taking a shower.
You see, in Doha, there's someone to do that.
A "tea boy" to prepare, deliver, collect and clean up coffee/tea/water.
A maid (nanny) to cook, clean, make the bed, prepare kids' lunches at home and carry bags, purse, planner, cell phone while remaining three steps behind you at the mall.
A nanny (maid) to push strollers, herd toddlers, oversee activity in Chili's upstairs play area (while Mom and Dad eat downstairs).
A driver to wait - sometimes for hours - by a sparkly, just washed sedan, van or Suburban in case you feel the urge to go…wherever.
A guy - leaning on that railing over there, waiting, waiting, waiting- to do whatever you ask.
In Qatar, these jobs are filled by individuals from Asian countries who are rarely, if ever, fat.
sweeping up during Sports Day

 Consider, for example, the physical requirements for taking out the trash:  lift 5-20 pounds.  As weight is carried up and down stairs, in and out of rooms, arm and leg muscles contract and relax, feet move from heel to toe and back again.  Balance and coordination skills are utilized to lift bag without spilling (at which point workout ensues for sweeping, vacuuming, mopping muscles).  Employ arm, calf, thigh, shoulder, core and back to relocate waste to curb.
Other benefits to a good health prescription that includes what some might consider everyday chores include:  humility, discipline, organization, pride in one's work and appreciation for the efforts of others.
Because whether in health, marriage, school, business or taking out the trash, the real reward is in the finishing.  And there are some things that money just can't buy.
"I think it's very important that the authorities consider this as a disease and provide insurance cover."
-Dr. Hussain
*BMI: Body Mass Index measures a person's body shape using an individual's mass and height:
BMI less than 18.5: Underweight
                  18.5-25: Normal Range
                     25-30: Overweight
                  over 31: Obese
Saleem, Fazeena. "Slimming through Surgery." The Peninsula, Doha, Qatar 14 Sep. 2013: Home 1-2
The Sweet Epidemic (website)
International Diabetes Federation

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Hillary Clinton Signed My Marriage License

Bob is driving when a passenger van cuts us off.
Bob: Where you going, Dude?
Me:  Do you talk to the road even when you're alone in the car?
Bob:  Of course.
So many cars.  So many people.  And it's all my fault.
I am the expat spouse.
Our marriage license required validation by our county, state and federal governments
plus Hillary Clinton's signature before I could join Bob in Doha
There are more hard hats than thobes, jeans than abayas in Qatar.  And for each hardworking foreign resident, there are one to five errand-running, school-attending, road-clogging family members.
expat families come in all nationalities, colors, shapes and sizes
this is not an expat family, courtesy Microsoft ClipArt
We're the shoppers, home administrators.  We chase kids' activities, coordinate household staff, arrange for car repairs, pick up laundry and dry cleaning, order take out ("take away"), find (the right) light bulbs (no small task).  If we need the car, we shuffle him/her (in Doha, usually a "him") to work and pick him up in the evening - although it's true that we often have our own car…and a driver too.
If we're not in the car, there's someone on the road for us: teachers, personal trainers, doctors, nurses, mall staff, Carrefour sackers, spa attendants, cleaning crews, water trucks.
From September to May, things are pretty crazy in Doha, what with all of the running, doing, hurrying about.  Then comes summer, when we pack up the little ones and head to cooler temperatures…sometimes straight from the last day of school.
Even though it means more traffic, congestion, lines at the mall…Qatar loves (Fall)* when the families come back.
We're housed in villas and resorts beside blue water pools.  There are schools, spousal support groups, clubs, gyms, children's events, sporting activities, all created just for us.
Restaurants feature family sections where diners must be accompanied by a woman.  Single men are not allowed in some malls on family day.  And then, of course, there's Family Friday, when related groups gather at the park, food court, mosque.
It's nice to have families around.  Especially when (one is) missing grown kids and grandbabies.  (Pause for sniffle.)  Enduring six-day work weeks full of paper, meetings, job site visits, paper, meetings, job site visits…  Or waiting 40 minutes for an appointment that doesn't happen, unanswered phone calls and emails, and postponed, cancelled, difficult to obtain meetings.  When marathons are advertised one day in advance, Tom-Jones-was-here-yesterday and three frustrating attempts to ride the DohaBus.  Strange food, tv shows, Doha time.  Which brings us back to the crazy making traffic:
A four door car straddles the line in front of us.  A trucker guns his engine, honks his horn, creates a lane between us and the barrier.
trucks in a row
Bob speaks with an edge but no expression. (Gestures perceived as rude are punishable violations.)

Bob:  Don't you see the red light?  Turning or going straight?  What's your rush?  Merge. Merge. Merge-merge-merge-merge!
When a sedan with black windows cuts us off at a stacked roundabout, we come to a stop.  Bob sighs, reaches over the console and wraps his warm fingers around my hand.
"Awww," I say.  "Aren't you sweet."
He shakes his head at the semi inching its way into a 6-inch space.
"No," he says.  "I'm afraid."
Funny guy.
We're living a dream:  an interesting job, opportunity to learn about a language, culture, way of life different from our own - plus a lifetime's worth of exotic honeymoons.
But the best part?  Being together.
*The word "Fall" is used euphemistically to outline a general time of year from the perspective of our family in Missouri, USA: the period beginning approximately early September to December, when trees transform from lush multi-hued green to a brilliant cascading display of reds, yellows, pinks, purples.  Temperatures drop.  One day it's shorts and tee shirts, the next it's sleeves and running pants.  Then sweaters, scarves, hats and jackets until Winter brings crisp air, snowsuits, sleds, and Barnes and Noble Cafe's peppermint hot chocolate.
Of course there is no "Fall" as such here in Doha which will one day soon switch from muggy, humidity fogged Summer to flowers, blue skies and beach sun Winter.
up soon: Winter in Doha
All of which is lovely in its own way.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Dear Expat: About Your Cleavage...

Dressed for Success, Doha Style
Dear Expat in the Megamart:
You in the bum-engorged aerobics pants, skin-tight, razor back tank, high exposure, hot pink, nipple revealing workout bra.  You with the gregarious cleavage, thong underwear, shimmying side boobs.  You leaning over your cart, breasts dangling, bare arms glistening.
Do you see the ladies in black abaya and sheyla, watching you from the cake mix aisle?  Their unblinking eyes follow your sashay from chips to canned corn.
Do you see the men in dishdasha, heads down, taking a wide berth?  How about the teen boys, eyes popping?  Or me, head shaking… you thumb your nose at Doha's persistent plea to the from-elsewhere majority population:
Please cover your body from shoulders to knees.
You're ruining it for the rest of us.  The majority who adhere to the not-law rule.  Who wear jackets, long shirts and skirts, loose pants, sweaters - even in summer's searing heat and humidity - just because our hosts asked.  Who appreciate the opportunity to live and work in this peaceful Middle Eastern place.  Who demonstrate regard for our conservative hosts through respect to their customs.
I didn't challenge you.  I've already heard your arguments:  It's too hot.  I'm not Muslim.  I can do what I want, wear what I want.  It's my life.  Deal with it.
To you, this is just one more foreign assignment; another dot on the map.  And you're busy: there's lunch with the girls, working out, getting home before the nanny arrives with the kids after school and the maid finishes cleaning the bathrooms.
Anyway, why should you cover up?  It's not like this is your culture.
You're not the only one ignoring the request to cover up, either.  There's the teen in snug jeans and see through crop top I bumped into just a minute ago; the pair who crossed Onaiza on foot at Carmageddon's peak wearing short shorts and spaghetti straps.  There was yesterday's jogger in skin-tight togs and bra slogging through a West Bay job site at 7:00am.  And those tourist-types in sundresses and low cut blouses at the mall.
Sure, some busy expat women throw an abaya over their culturally inappropriate clothing to stay cool and respectful at the same time, but your sense of self-worth is too high for that.  Wearing the abaya aligns you with the oppressed, subservient, exploited local woman.
You've heard that those ladies cover by choice and as a sign of respect - to God, family, self.  That they earn college degrees, work as teachers, educators, administrators; in politics, law, architecture, engineering and business.  That they read, write, travel, manage households, raise children, comment on blogs and post updates to facebook and twitter. 

You've heard, too, that Muslims are gentle, modest, kind, hospitable and welcoming.
And that they're all terrorists.
The truth is you don't actually know any Muslims.  From Doha or anywhere else.  Unless you count that one covered lady who walked you through the Islamic Cultural Center when you arrived two years ago.  Or when you secretly snapped photos of local women dressed casually at the Ladies' Coffee (btw, phones and cameras are no longer allowed in the room).
You wear what you want, do what you want, no matter what anyone says or thinks - that's a sign of independence and strength, right?
Anyway, since you're the stranger here…invited to the desert to plant their high-rises, dig out their oil, forge their roads and develop their infrastructure - they should be respectful of your culture.


They should fork out perks like Christian churches, nightclubs, stores with merchandise you recognize and food chains that serve hamburgers, pizza and queso.  You should have a Starbucks, Dairy Queen and how about a liquor store that sells pork, never mind that it's haraam.  Sports events, celebrities, symphony, Film Festival, annual circus - all for your comfort and amusement.  And don't forget, a salary that accommodates villa-style housing, gym membership, tuition for the kids at world class schools, cell phone, internet, trips, holidays and more.

Wait, they already do that.
Psh, whatev.  It's not like the law says you have to cover up.  Qatar isn't Saudi Arabia, ya know.  There's no Hia'a wandering Qatari streets with sticks ready to swat you over an exposed ankle.  Nobody in a uniform pointing hefty fines at your cleavage and knees.  Nobody dragging you off to the calaboosh for refusing to wear hijab and abaya.  Not today. Nope.
Today it's just a humble request:
Please cover your body from shoulders to knees.
We'd all appreciate it.
Just Another Expat

Friday, September 6, 2013

On Missing Eyebrows (and other Doha realities)

Missing Eyebrows
The well put together local woman sports perfectly shaped, beautifully manicured, smooth, dark, thick, salon tended designer eyebrows.  She covers her skin with abaya and sheyla, and stays indoors when it's hot.
Expats wog, wander and hang at the beach where the only thing warmer than the water is the scalding white sand.  The respectful foreign guest covers from shoulders to knees, minimum, and protects remaining exposed areas with sunscreen 45.  But in a place where temperatures regularly exceed 120 muggy "real feel" degrees, roasted skin and sun bleached hair, including eyebrows, happens.
I paint the missing color in.
But I don't pluck:
With regard to dyeing the eyebrows or a part of them with a blonde colour or a colour similar to that of the skin, there is nothing wrong with this, as was stated in a fatwa issued by our Shaykh 'Abd al-'Azeez ibn 'Abd-Allaah ibn Baaz (may Allaah have mercy on him and raise his status). He also stated in a fatwa that it is permissible to remove hair growing between the eyebrows because this is not part of them, but he stated that it is not permissible to trim the eyebrows if they are not troublesome or causing harm.
Bananas go from green to yellow overnight
grass green yesterday
In Doha, hard, green, just bought bananas are soft and yellow by morning, banana bread ready in three short days.  If anyone you know likes a banana a day to replenish minerals lost after climbing 12 flights to the sky on a sunny, muggy, hot-air-pummeled Doha jobsite…buy a bunch!  But just 3- 4 at a time.
You say: "Shukran" she says: "You're Welcome"
There is no bookstore at Qatar University.  No game day tee shirts in Arabic, school pens, mugs, water bottles.  Looking for an Arabic language tee shirt to take home to the fam?  Good luck - because it's all English in Doha.
Cashiers, sackers, managers and stockers, service and salespeople at Carrefour, H&M and Zara, Asian cleaning crews, strangers on the street, hawkers at the souq, the covered lady in the bread aisle (she's not necessarily Arab):  there are three times more expats than locals in Doha and they all wake up expecting to spend the day in English.  There are a few phrases every nationality seems to understand and an Arab busy thinking in English appreciates: "shukran" (thank you), "ma'a salama" (good bye) and "wayn al hammam?" (where's the bathroom).  But - expect the response to be in English, no matter where the queried person is from.
Afternoon Siesta
There is morning, where office clerks file, take calls, fill orders…shops are open and it's possible to get business done.  Then there is Doha afternoon:
Katie and Kimber attempt to shop the souq one afternoon
(if there were crickets, they'd be chirping)
At 1pm, an unsuspecting reader (me) is asked to leave the Qatar National Library.  A mall bookstore closes and the clerk waits for shoppers (also me) to notice.  All over the city, workers rush home to eat, sleep, pray, sip tea, pet the falcon.  This is family time, when non-worker night-living people are (finally) out of bed and worker bee types break.
Hey, it's doggone hot in the afternoon (see above).
Some (Middle Eastern flexible) time around 4pm, shops unlock, libraries and bookstores reopen.  Locals parade through souq shops and Arabic is heard on the street.  Fast moving Suburbans flash lights in rearview mirrors, teenage boys chase one another through traffic in Porsches and Camaros, traffic snarls around fender benders...and worse.
We tend to stay home at night, wrapped in fuzzy blankets, watching Conan (O'Brien).  We don't hear a lot of Arabic this way (see above), but it does keep us alive.
Sports Day, abaya, children, sand
silver shoes, henna
purty shoes a must
There is Drinking in Doha (but not at The Pearl)
Once upon a time there was alcohol at The Pearl.  Every night a live band played to sellout crowds at the restaurant below our balcony and it was standing room only at the billiards and sports bar beside the terrace pool.
Then "something happened": an "incident" involving an expat, too much drink and an outdoor space.
*Snap* no more likker at The Pearl.
Today in the evenings, a scattering of tourists and locals wander the first curve of the Pearl's boardwalk where lonely salesmen and women (check facebook, send email, play games on phones and ipads) inside gleaming upscale shops selling $1,000 dresses and $700 shoes.
The rest of the resort is quiet.  Security guards wander empty boardwalks under tarp covered, unfinished towers that circle the bay.  Nights, Bob and I wog in the darkness beside docked yachts as Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" pours from speakers tucked in the palm trees.
Margaritas are available at international hotels in West Bay or the airport and mix (and other stuff) may be purchased with a license at the country's likker establishment.  But there is no more drinking (shoppers, diners, buyers) at The Pearl.
Threshold Pools
Inside Doha is cold:  freezer-chill Suburbans drop moms wearing ski pants at the mall where babies in snowsuits enjoy ice cream cones at indoor amusement parks.  Expats in sweats and double socks huddle in fuzzy blankets and sip hot cocoa while warming hands over steamy dinners.  Water transforms to ice on kitchen counters.
I might be exaggerating - a little - about the ice cubes...but it's true that if you spend much time indoors in Doha it's easy to forget just how hot it is "out there."  Where pudding air shimmers over a charcoal and barbecue pavement.  Heat melts the soles of tennis shoes, burns up generators, fries car batteries, sears nose hair, bleaches eyebrows.
And moisture fogs glass, transforms into liquid that rolls down the sides of buildings, collects in moat-worthy puddles at thresholds.  (Wear shoes, step wide…)
fogged glasses, fogged camera
Oh the Hawtness