Friday, December 26, 2014

Expat, Short for Expatriate
Christmas surprise for Katie and Kimber, Christmas 2012.
It's easy and inexpensive to fly from Doha to Dubai.

Expat, short for Expatriate: someone who lives in a country not his own.
Bob and Cindi and the Peace and Love Guy, 2013
displaced, exiled, deportee
banished, outcast, refugee
roamer, rover, Gypsy:
Christmas 2014
Merry Christmas from near and far...

Sunday, December 21, 2014

We Would Like to Inquire of Your Absence

"As we aim to improve educational environment in our institute, We would like to inquire of your absence from sessions?
Your clear answer support us to develop our services." 
اسماء عبدالله صالح قاسم اليافعي'

Dear اسماء عبدالله صالح قاسم اليافعي'
Thank you for your email. This is why I stopped attending programs at Fanar:

  • You cancelled my upper level class after I'd worked so hard to get there
  • You fired my teachers
  • You would not allow a conversation majlis (ie, no opportunity to use what I'd learned)
  • Poor parking around Fanar
  • Ever increasing, horrendous Doha traffic

    I returned to Fanar in Fall 2014 after the summer break ready to begin LEVEL FIVE Arabic. There were just two people in the class, however, and we were told that a day class would not be made available. My classmate and I had worked hard for THREE YEARS and were the last two remaining from a 2011 entry program that had included 30+ students. Our efforts were rewarded with "the possibility" of an evening session but we have families and night classes are not feasible for us.
    Plus ever increasing traffic in the souk area makes night activities at Fanar undesirable.
    I paid the 300 QR fee and prepared to retake level four Arabic just for practice. The teacher was MUMTAZA JIDDAN. I liked her very much. But in the end there was too much traffic to make the effort.
    With the help of your wonderful female staff (ma sha allah) I attempted to gain permission to organize a ladies' conversation majlis. I submitted a handwritten letter in Arabic to the mudier and met with your female staff. This would have been a hour once or twice a week when Arabic speaking staff and learners of all levels would gather, yeshrub shay and SPEAK ARABIC, whether fusha, khaleej or other 'amaayah. This has never been allowed.
    My teachers were MUMTAZEEN. As I reached higher levels, classroom instruction was always conducted in Arabic. The staff was kind and helpful and often let me sit with them so I could hear and speak Arabic. HOWEVER, as Arabic is generally not spoken on Doha streets and it is difficult to meet locals (especially the ladies), without a majlis there is LOW TO ZERO opportunity to practice what I've learned at Fanar in Doha.
    It is for all these reasons that I stopped attending Fanar programs.
    سندي كنالي

  • Sunday, December 14, 2014

    Talk Like An Egyptian

    pic borrowed from the web
    In the American Midwest tree branches are bare. Brown leaves litter streets and sidewalks, frost fogs windows. Crisp blades of frozen grass stand at attention. Breath puffs into the chilly air like clouds.
    winter in the American Midwest
    We start out on the couch, but end up cross-legged on the soft, carpeted floor. Books and notebooks whirlpool around us. "Do you want tea or coffee?" she says.
    No, thank you, I say.
    She shrugs. Okay.
    A 6-foot wide tapestry from Kuwait adds a bright bit of color to the cozy earth tone space. There's a dining room table, piles of books. A cheerful, functional kitchen. A bathroom with a spray nozzle built into the toilet seat. With a dial to select level of water pressure and a button to initiate stream.
    example of portable bidet
    pic borrowed from the web
    We laugh about it, this bit of Middle Eastern preference tucked into America's heartland. "It's cool and refreshing," she agrees. Her smile is bright. "But then you're wet."
    She has a Ph.D. in law and taught university before moving from the Middle East to Kansas. Where she takes the kids to school, meets up with friends at Starbucks, cleans house, cooks dinner. She's fun, funny, comfortable and smart and she wears a colorful, friendly hijab. She's my colloquial Egyptian Arabic tutor.
    harakat! I say. In written Arabic the word means movement and refers to those little dots and dashes that appear above and below the looping Arabic letters. In colloquial Qatari dialect it's how a teen might say cool! or awesome!
    She laughs. "In Egyptian dialect you could say gamda aowee." Which translates to rigid a lot.
    da soura gamda aowee
    not rigid in Cairo, 1974
    All Arabs read and write using the same letters. Written Arabic has grammar rules, tenses, form, structure and is called fusha (fooS-Ha). It is the language of the Koran, and considered the foundation from which all Arabic dialect is derived.
    Perhaps you, too, can read and write Arabic. Perhaps there is opportunity to use what you've learned on the street and in alleyways. Where educated Arabs recognize the high form of their language, chuckle at your stilted speech and respond slowly and carefully (because you're obviously not a native speaker). Perhaps communication happens.
    But not cultural appreciation, personal comprehension, empathy.
    shiny flask
    Empathy is what happens in Qatar's silver and mirror lined window-less majlis spaces far from the English speaking streets. Where hidden women insist, just as it was in Egypt 30 years ago, a guest must eat three sugary dates as is stated in the Koran. To be a good guest here one must sip both tea and coffee, nibble cheesy bread and cake. Language flows fast, like the women who sit close, hover and fuss. It seems there are rules for everything from greeting one another to seating assignments, touching and laughing.
    As in fusha, guttural 'ein is pronounced deep in the throat and "khaaf" spits like a hissing cat. But "jeem," a letter which says its name in fusha, is pronounced "ya" and the letter "qaaf" sounds like "g" as in "gate." Here "ee" means "yes" and "abee" means "I want."
    Qatar's dialect, like its society, attempts to remain close to Koranic fusha. Both are ordered, structured. And changing.
    Egyptian children's stage show
    performed at Doha's souk waqif, 2012
    Egyptian dialect, on the other hand, is loose, easy, indulgent, fun. Words flow, structure transforms to suit the moment, sound bits mix, muddle and sing. Egyptian dialect is the language of colloquial Arabic tv, music, books. Cartoons, comic books, children's programming is often produced using Egyptian dialect too. In Egypt, unlike Qatar, people speak their own language in the shops, markets, businesses and on the street.
    Here, "ah" or a close lipped "mmm" translates to "yes." It's perfectly polite to add "ya" to the front of a person's name in greeting and everyone is "habibi/habibti" (my sweet one). In Egyptian dialect, "jeem" is expressed as "g" in "gate" while "qaaf" is eliminated altogether. There are words like "bass," "kidda," and "mish" which pepper speech like "yeah" and "uh huh" in English and "aiza" means "I want."
    Sure, there are rules and structure, but rules are meant to be broken, right? The language, like the people, is vibrant, relaxed, comfortable, forgiving.
    And changing. Like Egyptian society, which has experienced much turmoil in recent years - I am told there is a movement in Egypt to return the language of the street…to fusha.
    returning soon to Cairo?

    Sunday, December 7, 2014

    Treasure in the Sand (Not Oil)

    desert rose
    Qatar is known as the wealthiest country in the world, per capita. Here you'll find world class sporting events, resorts (under construction), stadiums (in the works), spas and restaurants (coming soon). Qatar is also surreal traffic, tower cranes, nepotism (wasta), prejudice, bias and pollution. Countrymen huddle behind 10 foot walls, no one, it seems, speaks the local language and there's no such thing as a Qatari restaurant.
    seen in the desert
    There are, however, remaining pockets of untouched earth. Where no one has marred the landscape with weird steel plates and called it "art," filled the sea with concrete or crumbled porous stone with trucks.
    behind the wheel in Doha
    To find this disappearing space you must venture far from the city's desalinated river of life. Past the tower cranes and thirsty trees, water and sand processing plants. Beyond Lagoona's zig zag buildings and West Bay's whacky high rises. Far from roads lined bumper to bumper with SUVs, rumbling concrete mixers, rebar loaded semis and the neon night where stars twinkle from party dhows that drift under strobing towers.
    Here you'll find the under populated, plaster coated old neighborhoods of early Qatar.
    (pic taken thru a dirty window)
    Slide between the houses, majlis tents and mosques and aim for the desert. Continue to where the soft sand is a crisscrossed network of animal, foot and tire tracks. Where hills of porous rock slip into plains of earth and sky.
    seen in the desert
    When the only sign of civilization is the persistent trail of power lines and race camel farmers, search the sand for splotches of white sabkha salt flats and scattered amber disks.
    Mary Anne, Ronita, Samantha, Cindi
    desert rose hunting
    This is the land of Qatar's desert roses.
    "Desert Roses are found in areas of sabkha either lying on the surface or between the layers of wet and dry sand. These roses…are intricate, petal-like clusters of crystals, mostly composed of gypsum…"
    Qatar Kaleidoscope, by Frances Gillespie
    Desert Roses are not exclusive to Qatar; they're found in other hot, dry, sandy places, too, like Mexico, Morocco, Spain, Tunisia and Arizona. They are mineral formations, composed of gypsum (selenite) and barite, shaped when fine sand is trapped between mineral fibers and then crystallizes. Barite is the heavier mineral, while gypsum is more fragile and fibrous. A rose occurs when multiple discs adjoin at angles.
    Gypsum roses are more commonly found in the Middle East, Southwest USA and Arizona. Barite roses are found in Oklahoma, England, Italy (and many other places). Because the mineral is softer, gypsum roses are more fragile appearing than barite roses.
    Some believe the sharp but delicate objects have supernatural qualities that can neutralize bad energy, purify, heal.
    "…Some of the inhabitants of the Sahara desert believe that what they call the 'Sand Rose' has an internal energy that is used for protection, prosperity and purification…"
    In Qatar, the best formations are found in the desert's salt flats, deep in the heavy sand, where the earth is moist and cool. Dig carefully with gloved fingers and brushes to avoid nicking the sharp, but delicate leaves. The right locations yield an abundant supply of crystals.

    "The (Qatar National Museum's)…striking design was inspired by the desert rose, an other-worldly mineral formation of crystallized sand found just beneath the desert's surface. The pavilion's sand-colored floors, walls and roofs resemble the sharp bladelike petals of the desert rose…"
    In Qatar nothing is as it was. There are no more pearl divers. Salty sea water is desalinated, sand is processed, even the sun is filtered to assure arctic interiors as outside temperatures soar to somewhere between hell and death.
    West Bay
    Skyscrapers lord over a once vast expanse of camel spotted sand. Grocery stores feature potatoes from Australia, carrots from Philippines, apples from France and cheese from Lebanon. Qataris are a minority here - in fact, many expats have never met a local. Laborers, administrators, engineers, geologists, architects and the cable guy are flown in to mold and shape the environment to accommodate the Qatari vision.
    It seems that nothing and no one is from Qatar.
    Except (oil and) one rare and beautiful thing: the Qatari earth still shapes its own desert roses.
    Ronita's desert treasure

    Friday, November 21, 2014

    Why I'm Not Posting a Blog Today (Yeah, Again)

    Summer 2014
    I should tell you about my Egypt-themed story published in October 2014's Highlight's for Children. Or meeting with a lovely (ma sha' allah) Qatari woman and her female relatives in a gold, silver and mirror lined majlis as part of the American Women's Association/Qatari Women's Association "language buddies" program. Learning conversational Arabic in Kansas City. Or what it's like to live in the heart of the Middle East during a crisis period.
    Katie and Krissy snuggle
    Summer 2014
    I could write about Qatar's falcons and how these birds get their own business class airplane seats. Or about shopping for groceries in a place that doesn't produce its own produce. Or what it's like to sit in one airplane for 16 3/4 hours, nonstop. And why some expat women in the Middle East take up drinking.
    Or perhaps:
    Desert Rose Hunting
    When Humidity Set Off My Fire Alarm
    Sounds of Doha (Traffic Redux)
    Why I am not Muslim
    my babies
    omg I love them
    Sigh. Yeah, I know. I should write a blog today.


    tutu perfect

    But doggone. I'm 16 3/4 hours from home - and five of the most beautiful people ever.
    these faces
    Seriously. Wouldn't you be distracted too?

    Friday, November 14, 2014

    An Ordinary Life

    Museum of Islamic Art
    from the park
    Her husband works in oil, construction, water, marketing. He's an executive, engineer, architect, accountant, geologist, pilot.
    She's lived in Doha 5 years. Before that, home was Bahrain, then Kuwait. Her children attended American schools abroad, university stateside. Grew up, married, reproduced.
    feeding the birds
    on the Corniche
    She lives in a three story villa tucked inside a walled compound with other families from her husband's company. There's a pool, tennis courts, gym, spa, convenience store. A live in maid mops floors, scrubs bathrooms, walks the dog. A driver escorts her to American Women's Association meetings, Tuesday Ladies Group, monthly mani pedi, weekly kaffee klatch.
    Qatar National Theatre
    from the inside
    Her highlighted hair is neatly coiffed. She wears a loose fitting cotton shirt in the Middle Eastern style, Donna Karan jeans, high fashion pumps. Her bag is Gucci, bought cheap at that little place, I'll take you. She's a skilled bargainer, as demonstrated by the gold that shimmers at her neck and wrist, and glistening pearl earrings.
    shopping Doha
    International Trade Festival
    She travels home three or four times a year, enjoys golf and shopping weekends in Dubai and Istanbul, beach holidays in France and Greece.
    Bob and Chris
    atop the singing dunes, 2014

    Some people camp the dunes, shop the souk, eat a late meal at Kempinski, she says. "But we mostly stay home at night. We eat dinner, watch tv, go to bed. Get up, do it again." A young man in a white waist length vest slips between us, spirits away the used dishes. The smell of just baked bread courts the scent of honeyed lamb. An air conditioner hums.
    ladies' tea
    She slides a cube of sugar into milky tea and circles the confection with a shiny spoon. It clinks against the saucer. She wraps pink fingernails around glittering porcelain, breathes in the bitter and the sweet.
    There are perks to the adventure, she admits. But for the most part, "we live an ordinary life." She smiles. "In an extraordinary place."

    Friday, November 7, 2014

    Smells of Qatar

    Leaky sewer, step wide:
    smells bad
    very, very bad
    Where many people are packed into a small space, infrastructure is a work in progress and smoldering air sizzles, there will be smells. And if you're sensitive to scent like I am, you know that odor has a taste. Sucked through the nose and pulled toward a hungry, absorptive tongue like it is.
    "...Qatar's population hits 2.2million..."
    For example, baked trash smells sweeter than cooked sewage. One is moldy apple cores, bananas and meat - a noisome dog food pie. The other is sweat, excrement and vomit served up in a savory latrine casserole that's simmered for days under a hot desert sun.
    There's not always a visual clue identifying an odor's source. No piles of trash, sewage dumps, diaper pails, waste mounds. Because when it comes to dusting, cleaning, scooping, shoveling, taking-icky-stuff-away, in Qatar there's someone to do that. Here, malodorous flavors lurk, skulk and creep. One might be jogging along, enjoying the sunshine and colorful, just planted petunias when the heady bouquet of redolence drifts into range. Or descends in an invisible cloud like fetid smog.
    When the rogue's source is apparent, it's generally a waste receptacle (empty or full), men's bathroom, men's prayer preparation space, an unmarked, clean appearing structure tucked into a corner. Or a truck marked "sewage" its hose an elephant's trunk pressed into the sidewalk. Where non potable liquid is drained from an underground cavern and hauled off to wherever smells live in the desert.
    "...Qatar produces around 7,000 tons of waste each day..."
    Less than 100 years ago, Qatar was an expanse of desert dotted with low prickly shrubs and limestone. Camels roamed the southern dunes and northern mesas. Bedouins camped in tents amid a sandy landscape marked by mangroves and rock. The hot air was ripe with the scent of oven roasted sand, wet camel, moist dung, salty sea, perspiration, perfume-sweet incensey bukhoor.
    Today Qatar is a country under construction, its infrastructure persistently stretched to accommodate an ever increasing workforce population. As on any country-sized job site there are country-sized job site smells: engine fumes, exhaust, chlorine, smoke, sweat, coffee, cigarettes, portapotty.
    Qatar was "...recently recognized by the World Health Organization as 2014's second most polluted country in the world (after Pakistan)..."
    Oh sure, it's not all bad. There are flavorful restaurant aromas: oil, beef, chicken, shwarma, fresh bread. And (if you breathe toward the Gulf while standing in the desert or along the coast) delectable summer scents: sunshine, grass, flowers, fertilizer, fish, salt, sea.
    But in Qatar today? Nothing beats the odiferous taste of sewer in the morning.
    lovely day in April 2014
    The Pearl, Doha, Qatar
    (all senses not displayed)

    Friday, October 31, 2014

    Home Team

    come on in
    Home might be Egypt, Brazil, France, Doha, Johannesburg, Reykjavik, Kansas City, Missouri. A farm, shack, mansion, apartment, townhome or raised ranch suburban house. It could be a field, rink, soccer or baseball stadium, thobe, abaya, jeans, tennis shoes, heels, flip flops, cleats.
    next big event on deck
    The where and who is as different as the people who seek it, but there are a few things your home and mine have in common:
    Home is the person you can't wait to tell when you pass that big exam. It's the arms you crawl into when bad stuff happens. It's the people who love you through the silent-but-deadlies and other aromatic facts of life and stick by you when you're stupid, selfish, rude, dumb, fat, skinny. The ones who see beyond the sweat, wrinkles and belly wobble to claim your wide smile and rosy cheeks. Those with whom you can eat so many garlic crackers that your skin stinks (Kay?) and celebrate engagements, weddings and new babies. Home is your partner for all night pool tournaments, marathon tv sessions and long, meandering walks. It's who you turn to when the plumbing goes out and you and the kids need a place to stay.
    serving up comfort at 3am
    Home is the people who occupy the space where you're most comfortable, especially when you're far, far away from, well…home.
    not seen in Doha: green and rain
    In Doha, home is a beautiful (ma sha allah!) 9 month pregnant woman who rises at 1am every day for seven days to serve a multi course breakfast to a crazy bunch of baseball lovers. It's a guy who shows up every morning to eat that breakfast. In his socks.
    It's lap-sharing memory-making with three beautiful babes. Watching a video about sharks snuggled up close. Middle of the night smiles.
    these faces
    movie star smiles at 3am
    say it with me: "awwww"
    It's Turkey Central dinners, surprise birthday luncheons, baby showers, football get togethers, souq shopping, sand golf. It's BMD wives' club, church, Fudd's Thursday, mani pedis.
    at Turkey Central, 2014
    And, yes, it's the World Series at 3am - home team playing at home - losing with two outs, bottom of the ninth, tying run on third base. It's the disappointed silence from a packed stadium - as fans buy 2015 season tickets on smart phones before the final score is even posted. (Anybody got tickets to share?)
    Because we may be way the heck outta Dodge (euphemistically speaking; "Dodge" is Kansas; we are Missouri) but hey Royals! you're our team. And pssh. Doggonit, we love you.
    photo credit: Matt Mikus,
    Great Season, Royals!