Saturday, August 30, 2014

Expat Wife Life: Missing Who's Missing

summer 2014: laughter, love,
a house full of beautiful babies
To expats, missing is a living, breathing, moist and fresh word with long, sticky fingers. It links head to heart, toddling the gray matter so the heart is always thinking. Before each trip, whether traveling to or fro, we haul missing out, rub it off and try not to watch as the object of missing's affections changes.

No matter where we are, expats are always missing someone. 

Summer 2014 it's been this guy:
Bob at the Singing Dunes
It helps to look forward to the next adventure. For example, also missing is the singing dunes, souk, the folks at Fanar, Arabic. West Bank vistas from Islamic Museum Park, a jog around the Corniche, the-latest-unique-thing-on-display at the Alriwaq exhibit hall, shopping; the adventure that is driving in Doha.
Missing is the Call to Prayer that circles the city five times a day, a reminder via regularly spaced mosques to pause in the day's busy-ness to recognize, thank and praise God. Each invitation begins at a slightly different moment - the result is a rich mix of spiritually uplifting dissonance that fills one's senses like just baked bread.
minaret, Grand Mosque
West Bay in background
I like it.
I miss monthly get-togethers with the fabulous Burns & McDonnell ladies and babies, dark early morning skies and the bright upside down moon. Beach sun (although I no longer bask), steamy sand, long sleeved slogs around the Pearl's bay in 115F temps followed by a dip in the resort pool. A clean apartment every Thursday, Fridays with my guy, camp outs at the Inland Sea, treks into the desert.
In Doha, celebrity events are comparatively inexpensive (and free). World class tennis, soccer, film and art festivals are accessible. Comedian Gabriel "Fluffy" Iglesias, Yusuf Islam (aka Cat Stevens), and Maz Jobrani have headlined Doha in the last 3 years. There's Mr. Q, Arabic class, the fabulous people at Weill Cornell Medical Center, halloumi cheese at Zaatar w Zeit, family dinner at Turkey Central, Nabil and the Sheikh's museum.
Dubai's beaches, golf courses, and sites like the Burj Khalifa are an inexpensive 45 minute flight away. It's a quick hop to weekend (or longer) adventures in Muscat, London, Athens, Barcelona, Dublin, Rome, Amsterdam too.
Just as life in Doha isn't all sand, grit and empty-shelves-at-the-Carrefour, a stint stateside isn't all perfection. There are weeds, bugs, dirty laundry, trash to take out, cars and dryers that break down, a crowd of babies in the bathroom, high gas prices, a towering, government owned, dead tree in the yard next door.
None of which eases this next - rapidly approaching - round of missing.
Kansas City Northern Railroad Co.
riding a kid-sized train with three of my babies
I'll be missing them soon

Friday, August 22, 2014

East to Midwest Across America

An American journalist is decapitated in Syria, Israel and Palestine bomb one another and racial tension explodes into gunfire in Ferguson, Missouri. Women aren't allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia and prejudice is a way of life in Qatar.
But when smoke bursts from Katie's car outside the Walgreens in Greenville, North Carolina, the world's problems seem very far away.
all her worldly possessions trunk to lid
the most important are two thin sheets of paper that say:
(car for sale soon)
Something pops and thick brown fluid gushes onto the tarry road. Before we're free of the steaming vehicle, a woman in a black Ford Explorer headed the opposite direction stops. She leaves her own car in the street as I raise Katie's hood. "Yo' radiatah is done, see raht thayah?" She removes the cigarette dangling between her teeth, and uses it to point. "Ya'll goan in the Auto Zone and see they kin hep."
In the Auto Zone, employees with names embroidered into red collared shirts leap into action. Sherwood* proclaims a broken heater hose the culprit as he single handedly pushes Katie's car out of traffic. Sue* calls auto repair shops. The one her sister works at is busy but we "ought to call over to Elronda at the Meineke."
No fewer than seven cars and trucks stop as we wait for AAA on a curb near a field. "Ya'll need help? What's the trouble? Ah noticed you, thought ah'd see you're okay."
waiting for AAA in bucolic North Carolina
In America's east, country towns and metropolitan cities are linked by tree covered mountains, glorious azure skies and acres of rolling, green fields. There are good friends…
three years together ends
a lifetime of friendship ahead
…Washington, DC with its waterfront, monuments and a beautiful woman who offers weary friends elegant hospitality and soft, pillowed beds.
with wonderful Mary Ann
lifetime of friendship continues
There is Angel Gap, North Carolina with log cabin shops under pines so tall that clouds drift in and out of branches. Populations come in both black and white in nearly equal proportions, say "dang, ya'all" and "ah" instead of "I." There are slow moving tractors, freeways, country roads…
…villages named for the scenery and businesses christened for people: Shady Spring, Skitter Creek, Laura's Restaurant, Peter's Orchard and Fruit Stand. There is summer rain, country music, the Seneca Nation and a 20-ish foot tall, thousand pound Indian Statue.
Fog skitters across dewy highways and the air smells of intermittent rain, sunshine and hay. Road signs announce "Beef and Ice Cream," "When You Die You Will Meet God," "Buckle Up - Next Million Miles." Tiny towns seem to have more churches than people; cows, goats and chickens frolic in front yards.
So. Much. Green.
every picture I take looks like this
and this
Everywhere, all across the country, billboards feature Starbucks, Walmart, Taco Bell, McDonald's, Burger King and Cracker Barrel's pinto beans and corn bread.
The mountains of North Carolina and the Virginias ease into Kentucky, where horses graze in fields crisscrossed by rail fences; settle into the tree lined hills of Illinois and Missouri - until finally the world flattens and becomes Kansas.
not Kansas
But first Katie's car would need a new radiator, thermostat, battery and Sherwood's hoses.
As the good natured folks at Meineke's manage Katie's car repair (lifetime warranty!), we wander streets without side or crosswalks, eat lunch at a gas station and tour a Sam's Club.
Later, a mother and her four children join us in the Meineke waiting area. "Kin ah have a quarter?" says Little Boy, palm raised.
"It's mah birthday next week," says Little Girl. "Ah'll be seven." She faces me, but nods at Katie. "Ah you her mommy?"
I'm her mommy
It may or may not be true that Americans are fast food fat and geographically illiterate. Perhaps our high school graduates can't pick out Azerbaijan on a map, outline the history of Syria or do simple math - and, in contrast to Qatar's children, most of us *only* speak one language. We have social, economic and employment issues like every other country across the globe.
But where pines march up mountains into blue skies and everyday folks sip coffee while waiting for buses on grassy streets; here, deep at its heart - I think America is pretty dang great.
As her mother and four older brothers watch, Little Girl opens her arms wide and wraps us up. First she hugs Katie, then me.
*true story, real names

Friday, August 15, 2014

How Qataris Kiss

"Mr. Q" is a Qatari who writes a video blog for One his most popular pieces is called "Q Tips" where he offers bite sized information about Qatari customs and traditions:

I hope you'll enjoy this fun peek into Qatari life as much as I do.

Want to know more?

Read Mr. Q's blog:
View more Q Tips here: QTips

Friday, August 8, 2014

Is Qatar Safe?

The second most common question we're asked (after Qatar? Where's that?):
Is it safe?
After all, battle lights from Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan sparkle over Qatar like a halo. The Taliban Five are housed here, those guys the US President controversially freed in exchange for a single American Marine. The five live in our resort "neighborhood," purportedly housed in a guarded, castle-like compound at The Pearl.
no matter your size, there's a thobe for you
display at The Pearl
The single land route out of Qatar is through Saudi Arabia. Permission to make the trip requires months of paperwork and is usually only given to drive straight through. A woman must be accompanied by her mahram and covered head to toe, even in the car.
There is the questionable treatment of migrant workers, Matthew and Grace Hwang, the unending parade of waste water trucks that disappear into the desert and return stocked with "potable liquid."
Plus, they wear thobes and abayas in Qatar, live behind forbidding ten foot walls, speak Arabic. And they're Muslim!
While it's true that there are cultural and ideological differences that sometimes cause conflict, if you read my blog, you already know that Islam is a peaceful religion. And Qataris are, in a quiet, non attention seeking way - Peacemakers.
the Peace and Love Guy dances on his truck
in front of the Amiri Diwan
In Egypt, Israel, Palestine, Syria and with the Taliban (who, it's said, have offices in Doha) Qatari leadership quietly broker discussions to further peaceful resolutions to end the cycles of violence. In taking the Taliban Five off the road, after the US President negotiated their release, Qatar assures the men's physical non-involvement in conflict. As the first Middle Eastern country to host the World Cup (in 2022, in case you've been living under a rock), they're breaking new ground in communication and understanding.
Qatar has opened its doors to an expat majority who don't dress, look, eat, play, worship - and sometimes don't even respect - their culture, religion and way of life. Yet, before the roads, water lines and electrical networks had traversed the peninsula, there was McDonalds, Dairy Queen, Chili's and TGI Friday's. A new modern mall goes in, it seems, every week.
There are Christian churches in Doha. And, even though it's haraam in Islam there is a liquor store that sells pork.
Sure, we feel welcome. But do we feel safe? We respect the culture, follow the rules, keep a low profile. And, yes, we feel safe.
giant pitcher on the Corniche
hospitality symbol
More safe than I feel right now, in fact, sleeping in my bed in America under a US government owned, 40 foot tall, 12 foot diameter dead tree. Paperwork, photos and bids have long been submitted requesting removal of the tree. Meanwhile, its 20 foot partner recently fell, taking out a neighbor's back fence.
Please Mister President, cut down your tree so that I might return to the Middle East where I will feel safe.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Peckish in Dingle or What We Learned on Holiday in Ireland

narrow country road, Ireland
Villages pinwheel about no-shoulder country roads boxed in by thick hedgerows, their sharp branches lopped inches from your car's passenger door. Your driver sits on the right at the center of the street where traffic headed the opposite direction is a sneeze away. Blue sky peeks through a bower of tall, green trees, a barrier between you and the scenic patchwork of rolling, green velvet hills.
Everything in Ireland, it seems, is green. Except the horses, cows, llamas, pigs - and sheep, which are splashed with red or blue paint to signify ownership.
watch for cows
You pop out of the green cave to a line of colorful, flat front townhomes. Each stretch of panes and doors is detailed a different vibrant hue and bright flowers tumble from mossy window boxes. Across the street, a pub proclaims itself Murphy's, O'Donnell's or Grogan's on a mirrored black sign.
You hear rhythmic thrumming and glimpse what appears to be a large white dog rushing toward you. It has black pin prick eyes and stubby legs. It's big and barrel chested, hair tightly curled, a splash of blue on its neck.
It's a sheep.
Beyond, two men in jeans and collared shirts stand shoulder to shoulder, hands on hips before a green shrouded home. They watch the sheep, their faces a confusion of patience and irritation - like parents correcting a toddler for the same naughty behavior for the thousandth time. Under the men's feet, an asphalt driveway meets a wooden fence behind which wait a quiet flock of blue brushed sheep.
Bob at the Guinness Academy
where we learned the proper way to pour a pint
If you live where rules are complex, locals inaccessible and no one speaks the native language - or, wait, if you live anywhere - Ireland makes for a restful holiday. It's a girdle loosening, shake out the curls, relax the abs place. It's bacon, beer, music, holding hands in public. It's that happy-all-over feeling you get after a good run mixed with the cozy acceptance that happens when your kids are home, everyone's laughing and talking at the same time while downing handfuls of M&Ms from a shared bowl.
breadin' da lurvley ahhr
Contrary to what your red headed castle tour guide says about ruby tresses going extinct in Ireland, it seems every third person has red hair. And the Irish speak English. Sort of. They say things like "lurvley day," "the coffee is brilliant," "do you fancy some ice cream?" and "I'm feeling peckish." They pronounce "th" as "t" or "d" so you're not sure if "turdee'" is thirty or thirteen - and they laugh when you get it wrong.
ahhr ye peckish? eat.
You'd be good natured too if you lived this close to the Guinness Factory and Ballyduff, Dingle and bog were everyday words meant for regular conversation.
If you were to stay in Dublin's Temple Bar District in a street facing room, you'd fall asleep to lively folk music and wake up to accented singing under your window at 3:30am. At 4:00am you'd hear a cheery "g'morning 't is" as Dubliners arrive to work.
You'd hear stories. Like how Arthur Guinness signed a 9,000 year lease (45 pounds a month, still in effect) and his wife Olivia gave birth to 21 children.
And Joseph Plunkett married Grace 10 minutes before he was executed at Kilmainham Gaol. And how Grace, who never remarried, was later incarcerated in the jail herself.
Bob demonstrates how guards appeared
to prisoners in Kilmainham Gaol
In Ireland, you'd enjoy The Full Irish each morning: a hearty egg, bread, fruit, sausage and ham breakfast. Your Big Red Bus tour guide might sing Molly Malone as your driver belts the Hallelujah Chorus into a microphone. You'd drink Guinness, get rained on, swim in emerald water overlooking the idyllic Blasket Islands, tour castles and breweries, hike.
the short hangy things on the back
are longer for older students
At Trinity College, a Robert Pattinson lookalike in a Harry Potter vest tells a story about students who killed a professor then went on to high level political jobs. He explains that points, not extracurriculars or personality get you into the exclusive institution. And that good students (and those from the North) attend for free, eat in special areas and may graze their sheep in St. James Park.
As long as runaway ewes stay off the sidewalk.
'ere's to ye