Thursday, September 25, 2014

Goodbye, Lighthouse...?

In Arabic, fanar means "lighthouse."

In the same way a lighthouse illuminates safe passage for those seeking the comfort of shore, Doha's Fanar Islamic Cultural Center seeks to share the good news of Islam with the world - and you.
Inside, a wide, two story, tiled entry. A guard at a podium. An ornate split staircase leads to a first floor balcony. A tall vase stands at the heart of three doors.
To the left is a majlis meeting space with authentic-ish red and white cushions. Glass bookcases highlight Qatar's achievements and a ceiling mural depicts the country's proud history.
The middle door opens into a narrow hallway filled with cozy leather couches where, if you sit, a bearded man in a long white robe might bring you a glass mug of sweet Arabic tea. "Welcome, welcome," he'd say as you peruse ancient Korans and other artifacts in square wooden display cases and read a book about Islam etched on the walls in life-sized, full color print.
A third door, to the right of the vase and tucked under the stairs leads to the Ladies Section.
This is where women from all over the world - including Qatar - meet for the purpose of spreading the good news of Islam - that all, including you - might see the light and be saved. If you are persistent, you might learn some Arabic here too.
You visit the lighthouse this week in hopes of enrolling for an Arabic class. After three years of study and association, all that remains is the final course in the Center's five level program.
But it seems that Fanar is under new management. The familiar, hardworking teachers you'd come to know are gone; fired. Arabic class times are limited. In the same way that laws pertaining to freedom of speech took your blog, and malware lodged in your internet provider curiously limits access to your own website…new rules promise to swallow your Arabic classes too.
An optimistic woman in black pledges to intervene on your behalf. "I will ask him to make a time for you," she says. But she does not add in sha allah.
You pay the fee for a class that doesn't exist in hopes of maintaining a connection. Then you leave the way you came in: through the door tucked under the stairs.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Waving a Smile, Making a Connection

Bob and I walked the Pearl. He wore a tee shirt and to-the-knee shorts, just as he might stateside. I wore shin length, sweat wicking capris with a hip shielding tee shirt. No shoulder revealing tank tops or visible running bra for me; nope. No thigh high Nike jogging pants; uh-uh. Even as we sped, arms swinging, past strolling expats in spaghetti straps and tight dresses. As more of Qatar's expat women toss aside scarves and modest attire, I persist in covering up.
Why, you ask? Because the Qataris asked me - and everyone else - to:
Please cover from shoulders to knees.
At 7:30pm lights across the bay twinkled, a party like reflection in the mirror smooth water. Brisk air temps not quite 100F; this is fall in Qatar. Still, 57% humidity and no wind translates to sweat drenched tee shirts and capris so heavy I tugged through my tee shirt to keep them at my waist.
Droopy drawers at ankles might not be modest, even if they were capris.
A golf cart swept past us. My eyes met the dark, mascara and pencil-lined orbs of one of two teen/young adult-ish girls. Both covered top to toe in abaya and sheyla, faces visible. They took up the two seat space at the back of the cart, facing the direction from which they'd come.
The young girl smiled at me; I smiled back. Her smile got bigger, so mine did too. I raised my arm and waved, and she waved back.
"Do you know them?" Bob said.
"No." And I thought:
Perhaps there isn't true freedom of speech in Qatar. Perhaps the ladies don't return my emails or phone calls. Perhaps I've worked hard to learn a language I'll never speak - in Qatar, at least. Perhaps all my efforts to get to know the people and culture were for nothing. Perhaps. Still, this beautiful (ma sha allah) young woman is smiling and waving and HEY, here's a connection!
The cart was speeding away fast and so was she, so I straightened my elbow and waved a half circle smile at her…which she returned.
"Why is she waving at you?" Bob said.
I shrugged. "Just like Western women like me are curious about the Middle Eastern ladies…I guess they're curious about us too."
Thanks to the abaya - and distance and dark - I'd never know her if I saw her again. Still, the exchange made me feel good. Like maybe I should keep writing? Even if it's no longer public. Even if there are no more hits from curious strangers living in places all over the globe. Even if it's just for me (and my mom and dad).
Even if.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Hello Again, Doha

Treasure Trove of Yummies
(but the real treasure is the note)
Long flight, a row to myself. Stretched out, movies, dinner, midnight meal, breakfast, snack, great book, tv shows, more movies, sleep.
sunset over water
Evening arrival, shwarma, a toast…
Bob and Cindi, together again.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Pondering the Positives

In Missouri, USA, summer thunder rolls in like a drum crescendo with wind that twists trees and whips grass, flowers, earth into a festival of scents. Then it rumbles away leaving a glorious, cloudless blue sky framed by lush multihued green and clean, crisp, 70Fs (20Cs), Fall-sweet air. Perfect for jogging, mowing, barbecuing, jumping into raked mountains of crunchy leaves, hay rides, apple picking, evenings roasting marshmallows over a patio fire pit.
I watch the light show from my kitchen window wrapped in a cozy blanket, plane ticket in my hand, a 25-hour (minimum) journey in my future.
(Excepting the way-cute hubby) these are the toughest moments for reflecting upon the positives of another long trip over land and sea. I begged help from my support network of seasoned, experienced, expat travelers.

"What's your favorite thing about Doha?" I asked.

This is what they said (edited for list-making):

  • sand dune bashing

  • Inland Sea camping

  • the souq

  • unexpected friendships

  • worldly conversations

  • exploring new interests

  • mangroves

  • Doha is a great travel hub

  • you can't take "weekend/long weekend" trips to random places in the world from the States like you can here

  • an eclectic group of friends from all over the world

  • free world class level sporting events

  • the beach on a regular basis

  • variety of foods

  • friends from afar: England, Scotland, Australia, South Africa, Lebanon, Spain, and Germany to name a few

  • winter in Doha, bringing cooler temps and the chance to be outside

  • travel opportunities

  • understanding what really is the "Middle East" and having a new found respect for this part of the world - we are so accustomed to what we see on TV in the US that reality is quite a bit different than the news' sometimes "skewed" vision of the Middle East

BMD Ladies and friends gather for "high tea"
to celebrate Mary Anne's birthday
February 2014, Doha

Thank you, BMD Ladies Abroad, Dawn, Bridget, Samantha, Mary Anne!