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!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Ballad of the Men in White

photo credit: this pic brazenly borrowed from the web
will be deleted if the blog ever goes public again
The rags to riches story is a tale as old as, well - sand. There's Oliver Twist; JK Rowling; con man Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) in the 1983 movie Trading Places; Dubai; Qatar (click to read brief history and answers to commonly asked questions); Jed Clampett.
American actor, Buddy Ebsen, as Jed Clampett
photo credit: photo bucket, edtombell
As the patriarch of the popular American 1960s era tv show, The Beverly Hillbillies, Jed Clampett discovers oil on his rustic (ie, poverty stricken) mountain property. Together with Granny (Irene Ryan), Max Baer, Jr. and sweet, buxom Donna Douglas, Jed lits out for "Beverly Hills, Californee" where the family's lifestyle is dramatically altered by Jed's "crude" discovery. They now live in a spacious mansion with swimming pool and photogenic stairway instead of a one room log cabin. They hang with movie stars and shop for thousand dollar (USD) huntin' togs.
If you're unfamiliar with the show and its catchy 40 second musical introduction, grab a listen here: The Ballad of Jed Clampett.
Then read my loose lyrical rewrite, below.
Dhow festival 2012
local poses for photo wearing
traditional pearl diver attire, sort of
The Ballad of the Men in White
Come and listen to my story
'bout the men in white.
Once pearl divers sleeping
on the sand at night.
Then one day
as they were camping on a dune,
up come the Brits
with startling news.

About oil…
Black gold…
Texas tea…
First thing you know
these men are billionaires.
Slipping starchy scarves
over beards and hair.
Emir said,
"Our desert's the place to be!
For soccer, building, fun and
fast food KFC."

World Cup, ya'all…
New downtown…
Today instead of dhow boats
there are high-rises and schools.
Foreigners from everywhere
breaking Muslim rules.
Clogging streets and malls
with their rude proclivities;
like eating pork, sipping scotch,
baring arms and knees.

All colors…
Men in white aren't divers now.
They're wealthy businessmen.
Driving fast in SUV's,
hanging out with friends.
These multi lingual Western grads
watch American tv,
party on the dunes at night,
eat fast food KFC.

Land Cruiser…
it says: Dajaaj Kentaacky, drive thru
The Colonel flies high over C-Ring Road
Doha 2014
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Friday, October 17, 2014

Baseball and Abayas

Bob, Kyle, Brad, Matt, Dawn (with little Mikus on deck), Aaron
celebrate the home team's ALCS victory 3am in Doha
photo credit: Matt Mikus (read Matt's travel blog: postcards and playlists)
Thousands of miles away and across the road too, the rest of my world celebrated the Kansas City Royals baseball ALCS victory and qualification for World Series competition.
Go Royals
I slid into abaya and hijab to attend Arabic classes at someplace new.
Maryam Center "Markazy Maryam" offers courses in Arabic, Quran and Islam
to Muslim women
The villa was surrounded by a high wall and tucked into a quiet community near a mosque. In front of the wall, a man guarded the sandy street. Behind the modesty-protecting barrier, shrouded women slipped through a paper covered door.
sorry, guys
Inside, black garbed women circled a stairwell. Windows covered in stained glass muted the hot sun. Like everywhere interior Doha, the air conditioning was set to "arctic" and the chill raised goose bumps on my blanketed skin. Three ladies worked at computers as dark eyed women rustled in and out of quiet rooms. In a windowless office, a lone woman sat at a mahogany desk, her title etched in Arabic on a wooden nameplate.
A brief consultation and the mudiera left the room. When she returned, she said: "Our classes are for women who are already Muslim. But you are so," here she supplied an Arabic word that she explained meant you-seem-Muslim, but might also refer to the preacher kid in me, ie, perhaps-your-dad-was-a-pastor-and-your-mom-a-church-pianist.
She handed me a registration packet. "I told him I wanted to give you a chance."
"Him" (no, not God): the unseen man who maintains unilateral authority
no matter how grand the boss-lady's desk.
For three years I've participated in the Arabic program at Fanar, the upside down ice cream cone minaret lighthouse-for-God at the center of downtown Doha. After a three month summer hiatus, one other woman and myself were ready to begin the final session of Fanar's five level program. That's when everything changed: new leadership, teachers fired, upper level courses moved from mornings to evenings. And new rules: we needed three more students before our class would be scheduled.
My classmate, a busy young Muslim mother and French expat, chose to go on to other things. I determined to follow our previous instructor to her new teaching position at Markazy Maryam.
abaya and hijab required
Here's what it's like to climb stairs carrying a purse and book bag as a newbie in abaya and hijab: sheer fabric clings to jeans, tangles at knees like a bed sheet to pajamas and (especially if it's front snapping) the robe flaps open. You instinctively release the handful of material gripped to prevent abaya from dragging as the skirt extends beyond shoes. Muted hallway sounds increase as you flail at the fly-a-way robe. Meanwhile, hijab slides off ears, slips over face. Disoriented and off balance, you, too, might shuffle over the abaya's hem, drop purse, trip over bag, turn the wrong direction and, blinded by a scarf, face plant.
Other activities, like the aerobic event that is the Arab greeting, maneuvering into a student desk or using the bathroom will be left to your imagination.
My teacher did not immediately know me with my sun-bleached hair and western attire hidden. Upon recognition she wrapped me in her arms and joyfully praised God.
"No, I'm not Muslim," I whispered in her ear as that's where my mouth was at the time. "I'm here for your class."
She squeezed me tighter. She kissed my cheeks and introduced me.
I settled into a front row seat and, along with six other ladies in black, learned about 3, 4 and 5 letter past tense root verbs using examples from the Quran.
foretelling baseball future?
Christmas Day Dhow ride, 2012
Go, Royals!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Expats Abroad: Spain

Bob on board
Expatriates are people who leave their homes to live in a new place, either temporarily or permanently. Most migrate legally, following the host country's rules and regulations.
Expatriate: (one who) leaves one's native country to live elsewhere…
Columbus points to sea
where Ramblas meets wharf
Barcelona, Spain
Legal expats are subject to different regulations than those at home. Like, for example, covering from shoulders to knees even when jogging, avoiding physical (and eye) contact with members of the opposite sex, not eating or drinking in public during the holy month of Ramadan. A thoughtful Qatar expat, for example, doesn't enter religious spaces with an uncovered head or make negative comments about her host country's leadership online or, well, anywhere, ever. And when the rules concerning freedom of expression change, she renders her blog publicly inaccessible.
contemplating the climb
church at Tibidabo, highest point in Barcelona, Spain
In the US, legal expats are those who followed US law to enter the country, typically for purposes of work, school or marriage. Sometimes these intrepid travelers take knowledge home to help change whatever caused them to leave in the first place. Other times they remain stateside and pursue the process to become permanent, legal United States citizens.
how Antoni Gaudi (gow-DEE)
covered one building's ducts and vents
atop La Padrera, Barcelona, Spain
Illegal US expats sneak across the border. They work jobs, raise children, utilize health care, attend and graduate from US schools funded by government grants and, it is said, even vote! They're fast food workers who go on strike to demand that their illicitly-adopted country celebrate their home country's independence as a national holiday. They're back alley criminals, prostitutes - and top drawer straight A students, business owners.
Officially there are repercussions to sneaking into the United States, but a lot of people not only get away with it, but profit from the venture too. Some of these dauntless interlopers are eventually granted status as legal United States citizens.
"Sagrada Familia" means "Holy Family"
a church designed by Antoni Gaudi
Barcelona's ever-under-construction labor of love
there are funky shapes
fruit spires
wall sized doors that look like this
stained glass windows that alter interior color
and a flying Jesus
Bob loved it
In Qatar, illegal expats are usually former service employees (nannies, maids and drivers) who entered the country legally and (in a wide variety of ways) find themselves without sponsorship. Babies born to unmarried (ie, unlawful) parents are on the list of border crashers. Illegal foreigners are also, as in the US, those who sneak across the border hoping for a better life in the world's wealthiest country (per capita).
coed bathrooms are common in Barcelona
at the Olympic Stadium
girls use stalls on one side, boys on the other
wash up together
In Qatar children born to a married foreign mother and Qatari man are considered Qatari. Children born to a married Qatari woman and a foreign born man acquire the father's nationality. At this time it's not possible to obtain Qatari citizenship (thereby eligible to receive national dividends and land) except by birth.
the Ramblas
a crowded, touristy, no-cars, shopping zone
and the heart of Barcelona
In Qatar, illegal expats are not allowed to work, attend school, utilize public health care, own a car, rent or buy a home, acquire a driver's license. Illegals' educations are not subsidized by the government. Without papers, they are also unable to leave the country.
As a result (unlike the US), very few people aspire to be illegal expats in Qatar.
Free Speech on the Ramblas
Barcelona 2014
As legal expatriates in Qatar, we have residency permits, government health cards and driver's licenses. We utilize government medical services, buy and sell stuff, attend programs, leave and come back. We drive the speed limit, cover our arms, keep our hands and words to ourselves - and seek the silver lining.
Barcelona Water Tower Garden
tucked among a cluster of buildings
in the heart of the city
(Rick Steve's, Barcelona, page 144)
It helps to get away.
Barcelona from the top of the Sagrada Familia
Nativity Tower
Spain 2014