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!
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