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