On Getting Older and Getting….

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I found out yesterday that my class is actually hosting a 10-year reunion.  I will not be attending.  It will be two days before I am supposed to leave for Spain,frankly it’s the least of my concerns.  But it was interesting to look at the FB page for it.  Go Class of 2002!  I never thought anyone would actually put in the effort to get it off the ground.  ha, ha….

I guess it was the perfect end to a bad day… ha, ha. Ten years come and gone so fast… terrible litmus test. Ten years ago, I was a lot happier, wide-eyed and full of good expectations about the world and what the future had to offer.  I believed in true love, that man is by nature good, that learning about other cultures is a golden ticket to cross-cultural understanding, that there is a Divine purpose behind human suffering, although may not recognize it… I could go on and on  … Ten years later, none of that applies… I am constantly evaluating and reevaluating everything, every concept, every precept.

As my posts indicate I am in a slump of sorts.  The more it continues the more I realize that it has less to do with quarter life crises (after all, I am practically past my quarter life point… :-/) and more to do with … well let’s just say other stuff.

What does this all mean in the practical.  I am not sure yet.  On one hand this is normal.  It came to me the other day, that my trips to the Arab world always seem to leave me hanging on by a thread on a lot of levels.  The tiredness that comes with looking different and feeling different and doing things differently.  The yearning for what I know to be just there when and where I want it.

It’s like this:  Morocco,Yemen, Egypt, Qatar, each place, and each visit, involved me stripping a layer off.  Sometimes it was naivete, sometimes it was optimism, sometimes it was religious conviction, sometimes it was fear.

After all that stripping, I don’t think I have anything else left to bear!

But it’s not just the Arab world, or rather being in it during the most trying month of the year.  It’s everything and everyone.  I need a break!  I don’t think being on US soil would do the trick…

The fact is, I can’t remember when I last had a chance to sit and just not think.  Just sit and listen to pure silence.  Nowadays, because I share a room, the only place where I can really think for myself and to myself is in the bathroom… ha, ha…

I’ve had ongoing headaches as a result, … actually maybe the headaches are a result of being locked in a house with no AC with over 100 degree temperatures daily… :-(I But whatever, I literally go to sleep and tons of thoughts are still racing in my mind.

Nonetheless, my point is duly made.

This post may seem cryptic, well that’s because it is… Needless to say, I am entering another transitional phase and am not sure how I am going to fare with it, but I’m trying to come out of it a better person, and with my sanity in tact.

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Feeling Good Things and Thinking Good Thoughts… Well,

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I have been wrapping things up and am just a few more days away from the end of the Qatar adventure.  I am proud to say I am the proud owner of an Abaya!  I have talking about getting one for months.  In the end, It’s not exactly what I wanted, but as a believer in Divine Providence I think it’s the Abaya that WAS CHOSEN for me.

here she is!

And I love her!  It kind of looks like West African clothing…lol.

The girls of the program were really sweet and threw a surprise soiree for me tonight.  I guess I should have expected it, but I really didn’t.  I had just come back from an adventure of sorts —- (Going out alone, at night, into the Center of Doha)  It really wasn’t scary or potentially life threatening at all, but we are too sheltered in this housing situation. At any rate, some of the messages on the card were enough to bring someone with a more emotional constitution to tears. (Yeah, Gazelle isn’t the emotional kind…lol).  But it feels good to have had a positive impact on someone’s life and to have been liked.

I am still thinking about the wider implications of being here, just on a subconcious level…lol.

Unfortunately the main Qatar person I have had contact with has been compromised (that’s an entire journal entry right there). So I will need to make a list of things of things I like and dislike about “Qatari society.”

hmmmm my program was featured on Al-Jazeera a few weeks ago, and one of the guys in the program said that he forgot his color while being here.  For the first time it did not matter… I was like, really?…lol… Of course we are totally different people, and he’s got a different set of friends so that could be it… we are also from two different countries.  Oh well.

It’s also interesting how my interactions with people here have really sort of colored my hopes for future travels or lack thereof… well really, I didn’t dislike most of the people here, even the ones I did/do, I don’t feel that way all the time.  So I guess there is no country on my no-fly-zone list…lol…Then what is it? I guess Country X will equal person Y because that’s all the reference I have.

Then there is the issue of Doha’s poor, I need to post about this, but unfortunately as much as its wildly present here It’s also sort of the unsaid story.  How many unhappy maids have I seen?  or rather, Can I even recall seeing one smiling even, once?  How many times have I been in an air-conditioned bus or car and seen south Asian men trudging at some construction site? How many times have I seen people talking to their servants or service workers as if they are less than human or not worthy of respect?  It’s like this in many cities, but the difference between these guest worker neighborhoods and the villas I see Qataris living is disgusting.

Exhibit A:  a few blocks away from Souq Waqif, a major touristy center:

I kind of don’t even want to know that the inside looks like… sigh.  And these aren’t even the purportedly worst—- I don’t know how the construction workers are housed.

Going back to my adventures in the City I am thinking about self-censorship in terms of dress.  When I go out with Friends I wear what I want within reason.  But, if I am going out alone, then I am breaking out one of my long dresses and wearing tights/pants underneath. If am going out alone at night, even it’s just to the mall nearby, then I am passing as a hijabi as I wear a head-wrap+ the long dress.  plus a jacket if the dress is not long-sleeves. Why is that?

I don’t wanna hear people’s crap!  It’s hard, but it’s the reality.  Is this right?  Is it fair that my friends who dress appropriately but never Qatari-esque or hijabi-esque clothing get it in the streets (granted they are also white)?  Should they really be expected to conform? Am I signing away some of my rights and freedoms by changing myself?  hmmm.  I suppose coming from a different cultural milieu is part of it.  I come from a place, where I can certainly wear an abaya and get compliments on my “dress” while in comparison they will stares.  Wearing a head scarf (unless its wrapped in the “signature” hijabi way) is just ‘ady (normal) part of life and cultural expression not so for them.  The negotiations that women in general make when leaving home are interesting and complicated, Qatar is no exception and neither are Qatari women.  I have seen scarves and abayas worn so many ways and sometimes by the same woman depending on where she is, that I don’t even know where to begin.

I’m thinking about the meaning of friendship.  What makes a friend?  what makes two people just click?  What makes a person overlook your faults and just go beyond that?  What makes a friendship worth saving?

hmmm what else can I say?  This is a random post, but I am feeling grateful right now. Time to write thank you notes.  To America and beyond!

On Good Friday in an Arabic Church

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So I had the chance to go to a church service in Arabic.  My first experience ever with Arab-Christians… well, not my first ever, but the first time I was  the first Arab church service I’ve ever been to.

Well, the Church was actually just the Arabic Language Catholic church, one of the few (or many) denominations present in Qatar—- as officially recognized churches that is.  The  service was beautiful.  I remember being in Spain for Good Friday in 2008 and going to a Good Friday Service in Catalan… don’t remember if I blogged about it though.  And this was even more interesting and new than that.

I am surprised (although I don’t know why) at how different Catholic services can be, two of my friends here from Poland have had to point out to me that they don’t do this or that… at any rate, it was a beautiful service aesthetically and emotionally, and I’m not an emotional person. Best of all, I understood…. a good deal of it..lol

The service was in fusha, i.e. modern standard Arabic, but It was hard to hear the priest amidst the screams of children and murmurs of adult, but oh well. From what I understood there was a lengthy New testament reading of events leading to the crucifixion by two priests, one narrated and the other did the vices, then they brought out this ivory colored statue of Jesus on the cross and laid it on a grand floral arrangement and marched around the church with it.  I wanted to take pictures, I had brought my camera, but thought that it was inappropriate to do in the church…. well, boy was I wrong, everybody was whipping out cell phones and cameras and snapping away, apparently even one of the priests got on the pulpit to get a better shot from his camera!

Maybe he’s the church historian.  At any rate, the music I think was the most beautiful of all, very different from the Arabic pop mess I usually hear, and distinct from Quran recitations or Nasheeds… they had the words up on projectors, thank God, otherwise I wouldn’t have understood as much.  One of the songs about Mary moved me to tears… the choir, I guess was super on point.

I don’t remember much more, but I’m glad I went, what an experience to have for the first time in a place like Qatar….

I had no idea there were so many Arab Christians here! the sanctuary which was pretty big, was packed!…. it was like little Lebabnon…lol

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I wonder about myself, If an individual can appreciate the beauty of said experience without getting boggled down with details, innuendo and such.  What am I talking about?

a discussion we had in class one day about religious freedom, well it wasn’t a discussion, but it was headed in that direction… and then I think about what Tariq Ramadan said about human rights in Muslim-Majority (read— esp. Arab) countries and what Muslims in the West enjoy/face… then I think about an awesome discussion between Cornel West and Sherman Jackson that was filmed at Princeton last week and how Professor Jackson talked about the African-American community and  how cross-religious interaction was a common thing, because families don’t discriminate against family members of other faiths…. then I think about my family…and then I think about me. But that is for another blog entry.

Needless to say I am thinking about a lot of personal stuff, not that I have shut out the rest of the world, or no longer care about current events (like what is up with all the earthquakes? I hope the D.C. area is not on a fault line..) but Qatar has given me a lot of time to think and reflect on myself, on what I want, professionally, spiritually, and even emotionally to a lesser extent.  But these ideas aren’t flushed out… yet.

At any rate, Good Friday was pretty nice, school is about to be over… (I have to leave early if I’m going to start the next Arabic program on time…Al hamdullilah… 🙂

Tariq Rammadan!!!!!!!!!!

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Well, I am on one of my Qatar is awesome highs because I got to hear Tariq Rammadan speak!

Aahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!  He was so awesome!  I was afraid that he would be a bit trite, or say stuff that I’ve heard over and over again, but he was absolutely awesome!

I think each person came away with something different, which is good and bad I guess, but I was left with these ideas, which are in need of further digestion but here goes anyway:

1. I literally heard him say stuff that I have been saying all throughout my stay here, to no avail, (like— why don’t we have a  strong showing of Muslims who care about non-Muslim issues?— such as Congo.  Israel-Palestine is important, but what about being energized about universal issues so you don’t look A. selfish  B. superbly defensive and exclusive and C. because things like the environment, education [not Islamic education] the political process  are universally important! ) —

2. He also talked about the need to be real bout the quabbles within the Muslim community— whether its sunni-Shia  or Sufi- Salafi or RACISM!  (yes he said point black there is racism and Muslims need to fix it!—- I nearly swooned, after the commentary on Congo mixed with this! ahaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!!!!!!!)

3. Concrete advice about how to make Muslims be viewed as an integral part of the societies that they live in (which many of them already feel that they are— the question is, how to reverse the stereotypes—- call more media attention to the advances made in the Muslim community) instead of viewing the media as purposely set out to get Muslims!

4.  Addressed the issue of freedom in Muslim countries, and that they too are need of reform, you can’t ask  for/complain of mistreatment when you do the same thing at home.

5. Understanding the role that Muslims in West (who are at home with being in the West— and don’t necessarily suffer from some cultural/psychological bipolarism ) play in the global Muslim community and not just assume that they want to take part in Muslim discourses by deferring to Muslims in the “Muslim world” i.e. majority-Muslim countries

6.  Yes, there is hatred/racism against Muslims, but you can not just complain about this, you have to acknowledge it and strategize ways to combat it. —- There is much to be learned from the Jewish experience.

7. We need to acknowledge the differences between our understanding of basic issues/terms and realize that sometimes/many a times we are talking across purposes even in Muslim circles because we don’t understand the same things in the same light.   (Sharia, culture, the word Islam in and of itself, and what submission means in Arabic)

8. Muslims need to stress the spiritual aspect of the faith— it’s not just a system of halal-Haram– but too often it’s simplified this way.  If there is more dialogue about Islam as a faith, as a religion that answers the core question of “why am I here?” then expressing it from that angle people would get a different perspective on it, instead of being on the defensive (although some really do have to be).

I am struck by how much the people from American got him, and loved him, and the kinds of questions that Arabs were asking, there is a real cultural difference between living as part of the majority (and having that as your reality) and being the minority within another community (i.e. Muslims in the West).

I unfortunately am coming to realize people’s acute misunderstanding of American society.  But that post will be for another day.

I have a few video clips but they are so hard to upload 😦

On Being Worried— curfew

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I have always been a worry wort.   I don’t deny it.  I hate being without structure, being in a place/time where you have to wing it… as it were… That’s precisely where I am right now,

In a country that sometimes feels like everyone is against me and I have to insist and fight for little things, @ a juncture where I have no idea what I am going to do or where I am going to be after a few months and in a political climate that is starting to make me concerned about my feelings/love for “the process.”

that about sums me up right now,

1.  I came back and suited up with my metaphorical armor, and rightfully so, because the people who run the women’s dorm here are among the most , ineffective people you could ever meet. — Except when it comes to getting something that they want….

There’s always something with them, and I am at the point where Gazelle is not playing.  There was a big brooh ha ha about changing things and listening to students and their needs—- they even chose reps from each dorm to meet with the head of housing (guess who was her dorms rep… :-() yup, chosen, not elected) but I realize now that it’s all posturing. I know that dorms in the U.S. well, I mean colleges are like this, but really!

The main concern of most women living here are two things 1. the food, which is awful and sometimes in my opinion is not fit to give to the stray cat that practically lives outside the cafeteria door begging for scraps!  (Wallahi—- I swear it is thaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat bad).

and as I have mentioned before, the other is the 10pm nightly curfew, which is complete nonsense and is not installed for our safety, or because this is a Muslim country to —- ( there are  Qatari girls and women in general who are out and about in Doha after 10 along with adolescent children and toddlers. I grit my teeth when I see a  5 year old riding a bike down the Cornishe while I have to get on my “find a cab” hustle as to not be too late!)—-  It feels like the people who run this place…—- no who are in charge of running this place are just too mean and want to make everyone else as miserable as they are.

At the end of last year there was a meeting with the head of Housing for the University.  I asked for two things 1. better food (along with every other woman in attendance and 2. a  midnight curfew for the weekends.

Of course this was attempt number 2 for demand number 2, attempt number one was a petition for women who were not afraid to put their names to a reasonable request….   and was answered with the most inadequate response I have ever seen in my life.  It was an awkwardly crafted, perhaps it was because the Head of Housing never read the thing, and instead, he just forwarded it to the Head of Female Housing who (doesn’t speak English well) and couldn’t be bothered.

At any rate, we were granted a 12 pm on the weekend three nights a week curfew! I was ecstatic…. little did I know the battle was just beginning.  The people who work here have used some really baseless tactics to keep people in by 10 and it’s ridiculous.  I had people emailing me about this when I was home during the break.   When I decided to test the waters and stand up for my rights I was met with the same opposition but was able to expose them:

Worker 1&2: You have to be back by 10

me: (surprised scowl) no we will be back by 12 we have until 12 on the weekends

Worker1: (exasperated look—- I guess she figured she had stomped this desire out of all the girls) but I told you this before the curfews are back at 10

me: (playing a bit on the Sapphire stereotype) Me? who was in America during the long break?  You told me?

Worker 1: Oh but I told A, A you know that I said be back by 10

A: and I never agreed to that (* A had had it out with worker 1 a few weeks back, calling her underhanded and  a liar, to her face)

Me: (with angry, raised voice) I don’t care, I know that I have till midnight and I am going by that

Worker 2: No the midnight curfew was just for January 1

Me: (angrier and voiced still raised) No it wasn’t because I didn’t celebrate the new year outside, and I was at the meeting with the head of housing

Worker 2: (with a look of surprise)  ok well, the rule was one that was going to be discussed it was not one that was decided for sure

Me:  (still angry and voiced raised, but stuttering a little for the right Arabic words) No! that is not tru either! I was at that meeting and I know what I heard, and asked two other Arab girls in attendance to make sure I was absolutely correct.  There was not talk of further discussions!  I know what I heard!

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The conversation goes on like this for a while, the offering nonsense and conflicting  reasons for why the curfew, never was in effect, was only in effect for a little while, still has to be discussed, was discussed and decided that it should be done away with etc.  and my replies as why their reasoning is complete horse manure,

and then worker 1 says, “well it’s not fair to us to have to wait up that late!”

and finally I get the confirmation for something that I knew all along. It’s about them and what they want!  What is the difference between playing computer games in the office or doing your online dating mess there or watching movies there vs. in your dorm—- No offense, but it’s not like you have a life!  (I need to ask someone who to say this in Arabic…lol)…

I was firm and probably a bit scary, and simply said that we had already made plans and were not going to change them, and that we could return before midnight, but most certainly would not be coming back before 10… we argued a bit more about that and they finally said ok, 11 pm but just for tonight and I said whatever! …lol

The funny thing is, we were done by 9:30 but their rudeness and talking to us like we’re stupid made us stay out as long as we could, returning at 10:59!….lol….

I am not being mean, but I am being real, I can’t believe I live in a place where people think me wrong for challenging them when they thwart all the legal and morally correct channels for their own personal comfort and gain….  I respected the 10pm curfew and went about having it changed the right way, but they want to treat us this way!

What’s messed up is that they aren’t even Qataris that are doing this, it’s Egyptians! What a horrible way to represent the culture of this country that has international aspirations.  I have to keep telling myself that the female housing is not Doha the city where there are tons of movies and festivals and presentations and restaurants that cater to the after 10 pm crowd, that cater to Qataris after 10 pm.

Aegh!  I detailed this struggle because it’s become a matter of principle for me and it brings to fore some of the stereotypes and default understandings that I have been taught about Arab societies, developing societies (whatever that means).

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This whole struggle, which is far from over as we are now putting another strategy into effect.  Inshallah this one will be more successful but I doubt they will take it lying down….lol…

Being here has made me realize that everyone takes things lying down here.  It’s the default, and as stated above, even when it’s a clear injustice down to you, it’s a surprise and effrontery to them if you stand up for yourself.

They look at people like me and A who simply speak truth to power and call things as they are, as if we are the ones with problem.

I don’t want to turn this into a treatise on the superiority of democratic societies or America in particular, because stuff like this goes down everyday… just in another form— in the U.S. too.  Bet I don’t think a U.S. school would handle the situation the way this one did,  well at least not any of the institutions for which I have worked or studied in…

And then there is another angle, my passport is blue, so is As.  They have tried to mess with other people but were able to get them to back down, A and I have no problem telling them like it is and insisting on justice.  But the fact is that they don’t really do anything to us. Compare that to the treatment of some of the other women, and it doesn’t take long to see where America fits on the food chain of nationalities— the top! :-/

I know I can get away with more because my passport is blue, but what now? I am trying to fight for everyone knowing that some people really can’t be seen doing so openly, but I also know that I could just flaunt the curfew if push came to shove.

Then there is the issue of trust— there simply is none here, the assumption I feel, is that if given the opportunity to do anything bad or morally base a woman will take it.  Hence, we want a 12 am curfew so that we can fornicate…..lol…. well at least that’s the way it feels, they look at you like what is there to do after 10 pm… and I get it   ( I know the saying ain’t nothing opened after 1 am but legs) but the idea of wanting the right, versus always using that right is lost on the workers here.   case in point, we were done before 10, and had we had the 12 curfew would still have come home early, but they don’t get that.  maybe I should write in caps and send them letter saying JUST BECAUSE I WANT THE RIGHT TO RETURN BY 12, THAT DOES NOT MEAN THAT I WILL ACTUALLY USE THAT RIGHT ALL THE TIME!

But does that even make sense?  why press for something so simple so stupid…. I will be gone in a few months anyway…lol

What then?  Is there a deeper lesson to be learned from all this about the way societies work?

At any rate, I am worried that this ridiculous struggle for a midnight curfew on the weekends will drag on.  It bothered me enough to take me out of blogging slumber and write this ridiculously long entry…. meanwhile real struggles are going on in the world.

* P.S. congrats to me for being able to argue in Arabic despite being visibly angry!  yay! way to stay on message!  Thank God!

Out of Qatar but not Home yet!

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So I was supposed to be home as of the 14th of January, but here it is the 16th and I am London.  How did this happen?

I missed my connecting flight twice 😦 I’A I will not do this the next time.  Both times were a mixture of leaving too late and jumbled information from British Airways.  Rest assured that God willing I will not fly with them again! Being in London has brought back all the memories of  the differences between how  Britons communicate versus the way I am used to in the States.  I can not tell you how many times people who are employed to help me or at least give me information have done so with much attitude and rudeness.  Meanwhile I am left wondering, “what I do to make this person mad?”

My cousin who has been a darling through all this has said that she hadn’t recognized the rudeness until I came, argh! Here are a few of the scenarios:

1.  a British Airways employee asks me If I didn’t have “Enough sense” to look at my ticket and realize that it wasn’t checked in (even though another BA employee had told me that I was all set– I don’t really know what a ticket re-issued in under the circumstances should have looked like, and I certainly asked the woman who issued them what I needed to do when I came for my flight the next day)— I guess it’s my job to do their job for them.   Now, I have a few choice answers for him, but the moment is past.

2. I was given long-drawn out directions to get to where I could claim my luggage.  I made a wrong turn and asked another British Airways employee for help.  His response  was an accusatory “didn’t you ask for directions?” my response “yes, but I’ve lost the way somehow” his response “well you didn’t bother to pay attention did you? ” in a really snarky tone.  He wasn’t joking either,   he really meant to be the rude .

Sometimes it’s not how you say, it’s the way you say it.  That stuff might be funny on Fraiser, but it’s not in real life.  There is no love lost between London and me right now, and I will definitely write a complaint letter to British Airways about some of their incompetent, unhelpful and rude staff.  The sad part is that throughout this I have met up with maybe 3 nice BA employees as opposed to the 6 or so rude one that I have met…. sigh.   This drama will be over soon.