Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Arabian Nights

We've got six more weeks until we leave Qatar. It's kind of sad that I have let so much time pass without learning enough about this place. Last night our children's school hosted an Arabian Night event. It was all planned out by the Qatari sponsor of the school which makes sense. You don't want to go to an Arabian Night extravaganza planned by a westerner. That would suck! So, we donned our Arab dress and caravaned down to our school. Unfortunately, Atticus has grown out of his thobe that he received when we first arrived here almost two years ago. We've got to buy him another one before we go.

They had camel rides, pony rides, henna, sweet booths where the ladies made the delicacies right in front of you, qatari handicrafts made by the beduins, an arabian dance put on by the girls of the school, and finally a dinner. They made these huge platters of biryani rice with chicken and lamb and plopped them on the ground. People just sat down around them and started eating. It was so tasty!

I don't understand Qatari culture fully even though I've lived here for a little while now. There are some things that have come to light though. Things I think differently about and opinions I've formed. And, call me human, comparisons I've made between the culture I grew up in and this one. For example, Qatari's don't use silverware. They plough into those platters of rice and meat with their bare hands. Barbaric you may say, but stop for a minute and think. How long would it take you to eat a bowl of rice with your hands? If you're western, you'd be sloppy and inefficient not only with your time but with your method. The Qatari's have a technique, honed over years of nomadic living. Who had room, and whose camel had energy to haul heavy knives and forks across the desert? As I was going back to the platters for seconds, looking for pieces of meat, I couldn't find nicely separated legs or breasts of chicken just sitting there waiting for me to pick them up. There were no cuts of lamb meat laying out. I had to pull up my ornately embroidered abaya sleeves and pull pieces of juicy flesh from an almost bare rib cage. Later on I heard complaints from some of the families, "This isn't sanitary!" (Pause while I swear under my breath.) That may be so. Sometimes when you enter another persons culture, you have to forego some of your habits and procedures. If you can't handle it, don't go out of your house. Whose country are you in anyway?

Qatari's love their children. Love, love, love. They spend time with their families. Each person has their place in the family. No questions asked. Kids don't boss their parents around. Parents are in charge. Mother has tremendous power within her household. All this talk of women being "supressed" because they have to wear an abaya or a burka. Have you ever worn an abaya, or a burka? I wore an abaya last night. The only thing supressive about it was how the sleeves wouldn't let me get the food I wanted. I should have designed the sleeves differently like the nice girl who took me to the souq to get my abaya. I didn't know. Just like no one knows, until they actually live the life of someone else. It's all about understanding. Trying to understand someone else. It's a tough thing to do. When I lived in Turkey sometimes I would see ladies wearing burkas and my initial reaction was shock and fear. A black ghost coming toward me on the street! "Don't look at her in the eyes!" I would think. Why not? I think now of why I used to think that. It's such a silly thing to me now.

When I arrived at the airport in Doha for the first time, I was scared of the men's dress. Their thobes, but especially their head gear. It was intimidating. It reminded me of a cobra snake. Powerful and so high up. Ready to strike. I guess I thought that there would be visible animosity toward the western mercenaries that came to their country to earn money. What I found was indifference. Complete indifference. They have what they need. They live the way they choose. Laws are such that we are subordinate to them. Should it not be so? We are living in their country. Now, the way they dress has become everyday for me. I admire a nicely pressed and tailored thobe. I admire a beautifully designed abaya. When I'm walking in public, I meet the eyes of some ladies. They crinkle at me and I smile back. Just like anywhere, a smile brings a smile, even if you can't see their mouth. It is true "Eyes are a window to the soul."

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