Monday, October 31, 2005

This is still a very tribal culture. The rules are not fixed in stone (and they certainly are not on paper!) as they are in my home country.
The rules change here, according to who you are, what country your passport is from, what you say, how it might effect the reputation of the person helping you, who you know/knows you and will speak on your behalf, and how the guy in charge is feeling at that particular moment.

Now, this can work for you, or against you, depending on the situation.

Examples;

More than once a stranger has paid for our dinner. I mean like we’re in a restaurant and go to pay our bill and the waiter says … “it’s already been paid, by that guy, over there”!!! So, my husband goes to him to give him salaams, and discovers that the guy paid for our dinner because he is so excited to see Americans who have become muslim. Subhanallah!

I have also heard stories from other American reverts living here who have requested exemptions from the Qatari immigration department. These exemptions have ranged from getting fines waived to not having to get their children’s blood taken for the residency visa. Apparently it didn’t matter what their empirical reasons were for the exemptions. Every time they asked for an exemption, another Qatari standing in line or on the periphery would step forward and say something to the effect of, “Look, here is an American who has converted to Islam! Praise God!”… and the immigration officer signed their approval!!! Just like that!

The government rules regarding who is allowed to import a housemaid have recently been tightened. Now, any non-Qatari who wishes to import a maid must work for a Qatari government ministry AND make an income of at least QR 15,000 per month.

An expat friend of ours was having trouble getting his agent from the manpower company to stay on-task in helping him at the Qatari immigration department. After several attempts at re-directing this guy nicely, he had to get Arab on his @#% and yell. This attracted the attention of an elderly Qatari gentleman standing next to him in line. He asked our friend what the problem was and he kindly explained to the man that he’d been denied a housemaid visa, etc. and on top of it all this guy from the manpower agency wasn’t staying on-task. So the Qatari man decided to help him. They cut to the front of the line and pled his case together to the immigration officer. All the Qatari man did was say, “Look! He’s an American Muslim. Give him a housemaid!”….and poof! They granted him the visa!!!!

It’s crazy because he had rehearsed all of his legitimate reasons why he needed them to give him another maid visa; the wife works, they have so many children, etc…. None of that mattered. Just that they were an American family, who had converted to Islam. WOW.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Rules? Say What?

I despise how everything we do in the States is regulated/legislated. We really are a "rules-oriented society". A lot of that is driven by the threat of lawsuits I suppose.

Here in Qatar, the rules are very few, and the ones that exist are certainly not written down!

I find this to be a refreshing break from the insanity of American society. However, I am also experiencing culture shock. I love it and am maddened by it simultaneously!

For example, some of the things that are difficult for me as an American to adjust to living here (even after almost 2 years) include;

Driving; people here drive wherever they want to, whenever they feel like it.

They;

… pass you on the left while you are starting to make a left turn (CRAZY!).

… drive across the median because traffic is not moving fast enough for their personal taste (when in my reality as a driver accustomed to traffic because I am from a big city in the states, I perceive that traffic is flowing and fine).

… speed constantly.

…don’t’ put children in seat belts, let alone in the back seat, or in a car seat, EVER.

… pack 15 people into a vehicle that is only supposed to hold 8 people.

Everything here is communicated by word of mouth.

It doesn’t matter what the truth is; only how things appear. Reputation/saving face is more
important
than telling the truth. I have realized that as an American, I feel that the truth is the bottom line. In American culture, the truth is golden. It is so different here. I frequently find myself feeling like people are deceptive/superficial. However, I am slowly realizing that perhaps this is my culture talking.

There is no new employee (or any employee) orientation handbook at work.

There are no written rules and regulations/policies and procedures at work.

There is no policy or system of checks and balances at work. (like to empirically check to ensure that everyone is doing their job correctly, ethically, etc.).

Eveything must go through "the chain of command" at work. If you skip a person in the chain, you are a troublemaker. You must think you are hot stuff. You must think you have wasta (connections), which is an immediate slap in the face (makes them look bad) to whomever you have skipped in the chain of command.

It's bad to have big, good ideas, especially if they involve changing anything for the better, because that will make the people above you in the chain of command look bad because it wasn't their idea! (*As an American, I find this one extremely difficult to swallow. We come from a society where we are rewarded in our careers, especially in the field of education, for new ideas, for changing things for the better, etc.).

There is not a written job description for anyone's position at work.

There are no written guides or directions which outline the steps for tasks that involve the government (*maddening!);

-how to get your health insurance card,
-how to get your driver’s license,
-how to get your visa,
-how to request a different villa if there is a problem with the one they give you initially,
-how to book your airlines tickets home every summer, etc.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Sunday, October 09, 2005

ICE CREAM JIHAD

Apparently the umma is up in
arms over some art on Burger
King’s new ice cream, claiming it
looks like the name of Allah in
arabic.

Well, I say; SO WHAT?

Is this what the umma (muslim community) has been
reduced to? That the written name of God is now some holy
object, that can’t be on our ice cream? Don’t we muslims
have something better to do with our time than threaten
a corporation with jihad over ice cream?

This is just a bunch of Shirk (idol-worship) and nonsense, if

you ask me!

Monday, October 03, 2005

Traveling in Turkey with Children; Summer 2005.

Summer 2005 was one of the highlights of my family’s year. We took a 15 day trip to Turkey.

Traveling with children really changes the way you do things when you travel, in many good ways. The number one benefit is it really makes you slow down. No across-the-country and back in 3 days; no 165 Istanbul tourist traps in 24 hours (Thank God! That’s really not my style anyhow).

We spent a lot of time just hanging out. Children need space to run and play. They don’t do well getting dragged here and there constantly, which is a strange and bizarre vacation activity most American Tourons (Tourist+Moron) like to torture themselves doing. So, my husband and I reaped the benefits of letting our kids linger. We really got to know the country and it’s people this way. This system also really helped us to relax. We learned to enjoy ourselves and the moment.

We began each day with 2 hour breakfasts which consisted of a bottomless pot of Turkish Chai (that’s tea in English), Turkish olives, sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, (lightly salted) Turkish feta cheese, baguettes, butter, Vishne jam (cherry), Vishne juice (cherry), and hard-boiled eggs. This is served everywhere in Turkey, thus the name, “Turkish Breakfast”.

We’d go back to the room for a potty break, then head out to sightsee. We walked a lot. Child #1, who is 5, walked all day alongside my husband and I, which really helped to wear out his innately hyperactive tendency. Child # 2, who is 2, was stroller-bound, (usually pushed by Baba, who is her favorite), and I pushed and sometimes wore in the sling child #3, who is still an infant.

Istanbul’s Sultanahmet area is extremely safe and geared for any type of Touron. Unfortunately, it’s pretty un-handicapped-accessible (I feel handicapped pushing a stroller), especially in the Mosques. The solution for us was to snag one of those annoying trinket-sellers outside of the Mosques to help me carry my stroller up the stairs (my husband “he-manned” his stroller up the stairs). These guys were always willing to help me, I think mostly because they are under the impression that if they help you, you’ll buy something. No can do, but you still get lots of points from Allah for the Good Deed. Thanks, Buddy!


By about noon every day we were hungry, so we’d grab some of Istanbul’s wonderfully kid-friendly Street Food. It’s cheap, portable (you can eat it with one hand), fresh, and always served with a genuine smile. We couldn’t get over how sincerely friendly the Turks are. There are sandwich stands all over the place. In Sultanahmet, it’s best to get away from the main drag right in front of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. The restaurants there are ok, but overpriced. The atmosphere is great. I loved The Dervish Café. However, these places always were out of Lamb and that really was annoying.

I loved the Doner (Lamb) Kebab in Turkey. Beef was wonderful as well. Down at Eminonu, the Fishing Pier in Istanbul, are the most wonderful fried Fish sandwiches. They are served fresh, on a giant baguette, with fresh sandwich veggies. Check out the stuffed Clams there too. They are stuffed with clam meat, rice, and various spices (mint?) I think. My kids, even my 8-month-old infant, couldn’t eat enough of those clams!

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Other parts of Istanbul, like the area around Taksim Square, are not-so-friendly. The gypsy pickpockets are oozing out of every corner other than in Sultanahmet, it seems. Geez, I must’ve really looked the role of a Touron, because they hit us up twice in one day! Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen, we were robbed! Right before our very own eyes.

They prey upon people with small children, particularly with strollers. We were an easy catch. Four or more of them distracted us, by asking if we needed help with our stroller around a tight place on the sidewalk. They also made sure to make a big deal about how cute the baby was, etc. My husband let his guard down and turned his back on our digital camera hanging on the stroller while he helped them get me around the tight spot in the sidewalk. That’s when they hit us. Then, once they were finished “helping us,” they disappeared into the crowd, leaving us to discover that we were just looking into the eyes of thieves, not good citizens!

It’s really unfortunate the gypsies are playing this card, because most people in Turkey who talked with us were genuinely loving, kind, and interested in our children. It’s not uncommon to let people hold your baby, people that you’ve never met before, just standing in the street. The Turks are really wonderfully loving, and hospitable people. Everywhere we went, all across the country, we were invited into people’s homes for tea, food, conversation, and friendship.

The second band of thieves wasn’t so fortunate. One girl was offering my middle child, a toddler, some seeds to feed the pigeons, and something told me to turn to my right. I did, and Alhumdulillah! I caught this chick red-handed, with her hand down my purse on my wallet, and I started yelling “Harami! Police! Help!”…My husband came running, the girl broke away from my grasp, he chased her, and ended up catching her and her 2 partners with the help of some undercover police officers!

We escorted them to the jail, where they were sentenced to jail time and a beating. I have to admit it felt good to catch them!

Our time waiting in the jail was also one of the highlights of our trip, believe it or not. We had to wait for almost three hours for a translator to show up and write our report for us from English to Turkish. In those three hours, we were served tea several times by the police officers! They also hung out with my son, who was running wildly around the station (did I mention he has a tendency to be hyperactive?).

The whole time in the station, we were sitting one room away from the gypsy thieves. They were not under lock and key yet; they were sitting right there, in the next room with the door slightly ajar. I could see them, they could see me. I was fuming angry. One of them came out to go to the toilet, and I told the police officer on guard that if I saw her again I was going after her. Well, not 2 minutes later there she was again.

The show was fantastic. I was holding the baby, but for some reason that didn’t deter me from attempting to kick the @#$#^ out of this chick. Well, Allah likes to make a fool out of me when I am angry. Instead of the quick, strong kick I set out to make, my dress caught my leg and I ended up doing the most amazing Jackie Chan “Flying Drop Kick” ever recorded in the history of Kung Fu. My leg went up, I went completely horizontal to the floor for one second, and then violently bit it on the floor. Ouch. My left elbow took the entire weight of the blow. I think it will hurt forever. By the way, all of this happened while holding my baby. Alhumdulillah, she was totally fine. From that point on, the gypsies were terrified of me!