How could there ever be
A more influential degree?
With the chancellor’s nod
After thirty years odd
She’s a bona fide UW Husky
It’s been three years since my last post, and I’ve got every excuse. I started a new job. Had a baby. Moved countries again. Embraced full-time motherhood. Felt too tired. Moved again. Started another new job. Adjusted to life as a working mother. Overwhelmed at the thought of how to pick back up in one single post after all I’ve experienced in the past three years, this dusty old blog has been deserted. Until, something inspired me last summer.
A world-traveler, cook, mother of seven, seamstress, business-owner, a witty, intelligent, motivated, compassionate, warm person received her BA in English from the University of Washington, after a 30 year hiatus as she raised her family. She could have made all the excuses not to finish. But she crossed that UW stage with grace, style, humility, a little spring in her step, tassel swinging confidently. As I stood in the corner of the lecture hall, camera eager to capture a memory, a tear rolled down my cheek as if to say, “Stop trying to find the perfect angle, and let this sink in.” Tiny goosebumps rose on my arms, each one arriving to point out that this moment confirms something important. I let my camera rest by my side, wiped the tear, and smiled as the auditorium swelled with applause. Sheila proves the value in doing what we love, no matter life’s circumstances. And if we stop, for whatever reason, great joy and fulfillment can be found in starting again. I figure that inspiration is what brings me to my laptop this morning, to get back to what I enjoy.
Just as crash diets don’t tend to last, I expect crash-blogging wouldn’t either. Easing back into this, I begin by sharing an essay which my sister Sheila submitted as one of her assignments. It’s about a little trip she took to Qatar to visit her younger sister…
“My flight landed at two in the morning and my curiosity kept me wide eyed as I worked my way toward the customs passage. The sprawling ultra-modern airport was teeming with people at this ungodly hour, and the juxtaposition of my light hair and blue eyes among a sea of dark worried faces was one of many scenes in this country that just did not click. This is Qatar; a tiny speck of a country in the Arabian Peninsula whose citizens have so much new wealth they don’t know what to do with it. So they spend it building luxurious homes and buildings, and, since the Qataris themselves are above physical labor, they hire immigrants. Lots of immigrants. And these were the people I recently found myself melded with only a few months ago as I visited my young sister who was expecting her first child in this intriguing, desert land.
I settled into the comfort of my sister’s air conditioned flat but was startled from my sleep by the monotone humming of the early morning call to prayer. It was a haunting sound that I could not recognize because it was in Arabic and it was from the Qur’an; both of which are foreign to me. A click of a microphone signaled the end of the prayer and I realized this was not a recording. Hundreds of mosques throughout the city of Doha invite a man to climb to the top of the minaret (mosque tower) and sing passages from the holy book of Islam. This happens five times throughout each day, interrupting television, radio and any other activity as a reminder to pray to Allah, and it is adhered to by devout Muslims everywhere. Qatari culture is significantly influenced by Islam and the five pillars of faith: give testimony of faith, pray, give to the needy, fast during the holy month of Ramadan, and make a pilgrimage to Mecca, if possible, during one’s lifetime.
Considering the third point, giving to the needy, Qataris must get creative since there is no poverty in their country. Wealthy Qataris invite people into their homes to share a meal and their culture and this is where I found myself one Saturday afternoon. I was invited to the home of a friend of a friend where we joined about twenty others for a meal of roasted goat and rice served on a huge tray set out on cloth spread over the carpeted floor of a great room. Guests reclined and scooped up the meat and rice with their hand. We listened to our host reminisce about his first love, which was forbidden, and how he has not forgotten his German sweetheart twenty years later. He showed us to his camel coral and to a barn where falcons were posted up. There was no talk of religion or politics to spoil the mood, just a lovely afternoon in the company of people from all parts of the world.
The warmth of the Arabian sun was not comforting at all and the heatwaves appeared like tiny specks floating over my eyes. There were few trees to break up the monotony of the grey-white cement from the streets that climbed to the houses and buildings and blended with the dust filled sky. Yet somehow Qatar was beautiful. The buildings were architectural wonders of blue steel and turquoise glass to match the scintillating waters of the Persian Gulf. Men in pristine white thobes (robes) and headdresses roamed in designated pedestrian areas and women gracefully walked about covered head to toe in black. But these women were not weighted down with heavy black robes. They were draped in flowing black chiffon, edged in gold thread or tiny sparkles of diamonds and rubies. Their heads were stylishly covered and their eyes were hidden behind chic sunglasses or exposed through slits in their veil. They walked skillfully on designer heels, as they kicked the flowing cloth from beneath their feet. The blend of modernity and antiquity left me puzzled.
The country was a spectacle and I often found myself shaking my head and smiling at the same time. I witnessed camel racing, with robot jockeys controlled by remote from the camel owner who paced alongside his camel in his shiny SUV on a separate track. I braced myself in the chaotic traffic as Escalades recklessly merged across six lanes of traffic at a roundabout, carrying a falcon or cheetah in the passenger seat. I stared in wonder as women lifted their face veil every time they wanted just a sip of water. Even the days of the week were altered. I attended Catholic Mass on Friday, which is Mosque day, and members of other faiths could attend a service of their own denomination in “church city.” Strategically placed near “church city”, was the lone place in the entire country where non-Muslims could buy alcohol and pork for home consumption. I also attended there along with hundreds of other non-Muslims who looked for some semblance of their own culture. Saturday was a day for shopping and leisure and the thirty eight malls were packed as people escaped the heat and dust and flocked to the shops. I lost myself in the maze of colorful stalls at the outdoor Souk: the best place to barter for fabric, prayer rugs, ceramic pottery, falcons and gold. Sunday the work week began again.
As my stay progressed I wondered at what possibilities each new day might bring. I had left the freedoms and beauty of a five-month stay in Spain only to find myself reminded that I must dress modestly, not consume alcohol publically, not blaspheme against the ruling Emir or against Islam; any of these crimes would be punishable by a sound flogging. I happily abided yet found myself wanting to know more of this Qatari culture. I knew of the injustices that existed regarding modern-day slavery, but on my short stay I chose to focus on the good. So I climbed a magnificent sand dune and listened to it sing when I bounded back down as great mounds of sand shifted beneath my feet. I wandered through a museum filled with a Sheiks personal collection of weapons, cars, religious artifacts, a reconstructed Syrian home and a camel boiler. Plenty of times I strolled through the market in search of unusual food to try but drew the line at camel meat. I drank as much refreshing iced lemon mint as I could. I cloaked myself in an abaya (black robe), covered my head and respectfully entered the women’s section of the State Mosque. I learned that Muslims would not presume to compete with God’s creation so their art was not copies of people or nature but intricate geometric shapes and elegant calligraphy of versus from the Qur’an. I also learned that Qataris are very much devoted to family and that life is cherished from the unborn to the very old.
My very pregnant sister was revered wherever she went. Two weeks overdue, she responded, “Any day now” to endless inquiries from friends and strangers. Her response prompted, “Inshallah” (God willing) from the locals, which was their outlook to the things in life that are out of their control. Finally, Baby Maya, an American, Botswanan beauty came into a world of smiling Hindi doctors, Muslim nurses and Catholic parents. That scene will always remain with me as a spark of hope that the world can coexist in peace. Inshallah.”