Sunday, January 31, 2010

A call to prayer…

Living away from family and away from a culture that openly accepts Christianity, I have found that my prayers have taken a different form and role in my life. One of the best parts about living in the Gulf is that prayer is a sensory part of your everyday life. You hear the call to prayer regularly (if you are lucky you sleep through the first), you see prayer on the side of the road, in the social rooms at work, and you read the label “prayer room” in every building you enter. Pray is valued in a much more public way than it is in the United States and in Christianity. I am not claiming that prayer is more important in Islam than in Christianity, but it does take a different and more public form. Being in this culture has helped me to grow my prayer life in a unique way. Prior to moving here prayer was either a private experience that happened as more of a mental conversation with God than through devoted prayer, or a ritualistic aspect of a worship service. My pastor may not appreciate me saying this, but in the prayers I experienced during worship I lacked that heart connection that I gave to my personal prayers. Now I continue to pray privately and spontaneously, but I also feel more empowered to talk about prayer, have devoted prayer experiences that are less spontaneous, and to communicate to others through prayer. In some ways I am amazed when I think it took moving to a Muslim country to help me build my Christian prayer life.

Today while waiting for a meeting with a student I experienced the most beautiful call to prayer since moving here. CMU students select one student each year to do the call to prayer in their building. I believe students who are interested nominate themselves and then student vote on who they believe has the most beautiful voice. I have had the pleasure of hearing this particular student give the call to prayer a few times, but today something was different. First you need to picture the CMU building (in the images below you can see the main lobby/entry area of the building).

The student who gives the call to prayer stands on the walkway that crosses the lobby at the second floor level. He positions himself centered, cups his hands to his mouth and as he gives the call to prayer he raises his head up toward the third floor and ceiling of the building. His voice fills the building through natural amplification. The building is full of movement as students and staff go about their day, but despite this hustle the building seems to come to a still. I wish you all could have experienced this with me; it was truly beautiful. As he finishes, the stillness of the air returns to the commotion of a lunchtime gathering place and the day continues as if this moment of art was completely normal. It takes me a few minutes to remember that it is.

Following my meeting I was able to talk to a friend and was reminded of the importance of prayer. Justin’s (Texas A&M Justin, not the Justin I work with) grandmother had to have extensive heart surgery a little over a week ago and is still in the hospital recovering. I, along with probably hundreds of others, have been praying for her and his family. Additionally I have been praying for Justin. I learned shortly after moving to Doha that one of the hardest things about living far away from family is that you are not able to be there for important moments. I remember getting a call from my mom letting me know that my Grandpa was in the hospital and she wanted me to know that the family was all going up to see him. In that first call she did not say anything specific, but there was something about the way she said it that let me know this was not a simple trip to the hospital. A few phone calls later from both my mom and dad I realized it was possible that my family was going to say good-bye to my grandfather – and I could not be with them. I was able to eventually make a phone call to the ICU, but it was not the same. There is a sense of comfort that comes from facing things while in the presence of family. You don’t have to talk; sometimes just being there is enough. When you live abroad, you do not have that ability to give or receive comfort through your presence. You come to depend a lot more on words – phone calls, email, anything – but more than that you depend more on prayer. Thankfully my Grandpa made an amazing recovery (I believe in part due to my sister being pregnant and the drive to see his great-grandson, and in huge part to prayer). While talking to Justin today I again offered my prayers for him and his family, but also offered myself prayer. My prayers offer me a connection to others when I physically am not there. Of all the gifts I get through prayer, this is one of the greatest; it is like God finds a way for your spirit to be filled with comfort the same way it would through a hug or through being in the presence of family during a difficult time.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A message from the warden…

Since moving abroad I occasionally get emails from my Embassy Warden. These emails mostly contain helpful hints for Americans living in Qatar. The messages have also included information on cultural issues and suggestions on “dressing appropriately.” That message came as Ramadan was beginning and was a reminder to Americans not to wear shorts and tank tops in the 120 degree heat because of the conservative dress standards in the Gulf region which are more strictly enforced during Ramadan.

Over the last week the messages from the warden have increased and become more serious. (Mom and Grandparents stop reading here – or if you keep reading promise you will remember that I am safe and happy and you will not overreact) Today alone I received 3 emails from the warden, in addition to the two previous emails I received this week. In my first three month in Qatar I only received one email. Today’s emails reminded me that there is strong reason to believe that Al-Qaida and other extremist groups may be planning attacks on Americans and westerners in Qatar and the surrounding region. It also contained a laundry list of things I can do to reduce my risk while living in the Middle East. This includes leaving at different times every day, checking my car before getting in, avoiding public places with high populations of expats, and changing my normal routes to work and other common places I visit. These are all very helpful tips, but some of them are unrealistic for many people living abroad, and some of them are unrealistic for me. For one, I get lost too easily to try and change the route I take when going shopping. I appreciate that the Embassy is looking out for all of us, and I do understand the risk of living in the region, but I think the number of the emails may be a little much.

I am aware of where I live and the risk from extremist groups. The truth is this risk exists everywhere, not just for American’s living abroad. I think all of you, everywhere, should follow much of the advice I have been given through these emails. If you would like the full list of advice, please let me know and I will email it to you directly (I don’t want to post it here incase an extremist reads it and finds out about the safety tips Americans will be taking).

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Inky’s exit…

My time as a proud kitten owner has come to an end. I would love to say the memories will be good – but that would be ignoring a lot. Inky brought many things into my life. He brought more responsibility, a reason to leave the office, sometimes fun, fear of getting kicked out of my apartment because he was too loud, scars from scratch and bite marks, a dirty apartment, and finally ringworm.

While I was gone for Christmas Inky developed a habit of talking to himself, very loudly. He would spend the whole day meowing. When I returned this habit did not go away. I would spray him with water trying to “train” him not to meow so loudly, but it did not work. A few nights after returning I was visited by security and received an official warning that the cat was too loud. Over the last week, two of my neighbors had commented about it. He has gotten much better, but he still meows all morning from when I wake up (he wakes me up) and when I was getting ready in the morning. Clearly I was not paying enough attention to him while I showered.

Inky’s fascination with scratching me developed into an addiction to biting me. Just as the scratches on my arms and hands started to heal, he began biting my stomach and thighs. Initially it was not a big deal because his teeth were small. But he had some bigger teeth grow in – and he learned to grip and rip. A few times he broke skin and caused some gross bite marks. I tried spraying him to get him to stop but it did not work once he had started. Eventually I beat him at his own game. I realized that right before he would bite me his eyes would dilate – they were crazy! As soon as his eyes dilated I would spray him, even if he had not done anything wrong. It seemed to work somewhat.

Another amazing part of having Inky is that I learned ringworm is not a worm at all, but a fungus. I noticed a weird patch on Inky’s foot but did not think anything of it. I then noticed the mark changed into more of a cigarette burn and it also showed up on his ear. I began researching it and figured it was either ringworm or mange. I called the vet and was told it was likely ringworm, but they would diagnose it when I brought him in to get neutered.

This brings me to the next chapter of my Inky adventure. After learning that I was allergic to cats (this was the reason my eyes were irritated, I could not wear contact, and I had a bad headache for over a week) I started looking for a new home for Inky. I placed an ad on – not a good idea. I got about 25 calls and at least 15 emails. Most of these were from crazy people, or people lecturing me for wanting to neuter the cat (I offered to pay for it for the new owner, or to just have it done for them). I selected a man who said he was getting the cat for his three kids. I set up an appointment with the vet to get Inky checked out, start treatment for ringworm and to get him neutered. The guy said great, he would take him even though he could still spread ringworm. I had just left the vet and was getting gas in my car when my phone rang. It was the vet calling to tell me that yes Inky had ringworm, but he thought he could treat it easily. In addition he told me he could not neuter Inky because his testacies had not descended!!!!!!! Of course this kitten would have testicles that are delayed in dropping. The procedure to retrieve them would be painful and expensive. The vet recommended I wait a month or so to see if an improved diet and time would help him to mature and allow them to drop. I was not waiting a month to get rid of this cat, but I also did not want to hurt him. I emailed the potential owner and he still agreed to take him, if I paid for the cat to get neutered when it was ready – DEAL! That night I had given him two options of places to meet. I did not want him to come to my apartment and I did not want to go somewhere of his choosing. I gave him the option of meeting in front of my security gate, or in the high traffic area by the main shopping center. He insisted on coming to my apartment and did not want the kitten unless he came and saw it at my apartment… um NO.

I called plan B. A man who also had a family and was willing to take the kitten as is. I still offered to pay for the neutering and made plans to meet him a few nights later. It came time to meet him and guess what… he was a no show… Fast forward over a week – everyone who expressed interest in Inky said no once they found out he had ringworm. I was at my end and was about to put him on the street. (the pound burned down a few months ago and does not take any animals in) I decided to post Inky one more time. In the add I said free kitten, plus everything you would need to care for the kitten for two months, but you have to come get him tonight or he is going on the street. I got a call! Youseff agreed to meet me at the security gate at my work right away. An hour later I was cat free! Life is good.

There are things I will miss about Inky… but I am excited to get to wear contacts again.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


During the Qatar Young Professionals Institute (QYPI or YPI) we were honored to have a group of young Qatari students host us at lunch one day. The students were very excited to provide us with traditional, homemade, Qatari cuisine. The food was the typical Chicken Biryani, but it was rather good, and for the guests with us from the US it was special to be invited to join. This is the exchange that occurred between the student who brought the food and a staff member who knows the student well.

Staff: “Is this a family recipe”

Student: “Yes it is.”

Staff: “Oh, was it passed from your grandmother, to your mother, and then to you.”

Student: “No, my mother told it to my cooker, and the cooker will train the next cooker to make it.”

I LOVE IT! It is so true, many of these students will have cooks that prepare all their meals for them. It would be unlikely that this student would have made it herself. (It should be noted, there are some students who may come from a family where they do cook – but this is the exception to the rule)

Now, about QYPI, this was a project that began over a year ago when a guest scholar and a few Student Affairs professionals thought it would be a good idea to have a study trip of graduate students from the US who would then engage in meaningfully inquiry with professionals in Qatar. 27 graduate students from the US came and spent about two weeks visiting colleges in Qatar and learning about that culture, in addition to the research that they did prior to arriving. They were then joined by over 30 Student Affairs professionals from 10 institutions in Qatar. We broke into groups to address 6 different topics related to Student Affairs practice. For two days we discussed, debated and considered various recommendations for the growth of Student Affairs in Qatar. The third day all the groups came back together and presented their outcomes and we discussed the outcomes from each group. This may sound boring to some of you – but it was great. It was like being back in Grad school from a few days. I forgot how tiring it is to think in that manner for three days strait. The thinking I do in my work is important and meaningful, but it is not nearly as tiring as the thinking I did in QYPI. I hope good comes of this project and I hope positive change and growth will not be rejected simply because it requires change and maybe compromising. One thing I know that has already come of this experience is that I better understand the stress my supervisors must feel when doing some of their job responsibilities. It is amazing to me how people who are supposedly working toward the same goal would resist so much to positive change. I will take this new appreciation for my supervisors work and try when I can to support them.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Who knew I was a tennis fan…

Living in Doha has its perks. One of these perks is being able to attend professional tennis events for a reasonable price ($10 bucks). In the fall the women’s season ending event was held in Doha, but I could not go because I was on call. I was annoyed but got over it. It only made me more determined to go to the men’s event in the winter. Guess what, I was on call again. Thankfully I work with amazing people who were willing to hold the phone for me while I attended matches on two different days.

I love tennis matches! I got so into it that after my first day at the tournament I spent four hours on the ATP website learning more about the tournament structure and the scoring system that determines rankings. So it might have become a consuming addiction… but when I knew something that my colleague Wil (Wil is a real tennis player and follows the sport wholeheartedly) didn’t, I figured I could set aside the drive to keep learning about tennis (I should note that I know nothing about individual players, only the system). After the tournament ended with a underdog victory by Davydenko! I was able to move on from the addiction and instead have developed a more healthy appreciation for the sport.

Here are some pictures from the Doha ExxonMobil Open

Darcis (122) and Nadal (2) before the Quarterfinals

Darcis pulled out with injury in the second set

Nadal (2)

Niland (He went to the same Tennis High School as my co-worker Wil)

Federer (1) in the Quarterfinals - he wins this, but looses in the Semifinals

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Back in Doha...

I am now back in Doha after two weeks in Ohio. In my last post I said I thought the two weeks would be too short… I was wrong. The first week was too short – the last week was too long. I think a week and a half is the perfect length. I had a wonderful time with my family, but living out of a suitcase and sharing a bed with my sister makes it interesting.

The best part of my trip home was Christmas with my family. Here are some pics for you all to enjoy. (Thank you Sarah for taking them)

Mimi and Papa

Uncle Mark (always with the wine)
Sarah, Mike and Augie
Grandma, Grandpa and Augie
Josh and Annie

Annie and Augie

Sorry to Mom, Dad, and Tess - we didn't take any pictures of you... next year