Thursday, June 10, 2010

Skyping with Sarah…

Unexpected benefits come from moving abroad. For me one of the benefits has come through the use of Skype to connect with family. I was surprised by the impact this technology has had in my relationships with family.

With two sisters it is inevitable that you will have different relationships with each sister. Tess and I have always been close, and even though she is younger, I admire her and am proud of who she is. We are closer in age than I am to Sarah, and Tess always went along with what was happening and had a way of showing that she valued me (I hope I was able to do the same for her). Sarah and I had a different relationship. With a larger age gap it was difficult to find similarities to connect through. Sarah and I also seemed to have unexplained tension in our relationship that led to some version of sibling rivalry or sisterly “girl fighting”. I always loved my older sister, but I really struggled to like my older sister a lot of the time growing up. Living abroad has actually helped me build a much different relationship with her. In the last year I have felt a drastic change in my relationship with Sarah.

When I was making the choice to move to Qatar I was very concerned about missing out on all the big life experiences going on at home, most notably my new nephew! Before moving Sarah assured me that she and Mike would have Skype on their computer and they would Skype with me so I could see Augie (I did not know his name when they made this promise) and get to be an Aunt from afar. When Augie was born they followed through on their promise and I got to Skype with Augie regularly. Initially if I called when Augie was asleep Sarah would give me a quick update and I would tell her I would call back to see him later. The focus of those early Skype calls was always Augie. Slowly that started to change. I still Skype to see Augie, but I am surprised that when I don’t get to see Augie, I am just as excited to talk to Sarah. I look forward to the conversations I get to have with her every few days. I finally feel like we are having the “sister” conversations that we didn’t have when I was younger. Over the last few months I feel like Sarah and I have become friends (as I write this I am hoping she would agree… if not, I hope she never tells me that). When I want to talk about something going on in my life I used to either call Katie or Kelly. Now I usually talk to Sarah during my Skype calls.

At 26 I am excited that my relationship with my sister is better than I thought it could be, all because we are separated by half a world and have started communicating in a different way (with Skype). Now I feel close to both of my sisters :)

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The World Cup is here...

Let the excitement for the World Cup begin! Sometimes I have to look around and laugh. Qatar and the rest of the Gulf Coast Countries do not have a team in the World Cup, so apparently the region has decided to support Spain. I have seen Spanish flags hanging from houses, being sold on the side of the road, and even in restaurant windows. There is not a large Spanish population in Qatar, it is actually really small, but for some reason Spain has been embraced by Qatar. You can even see a McDonald’s commercial with a guy in a thobe cheering for Spain as he orders his dinner.

With the 2010 World Cup starting in just a few days I have been thinking a lot more about Qatar’s bid to host the 2022 World Cup. While I admit to not knowing much about professional football or the business side of the World Cup, I can say with confidence that bringing the World Cup to Qatar in 2022 would be a bad idea. Admittedly, the bid is impressive – but not at all realistic. Lets look at some simple downfalls of the Qatar bid.

The infrastructure does not exist to host the number of fans that will attend the event. Yes there is a flood of five star hotels, but there is a drought when it comes to cheap or even reasonably priced hotels. Most fans would not be able to afford the trip and the stay. Additionally the highway system and the mass transit train system are in the planning stages with completion not set until after the 2022 World Cup. Many argue that these projects will be far enough along by the time of the World Cup to meet the needs of the event. Ok, lets think about construction in Qatar… not going to happen. I will use two examples for you: the residence halls that were scheduled to be complete in 2007 will not be done until 2012; the hospital set to be done in 2011 is now closer to 2013 (wait another year and it will be 2015).

Culturally Qatar is not ready for the World Cup. It is still considered inappropriate for men to wear shorts in the summer, the last set of pictures I looked at showed most World Cup fans in shorts (and several in much less). Alcohol is an unavoidable accessory to the World Cup. Right now you can only purchase alcohol in hotel bars and you cannot be intoxicated in public; I am not sure the culture of the World Cup can change that much.

Ok, this is a really serious point. Has anyone ever heard of the Qatar national football team? They have never even qualified for a World Cup. The citizen population in somewhere just above 200 thousand, to get a decent national team Qatar has to give citizenship to talented players. When you look at the roster of the national team, most of the players are from other countries (their bios say something like, Qatari National Football Player of Senegalese decent, Egyptian-Qatari National Football Player, or Qatari National Football Player - Brazilian. I know as an American I do not have much room to talk, my countries national myth is the dream of naturalized citizenship, but Qatar does not let individuals who were born in Qatar and have lived in Qatar for more than 40 years petition for citizenship. They only give citizenship if they need you (in this case to create a football team that occasionally wins).

Lastly, and what I think is the most important issue, bringing the World Cup to Qatar would perpetuate social injustices and send a negative message to the world. To build the magical stadiums Qatar promises to inspire the world with, thousands of laborers will be exploited. I am not going to go over my thoughts on labor laws again, but I do want to point out that by awarding Qatar the 2022 World Cup, FIFA will be at best turning a blind eye to labor issues and at worst promoting a system that underpays and mistreats workers.

If the World Cup does come to Qatar, we can all be happy we will not have to see these Dutch Fans. (well at least, we will not see these outfits)

Thursday, June 3, 2010

I am telling it how it is…

As you may have guessed from previous posts, I am officially leaving Qatar on July 22nd. After a year of working in Doha I have made the decision that this is not the right place for me at this time. My ticket is bringing me back to Columbus, Ohio; however, I do not have a job. I am hoping to find a job in or near Columbus, but I am also open to working abroad.

Over the past few months I have held back on blogging about some of my experiences here for a few reasons. A major reason is that you can loose your job and ability to live in Qatar for saying the wrong thing… even if the “wrong” thing is a personal opinion or a proven fact. Recently there was an article in Time Magazine. The day after it was published one of the men quoted in the article was called into his employers office (I am employed by the same overarching foundation) and fired and told his Resident Permit would be canceled because they did not like what he said. The really sad thing is that he has lived in Qatar the majority of his life and will now have to create a home somewhere else. I also have not wanted to be overly negative about my experience when only aspects of my experience have been negative. Now that my decision is final – I am not holding back (ok, I am holding back a little). I am going to tell you what I really think.

Today I will start by telling you about my thoughts on labor laws that I feel are unjust. As an educated American I am unbelievably privileged in Qatar. It is relatively easy for me to leave the country. I do have to get permission from my employer to get an exit permit, but they say yes. Other nationalities, and less educated laborers are not as lucky. An individual in my office has been denied exit permits by my employer for fear that this individual might not return. Similarly, even though this employee has worked for QF for years and is in the same pay grade that I am, I am provided extra benefits because I was hired internationally. While this employee struggles to support their family, I have been benefiting from “extra” perks that I do not even need (i.e. free tuition for children at private schools). Even I have restrictions. I initially thought I would like to continue working in Qatar, but not for my company… No. When you leave a job you have to leave the country for two years before you are allowed to return. To return before that date you need permission from your employer… my employer did not say no, they officially did not say anything (meaning, they are saying No, but it is too much of a burden on the head of my department to take the time to give me an official answer – don’t worry a former professor gave me a No, and had no qualms about supporting unjust labor policies that limit professional growth).

Worse than restrictions on freedom of movement is the way laborers are paid and treated. Most labors in Qatar work outside, in the unbelievable heat, all day. Many are building the beautiful buildings that create Education City's campus (pictured above). They are rarely given breaks and eat their lunch on the ground. On my campus in the summer, labors are given a two hour break during the heat of the day (not a reduction in hours… they still work a full day, they just get a break in the middle), the problem is that during this break they are not allowed to go anywhere. You see laborers resting under date trees trying to utilize whatever shade there is in the grueling sun and 120 degree heat. These same labors are paid next to nothing. I cannot give you exact figures for these laborers; however, similarly paid jobs (albeit indoor jobs) would be paid in the range of 900 to 1500 riyals a month. On the high end these individuals are making $400 a month. Most of these jobs do come with housing, which saves money. “Housing” can mean a lot of things. The security guards that work in my compound and on my campus live in large rooms with 16 individuals. The room is the size of my living room with bunk beds around the walls. The center is empty and this is where they all eat together – the kitchen is shared by 4-6 of these rooms. As jobs move away from manual labor and begin to have interaction with Qataris and families, you do see some higher pay and somewhat better treatment.

This better treatment extends to being able to eat at a table and having access to air-conditioning during the very hot days. Service workers in Qatari homes often face abuse for not meeting their employers “expectations” or for attempting to flee. A friend of a man I work with is a driver for a Qatari family. He has a friend who had a intimate relationship with a neighboring family’s maid. This driver was beaten and seriously injured just for knowing about the relationship. His embassy had no ability to intervene on his behalf, and since he would have no ability to work in Qatar otherwise, he stayed working for the man who beat him. Physical abuse is a significant issue in many Gulf and Arab countries. Egypt and Jordan have passed laws to protect nannies and housemaids because of the rise in deaths and suicides connected to abuse. This mistreatment and unfair wages is not limited to those working for Qataris. Recently an American woman was looking for a nanny to work on Friday’s only (Friday is like a Sunday in the US; many have religions and family commitments on this day – but typically not work commitments). This woman had a fulltime nanny for the other 6 days of the week, but was just looking for “light” help with cleaning and child care for her child on Fridays. She was offering to pay 100 riyals. By Qatari standards this might be a fair wage for working on a Friday, but this was an American woman offering to pay $27 for a full day’s work.

Some of you might be thinking, “well the cost of living is lower, so the pay it ok.” That might be a fair argument if pay for all positions was adjusted accordingly; however, there is a significant pay jump from laborer positions to educated professional positions. This is true in the US, but not to the same extent. I am a “lower” paid professional in Qatar (I work in education… not oil or gas), and I make a base salary of around 13,500 a month; 10 time the amount of an average laborer and 5 times the amount of a highly paid laborer. In the US a skilled construction worker could make a similar salary to an entry-level educator – here not even 1/8 of the salary. Consider the additional restrictions placed on male labors. Male laborers are often only given Fridays off. This is the day they can do grocery shopping, relax and have fun. This is also the day that malls decide to be “family only”, meaning men cannot enter by themselves; they must be accompanied by their family or at a minimum a female. This is rarely enforced for western males, but almost always enforced for Asian Sub-continence males. Even parks are sometimes limited to families only, with the threat of getting arrested if a man enters by himself. So where do you find all of these man on their one day off? You find them at the souqs and one of the malls. Friday is “Man Day” at the souqs. Most of these men are on three-year contracts with “annual leaves” each year to see family. Sometimes they are allowed to go home to see their family, and sometimes they are not. So for potentially three years these men work for 6 days a week, with restrictions on where they can go on their day off, and the inability to leave the country. Yeah, the pay does not seem fair to me.

Labor laws in Qatar need to change!

(Hint… the next time I tell you what I really think the topic will be the World Cup!)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

I didn’t see that in the news…

After moving to Qatar I view news in a much different way than I did while I lived in the US. I used to think that there was “conservative” and “liberal” news. I prided myself on making sure I went back and forth between CNN and FOX News so that I would have a well-rounded view of topics. As I write this I am laughing at the Annie of a year ago. I had such good intentions, but was so far from the mark I was hoping to hit. A year later I realize it does not matter if you watch CNN or FOX News, they both leave out so much and their views are much closer than either would like to admit (the spectrum of political positioning expands when you leave the US… in fact it is no longer a spectrum, maybe it is more of a cube). Now living in Qatar I am exposed to much more “meat” in news reporting that has helped me see how much I was missing before. That brings up a bigger question. How much more am I missing? Also, will I look back and myself a few years from now and laugh at myself for writing this post?

Doha is home to Al Jazeera one of the largest news sources in the world. Al Jazeera is depicted as a radical news sources that is in allegiance with terrorists. The truth is that Al Jazeera makes an effort to explore all sides of an issue. To do that, journalist have to be able to explore topics from different angels, they can’t be afraid to look critically at the claims of groups or individuals who are integral to an issue but who may be labeled as the “bad guys”. To many in the US this means they are supporting terrorists. I do watch Al Jazeera occasionally, but I realize I have been conditioned to expect news to come in 60-second packages. Al Jazeera goes in-depth into issues and news updates or stories may last for 15 minutes, 30 minutes, or an hour. When I find myself loosing focus, I switch to CNN International, where I am comforted to find 60 second to 5 minutes of news on a topic and then they move on. If you watch for over an hour, you hear the same stories several times. It is exactly this type of news reporting – the news reporting I find myself being pulled towards because of my impatience – that prevents the in-depth exploration of issues. Yes, American news stations (CNN and FOX) as well as CNN International have special shows that go more in-depth, but on the whole successful news reporting is done by grazing the surface, highlighting two controversial or polarizing views and quickly moving on. When watching international news sources (Al Jazeera and BBC News) I have noticed that all sides of an issue are addressed, but no effort is made to represent sides equally. If one side needs more time to be explained and fully understood, than the time is taken to give the background information. (I do need to note here, that while CNN International reports news in short clips, it still goes much more in-depth than most US news stories, and it spends less time on fluff stories and more time on “real” news).

Today while speaking with my sister I experienced first hand how the reporting of major world events is treated differently. As we all know over the weekend there was an Israeli military attach on a Humanitarian Aid ship headed toward the Gaza Blockade. I have watched news stories of this on both Al Jazeera and CNN international. I have seen videos of the actual event and heard interviews with individuals from government, the general public, from all over the world. My sister mentioned that is was a “lead” story given a few minutes and followed quickly by Al and Tipper Gore splitting up. Well – I have missed out on the breaking news of Al and Tipper Gore’s relationships status, but I am more fully informed of the many issues facing Israel, Gaza, the West Bank, and the surrounding countries. This is one example of many that have shown me how blessed I am to be exposed to more in-depth international news.

As I start the process of transitioning back to a life in the US one of things I have to consider is remaining well informed of international topics. To remain (or become in some instances) well informed I know I will need to become more active and engaged in the news process. I cannot sit on a couch and watch CNN and FOX News for an hour or so, and think that I am informed of major news stories. I know I will have to search the Internet for alternative new sources. I may need to spring for the expensive cable package that includes international news sources (and possible petition my cable provider to provide access to Al Jazeera). I hope I have the energy and sustained passion to do this, because it would be really easy to slip back into my old news habits.