What’s it like to be talked about publicly? Not sure how any of Hollywood feels about being on the cover of US Weekly, but I got a small taste of public circulation this week, when I found out that I was named as one of the ‘foreigners’ working at a national Arab university in a letter to the editor written by an irate former employee to an Arabic daily.
The sum of her grievances?
Why are non-Qataris allowed to work at
This question brings the issue of “qatarization” – the process of turning over jobs currently occupied by foreigners to qualified Qataris – straight to my doorstep. Qatarization is the new buzz word for the country, another facet of a community outnumbered by the people living within its borders. Why are there so many non-citizens doing the cooking, driving, selling, cleaning, teaching? Rampant wealth is one reason; the medium income in
Here I am, a Western educated South Asian, in the middle of this vortex; I am at the same time both Western (accent, dress, degrees) and Asian (skin color, place of birth, family). I violate two registers – I’m a South Asian woman performing outside the roles assigned to me – and I’m a Western working outside the American universities in
Because of a third segment of society, the segment which ignores the obvious limits of the question posed in the Al Ray letter, the segment which recognizes merit will be essential to the process of readying this society for a time when the oil funds will dry up and people will have to roll up their sleeves.
If you are an educated Qatari, someone with a Ph.D. from abroad, you are likely a president or vice-president of a major national organization, someone who has seen the benefit of experience and expertise, regardless of nationality, and cultivates relationships regardless of class or ethnic issues.
But these broad minded leaders are the exception while a pervasive polarized view of labor is why the letter writer feels justified in questioning the number of non-Qataris working at a
How can a non-Qatari represent
The writer asks, unaware that her hostile attitude puts unnecessary barriers between those who choose to live in Qatar and those who identify with the reform project begun in 2000 at the university.
Her questions echo the impasse between Qataris and ‘guest workers’: most ex-pats will tell you Qataris don’t enjoy working and haven’t earned the titles many of them hold. Qataris will tell you foreigners get the best salaries and live in accommodations much nicer than what they ever had at home.
There is distrust, befuddlement, and anger, on both sides; compounded by the fact most ex-pats don’t know any Qataris, much less work with any, and vice versa. The polarization of this society mimics the segregated society of the
Most people in my office find the newspaper letter amusing. They say not to pay it any mind and that most people know that I am here to help, to work in cooperation towards a better university.
The letter deflates some of my elation at having finally crossed the imaginary line at work into friendliness and cordiality with everyone on my floor. The first year I spent largely in silence; like the monkey at the computer trying to come up with Shakespeare as women in abayas titter past my doorway. Now people come to my office to greet me, linger in the doorway, look at photos of my recent vacation, and ask me questions about my husband, my wedding, my family. They share secrets with me abou
t breaking fast while on their periods (anyone menstruating is exempt from religious observances) and where to get the best deals on fabric. I’m glad for their friendship and for the projects underway, which I oversee, which will, ultimately make this a better place to be a student.
However, the Al Sharq letter reminds me that there are mixed opinions about my presence here; and a clear example that there is still a lot of work to do on reducing the gap between the various populations living in this very small country.