Wordless Wednesday: Realize Stability is Not News

After three years of writing, revising and editing, this week, I’m launching my essay collection about life in the Middle East, From Dunes to Dior.

I started it after moving here, and listening to person after person in the U.S. ask me where, what, why, about my decision to move here. Mostly I think it had to do with the fact that the images they saw of this region were either the Uzi toting civilian or the woman draped in black, not allowed to drive. I could — and depending on my mood over the years in conversation — have pointed out many things about the framing of the western media of “the other” or even how a violent group of media savvy men has hijacked (to use a metaphor) a religious identity. Wordless Wednesday means I don’t have to. This is Qatar’s corniche.

Enhanced by Zemanta

From Dunes to Dior


Chennai in India
Chennai in India (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

July 2012 will mark seven years that I have lived in Qatar. Seven consecutive years is my record with only three other cities in the world. Doha joins a short list which includes Gainesville, Florida and Raleigh, North Carolina.

My formative years in American suburbia had erased most traces of my parents’ sub-continental pronunciation in my own speech. My “h” was “h”; not the “heche” of my parents.  I was American in sight and sound. However, on the inside, I was still Indian. By looking at me, you couldn’t sense there was a war being waged on the inside. To the outside world, identity was measured by clothing and speech—having an established Western orientation in both cases,  I was regarded as one of the crowd by my white, Southern classmates. On these counts I failed both tests and was eyed with suspicion by the other housewives at my mother’s parties. But blue jeans and flat vowels never hinted at  the inner world of my family or what happened when the front door closed on our home.
Inside life was governed by the same principles that had ruled my mother’s teenage years in Chennai, India. No movies after seven p.m. In fact, no women outside the house after dark, not for football games, parties, or sleepovers.

Like so many of the “American Born Confused Desi generation,” referred amongst ourselves as the ABCD generation, I was a socially emaciated, well-behaved Indian daughter who railed at endless parental restrictions. The split identity meant non-relatives never saw all of me. They only knew “white” me. Meanwhile my immediate family thought they might lose me to the outside world, so they mounted an “it’s better in India” campaign to override my resistance and

North America
North America (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

suspicious of inferiority with reasons for our cultural superiority.

“A better maths education,” was one of my father’s favorite refrains as I remained confounded by geometry.

“No child shows an over-dependence on calculators,” he would say throwing up his hands on yet another weekend when I failed to solve one of his problem sets…

Respect for elders – children taking care of their aging parents – more of it in India.

“Marriage as a commitment.”

My mother wouldn’t  say more but implied where a boy and girl learn to love rather than fall into it is taken more seriously in India.

I didn’t ask the obvious question, although it hammered in my brain; If everything is better there, what are we doing here? I didn’t dare. Partly out of fear of my father, but also partly out of fear there would be no answer.

What if the secret behind our semi-nomadic life had no greater answer than my father’s wanderlust? What if a series of pharmacology grants was the single red line on the map leading us from a veterinary program in South India to a series of North American institutions?

I continued to play these two parts simultaneously; intensely outgoing and enthusiastic – “American” – and constantly communicating with my parents – “Indian.” I didn’t find the bridge that spanned the outside/inside gap until later, after college and graduate school, when my own desires for professional fulfillment and monetary rewards led me to move several times. This realization emerged slowly as pieces of a scattered puzzle – from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Washington, D.C. – as I met more of my generation, children of immigrant parents from all over the world, juggling these competing demands. Then, for the second time in my life, globalization entered stage left, having already taken me as a small child with my adventurous father and sheltered mother from Chennai, India onto and all over the North American continent.

This time I traveled alone, east, not west, ending up four hours from my birthplace. I landed in the Arabian Gulf, thousands of miles from my upbringing in North America, and in an ironic twist, closer to the extended family of aunts, uncles, and cousins, than any of my immediate family. Situated in Qatar, I found myself in a region often described as a human rights quagmire for migrant South Asian workers. The questions from my young adult years resurfaced within the minutiae of life in the Gulf. Their return disturbed my temporarily coalesced identity. Familiar, opposing pressures reappeared – the tension between an outside/public life and the inside/private one, the contradiction between physical appearance and personal affiliation – and my newly gathered reflection erupted like a cracked mirror, splintered pieces flying in all directions.

The splinters of being South Asian American in an Arab country and the echoes of my teenage angst are the stories I tell in From Dunes to Dior which will be soon be released as an e-book on Amazon.com. You’ll see some of the contrasts in Qatar in the book trailer.

In the meantime, enjoy one of my other four ebooks – on everything from modern motherhood to how to get started as a writer. The best part is they are ALL free to download until May 16, 2012. Drop me a line (or a review) and let me know what you thought about any or all of them. Happy reading!


Enhanced by Zemanta

How to Make Qatari Friends: Part Three

We’ve been discussing the relationships between Qataris and expats for a few weeks and I’ve tried to pose some new angles to lamentation: “I’ve never been inside a Qatari house.”

The reasons for this are many, but in the last two weeks, we’ve touched on a few key areas.

First: Expats in general do not have a long enough shelf life in Qatar to allow for relationships to develop.

Second: there is a mutual distrust in both circles of “the other” which include a bit of myth and fact that are compounded by isolation.

Lest you were thinking I was only going to cover more of the same ground , now we come to solutions of how to bridge this divide in the city that many of us call home – if only temporarily for some.  Yes, if you hang around long enough you may end up invited to a majlis or dinner; but even there you are unlikely to get past the courtesy hellos because the other attendees will still have the aforementioned reservations in mind. You, as the foreigner, will be there on the good graces of the host and for that reason tolerated.

The best way that I’ve found to make Qatari friends, or indeed friends from any other community in Doha besides my own, is to undertake something of substance together. In short: a project of mutual interest and benefit to everyone who is associated with it.

But if you’d like to be embraced, considered a friend, and share triumphs and tribulations —-find something meaningful to do together. This is the only way to break down stereotypes in any society, culture, country. You stand up and defend a race, a religion, a gender because you know someone who doesn’t deserve to be belittled.

It may be the most time consuming but it is the most tested form and has the most consistent results. You can sit around sheesha and karak places all night long, but until there is something you care about together, a shared goal, vision, mission, plan, that you sweat over and celebrate together; you’ll still not have the measure of who each other are. What’s of relatively low importance here is what the “thing” is that brings you together.

It could be supporting creative writers; it could be developing a concept for children in Doha; it could be establishing a local magazine, it could be creating a business idea – these are a few examples of projects I’m currently working on with the input of Arabs, expats, and Qataris. In essence: anything and everything you are passionate about get out there and start talking to people about it. Social media, real time conferences, or to your friends, figure out what you have in common with those around you and how to broaden that circle to include others.

For me the first hint that working together makes meaning possible came entirely by accident: I was bored to death during my second year in Qatar and I started to write more seriously. During this time someone suggested exploring my personal interest in writing through at grant for Qatar University to do an essay collection. There were so many uncertain elements: would we find writers? And then what about readers? Did a project like this stand a chance? The only way to know is not to decide beforehand, but to try it out.

Fear of failure had killed more good ideas and trapped more people in unhappiness than any other cause.

We tried it and 23 female writers stepped forward. The book launched at the opening of the Waqif Art Center– the first collection of its kind in Qatar – and people (including male writers) began asking: when will the next book be out? The Qatar Narratives Series, now in our 5th title, was created.

I crunched down all of this in answering one of the questions during the discussion held by the Doha Film Institute a week or so ago to check the pulse of the community regarding TEDxDoha and all things TED. The question: what are incorrect assumptions (or mistakes) westerners make about Qatar?

One of the main concerns is what we’ve been talking about already, the idea that the well-known Arab hospitality is little experienced by the vast majority of expats.

Brian Wesolowski, from ictQatar, and Creative Commons evangelist, began answering this seemingly sensitive subject. And what he said echoes much of what we’ve been saying: He found that he developed relationships with people in the local community as he started talking about Creative Commons. Through coffees, teas, and dinners, he let artists, photographers, designers; know that there was a platform ready for them to display their creativity. Brian was passionate about CC and through CC he gained an entire multi-national community.

It’s not easy, you’re thinking, what about my job, or my family, or my hobby? Well, if it were easy, everyone would do it. And that hobby? Well, it may just be your ticket to a more meaningful experience.

If you aren’t familiar with TED, the NGO that’s believes in “Ideas worth Spreading” then instead of crawling YouTube, spend a few (thousand) hours with experts in Technology, Environment, and Design.  In 15 minute segments, TED gives you access to the world famous including Bill Gates and Madeline Albright, as well as everyday practitioners perfecting their techniques all over the world. Offshoots of the official TED are TEDx, or independently organized events and in 2010 Doha hosted its very first TEDxDoha event, put together by the Doha Film Institute. Contact them if you’re interested in learning more about how you can get involved (and meet others interested in doing so).