Next Stop: Happiness

For 2011 one of my main priorities will be people not just goals. While goals are important and I’ve written about goal setting elsewhere on this blog, this year will be more about who I am to those around me in addition to what I can do for them. This is a major shift for me but brought on by the sense of loss of the passing of four friends in 2010 as well as the introduction of a new member of our family. In the end, people are what matter and what last.

This is why the baby and I extended a week of our family vacation to do a road trip to my alma mater and then down to the town I grew up in. Since most of my childhood was spent moving house, the seven years I spent going to middle school and high school in the same place seems more rooted in me than many others. Not accidentally I spent another six years doing a BA and then MA in another city.

Now in mid-30s, there are only three cities I have spent six or more years in and Doha now has that distinction.

I’m not sure what the next year will hold but only that I hope not to feel less alone during it. In stopping and talking to friends on our impromptu road trip, I realized everyone is searching for the same thing. Happiness. Or Happyness as they said in the Will Smith movie.

There are no easy answers given our complex world. The more technology we have, the more we seem isolated from each other.

I do know that happiness for me is going to be practiced on a daily basis. Whether it’s the exercise hour I got in or the chat with an old friend or an article that got written to deadline, each day will present it’s own victory.

What are your secrets to happiness? Share your daily happiness with me. And let’s share the journey.

You Don’t Notice Until It’s Gone

A few weeks ago I traveled to Sharjah, a nearby emirate, for a quick overnight business trip. I arrived in the wee hours of the normal after a frantic day working in Qatar that ended only shortly before my one a.m. departure. I arrived, got into bed, and tried to sleep for the three hours I had before it was time to get up and get dressed. A shower made everything better but then bad news: the blue leather make up bag always at the bottom of my purse, at the ready for a powder touch up or lip liner redo was missing. I had switched bags before leaving for the airport and not even noticed that old blue didn’t make the transfer. This was a mounting crisis because earlier that night, upstairs, I deliberately bypassed the travel make up for the touch up set in old blue. An overnight, I reasoned, meant traveling light – something anyone who has seen me to the airport will tell you I have perfected.

No makeup was a crisis at eight a.m. because I was in the GCC. If I had been at the Frankfurt Book Fair, no problem. Bookworms in the west are supposed to be a little counter beauty culture and a fresh clean face with good credentials would have been acceptable. I wasn’t in Germany, however, but in the middle of the Arab world where women are expected to look, dress, and smell like the feminine people they are. I pulled myself together as best I could and went down to the hotel lobby. Luckily the gift store my travel blurry vision had taken in the night before was open; and they had makeup. Cheap, flaky, overpriced foundation that barely approached my skin tone and waxy lip pencil but it was better than nothing. I grudgingly paid too much for mascara, eye and lip liner, and lipstick; the foundation fell out of the compact and onto the mirror when I first opened it. Take it back only to find that it was the only one that was anywhere close to my skin tone without making me look ashy. Resigned, and insisting on a discount that the attendant informed me I had already received, I went to the taxi. The day went well and my presentation in the VIP room of the expo center went well. When I needed the makeup I used as back up all the time it wasn’t there – because I never consciously think about needing it.

I come home, wiped out, about twenty four hours after I had left. I go upstairs, get into bed, and sigh into our lush Egyptian cotton sheets. A luxury that rewards every one of the few minutes I’m home to enjoy them. At five forty five the next morning a sound like a jackhammer going into the foundation of our house woke my husband and I up. Before six a.m. in a Muslim country on a Friday was unheard of. Why were the guys working on their day off? The reason we could hear the work on the new hypermarket going up next to us – sure to complicate an already horrendous morning experience with even more traffic issues – was because while I was away the compound transitioned from generator power (which we had been on since May) to the city grid. The constant hum of the three generators that kept the lights on in all of our houses was gone. And with it any shield or white noise to balance out our friend the jackhammer user. I asked my husband to turn on the air-conditioning which provided a small but not as substantial cover and also put in earplugs. I could still faintly hear the noise – apparently they are fusing each of the bolts in that building with a solitary hammer on a hol
low pipe – and I missed the generator.

We miss things that help us in our everyday lives but not until they are gone. I’ve tried to be more conscious of who and what help me through my day. Because one day I will be gone and I want to be missed.

The night before Eid, the second day of Roshashana

Eid is a conflicted time for me and this my fifth Eid Al Fitr – the end of fasting in the month of Ramadan – is no different. Everyone in any majority Muslim country can feel the population groaning as the nights get longer. The last ten days of Ramadan are the most holy and there is one night every year when all your sins can be forgiven if you pray all night. This year it was the 17th. I am saddened by the onset of Eid because it means the shared meals, early evenings, and general focus of the period of fasting will be lost in the melee of visiting family, even more feasting, and then a sugar induced food coma as life returns to normal.

While the young generation of Qataris don’t really enjoy the family visits and endless cups of kahwa, Arabic coffee – one student said ,"Our grandparents enjoy seeing us all together."  

There is a similar scramble in the ex-pat community to get travel booked. It is outdoing the Joneses at the finest; those who are newly arrived sift through a dizzying array of recommendations from those who have been in the region for some time. Those who have been in the region have already been to the ancient city of Petra, rung in the New Year in Dubai, and are chasing the outer edges of travel. China, South Africa, Chile, the conversation at birthday parties and wedding receptions before Eid include sharing travel tips and recommendations. It is a slightly laughable version of "what is your benefits package?" 

I confess we are not immune; my husband and I are now on the third day of a trip that was on my list of things to do by the time I turned thirty (See this for my entire list: We are touring the Holy Land and spent the afternoon floating in the Dead Sea and then running to shore to wipe out the stinging sea salt in my eyes.

What has struck the most thus far on this particular journey is how similar these two cultures that are locked in a political impasse.

In both communities the women wear their hair  long (I can attest to the Arab side from the women only parties I’ve been to).
In both communities, the holy day means all businesses are closed (unlike in the West where Sunday has all but vanished).
In both communities, the animal mistakenly named for causing H1N1 is prohibited as food.
And this weekend, both communities are sharing two significant feast days: the Jewish New Year, and the aforementioned Eid al Fitr.

More ironies to follow as the next two days feature a tour of Jerusalem.