Two Years Already?
Living the Confused Expatriate Life, Part 6 By: Ms. Hala
I’ve passed my two year mark as an American expatriate living in Qatar this past July. WOW! Taking a moment to evaluate some of the things I’ve learned and discovered throughout this ongoing adventure I call #InLivingQatar.
As an expat:
I’m to expect the unexpected, period.
I know now that nothing is like how it’s done back home (nor anywhere else for that matter) and sometimes that’s a good thing.
I’m grateful to this country for not taxing my anything.
Not everyone is obligated to speak YOUR language. You live in Qatar, make an effort to learn the language! If you don’t speak a second language, don’t miss out on the opportunity to do so.
Home is what you make of it. It’s the simple things from the food to the adventures that make being an expat in the Middle East oh so wonderful.
Apparently, I enjoy shopping for things other than shoes, office supplies, and kitchenware. I mean, when was I ever known to be one who wouldn’t miss a sale at Mango (my new found obsession) or appreciate Riva for the size 4 pants that fit my proudly curvy body? REJOICE!
My savings isn’t very happy with the above mentioned self discovery.
I simply don’t care anymore about the pettiest of things that just do not matter. I’m too busy laughing at the silliest of things.
I’ve always had a thing for men in thobs, living in Qatar solidified it. Seriously, ANY MAN can look amazing in a thob.
Speaking of men:
Dating is a coin toss which isn’t much different than it was back home. I’ve realized that when I decided to accept dating someone I probably wouldn’t have dated say three or four years ago.
I’m still the least romantic person I know and thanks to my ex for catching on to that. =P
Chivalry is not dead and a part of me is still caught by surprise.
“Momken netwaseel?” or “May we keep in touch?” has to be the funniest pickup line ever! So polite yet stupid and invasive in so many ways. Especially when it’s coming from a teenager almost every single time.
Wearing Ed Hardy outfits, I mean the whole covered from hat to shoes, never has and never ever will be cute. Walk away now.
In dealing with people:
If you are not among good company, start by being part of a social group be it through Twitter, MeetUp, or otherwise.
For whatever reason, the most drama queens I’ve dealt with in this country have been men.
Don’t be surprised that there’s just as much fake people as there is fake designer wear floating around. It’s really a global epidemic sadly.
This may be the safest country in the world but stop taking it for granted. There are people that can still break into your car, knock on your door at odd hours, and simply just not be safe for you to be around.
Here’s to another year of an adventurous #InLivingQatar! =)
Sometimes it’s the little things in life that can make a huge difference in one’s day. As I sit here after hearing of the passing of the comedic legend Robin Willams, I’m not reminded of his movies or his stage performances. I’m reminded of an incident in my childhood.
After my parents divorce, my mother took a few dead end jobs to make ends meet. She landed a job at one of the Toys R Us shops in San Francisco. It wasn’t far from home and the schedule worked well for her as she was not only caring for us five kids, she had taken in my ill grandfather as well. It wasn’t much pay wise but it was a steady something a single mother could find until something better came along.
The first time Robin came to her register to purchase a few things, everyone was star struck, in awe at the local comedic celebrity amongst them. It didn’t phase my mother but she knew whom he was as we were huge fans of his. She remained professional and they had small talk about the day, the city and the items he was purchasing. Soon enough, whenever he frequented the shop, he always made his way to my mother’s register. She never asked for a picture or an autograph (this is way before social media mind you), she didn’t want to make him uncomfortable. He was one of her favorite customers and she knew this simple customer/cashier interaction was better than anything she would’ve asked of him. She would come home happy whenever he had visited and go one about how he was such a kind soul.
He will always be known to us San Franciscans as the local resident whom always gave back. He supported every cause that gave back to the city and it’s inhabitants. He started Comic Relief, performed many times over for charity and brought awareness to the many issues within our city as well as our nation.
Robin, thank you for making my single mother’s days at a dead end job eventful. Thank you for caring and making us care about our communities. Thank you for the laughs, the tears and the joy. You are already missed.
I’m obligated to include and share the below image in this post as someone whom has worked with individuals suffering all forms of mental illnesses, including depression.
It’s that time of year again, as Ramadan comes to a close and Eid is suddenly upon us. Ramadan is, amongst many things, about purification. With fasting, we purify our bodies, minds, spirits as well as our material things. To do so, we sacrifice a bit of everything to bring in the new for the coming year. Fasting from food to bring in good energy. Fasting from day to day worrisome thoughts to bring in happier thoughts (think meditation). Fasting from earthly things to remind ourselves of the bigger picture through worship and Quran reading.
Zakat ElFitr, or “Fast Breaking Charitable Offering” is a major part of Ramadan. It’s been noted than one must purify their materials by donating at least 2.5% or whatever one can from their assets they’ve held for at least a year. This is calculating any financial accounts, properties, gold, etc. There are helpful online zakat calculators one can use to help determine how much they should give. Remember, that this must be given before Eid ElFitr prayers to make everything you did in Ramadan count Insha’Allah.
Remember, Zakat isn’t only finances, but it’s also your time and energy such as volunteerism and referring others to do the same. With that and reflecting on my post from two years ago, below are some organizations, Zakat approved, that you should continue to support now and throughout the year.
The San Francisco Islamic School (SFIS) has truly come a long way in the last several years. They’ve grown with the love and support of the community in the San Francisco Bay Area. They are working tirelessly to start San Francisco’s first full time Islamic faith based school in the coming year and can use all the support they can get. If you can donate financially or volunteer just a couple of hours a week, I urge you to go to their website and learn more!
A community can not be called one if it does not have a strong support system. From losing a job because of faith to defending civil rights on a larger scale, Muslims in the US do come across bigotry and backlash on a daily basis. Through it’s many chapters across the country, CAIR has been that support system for the Muslim community at large. Educating the masses to “know your rights” as well as voicing common concerns of the Muslim community on Capital Hill is the tip of iceberg of the great work CAIR does. Your financial and volunteer contribution goes a long way to support the community. Find a chapter near you and ask how your zakat can support the community.
With all that is happening in the world, be it natural disasters or man created conflict, you will always find Islamic Relief of USA there. Day after day, I’m impressed by this 4-star organization’s efforts and dedication to serving humanity at large. When other organizations leave an area, Islamic Relief is still there, for the long haul be it locally throughout the US or on a global scale. I’m honored that I know many individuals on a personal level that work and contribute their time and efforts into this organization and I ask you to do the same.
If you know of any organizations that should be on this list, please post their information in the comments or tweet them to me (@ms_hala).
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, “Whoever paid it (Zakat al-Fitr) before Eid Prayer, it is acceptable Zakat (for Ramadan) before Allah. Whoever paid it after Eid Prayer, it is just a charity.” The companion of the Prophet used to pay it a few days earlier. – Bukhari, courtesy of Friday Nasiha
Today, I read one of the most saddest emails I could’ve read… Ms. Alice Nashashibi of San Francisco had passed away.
Ms. Nashashibi is one of the main pillars of existence for the Arab Cultural and Community Center (ACCC). Since it’s doors first opened, she had been an active and supportive community member. She never missed an event, no matter how big or small.
In my years working and volunteering at the ACCC, she was always there! Every meeting, every get together, every banquet, every festival… I simply couldn’t imagine the image of an event without the presence and contributions of Ms. Nashashibi.
She supported every community member, made an effort to always greet everyone in the room, and had a contagious, beautiful smile. She had a wonderful presence that will surely be deeply missed.
In my eyes, Ms. Nashashibi is an icon of what we Arab Americans aspire to be in our communities across the country.
Thank you Alice… as always, for everything!
If you are in the Bay Area, services for Alice Nashashibi will be held this weekend as follows:
Sunday, March 3rd: Viewing at Duggans in Daly City from 3 to 9 pm with an open forum starting at 7pm for community members to share their thoughts.
Monday, March 4th: Funeral Mass starting at 12pm at the St. Thomas Moore Church in San Francisco. There will be an evening reception from 6-9pm at her home.
Thank you all for your kind messages after noticing my absence for the last month. It’s been rough living with limited access at my place and working hard to prove myself at this new turn in my career. I have been writing a lot, believe me! I’ve written a few parts about my expatriate life in Qatar. Let’s start it off with the piece I wrote about identity…
Living the Confused Expatriate Life, Part 1
By: Ms. Hala
I have lived the expatriate life here in Qatar for over 8 months now. There are still a few bumps in the road to smooth out but overall, life is good. I’m enjoying my very busy and challenging job in a new industry. I’m apartment hunting for a third time now that my temp rent will be up soon. I’m following my 2013 resolution to a tee thus far… so life is good! Oh, did I mention I’m a legal resident of Qatar now? Oh yes baby I am! Got my residency permit a couple of weeks ago, now I can do stuff like get a monthly mobile phone service… hehehe Yes, mobile not cell… I’m catching on to the popular Euro lingo here. 😉
However, living this expatriate life comes with a couple of interesting confusions. Maybe I just lived in this wonderful tolerant city that is San Francisco for so long to have to deal with this identity confusion that I’m dealing with now. I’m a Muslim Egyptian American expatriate who talks in a lovely California accent but “looks” and talks Arabic like an Egyptian. Confusing much? Apparently so!
When I first took on my new job, the grapevines of the office announced there’s an American among them. Aside from the fact that everyone thought the American was getting paid a bazillion dollars (that’s another entry, I promise you!), no one could tell whom the American was. Many didn’t realize until I started talking to everyone, introducing myself and getting the question, “Where’s your accent from?”
I reply, “I’m American”.
“Yes, I’m from California.”
“How long did you live there?”
“Born and raised.”
The major problem in Qatar is that everyone here is labeled based on their nationality. Even those born and raised in Qatar don’t even get a Qatari citizenship. They do get treated like Qataris with regards to “Qatarization” but aside from that, they are not legally recognized as Qatari.
There’s this thinking that one or the other has a look, has a personality, has a way of thinking or a way of doing… and everyone’s judging you based mostly on those tropes and stereotypes. There are so many ridiculous notions about every ethnicity out here, it’s unbelievable.
Let’s start with being an American girl and how exhausting it is to overcome the terrible stereotype that comes with it. What’s the stereotype here about American girls you ask? Drum roll please… American girls have non-stop wild parties, get drunk all the time, and the rest is flushed down a toilet in the morning. Mind you, many conservatives here have come to this conclusion from the many movies and television shows that “always show you American girls drinking and having crrrazy parties.”
*sighing and shaking my head*
Finding an apartment under the American girl banner has simply been the most annoying experience of my life, twice! Having to do it so many times now is just torture at this point. I’m repeatedly asked where I’m from and have to answer with “Egypt” just to get a viewing appointment. Once they see my “Egyptian look” but hear my “berfect ingelesh”, I get asked, “Where are you from, exactly?” After going through an identity explanation, I have to further explain that the idea that us American girls are drunk party animals is just plain false. I’ve even had to emphasis that family will be joining me in Qatar permanently just so that they don’t think I will be in fact living alone and using this “extra space” for my wild parties.
During my time as a temporary English instructor, I was asked to take on a group of young children. To my hesitation, I accepted and on the first day, disaster. One of the parents whom signed up his very disrespectful son only signed him up because it was exclaimed that the instructor was an American lady. Seeing that I wasn’t up to par, the Egyptian expatriate bee lined it to the director’s office exclaiming false advertisement. What did he expect? A tall blonde woman like the Americans he sees on television. Upon hearing this, I rolled my eyes and walked away before the ghetto San Francisco girl in me came out to bitch slap the stupid outta him!
I’m trying my best to overcome this stupid ideology that I can only be either Egyptian or American. I had an argument with an Egyptian fellow a while back over a remark I found quite offensive. He went on to say, “oh, is your American switched on? I forgot you don’t get some of our jokes.” I didn’t even know we could switch between our bi-cultural identities… WTF? Apparently, there’s a stupid stereotype about bi-cultural Americans, especially Arabs… Those whom hold an American citizenship think they are better than everyone else, act like they don’t get some traditional lingo and will use their American identity for beneficial purposes. As a first generation born Arab American, this stereotype is so far from the truth, you’ve got to wait for the six o’clock train to get there! Half my family from both sides hold an American citizenship after immigrating from Egypt in the early 70’s and 80’s. They’ve all worked tirelessly, raised their children and grandchildren, paid their taxes, contributed to the American society just like any other immigrant family from any corner of the world. They all deserve the same respect as every other American out there.
I’ve learned over time that I’m not alone in this odd confusion. The citizens of Qatar themselves are also in this weird situation where stereotypes about them isn’t only false, but many act upon it to the point of disgraceful. The stereotypes about Qataris… they are extremely conservative, snubby, spoiled and unkind individuals seeing all others as second class citizens. Not only is this stupidity far from the truth, but many dress in traditional Qatari attire in an attempt to act upon these stereotypes and intimidate others. Yes, this includes bullying people on road to outrageous behavior towards others… just disgraceful!
On New Year’s Eve, a Qatari lady was discriminated against for, get this, looking and dressing Qatari… WTF? According to Doha News, a Qatari lady was not allowed into a hotel restaurant on the said day because it was deemed inappropriate for Qatari ladies to attend. Again, WTF? Sadly, this this happens a lot across Qatar.
I must say however, for the most part, Qataris are the complete opposite of these stereotypes just like any other ethnicity being treated according to whatever stereotype is drawn up of them. Qataris are quite polite, kind and generous. They may be wealthy but not many act like it’s their forsaken right to the wealth or OK the ill treatment upon others.
An interesting example I see all the time: in Qatar, you are not to fuel your own vehicle (similar to the law in New Jersey), you are to stay in your vehicle or go to the many shops at the station while an station employee fuels your vehicle. On any given day, as I sit comfortably while another fuels my car, I’ll see a Qatari gentleman step out of his vehicle, have a small talk conversation with the employee fueling and washing down his car, before tipping and driving off. Every time I see that scene, I see the employee with a huge smile on his face. Many of these employees can use the extra tip for phone cards to call home or even save up for an occasion.
Other times, I hear of stories of how someone had their tires blown out and a Qatari pulled over in their designer attire to help out hands on. That I’ve personally experienced personally when I had my car accident. Yes, people from various backgrounds pulled over and offered to help but I gotta say, the Qataris were the ones whom stepped out of their vehicles, yelled at the rude police officer on my behalf and moved my car because, “She’s a lady and should be treated with respect.” Chivalry is still alive and kicking! Even the Qatari police officers at the police station gave it to the non-Qatari police officer for discriminating against me because I was American. “That doesn’t matter, she’s still a lady, have some manners brother!” Thank you. =)
I do have to admit that my identity has brought up many a funny conversations.
At an event a few months ago, I was blessed to meet some wonderful people. One of them was an elder businessman whom owns one of Egypt’s first timeshare businesses. We got to talking business until I mentioned how the timeshare business in the USA works. Once I stated that yes, I was an Egyptian American, he just stared at me. “And you wear hijab?” I couldn’t stop laughing before it was like, man you just opened Pandora’s box! I went on and on about the wonderful community that is the Muslim American community; from the San Francisco Islamic School where I volunteered to the advocacy work of CAIR to the masjids where I’ve prayed at. I had to stop myself at one point because I realized I was missing my community to the brink of tears.
I know Qatar is trying really hard to create a tolerant, diverse and welcoming community. I know it will not happen over night and not by one feeling superior or the other feeling intimidated. I see the problem in Qatar as people coming from the many corners of the world with ignorant, close-minded and/or just confused and conflicted as I am. The thing is, it’s going to take a long time before the ignorant to be educated, the close-minded to be tolerant and the confused to take it all in one day at a time.
I’m in the process still of taking it all in, one day at a time.
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