Sunday, August 31, 2008

Ramadan Kareem!

'Generous Ramadan'

Ramadan will be upon Qatar either starting tomorrow or Tuesday. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, abstaining from food, liquids (yes, even water), and other sensual pleasures in order to practice self-restraint and generosity. Fasting is one of the "five pillars" of Islam along with the declaration of faith, daily prayers, charity, and a pilgrimage to Mecca. All this fasting means means the hour prior to sunset, folks drive like crazy to make it to their Iftar meals (the first meal after fasting all day). The US Embassy sent a warning email suggesting that expats avoid the roads the hour before sunset, as there is a higher rate of accidents during that hour during Ramadan. Restaurants are closed during the day and no alcohol is sold or served (even in the hotels). Non-Muslims are to take their food, drink, or smokes in private and not do any such activities in the views of Muslims during that time (no, not even in your car). One is also suppose to be more modest in clothing (watch those necklines and hemlines!). After sunset- the shops and restaurants will stay open later to accommodate all the merrymaking. I'm curious to see how my students are in class during this time.

The month is the ninth month of the Islamic and is based on lunar-sightings. There is some contention if the month starts when the moon is viewed with the naked eye (leading different Islamic countries to start on different days) or starts based on astrological calculations. At the end of the month, Muslims celebrate with communal prayers on Eid ul-Fitr, or feast of the fast-breaking. It also means a week-long vacation from classes, during which I will be in Morocco, hiking the mountains!

Speaking of sporting, a former high school cross-country teammate of my brother's was Muslim and fasted even during the season. He would train and compete without a drop of water until the sun went down. And given how Ramadan is determined, the month will fall during the cross-country season the entire time he will run cross country in college. I asked a colleague if Muslim athletes get any sort of dispensation. She said no, religion is first, sports second. Her father played in soccer leagues and the team simply trained a little less or worked out closer to sunset. The Education City Recreation Center just sent out a notice of when to work out or lift during Ramadan fasting time (so as not to over-tax a fasting body).

This being my first Ramadan, I'm curious to see how it goes. I do believe I will fast for a day or two myself, just to experience what my peers and students experience for a whole month. In the meanwhile, I'll be extra sure to remember my lunch each day , as the Subway in our building will be closed all month (ditto for the Starbucks in the LAS building). Ramadan Kareem!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Marhaba Qatar!

I'm back in Qatar! The little push-pin that represents me on the world map has moved back to the Middle East for the next academic year. I'll be teaching both semesters, mainly because the students desperately want/need electives and they seem to think I did a good job. But my teaching position also covers my salary as the new Sustainability Coordinator for Carnegie Mellon Qatar. I hope to coordinator, promote, and encourage environmental and sustainability initiatives on campus. I'm still figuring out what that entails but I have some ideas.

It felt surreal packing to return- I couldn't believe it was time to leave already. I had made two lists before I left Qatar- one of things I left in my spare room and things I brought back to the States. The lists proved helpful in answering questions such as recalling if a jacket was here or there and did I really need that wide-brim hat? I packed significantly less than last time- I shipped two boxes and packed four suitcases (one suitcase even had another suitcase in it!). Last trip I had 3 boxes and 5 suitcases. I knew that I didn't need too many going-out clothes and that I should stock up on shoes before I left (shoe quality can be doubtful here). Logistics were easier this time as well, as I didn't need a visa, medical testing, or any new shots.

The emotional packing proved harder though. I found myself becoming very distraught about leaving my wonderful boyfriend James for another few months. We've been together for over two years now (having known each other for 8 years prior) and have done some version of a long-distance relationship for the entire time except summers together in Chicago. I've been in Pittsburgh, Washington DC, and now Doha. He's been in Chicago and spent this summer's Mondays-Thursdays in Virginia, so we only saw each other on weekends. The 4 months we have until we see each other again really isn't so bad when you hear stories about the laborers/nannies/maids in Doha who don't see their families for years. That puts things in perspective but it doesn't make things hurt any less.

It now feels odd but also normal to be back. I know the roads, the stores, the apartment complex. It feels 'normal' and while in the States I often referred to Doha as 'home'. But Chicago felt familiar and 'home'-like as well. It felt as if I had hit pause on my Doha-life, lived a Chicago-summer, and then returned to Doha to hit 'play'. Since things feel more normal, I hope this means I've recovered from my culture shock of last semester and I'm now more acclimated to this world. Well- to the stores and the driving and the people, but not necessarily the heat. That's another story.