Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Pictures of Doha

A beautiful house being demolished and reduced to steel and stone. Why?

A worker on his bike, pedalling away from the ruins of a demolished mansion with the remains of a huge chandelier tinkling as he wobbles along the road trying to balance this gorgeous thing on his handlebars. Taking it where?

A baby camel sitting on the back of a ute, with just his neck and head popping up to view the passers by. Going where?

A pet cheetah with a collar in the back of a family 4WD, being let out for a run in the desert by his owner, a 10 year old boy. Dad had given it to him for a present, brought in from Africa somewhere. How?

A worker with his face and head wrapped up with cloth while he works in 48 degree heat on a building site. (some of them for 16 hour shifts) ???

A shop selling hooded falcons wearing little leather vests to match.

A camel race with little robotic jockeys on each one, while the trainers in cars hurtle alongside the track from the start to the end of the race.  With an electronic device?

An old man chopping up pomegranates to make me a fresh juice.

A pre-3 year old child in full school uniform going to preschool for 5 hours every day.

The laundry always full of long white robes.

Shops selling gaudy, extravagant, frilly, sequinned, elaborate, colourful dresses in all sizes from children's to women's.

A woman in full black abaya and chador with only her eyes peeping out, giving me a lift home.

A huge concrete tree trunk emerging out of the desert to support the new Convention Centre.

An Iranian Restaurant lined with coloured glass from floor to ceiling, where we sit on the floor to eat.

A young boy in a white thobe riding a three-wheeler bike (very popular).

A Sri Lankan maid carrying the heavy school bag of the Grade 6 son of her host family.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Another week in Doha

I am teaching a class in the Elementary School how to play the Maori Stick Game. They will perform this at the end of the school year in June, with my little ukulele group accompanying them. Because it is only a Grade 2 class, I was figuring that they would not be able to actually throw the sticks and catch across the gap, so I was planning to simply have them touch the sticks in the centre. The sticks are made from magazines rolled up so that little hands can manage them without ending up with loud dropping noises etc. This little class is made up of local children with a smattering of expat children as well, but I would say that it is predominantly Arabic /Muslim kids. Of course there are the boys in the class who tell me that music is 'Haram' so they don't have to do it. This is simply a naughty boy trying to use an excuse. I point out that music is a very important part of their culture, especially for males and remind them to go down to the Souq in the evenings to watch their men playing, singing and dancing. They continue to try and tell me that it is only for weddings but I have their game by now, as I know that very soon there will be Music University built right here beside us specifically for the purpose of housing the Qatar National Orchestra. So, having won that argument, I plow on to teach Maori Stick Games to this class. As it turns out, many of the children are thrilled with this activity and are soon trying to throw the sticks with great success. As my class was finishing recently, a gorgeous pair came up to me with such excitement. 
"We did it all without dropping, Miss. I just prayed to Allah before we started and then we made no mistakes!" 
"Yes," agreed the other child,"that's what we did, prayed to Allah and it worked!!"
"Oh," I replied."What a good idea, I will try that next time. Thanks for letting me know."
How sweet is that? 
The other class is learning an Australian Bush Dance- 'heel,toe, heel,toe, slide together ,slide together, heel toe, heel, toe slide together slide together. 1 2 3, 1 2 3 , 1 2 3, 1 2 3 etc etc" They sing these words to me as they enter the room in their Arabic accents. This is a Grade 1 class and I am trying to persuade the girls not to wear glittery, sparkly, frilly skirts with tulle and lace. I don't think they quite have the concept of Bush as we know it. Oh well, should be a laugh if nothing else.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Doha Ukulele Collective

Yes, it's happening! I have formed a ukulele collective against all odds. The main odds being that you cannot buy ukuleles in Doha, so we have had to bribe, cajole and beg people to bring them in from overseas any time someone travels. (our lovely CEO brought in 4 on his last trip).  Every three weeks or thereabouts, we meet at our house for a couple of hours playing session. This has been all by word of mouth, as it is no use advertising something when there are not enough instruments! After our next holiday I am sure that Doha will be inundated with ukuleles. The collective is made up of adults from all over the place. Already we have New Zealand, Australian, American, Latvian members, most of whom are beginners. It is amazing how keen they all are and so we are quickly adding more and more chords to our repertoire. Next week will be our third meeting only and I expect to have 12 people attending, from a beginning night of 5. So word is spreading. I also have two children's classes going as an after-school activity. They are loving it, and in these classes I have Qatari children as well (one from the Royal Family), which I am delighted about. At present I believe 2 big sisters are carrying in ukuleles from overseas as well. These families have never heard of this instrument, so I think I have started something! We will be playing at the end of year Primary School concert so I am sure that next year it will probably be a full time job! So you see, Uke can change the world!


As I sit in my comfortable house and listen to the television about all of the world's worries, I realise again what contrasts exist in our world. Being here is being in a world of huge contrast with money being the dividing factor. We are living in someone's dream here, with an endless supply of money to achieve the goals of the dream , which are very noble as they are all related to education and the improvement of the lives of Qatari people. It is sometimes quite overwhelming when I see how these dreams are being brought to fruition. All around our compound there used to be some very nice houses, built out of concrete and steel, carefully designed with arches and palm trees and courtyards. I remember writing about one of these compounds in an earlier blog, with a large house and a smaller house in the same yard. Unfortunately this house and many others in our neighbourhood are in the way of something in the dream. Perhaps it will be the new Music University which will house the Qatari Symphony Orchestra or maybe the golf course which will be one of the best in the world, or perhaps the state of the art hospital to be built by 2011 beside us somewhere? No matter what it will be, these lovely houses(some of which were only just being built) must be removed. So each day this week there have been huge machines with large concrete-bashing bits hammering away at nearby houses. In one day each house is flattened, leaving a pile of twisted steel and powdery concrete in its wake. The steel is collected to recycle(I hope) and the concrete cleared away ready for another building. I am struggling a bit with the mentality of this. I know that the families concerned have been handsomely paid out to move, and I know that there is a plan in place to improve lives but it seems so disrespectful of the past, the local history which is being lost hit by hit. Perhaps I am being too sentimental, but the priority here is certainly to have everything looking glamorous on the outside. I cannot imagine the cost involved in doing this! And this week it was Andrea Boccelli who came to sing at the graduation ceremony with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, not Sarah Brightman(she had to cancel) . 

Saturday, 3 May 2008

A Father's Dilemna

I am presently tutoring three girls from the same Qatari family so I drive to the house twice a week. In my discussions with the father, I have realised how hard it must be for this nation to accept all of the changes being introduced here. Over the past 10 years there has been a huge amount of development occurring which has brought with it shopping centres, co-educational schools, western schools of thought (particulary in the field of education), other religious practices etc. This is a real dilemna for people who have been here for their entire life, brought their children up to be quite sheltered and protected from the outside world and yet who want to embrace the good things about western cultures while absolutely opposing the bad things. This father has three young women about to enter adulthood. They wear abayas dutifully when in public, but when at home they are as western as any young girl could be.  They have laptops of their own, television programs from all around the world and are attending a school with boys from many other cultures. Here in Qatar there is very little to do for kids except go to movies and shopping centres and fast food restaurants. But this father is unwilling to let his girls do any of these as he is afraid of what might happen. He knows about sexual promiscuity amongst teenagers in other countries, he sees that there is a liquor store in Doha now (only men can have a license to buy and must take the alcohol straight home), so he is truly worried and wants to bring his girls back to the safest place he can think of, which is home with him. The girls are not happy but are also stuck somewhere between cultures. I have to be very careful about the content of any passages I choose to teach them with and I always have to cover my shoulders and knees when I visit. So at the moment I, too, am stuck between two cultures. To be honest, we do not miss the alcoholic component of life and clearly see what damage it has done to places we call home. We are happy for our son also to be in this drug free environment. But it is lucky that there are many lovely girls on our compounds for him have genuine friendships with. More food for thought.