Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Topsy Turvy Weather

Yesterday Seattle had a record breaking temperature of 103°F, tough for an area that gets so little extreme heat that few houses even have air conditioning. Today, with the continuing dust storm, Doha didn’t even break 100°F.

00duststorm

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July 31, 2009 Posted by | Doha, Qatar, Seattle, Weather | 4 Comments

Doha Changes

As well as the bulldozers razing entire areas, there are smaller changes taking place in Doha. A supermarket, The Q-Mart, open the first time I was living in Doha, and still open when I got here, has closed – for good – as the guard told us when we went to buy some produce. Q-Mart always had the best produce.

And when I went to show some visiting friends the Esphahan, the Iranian restaurant down at the Souq al Waqif, the door was closed tight and this sign was on the door:

00EsphahanClosed

July 31, 2009 Posted by | Doha, ExPat Life, Hygiene, Living Conditions, Qatar, Shopping, Social Issues | 7 Comments

Sharing Your Faith in Qatar Gets Leader Deported

I heard a very strange tale and while there is nothing in the paper about it, I wonder where the truth lies. This week, the leader of the local Phillipine evangelical church (I don’t know the exact name) and his wife and three daughters and grandson were visited by the CID one morning and told that they had to be out of the country by night, that they needed to go back to the Phillipines. The person who told me could not imagine what might have caused this.

These are good people, she told me, and we are just about to do a performance about Joseph and his dreams, and his wife was making the costumes.

I thought about it, and said that well, it is an evangelical church, meaning you seek actively to bring souls to Jesus, and it is forbidden by law, in Qatar, to share our faith with Moslems. Is there any chance he was trying to convert Moslems?

She told me that people attending the church were expected to bring visitors, and that when visitors came, they were welcomed to the front of the church, where they were baptized.

I was horrorified. “Do they have any understanding of what is happening?” I asked her, and she replied no, and that most of the baptized visitors never come back. But, she added, the director still gets credit for all those baptisms, and his statistics look pretty good when he reports back to the church in the Phillipines.

In addition to her tithe (Christians are supposed to give 10% of their income to the church and charities) she said members of the congretation were tasked extra monies to pay the rent on the villa, to pay for food and travel of visitors who stayed there, etc, and she said it put a great burden on those who didn’t have sufficient income to contribute the extra. She said it wasn’t a voluntary contribution; if you didn’t contribute the extra, it was like you weren’t really a part of the church.

Last weekend, among those baptized, was a new Nigerian Moslem family who had been invited to visit. I can only imagine how I would feel, visiting a church, invited to the front to be welcomed, and then receiving a baptism I neither asked for nor wanted. I would never come back, but if I were Moslem, I might be horrified enough – and angry enough – to report it to the authorities. To me, at the very least, it is disrespectful.

There may be more to this story than the few details I was given. I expect the entire story is fascinating.

July 30, 2009 Posted by | Community, Cross Cultural, Doha, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Fund Raising, Interconnected, Law and Order, Leadership, Living Conditions, Marketing, Qatar, Social Issues, Spiritual | 5 Comments

Residence

We all know the drill, the expat drill we all go through to become residents. Residency is not something to be sniffed at, if you don’t have it, really bad things can happen.

So today was the day I needed to get my medical exam. What a difference from the last time, six years ago.

Six years ago, we went to an old, dilapidated hospital in the center of town with terrible parking. There were long lines in the hot sun everywhere. I don’t remember there being any air conditioning. What I do remember is walking down a hallway littered with the used cotton balls people had discarded after having their blood taken for the blood tests. I was nearly ill – blood carries diseases, and here were these bloody balls all over the floor.

When it was my turn to have my blood taken, the women who took my blood – six years ago – was eating salted pumpkin seeds. I saw the thought cross her mind that she ought to put on the gloves, right there in the box on her desk, but if she did, she couldn’t continue munching, so she decided not to. I watched her take a fresh needle – I was saving my protest to insist on a fresh needle had she decided she could re-use an old one. I choose my battles.

I closed my eyes and prayed. She did OK, she got the blood she needed and was still munching on the pumpkin seeds as I left to go get my X-ray.

In the X-ray room there were all these women in USED hospital gowns, one would take one off and the next woman would put it on. I had been warned to bring a white T-shirt, and that would be acceptable, which it was. There was no dressing room, just one big changing room.

I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

Fast forward six years – new, modern air conditioned medical facility outside the city with lots of parking. I’m already feeling more positive, although I do have my clean T-shirt. The phlebotomist is in a white jacket, clean and neat, and is supplied with all kinds of sterile supplies. The blood work takes maybe 30 seconds, thanks be to God, because I am a little squeamish about people taking my blood, and one time, I even fainted, but just for a few seconds. Not this time – it was over before I could even get too worried about it.

The X-ray was orderly, and there were stacks and stacks and stacks and bags of clean gowns, and even three fairly clean changing rooms. I still wore my own T-shirt, since I had it. The only thing that bothered me was that there were bins to put the used gowns when the X-ray was finished, but the women tossed them on the floor! There is a part of me that almost picked them all up and put them in the bin, but they called my name just as I was about to do it.

The process was so orderly, so painless this time! And, God willing, soon I will be a legal Qatar resident and even, soon, insh’allah, a legal driver. I still have my old Qateri driving license, it will just need to be renewed. (I also have my 10-year Kuwait license, because in expat world, you just never know. I also have my lifetime German driving license because in expat world, you just never know. And I have my stateside driver’s license to take care of me there. 🙂 )

July 28, 2009 Posted by | Adventure, Building, Bureaucracy, Customer Service, Doha, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Health Issues, Hygiene, Living Conditions, Qatar | 3 Comments

Parents Don’t Want Raped 8-Year-Old, Says She Shamed Them

This very sad, very strange story is from today’s BBC News. Parents of the girl, living in Phoenix, say she brought shame on them (eight years old) and they don’t want her back. People all over the US are sending money and offers to adopt her. Eight years old – all she wanted was a stick of gum.

Offers of help are pouring in for an eight-year-old Liberian girl disowned by her own family in Phoenix, Arizona, after being raped by four boys.

The girl is under the care of the Arizona Child Protective Service (CPS) because her parents said she had shamed them, and they did not want her back.

Phoenix police said calls had come in from all over the US offering money, or even to adopt the young girl.

The boys, Liberian immigrants aged nine to 14, have been charged with rape.

The case has sparked outrage across the US and even drawn condemnation from Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, an outspoken anti-rape campaigner.

“I think that family is wrong. They should help that child who has been traumatised,” Mrs Johnson-Sirleaf told CNN.

“They too need serious counselling because clearly they are doing something, something that is no longer acceptable in our society here,” she added.

Brutal attack
Media reports said the girl was lured into a shed on 16 July with promises of chewing gum by the four young boys. There, they held her down and took turns assaulting her for 10 to 15 minutes, before her screams alerted officers nearby.

The oldest suspect, a 14-year-old boy, will be tried as an adult on charges of kidnapping and sexual assault, police said on Friday. He is being held in police custody until trial.

The other three – aged 9, 10, and 13 – are charged as juveniles with sexual assault and kidnapping.
But the police said no charges will be filed against the parents.

“They didn’t abandon the child,” Phoenix police sergeant Andy Hill told AFP news agency. “They committed no crime. They just didn’t support the child, which led to CPS coming over there.”
Sgt Hill said people from eight or nine US states had called wanting to adopt the girl or donate money.
“It has been unbelievably fantastic in terms of support for the child,” he said.

I’m hoping that this traumatized little girl gets a new family who treasures her, helps her overcome this attack, sends her to school through university and helps her to prevail.

July 26, 2009 Posted by | Africa, Charity, Community, Crime, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Health Issues, Interconnected, Social Issues | 6 Comments

“Lord, Please Don’t Let Me Grow Up to Be a Dirty Old Man”

“So,” said AdventureMan, sitting down with me to eat a pizza after an unusually disrupted Friday, our day off, “tell me more about King David. Like wasn’t he the one who killed Goliath?”

He is asking, because the sermon at our church this morning was like eight sermons in one sermon. While the priest stuck close to the gospel and readings, he made so many good points that we had already discussed with our friend over breakfast, but there were still so many to discuss.

“Yeh, King David is problematic, once you get to be a grown-up,” I started. We have to start with the Israelis arrival in the promised land.”

“Israelites.” He corrected me.

“Yes. Them. They wanted a king. God said ‘no’ that they didn’t need a king, but they kept whining that all the other peoples had a king and they wanted one, too.”

(Please keep in mind, I am not a theologian, and this is my summary, as best as I can figure it out, so you can argue with me, I am no expert, but I DO read scripture.)

“They kept begging for a king, and I am guessing it annoyed God so much that he gave them one. (Who knows what God is thinking?) The prophet Samuel annointed Saul, and Saul became king over all the tribes of Israelites, but he got in major trouble because he didn’t do what God told him to do.”

“What did he do?” AdventureMan is fascinated.

“He was supposed to kill ALL the males of the tribe he had conquered, but he didn’t. When Samuel confronted him, he argued, then he said he would go back and kill the ones he had promised God he would kill and he had promised these guys he would not kill them, but he went back and killed them anyway. He thought going back and doing what he was supposed to do would make it all right with God, but it didn’t.”

“Where does David come in?” AdventureMan asks.

“Samuel anoints David king, at God’s instruction, so for a while there are two kings of Israel.” I explain.

“Isn’t that the one where Samuel looks at all the sons and doesn’t see the one who is supposed to be king?” AdventureMan asks. (Good! He was listening in Sunday school!)

“Yep. God told him none of the sons he saw was the one, so he asked the father if he didn’t have any other sons and he sent for David, who was out taking care of the sheep in the fields, and God said ‘that’s the one.

So David kills Goliath, and Saul invites him to come live with him in the castle, and Saul’s son Jonathan loves David and David loves him, and Saul’s daughter Michal also loves David, and David marries her. Saul knows God’s spirit isn’t with him anymore, and he has these fits when he tries to kill David because David is very successful in battle and the people love him and Saul has a sneaking suspicion that God’s spirit is with David, so he is really jealous, even though a part of him loves David. There are a lot of times he throws his spear at David, trying to kill him, and finally Michal and Jonathan help David escape totally.

Eventually Saul dies, David becomes king, but David has some odd behaviors.”

“I remember last week, or the week before, when the arc of the covenant was being moved and David told one man to stop and it ended up killing that man,” AdventureMan said, “it was supposed to be about moving God’s home on earth, but it turned into being all about David.”

“Yeh, during that same procession, he took off all his clothes and danced wildly. It may have been exultation, but there is this strange verse about Michal watching from her window and despising him in her heart. Really an odd event.”

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“OK, so what happened with Bathsheba?” he asks.

“Pretty much what we heard today in the gospel reading.” I respond. “After Uriah is killed in battle, she marries the king and bears him a son who becomes Solomon, who turns out to be really wise.”

“So what is your problem with David?” AdventureMan asks.

“We all grow up thinking he is a great guy, but the bible tells us he was also greatly flawed,” I respond. “After Michal helped David get away, Saul married her to another guy, and they really loved each other, but once David became king, he sent his men to take her away from the other guy, even though he already had two other wives. He did that naked dancing thing. God made him really sick for disobeying, and being more focused on his kingliness than this responsibilities, but David repents heartily, and tells God if God will heal him, he will serve God with all his heart. I guess it is a mystery to me why God loves David so much. But it might have more to do with Solomon than with David.”

It’s not often that AdventureMan and I are so engrossed in a bible reading that we discuss it over dinner, and the discussion went on and on, because it was such a human story, and also sort of a mystery.

During the sermon, the priest made us vote as to who was wrong, Bathsheba, for bathing on her roof, or David. We all voted, every single person, for David being in the wrong.

At the end of the service, when the priest sends us forth to love and serve God, he added this prayer, which I am certain referred to King David, but it caused a collective gasp nonetheless:

“Lord, please keep us far away from pornography. Please don’t let me grow up to be a dirty old man.”

We love this priest. He is direct. Very straightforward. At the same time, he is very practical about people and their fallibilities. I suspect we will be thinking about this sermon the whole week. That’s a really good sermon!

(I found a fascinating discussion of the passage about King David dancing naked in a writing on Passionate Spirituality and Worship written by a Mennonite theologian which presents another interpretation / explanation of what is going on)

July 25, 2009 Posted by | Community, Family Issues, Mating Behavior, Random Musings, Relationships, Spiritual, Values | 5 Comments

Thai Airport Shoplifting Scam

Imagine – you’re heading home from a wonderful vacation, and out of the blue, you are arrested, accused of shoplifting, and threatened with jail until you cough up several thousand dollars. And it is happening repeatedly!

By Jonathan Head
BBC News, Bangkok
Bangkok’s showcase new international airport is no stranger to controversy.

Built between 2002 and 2006, under the governments of then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the opening date was repeatedly delayed.

It has been dogged by allegations of corruption, as well as criticism of the design and poor quality of construction.

Then, at the end of last year, the airport was shut down for a week after being occupied by anti-government protesters.

Now new allegations have been made that a number of passengers are being detained every month in the duty free area on suspicion of shoplifting, and then held by the police until they pay large sums of money to buy their freedom.

That is what happened to Stephen Ingram and Xi Lin, two IT experts from Cambridge, as they were about to board their flight to London on the night of 25 April this year.

They had been browsing in the duty free shop at the airport, and were later approached by security guards, who twice asked to search their bags.

Mr Ingram and Ms Xi were told they had to pay £8,000
They were told a wallet had gone missing, and that Ms Lin had been seen on a security camera taking it out of the shop.

The company that owns the duty free shop, King Power, has since put the CCTV video on its website, which does appear to show her putting something in her bag. However the security guards found no wallet on either of them.

Despite that, they were both taken from the departure gate, back through immigration, and held in an airport police office. That is when their ordeal started to become frightening.

Interpreter
“We were questioned in separate rooms,” Mr Ingram said. “We felt really intimidated. They went through our bags and demanded that we tell them where the wallet was.”

The two were then put in what Mr Ingram describes as a “hot, humid, smelly cell with graffiti and blood on the walls”.

Mr Ingram managed to phone a Foreign Office helpline he found in a travel guide, and was told someone in the Bangkok embassy would try to help them.

The next morning the two were given an interpreter, a Sri Lankan national called Tony, who works part-time for the police.

They were taken by Tony to meet the local police commander – but, says Mr Ingram, for three hours all they discussed was how much money they would have to pay to get out.

Mr Ingram and Ms Xi were taken to meet the local police commander
They were told the charge was very serious. If they did not pay, they would be transferred to the infamous Bangkok Hilton prison, and would have to wait two months for their case to be processed.
Mr Ingram says they wanted £8,000 ( about $13,000) – for that the police would try to get him back to the UK in time for his mother’s funeral on 28 April.

But he could not arrange to get that much money transferred in time.

‘Zig-zag’ scheme
Tony then took Ms Lin to an ATM machine and told her to withdraw as much as she could from her own account – £600. He then withdrew the equivalent of £3,400 from his own account.

According to Mr Ingram this was then handed over to the police, and they were both forced to sign a number of papers.

Later they were allowed to move to a squalid hotel within the airport perimeter, but their passports were held and they were warned not to leave or try to contact a lawyer or their embassy.

“I will be watching you,” Tony told them, adding that they would have to stay there until the £8,000 was transferred into Tony’s account.

On the Monday they managed to sneak out and get a taxi to Bangkok, and met an official at the British Embassy.

She gave the name of a Thai lawyer, and, says Mr Ingram, told them they were being subjected to a classic Thai scam called the “zig-zag”.

Their lawyer urged them to expose Tony – but also warned them that if they fought the case it could take months, and they risked a long prison sentence.

After five days the money was transferred to Tony’s account, and they were allowed to leave.
Mr Ingram had missed his mother’s funeral, but at least they were given a court document stating that there was insufficient evidence against them, and no charge.

“It was a harrowing, stressful experience,” he said.

The couple say they now want to take legal action to recover their money.

‘Typical’ scam
The BBC has spoken to Tony and the regional police commander, Colonel Teeradej Phanuphan.
They both say Tony was merely helping the couple with translation, and raising bail to keep them out of prison.

Tony says about half the £8,000 was for bail, while the rest were “fees” for the bail, for his work, and for a lawyer he says he consulted on their behalf.

In theory, he says, they could try to get the bail portion refunded.

Colonel Teeradej says he will investigate any possible irregularities in their treatment. But he said any arrangement between the couple and Tony was a private affair, which did not involve the police.

Letters of complaint to the papers here in Thailand make it clear that passengers are regularly detained at the airport for alleged shoplifting, and then made to pay middlemen to win their freedom.

The Danish Embassy says one of its nationals was recently subjected to a very similar scam, and earlier this month an Irish scientist managed to flee Thailand with her husband and one year-old son after being arrested at the airport and accused of stealing an eyeliner worth around £17.
Tony told the BBC that so far this year he has “helped” about 150 foreigners in trouble with the police. He says sometimes he does it for no charge.

The British Embassy has also warned passengers at Bangkok Airport to take care not to move items around in the duty free shopping area before paying for them, as this could result in arrest and imprisonment.

July 25, 2009 Posted by | Crime, Law and Order, News, Travel | , | 2 Comments

Skimpy Clothing in Qatar

Yesterday, there was a report of two Filipina gals arrested for wearing shorts and halter tops to a local mall. This morning, we saw spaghetti straps, totally strapless tops, and very bare halter tops at brunch. When new people come to work here, are the companies giving them any guidelines? Are the women (in particular) listening?

Sleeveless

We lived in Tunis in the early 1980’s, and an artist friend silkscreened some gorgeous t-shirts which said, in Arabic – We are not tourists, we live here. Tunis was inundated with European tourists, on vacation, wearing very little and many interested in a vacation “romance.” These tourists made it very difficult for the rest of us, who worked and lived in Tunis and respected the customs of modest dress, and who did NOT want romance or even attention. We just wanted to live our mundane little lives in peace! But who could blame the men? To them, we were all the same, Western. To them, Western equalled loose. It made life very difficult for us. (she says with gritted teeth!)

From today’s Peninsula:

‘All men and women should avoid wearing skimpy dress’
Web posted at: 7/24/2009 3:8:12
Source ::: THE PENINSULA
DOHA: As the controversy over women from some nationalities wearing revealing clothes rages, there are some citizens who believe that females from some Arab nationalities cannot be excluded from these categories.

Perhaps, they (some Arab women) wear more revealing clothes than their Western counterparts, is the view of these citizens who call for waging a campaign to create public awareness about following a dress code in the public.

Men, especially those who wear sleeveless undergarments and half pants exposing themselves while in the public, are also a target of those who believe that a strict dress code should be followed by all foreigners in the country to respect local social and religious values and traditions.

Here is what some people, including men and women, feel about the issue:

Rashid Hassan — Qatari

“The embassies of major manpower exporting countries here should take a cue from the diplomatic mission of the US, which recently released an advisory for US nationals urging them not to wear revealing clothes. The embassies should also make people from their countries here aware of local social and religious traditions and the need to respect them.”

“We must also launch an awareness campaign. And in shopping centers, particularly which families frequent, security personnel should be trained and alerted to stop such people who are wearing revealing dresses from entering the premises.

“These security personnel should be Arab nationals because only they will be able to help enforce the dress code.”

Rakesh Patel — Indian

“We have to respect local social and religious values and traditions. We have come here to work, make some savings and go back to our respective home countries. So it is binding on us that as long as we are here, we must follow the local norms and traditions and not hurt in any way the sentiments of local people.”

“Like the US embassy, the Indian embassy here should also launch an awareness campaign for Indian expatriates on the issue. The embassy of the Philippines has also recently waged a similar campaign. It’s a welcome move. I am all for respecting local values and traditions at any cost.”

Wesal Hilmi — Syrian

“I am surprised that some married women are among those who wear revealing clothes. We don’t agree with such people. They have to respect our cultural, social and religious values which are reflected in the way we dress.”

“We have been hearing that a committee (at the government) has been set up which is

Looking into the issue and it is gearing up to launch an awareness campaign. If it is true it is a welcome development.”

Ahmed Sabir — Egyptian

“Arabs and Muslims like to cling to their heritage and culture. It is unfortunate that some foreigners here do not show any respect for our social values and traditions. However, we cannot force them to wear what we would like them to, but we can launch an awareness campaign and raise the issue with them. We can convince them through these campaigns to respect our culture, religious values and traditions.”

“In Ramadan, they do show respect for our values and practices. Likewise, they should be made aware and urged to respect our traditions as regards our dressing habits and the need not to wear revealing clothes in public.”

Sherwin — Flipino

“We are here to work. We must respect local people, their social and religious values and traditions.”

Vachy — Filipina

“We must follow and encourage what our country’s embassy here is doing urging us to respect local traditions. They should enforce a law in Qatar making a strict dress code in accordance with local traditions, mandatory.”

Abdullah Hussein — Qatari

“What one wears is one’s own choice. We can’t force people to wear clothes we like. It’s a matter of individual freedom and I believe in personal freedom.”

“I agree that people should respect our social and religious values and traditions, but they should do it voluntarily. We cannot force them. We can only make them aware through campaigns. We can convince them about that and we have to be extremely polite doing that.”

What we don’t want is for the Qataris to get to the point of forming the kind of morality police they have in Saudi Arabia, armed with sticks for hitting offenders, and with arbitrary powers to sort-of arrest offenders. If we don’t monitor ourselves, that is the risk we take.

This is not our country. We do not have the right to dress as we would back home. Please, get a clue.

July 24, 2009 Posted by | Civility, Community, Cross Cultural, Doha, ExPat Life, Living Conditions, Mating Behavior, Qatar, Safety, Social Issues, Values | 9 Comments

Doha: Reading the Signs

At the Doha Museum of Islamic Art:

00QatarSignMuseumEntry

At the MegaMart:
00QatarSignMegaMart

July 22, 2009 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Community, Cultural, Doha, ExPat Life, Living Conditions, Qatar, Values | 6 Comments

The Outdoor Cat Channel

This morning I was startled out of a sound sleep by the piteous crying of the Qatteri Cat. Adreneline pumping, I jumped out of bed, calling out “QC! QC! Are you OK?” even though it was only 0430 and AdventureMan was still sleeping.

He didn’t come, just continued crying, a different cry, I was afraid maybe he was hurt.

I ran downstairs, and found him in the small living room, looking out through the curtains at the outdoor cat.

We haven’t seen the outdoor cat for a while. She is looking pretty thin, and very tired, very worn out. I am guessing she is maybe eight or nine months old – and, hmmmm, she looks pregnant, skinny and pregnant and exhausted.

I keep cat food and water on hand for the passing-by outdoor cat, they never stay around long, but I am always good for a handout. I fix her a bowl of food and water, and take it out the door that Qatteri Cat doesn’t know about. The outdoor cat eats ravenously, and then sacks out.

00OutdoorCatChannel

Meanwhile, Qatteri Cat continues to cry, hoping I will let him be an outside cat, too. He watches the outdoor cat, every move she makes. He doesn’t understand the price these poor little kitties pay for living their outdoor life.

July 22, 2009 Posted by | Doha, ExPat Life, Living Conditions, Pets, Qatteri Cat | 3 Comments