Sunday, January 28, 2007

Time Zones

It's 5 a.m. I'm awake.

This is better than yesterday, when I was down at Diocesan Council and sharing a room with my dear buddy C. It was 3 a.m. when I woke up, wide awake and ready to rock and roll. I lay in bed planning out the required paper for the trip to Qatar (well, at least I got one great paragraph done in my head) until 6 a.m., when I got up, quietly showered and dressed, and went downstairs in search of breakfast.

We elected a bishop coadjutor. For those of us who love and support our present bishop, it was a bittersweet reminder that his work as diocesan bishop will be drawing to a close in a couple of years.

We also voted in favor of a trial period for parishes, if they so choose, to perform same-sex unions. It passed with little discussion, great calm, and quiet joy for those of us who have viewed this as a civil rights/justice issue.

The Archbishop of Auckland NZ, also head of the Anglican Consultative Council, was the chaplain and was a thoughtful and moving preacher.

At Council, I got to reconnect with a priest friend who had been in Qatar, and a number of my seminary classmates. When I got home, I went to school to see what awaited in my mailbox. I was surprised at how emotional it felt to be back home on the Holy Hill. Mirabile dictu, a number of exams and papers were there in my mailbox. Medium to good grades and thoughtful comments. Still no exegesis papers (turned in several months ago).

Then I got home and checked for reading lists, syllabi, etc. for my new classes that start tomorrow. Several hundred pages await me already. Gack.

I think I should go back to sleep now...

Friday, January 26, 2007

Home again

I got back to the USA after 22 hours in transit. Dinner in Qatar (delicious steak), midnight snack in Bahrain(so undistinguished I can't remember what it was), breakfast over London (awful airplane omelet), coffee in Heathrow(Costa coffee is much better than Starbucks as chain coffee houses go), lunch over the Atlantic (awful airplane penne bolognese), afternoon snack over Boston (awful airplane mystery sandwich), dinner back in VA with PH and StrongOpinions (pretty good BBQ pork). I'm not sure what species I am, much less what time zone I'm in, but I slept from 9 pm until now, so that's not bad. I am afraid, however, to step on the bathroom scale. I fear the number may be horrendous.

Suddenly going from an airport where the men are mostly in long white robes with scarves on their head and the women are mostly all covered up, to an airport with everyone mostly in jeans and various types of much more body-revealing clothing, is a shock to the system.

I'm off in a couple of hours to diocesan council (100 miles down the road), where I'll work as a teller. We are electing a bishop coadjutor, and we will have lots of talk, I would guess, about the Episcopal churches in the diocese who left and what we should do about property and such. Lively stuff.

I think I'll be able to stay awake.

I'll check back in with y'all on Sunday.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Doing the Religion Thing

I preached (see it in all its verbose glory below) on Friday morning, when Rishan was baptized (c'est moi at left with the wonderful baby and his parents, Dr. Suresh and Dr. Annu), and last night for the Sunday Evening Prayer Service.

Note to self: when preaching at a pulpit this high, wear high heels and make sure there is a riser to stand on.

Once every few weeks, the Sunday service is the prayer service rather than Eucharist. A lovely peaceful time. The congregation gave me a book about Qatar as a going-away present. They also made a number of kind comments about the sermon. A little scary preaching before I've had any formal homiletics training. Then again, fools rush in...

I've been blessed to be here and to have this experience. I still have a few more interviews to conduct (an excellent one today at lunch with an American couple who are quite insightful folks). How do I begin to put this experience down on paper?

I Know I'm Not At Home Because

..although a skating rink in a shopping mall with a kids' hockey practice going on is a little unusual,

seeing Arabic numerals on the backs of the kids' jerseys is not the norm.

Pedestrian crossings reflect the difference in common dress:

and Girl Scouts on a field trip look a little different:

but some things are the same no matter what the language on the sign.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Saying what we think people want to hear

It is a common belief amoung Westerners in the Arab world that often our hosts do not speak what they really think, but in the interest of hospitality say what they think we want to hear. I've seen it in action here and in conversation, but I find myself reflecting that it is true of Westerners as well.

Do we do it when we tell the preacher "Great sermon!" as we leave the church, when we thought it was a dud? Do we do it when we tell our children that the brownies they made were scrumptious when they were, in fact, little inedible bricks? Do we do it when we tell a friend of another religion that we're really theologically alike?

Where does friendship end if we speak truth as we see it? Is our truth in fact accurate? Does kindness or love require that we temper truth?

Or are we called to listen more than to speak?

Stranger in a Strange Land

My role is an odd one in this place. I'm not yet clergy, but I am performing some clerical tasks. I am not a resident, but I'm here long enough to be familiar with the ethos of the place, the challenges that the parishioners face, and the quirks of personality. I'm here long enough so I'm familiar enough - or unfamiliar enough - that parishioners unburden themselves when we do interviews for my research.

I guess I'm viewed as safe, for all sorts of reasons that may or may not be true.

As has been my experience at home, people talk to me. I have heard the phrase "I probably shouldn't be saying this" a number of times here, as I have back in the States in all sorts of contexts. It served me well as a lobbyist; it continues to serve me well today.

I suppose, then, that my mission here is to listen, and to be a trusted pair of ears for those who feel the need to vent, or to ask a hard question, or to try and work through all the changes that this parish faces in the coming months.

Some things here are very different. Nevertheless, some parish behavior is perfectly consistent with a growing church anywhere in the world facing a change of pastor after 20-plus years. I'm reminded once again of the universality of the human condition. Odd that it continues to surprise me.

These people will make it work. Not without some pain and misunderstandings, not without some losses, but they will make it work.

Being a stranger in a strange land has sharpened my senses and made me a better listener and observer. I hope it has also made me better at offering ideas and comfort, but that's a very minor part of the equation. I hope, too, that when I get back to my familiar surroundings, the clarity of perception doesn't fade entirely.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Sermon for this weekend (this post is a bit long).

Sermon for Friday, 19 January 2007 and Sunday, 21 January 2007

“Who Am I?”

1 Cor 12: 12-14, 27-30
Luke 4: 14-21

Who am I?

It’s a question we all ask ourselves.

Teenagers, in particular, seem to focus on this question. Where should I go to university? What should I study? What am I meant to do with my life?

Who am I?

My daughter has changed majors in college twice already, and is still considering adding minor courses of study to the mix. My older son has changed from film production to screenwriting, and I suspect that once he graduates from college this year, his life will twist and turn and he will redefine himself once again. My niece Hannah has pondered five different majors in her first semester.

Some of us revisit the question later in life. Perhaps seeking the answer to that question is what brought you to Qatar. Perhaps you hadn’t even thought of the question until you found yourself here. It’s true that a mid-life question brought me to this place. I left a career in business and government after more than 25 years to study at seminary in preparation for ordination to the priesthood.

It’s easiest to think of this question within the context of work. All of the examples I’ve just mentioned have to do with career choices of one sort or another. What I’d like us to think about today, though, is how we face this question as Christians, as members of the Body of Christ, as members of this church.

It’s a question that’s repeated over and over again in both the Old Testament and the New.

So it’s not just a question of the 21st Century, this pondering of our basic identity. It intrigues us, challenges us, sometimes haunts us.

Contrast the troublesome nature of the question, then, with Jesus in our gospel reading this morning. In Luke’s gospel, this story is in the early days of Jesus’ ministry. He’s just come back in from forty days in the desert and a duel of wills with Satan. He’s begun to teach in the synagogues in the Galilee, and word of the power of his teaching is beginning to spread. So he comes home to Nazareth, and as is the custom, he’s invited to read the Scripture and to preach on it.

What was it like to be in the synagogue that day?

Here he comes into the synagogue, a local boy, the son of Joseph the carpenter. We watched him growing up. We’ve heard that he’s developed quite the reputation.

He stands, reads the Scripture. It’s a powerful text from the prophet Isaiah

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

Familiar words to us; we’ve heard them before. What will he say when he preaches on them?

He sits down, as we expect, for the time of teaching. He says “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

That’s all. He’s just said “It’s me. I’m the one Isaiah is talking about.”

We’re shocked. We’re excited, because we’ve been waiting for a Messiah, an anointed one, for a long time and through a lot of trouble. We’re a bit proud that it’s one of our own. We’re doubtful that it could be one of our own. And yet he seems so utterly sure, so completely convinced and convincing.

He isn’t asking that hard question of Who am I? He’s absolutely unambiguously telling us that He is the fulfillment of the prophecy. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be so clear on who we are?

Very few of us are ever that clear about our own identity.

That’s true of Roshan, who was baptized this morning. We look into his beautiful eyes and wonder what he will be like, the person he will become as he grows in the loving embrace of his mother and father and as a part of this, his church family. All we know is that he will be unique, and in his uniqueness are the gifts that he will bring to life in the world and as a Christian.

Who am I?

That’s certainly the problem for some of the members of the church at Corinth, a church of primarily Gentile membership that Saint Paul founded. They are worried about all sorts of things and have sent Paul a letter asking for guidance. As Father Ian told us last week, some people have been misbehaving, and some have been trying to establish a pecking order of who’s more spiritual than the other.

That never happens in churches today does it? Of course it does. So how does Paul address the issue? Just as Jesus taught by painting a picture through parables, Paul paints a picture for the Corinthians, using a metaphor, that of the human body. He says, “Listen, you’ve all been given gifts, talents, from God. They’re all different. They’re all important. This is not a competition about which gift is the best. They’re all the best, because they all come from God, and you’d best set about using them to do God’s work.”

He talks about the human body, how it is made up of different parts, how each part, even the lowliest, has an important function that the other parts rely upon. One can’t exist without the other. Then he takes that metaphor one step further, and speaks of each of us as a part of the body…the Body of Christ. For the human body to function at its best, all parts have to function well. For the Body of Christ to function at its best, all of its members, with all of their varied gifts, have to be honored as well as put to good use. One part of the human body is no more important than another. One person’s gifts are no important than another as we live in Christian community. All these gifts are important, to our life and Christ and to each other. None can be dismissed.

So it is not only in Corinth, but here at the Church of the Epiphany in Doha. I have been here this month working with Father Ian and visiting with you all to help understand how a community of members from so many different nations, and so many traditions, become a family of faith and nurture each other and support each other. I’d be foolish if I didn’t recognize that a large part of it is Father Ian, who has served as pastor, friend, teacher and advocate for so many of us. But it is also you. It is you who do the music and you who serve as acolytes. It is you who bring blankets out to the work camps and you who bring food for after Friday morning services. It is you who lay out the fair linens and you who reach out a hand to someone who is sick in hospital. It is you who smiles at the person who is occasionally unlovable and you who reads the Lessons. It is you who sweeps up and you who puts things away. It is you who preaches and it is you who works in the crèche. All your gifts, given to you by God, are put to good use for the work of God’s people in this place.

So this is the lesson I have learned here, so far away from home, the answer to that question; “Who am I?” I am, we all are, members of the Body of Christ. We are all the recipients of gifts, of talents, from God, who has given these gifts out of love for us. We all have something to offer another, and our Lord wants us to freely offer that which we have been given.

This community, even when Father Ian moves on to the next phase of his life, will still be a community of people with a myriad of gifts. And you are called, as you have always been called, to use those gifts to support and love and nurture each other as members of the Body of Christ.

Who are you? You are unique, with gifts given to you by God. You are a part of a community of faith here in Doha, and you are part of a much larger community of faith wherever you go in the world. You have been transformed by these gifts, and by the way you put them to good use. Your gifts will strengthen the community of faith and the world, if you dare to use them. Be strong. Be brave. Know that the Lord is always with you. And never forget, you are beloved members of The Body of Christ.

Cultural Dissonance Pt III

Not my own picture, but the person who gave it to me swears it isn't just something that was PhotoShopped!
It would have to be a pretty young camel, though...and those are not Qatar license plates...hmmm...

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Cultural Dissonance Pt. II

At the International Islamic Bank, there is a men's branch and a separate ladies' branch right alongside it.

The dean of the Shari'a department at Qatar University may be a woman, the wife of the Emir may be the driving force behind the Education City initiative, the Director of the gazillion-rial new Museum of Islamic Art may be a woman, but there is still a separate ladies' branch at the bank.

Some women say that having a separate ladies' branch, or floor at the mall, or other such facility, gives them a way to conduct their business without being bothered by men, and they can remove their face scarf without the possibility of molestation. It still feels (in my Western mind) a tad odd to me.

I guess I haven't been here long enough...

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Cultural Dissonance Iraqi assistant to the producer at Al Jazeera, wearing an Icehouse Brewery t-shirt in this Muslim country where alcohol is forbidden.

Museum of Islamic Art

This museum is in progress. It is expected to be completed by the end of this year. A $15 Billion project, it was designed by I.M. Pei and is enormous. We had the privilege of visiting it even though it's under construction. These pictures will give you an idea of the size and magnificence of the space.

The woman standing in the center of the picture of the exterior is the Executive Director of the Museum, Dr. Saidegh. She is from Tunisia.

This is the main staircase from the ground level up to the first gallery level (there are five levels). Across from the staircase, facing the bay, is a wall of glass extending up the five levels. There is a fountain which echoes the traditional ablutions fountain in a mosque in the shape of the star of Islam, with eight points.

Here we look up 60 meters to the top of the dome. Like Brunelleschi's Dome in the Duomo in Florence, it essentially supports the whole structure. It is the equivalent of the keystone in an arch. Before the dome and window were inserted, there was a steel infrastructure to prevent the building from collapsing in on itself.

Looking down from the fifth level. Definitely a work in progress. When work was most intense, there were 1500 laborers onsite.

A courtyard between the main museum and the education wing. There will be pools of water and fountains here.

This open gallery leads to the education wing. It reminds me of Cordoba.

Monday, January 15, 2007

At Qatar University's College of Shari'a and at the Georgetown Univ School of Foreign Service at Education City

We visited the Shari'a school, which is the theological college in Doha, and met with the dean and a number of professors, as well as a student representative. Interestingly, the dean is a woman, the first female to hold such a post in the Arab world. QU hosts the annual interfaith dialgue conference, which will have its fifth meeting in April. For the past two years, Jews have also been a part of the dialogue, a remarkable thing and a risky one in this part of the world. We are looking at ways to partner with them in the States and perhaps the UK.

The dean, Dr Aisha, is sitting in the middle with the white skirt. The woman sitting to her left is the head of what would be the equivalent of the systematic theology department at QU. What I wouldn't give to bring these two women to the US to speak to our seminary!

Then we met with one of the profs, an American Jesuit priest, and a number of sophomore students (3 women, two men) at Georgetown's School of Foriegn Service. The women were Qatari Muslims. One of the men was a Christian from Lebanon, the other was a Muslim from Bosnia. The women were very progressive in their outlook; they see themselves as the future political movers and shakers of the country. Although they wear headscarves and abaya, their abayas were open from the waist down and we could see their (designer) jeans and their (Manolo Blahnik and Jimmy Choo) shoes. The guys were a tad more conservative, but as Fr. Ryan from Georgetown said, the students really self-select to apply to this school; you are going to see the kids who were brought up with a British style education (the girls were in an IB program at Qatar Academy) and who are the most progressive in their viewpoints applying to a school like this. They seemed very bright and mature beyond their years. I hope the government will take advantage of their training and intelligence.

Just another one of the amazing adventures of the last few days.

At Al Jazeera

One of the group of visiting clergy, Bill Sachs of the Center for Reconciliation and Mission, was interviewed on Al Jazeera (the Arabic station, not the English one) on the group's trip and their work on building Christian-Muslim dialogue. Some of the questions were somewhat political in nature, but it wasn't bad. And getting the message out to Al Jazeera's 42 million Arabic-speaking viewers that Christians don't think of Muslims as "the enemy" was a good thing.

Meeting with Imams at the American Ambassador's Residence

Chase Untermeyer, the American Ambassador, and his wife Diana couldn't have been more gracious, and the embassy staff was wonderful making arrangements for many of our activities. We went to the ambassador's residence and had a fascinating and frank discussion about Christian/Muslim dialogue with some imams. The British Ambassador, Simon Collis, was also in attendance. A common theme was the need for face-to-face interaction; when we meet and talk as human beings together, the conversation is very different. We need to learn more about each other's religion and culture.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Amazing Moment

As I was standing outside the door after our Sunday evening service (packed tonight with two hundred people), one of the Sri Lankan families came up with their cutie-pie three year old and adorable 18 month old. All the SoutheastAsian kids shake your hand. So I hunkered down, extended my hand to the little one, and instead of shaking, she kissed it.

Words fail me.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Assorted Pictures of Modes of Transportation

Too much is happening with our visiting American and Cantabrigian deans to write right now, but I thought I'd share some fun pictures of me on a Segway riding around Education City, and StrongOpinions and me on our camels. More to come, including the picture of me with the visitors at the American Ambassador's residence with the British Ambassador and a bevy? myriad? gaggle? of imams. Back at you later.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Sunday on Friday

As I mentioned before, the main church service at Epiphany is Friday morning, so today was our big family Eucharist. Most folks have now returned from their holidays either in their home countries or in another exotic place (this is the norm for expats). The children have returned to school. The church was packed, including new baby Roshan, who is 5 days old, and just adorable. None of the acolytes showed up (teenagers are the same everywhere in the world, it seems), so I served as acolyte. Every priest does something a little different, so I was a bit graceless in serving Father Ian, but I was glad to help. I even got to distribute the bread at communion, a first for me. I also did Prayers of the People. A number of members have agreed to be interviewed for my project, which is a blessing.

What a variety of people we have in this church! A Danish engineer, a Nigerian neurosurgeon, a Sri Lankan chauffeur, an American professor, an Indonesian nurse, a Canadian stay-at-home mom, a Ghanaian accountant, an Indian maxillofacial surgeon... such interesting, welcoming people.

Today will be a quiet day. The boys' school behind the house, normally alive with the sound of soccer-playing little guys, is silent. My brother-in-law should be coming back from India tonight. We may go exercise in the afternoon. The next three days will be rock-'em sock'em with the American and British visitors. I need to write up my first interviews before I forget what is in my mind in between the cracks of the notes I've written. I can't believe I'm almost at the halfway point of the trip!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Minarets and other things

This gives you a taste of the variety of minarets on mosques around the city. The first one is at the Islamic Cultural Center, which has a mosque at the center. It's in the ziggurat style, and is enormous. The one in the center is on the mosque called the Green Mosque, where the Emir goes. Sorry for the odd angle of the shots, but they were taken from the car.

As you drive around, you see minarets everywhere, of every color, shape and size. When the call to prayer is broadcast through all the loudspeakers (you can see the speakers on the last minaret quite well), I am told that what we hear is not a recording, but a real muezzin chanting.

That's a lot of muezzins.

I drove all by myself across town to Father Ian's house (three roundabouts, one fly-over, the TV roundabout by Al Jazeera, five traffic lights). I didn't get lost, I didn't hit anything, I didn't get hit, I even got there early. We spent several hours going through my questions, then went out on errands to the Industrial Zone. We even stopped at the fish market and the fruit and vegetable market. On the way home, I stopped at a few shops on Al Mirqab Street. I considered being really adventurous and going down Grand Hamad to the old souq, but I didn't think I'd get there before the mid-day hiatus, so I'll save that for next week. PH forgot our jars of gift honey, and needs another for his administrative assistant, so I need to go there for that, plus I want to look for a couple more odds and ends of gifts for people. The good news is that most shopkeepers speak better English than I do Arabic, so we can negotiate. I've figured out the Arabic numbering system (which is a good deal easier than the Hebrew numbering system) by looking at the license plates, which carry both Arabic and English numbers.

The weekend will be very busy indeed, with a group of nine visitors from the US and England to talk about Christian-Muslim relations under the auspices of a new organization called the Center for Reconciliation and Mission. Visits to Qatar University's Department of Shari'a Law, Al Jazeera, meeting the deputy at the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, meetings with the US and British Ambassadors, seeing the new Islamic Museum which isn't open to the general public yet, receptions and such. I will get to meet people and do things that I wouldn't otherwise get to do while here. A wonderful opportunity. Next week I'll go out to the guest-worker work camps in Al Wakra to deliver food and blankets. I'll also be interviewing parishioners and will continue to shadow Father Ian (still wondering if I'll get to the morgue).

Meanwhile, I've written a first draft of my sermon for next week, and now I've got to compose the Prayers of the People for tomorrow morning's service - we don't use a standard form but make new ones each week. I'm missing PH and StrongOpinions, but they had a good trip home, with a brief stopover and sightseeing for a couple of hours in Munich.

I'll check in later.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Various and Sundry Pictures in the Old Souq

This little boy on a donkey was too cute for words. After I snapped the shot, he went trotting down the street. It's a little difficult to see in this dark view through the souq, but the ceiling is a bunch of wood beams with thatched reeds going across. If you wondered how they lowered the man through the roof so that Jesus could heal him in Mark 2:1-12, you can see how it was done. The thatch was pulled away and the roof beams slid out to make an opening. You'll also notice the men with wheelbarrows in this shot. There are no shopping carts in the souq. If you have something large to bring to the car, or many bundles, you hire one of these men, who are usually from Afghanistan, to ferry the goods in the wheelbarrow.

The colorful dresses on the right in this picture is what the women often wear beneath their abayas. You can see a couple of the black-clad women to the left of my brother-in-law and PH in this picture.

How I Know I'm Not Home, Pt. II

Camel crossing signs on the road out to the beach.

Speaking of camels, I actually got to ride one yesterday while we were out on the Arabian Penninsula yesterday. They're not called ships of the desert for nothing - you sway from side to side as they walk. They get up rear end first, so you have to hold tight to the saddle pommel when they get up. They get down again front first, so once again you hold on, this time to the back of the saddle, so you don't get pitched forward over the head. My camel was named Sheikha, and she was the mellower of the two camels we had to choose from. Sarah, the other camel, whined and complained even when no one was riding her...she must have been having a bad day.

StrongOpinions was happy because she found some cats to play with. Qatari cats are smaller than US cats, but much more vocal. She was ecstatic petting the cats, who were busy looking for some easy food. She, PH and my brother-in-law rode quad ATVs over the dunes. My sister-in-law and I rested in the majlis (a tented area with cushions in a sofa-like conformation) and read and napped, before we came back into town.

This morning we went to the gold souq. Much beautiful and exotic 22-carat jewelry, but much too fancy and bright for me. Then we went to an odd little second-hand store where I found a beautiful red embroidered pashmina scarf. Less expensive than the gold and more useful to me.

PH and StrongOpinions leave tonight, and I'll get down to more work. I'm hoping to also fit in a mosque tour, if it can be arranged. The minarets of the mosques are everywhere, in all sizes and designs. In our little nieghborhood, if I turn 360 degrees, I see four within easy walking distance. Islam sees itself as a part of every aspect of life, not a religious practice held apart for a special day. Thus, having so many mosques makes it easier for Muslims to go to prayer at the mosque, where it's easier to do the ritual washing-up, at the five times of day that prayer is required. The university has special prayer rooms for men and women as well.

Enough for now...more later!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

How I Know I'm Not Home

...gas is 80 cents a gallon, and the veterinarian advertises his services not only for cats and dogs, but also for horses and camels. Falconry is also very popular here.

It's 7 a.m. on Monday morning and I'm the first one awake in the house. So I'm downstairs in the office visiting with you.

Last night was the Sunday night service at church ( Here's a picture of me with Father Ian . A much quieter and more traditional service than the Friday morning one. The American ambassador was there, with several very large Qatari bodyguards waiting outside. It turns out he and I have several mutual friends from the days when I was a political appointee in a prior administration. As a result of a number of conversations with folks at that service and the Friday one, I'm setting up some meetings with key people in the church to discuss their perceptions of Epiphany and what works there. I suspect that for many the answers to all questions will be "we come because Father Ian has made us so welcome." The congregation includes Anglicans, Episcopalians, Plymouth Brethren, Presbyterians, Covenanters, Baptists, you name it. So I did the reading from Ephesians (nothing like endless participial phrases to keep one on one's toes) and served the chalice at the Eucharist. A baby was born to one family in the congregation, and he will be baptized the day that I'm preaching, so I will be figuring out how to work that into the sermon as well.

This morning we'll probably go to the souq to look at ouds (Syrian lutes) and see if it's possible for StrongOpinions to buy one for the boyfriend, and to pick up some incense for a high-church friend. This afternoon we may go out to the desert. I doubt that I'll ride a camel, but you never know...

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Driving in Doha not for the faint of heart. Thirty years ago, people got around primarily via camels (and there is still a camel-racing facility outside of town). Now, with the oil and gas wealth of the past few decades, most folks drive very large SUVs and luxury vehicles. There are few streelights; most major intersections are roundabouts (what some of us know as traffic circles). Entering one is an opportunity for prayer, since aggressive driving is the norm. There are signs at most intersections: "Your family is waiting for you at home. Please drive safely." Although Muslim women are permitted to drive here; they are usually driven around by male relatives or drivers, who epitomize the machismo driving style of other large cities such as Boston or Rome. Waiting for another driver to enter an intersection is unheard of. The problem is compounded by the large presence of foreign guest workers (usually from the Phillipines or Sri Lanka), who may be drivers for a construction company and whose prior driving experience is minimal and driver education nonexistent. There are 10 to 15 accidents per day.

So it was that I ventured onto the B Ring road this morning to meet with Father Ian and plan my work for the next three weeks. PH served as navigator, a particularly challenging task because there are very few road signs ("okay, we go down three roundabouts to the TV roundabout, by Al Jazeera's headquarters, and we go 3/4s of the way around, then turn right, and go right after the Hardee's - yes, there is a Hardee's here - to turn onto Al Mirqaba, then go down to the Family Market, the one with the big neon sign with three check marks and turn right. That's Father Ian's street. His house is on the left, with the flowering wines over the wall. No there's no street number"). Because it was the weekend, and Eid al Ramallah festival, the traffic wasn't too bad. We had a lovely chat with Ian, and I will be preaching on the 19th, and I'll be shadowing him all over the place, including the blanket and food ministry to the guest worker camps, and probably also a trip to the morgue if there are any deaths. He pointed out that the Christians who are here are here to work, so you don't get deaths due to old age and natural causes. Father Ian, as the only Protestant minister recognized by the Qatari government, is often called when such a tragedy occurs to help if there are local relatives, and often when there are not. Should be an interesting education.

I got to participate in a wedding of two Australian nationals today (just the two of them and their two Indian witnesses) in the little chapel that Father Ian has in his little villa. Quite touching. He's the only licensed Protestant clergyperson for weddings, too, so he does a lot fo them.

In the afternoon my sister-in-law, StrongOpinions and I went for stroll along the Corniche, had some chai, and went to the big mall with the hockey rink on the ground level to look for a food processor, then home for a quiet dinner en famille.

Tomorrow night I'll participate in the Sunday evening informal service. Beyond that, I'm not sure what tomorrow will bring. PH is getting a haircut with his brother, yet another adventure.

Ah, well, enough for today. More to come.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Greetings from Qatar

PH, StrongOpinions and I arrived here late last night. We flew separately (the vagaries of arranging flights at different times, with some coverage by frequent flyer miles, some by a grant from the Seminary, some by Mibi's American Express card. The flights were uneventful, although it is a bit disconcerting knowing one is getting here by flying directly over Baghdad. L and I caught a taxi home to their place, while C waited for PH and StrongOpinions, whose flight from Frankfurt was an hour later than ours.

Since last year, Qatar has hosted the Asian Games, and the amount of new construction for that event, as well as ongoing new construction, is staggering. Towers and construction cranes everywhere you look. We were shocked by surprisingly cold weather - the coldest in memory - and since houses aren't fitted with heating systems, it made for a rather cold night last night. I only brought one fleece top with me, and I'm wishing I'd brought more sweaters.

One sign of the cold weather is the garb of the men, who, instead of wearing their traditional crisp white thobes, are wearing winter-weight grey or brown ones. The women, as always, are head-to-toe in black hijab. Some of the women's robes (called abeyas) are dressed up with sequins and stones in patterns. I saw several butterfly patterns and some gorgeous embroidered flowers. Another variation is in the face scarves (niqab). Some women wear none, some wear a soft black cloth that hooks across and covers the nose and lower half of the face, some wear scarves that merely have slits to see out of, some have an odd metal piece that attaches to the scarf and covers the nose and mouth.

Going to the supermarket is another cultural shift: in addition to chocolate and almond croissants, you can buy savory ones dusted with zaatar, the spice mix of sumac and sesame and oregano and other good things. American foods are in the foreign foods section. In the produce department, okra is labeled as "lady fingers." There are no pork products.

We dined at a favorite Middle Eastern restaurant, Turkey Central. No, there were no turkey dishes; the original owners were from Turkey. Freshly baked lavash and pita bread. Hummus, tabbouleh, baba ganoush, grilled meats, freshly squeezed fruit juices. We had a friendly argument with our waiter over whether to order the 30 rial or 40 rial mezze platter. He won. He was right. The mid-size platter was more than enough.

Then, on to the souqs. These traditional storefront markets were restored in recent years. Walking through them is like going back 2000 years, except for the stores that have small appliances in them. The spice markets are the most wonderful, with open bins of fragrant cinnamon and cardamon and pepper and cumin. I could just sit and take in the aroma for hours.
We got some honey at a store that had different honeys from Ethiopia, Yemen, Oman and Qatar. Pricey but good. We'll see if we can get them through in our checked luggage.

StrongOpinions is feeling jet-lagged and homesick. I'm hoping she'll perk up a bit tomorrow. We're all a bit tired. Eight hours time difference is a challenge.

Because the Muslim weekend is Friday and Saturday, we had church this morning at the english Speaking School. Around 100 attendees from a broad variety of nationalities. A lovely liturgy crafted from elements of the CofE "Our Common Worship" but tweaked to have more biblical references and some features of liturgical traditions of the various nationalities of the people who attend. I'll be meeting with a number of the members as part of my research. I've got meetings tomorrow with Father Ian about my work here - today in church he said something about preaching - oh my!

More to come, hopefully with some pictures. Salaam aleikum!

Monday, January 01, 2007


We are getting ready for our trip to the Persian Gulf on Wednesday. Trying to pack for three weeks (including books and knitting) is a challenge.

I did some prep work, including getting the mail held while PH and StrongOpinions are there with me, getting the newspaper stopped, getting Hebrew homework done, getting bills paid. I don't think I've been away from home for this long in many a year (I'm thinking not since 1986 when I did some summer coursework out at Stanford).

StrongOpinions, who's not crazy about planes, is starting to get antsy about the flights. She and PH are on a different itinerary than me, and will have an 8-hour layover in Frankfurt - they'll go into the city and wander around to amuse themselves. Hopefully the melatonin will keep her calmed down. She'll have PH with her, who absolutely adores travel and will keep her calm. I'll be flying through Heathrow and meeting my brother-in-law and sister-in-law in the (ahem) First Class Lounge. 'Twill be nice seeing how the other half lives. I wish I had time on either end to visit my London friends, but that's not happening this trip.

I'm trying to not stress out about getting the independent study work done while there. The priest with whom I'll be working is a dear, but pinning him down is not easy. Yes, I know. all will be well. I'd just like it to be 20 pages of substance, not fluff. Enough whining for now.

A delightful diversion on Sunday: we went to Super-High Anglo-Catholic Church downtown for their 11:15 solemn mass. Beautiful! Great music well done, lots of smells and bells, and a great sermon by (surprise!) my NT professor. I'm not into the High Church thing, but you have to admire the skill with which it was done, and getting to hear the prof preach was a real joy.

I may try to check in once more before I go, and I expect to blog from Qatar...