Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Well, I've Been Surprised Again!

You know, after two years of being in the Gulf, I thought I'd already had all the new, funny experiences I was going to have.  I've fallen down stairs only to be stared at by passers-by, I've had workmen show up at my house as early as 6 am and as late as 10:30 pm without an appointment, I've seen camels riding by in pick-up trucks, I've learned to hoard precious and rare ingredients like vanilla pudding, learned to deal with bureaucratic incompetence at the doctor's office, and much, much more.  I thought I'd seen it all and that nothing could surprise me anymore.

I was wrong.

I should know in Doha there is a never-ending supply of things to surprise you.  Though I don't even bat an eye anymore when a car come barreling towards me, heading the wrong way down a one way street, and the sight of men greeting each other by rubbing their noses together barely gets a giggle anymore, yesterday I something new happened that caught me totally off guard.

I had run up to the little supermarket nearby.  Now, when I say supermarket, think of a tiny little stall of a storefront where the aisles are about 2 feet wide and so jam-packed you have to navigate carefully to avoid knocking everything to the ground.  All I needed was a can of corn.  I was roasting a couple of chickens (chickens come small here, so two are always needed) and I was just craving mashed potatoes and gravy.  And, to me, mashed potatoes MUST always be accompanied by corn. It's the law, which I'm sure I could prove if I spent enough time looking through the books.

So I find my can of corn, make my way up to the little man at the front.  There's someone ahead of me so he indicates for me to put the can on the cooler of ice cream in front of him while I wait.  I do and he tells me it's 5.50 Qatari riyals.   Because coins are very rare here (which is why you will often get your change in candy!), I handed him six riyals.  He must not have had change either because he looked in his drawer (yes, drawer, not cash register) and gave me back the 1, keeping the 5.  Remembering that I had one 50 cent piece that I had been hoarding, I got it out of my wallet and tried to hand it to him.

He instantly started gesturing at me, pointing at the cooler again.  When I just looked at him in confusion, he finally started yelling, "Down!  Down!  Put it down!"  Startled, I put the coin down on the cooler, from where he picked it up and put it in the drawer.

He didn't want to take the chance that he might accidentally touch me while I handed him the coin.  

Shocked I walked to my car and just couldn't get over this.  I don't know why it is bothering me so much.  I know that Hassidic Jews often do the same thing and that it's a sign of respect to them.  But trust me - this was not a sign of respect.  The last word you could use for how most Muslim men view women, particularly Western women, is respect.  It's more a fear of contamination.  Seriously.  

So, once again, Doha managed to pull it off again.  Shocking me has become more and more difficult the longer I live here, but hat's off to you, little grocery-store man.  You did it!

5 comments:

Nicole said...

I'm not surprised! I've lived in Bahrain for over 12 years now and every now and then something (or someone) will leave me standing agape. There is nothing about this little corner of the world that is like "the West" -- the fact that you can buy a can of corn, a packet of Aunt Jemima's cornmeal or a box of Bisquick means nothing in the context of a massive cultural and religious shift. Even being married to a local (5 years this September) doesn't make me immune to the shock of a man withdrawing his hand in "horror", but honestly, the cold-store man probably didn't do it out of disgust, but more because touching you (even if only to brush your fingertips) is a sin. Would you knowingly sin when you could so easily avoid it?

Anonymous said...

I read your posts and I must say that I am not surprised by anything you are writing. It is quite typical of Americans to judge everyone and everything by American standards and think of anything outside of accepted norms in US as odd or unacceptable. Your entire post is full of experiences in Doha as negative and how much you disagree with everything in Doha then might I ask why you decide to stay there. No one has a gun to your head. Oh. Money I guess and that is typical of Americans as well. I have lived in US and learned to agree and appreciate what this country has to offer and love it as my own because it has provided me what I came here for.

Lori ~ The Simple Life at Home said...

Wow - Anonymous, I just don't know what to say to you. But I'll try. You don't know me, so I'll let you know that this isn't my first time living overseas and that I'm married to an Arab, so I'd visited the Arab world many times before making the move to Doha. I'm not some totally culturally ignorant American (which is how you seem to see all of us Americans).

However life is Doha is challenging. To pretend otherwise would be disingenous. People who have spent their entire adult lives moving from country to country find it difficult to adapt here for one reason or another. You don't mention where you come from, but every place has their challenges and their rewards, and Doha does as well. It just takes a little longer to get to the point where you can see and appreciate the rewards here.

Should I be ashamed that we are here for the money? I'm not - that money is allowing us to get out of debt, to provide for our kids' college educations, and to provide for our future.

I find it interesting that you seem to have left your home country, preferring to live in America. What's your motivation for being there? Particularly since you seem to have a dislike for Americans. Could it be that you make more money than you could in your home country? Or that life is better than there wherever you come from?

The bottom line here is that this blog is a place for me to voice my opinion. The transition to living in Doha was huge. If you'll notice, as I settled in, the Doha posts slowed down and I haven't even written anything on the blog for months. If you aren't able to understand that a lonely person in a foreign country sometimes needs a place to vent, then there's nothing I can say to explain it to you.

Lori ~ The Simple Life at Home said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lori ~ The Simple Life at Home said...

One more thing, Anonymous. I went through and re-read my "Doha Life" strand. Prior to this post, I had to go back to July 8, 2009 to find an even semi-critical piece on Doha. And in that post I was ranting about people not using car seats - something I'd still rant about today.

Like I said, I was in an adjustment period that first year. And while some things still make me shake my head in amazement about living here, our entire family is now happy and settled and quite used to life here.

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