Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Travel Often Getting Lost Will Help You Find Yourself: D for Dubai

The city has a soul. It's imported, its a bit artificial but nevertheless it has a soul (unlike Doha). It's like California on steroids or rather I should say California dipped in gold.

The best word to describe Dubai would be flamboyant.
As you walk from the beach to inland, the two-storey villas turn into 50+ storey skyscrapers, palm trees turn into dazzling facade lighting decorations and the chill attitude turns into swagger.      

They basically decorated the desert with skyscrapers, including the world's tallest building, and adorned them with led lights. The lighting show of the Burj Khalifa and the adjacent dancing fountain are lovely tourist attractions. After a long shopping day at the Dubai Mall, having dinner at one of the restaurants by the pool while watching these shows is the very definition of 'touristing in Dubai'. Though I have to admit, the blinding lights of the city are probably bad for the environment and a squandering of resources. But, no one feels bad about their lavish lifestyle in this region. They had too much too quickly so they just don't care. Sigh..petrol money..sigh.  

Ohh the captivating murals!

JBR is much like Santa Monica's oceanfront walk. Slightly shorter beach walk accompanied by various restaurants, shops, kids' play areas and a small pop up market, all of which over headed by colorful murals. It's very lively and busy at all times.     

D for Dubai

A little bit obvious and maybe a little too ostentatious but they know how to carve the letter D.  The word 'man-made' is taken to a whole another level. Man-made island in the shape of a palm tree or a man-made Venice-like canal city..You name it, they made it. 

They have 24-lane wide highways whereas in Turkey we still have max 4 lanes in major highways. Nevertheless, the traffic is hectic at peak hour. 

They have built way too many entertainment complexes and tourist attractions. You gotta give credit where credit is due. They had a vision and the money to implement it so they turned a piece of barren land into a commercial hub. 

They brought the whole world to the desert. There is an indoor botanical garden. There is a mall with a ski slope inside. - How intriguing! People'd pay just to say "I skied and saw penguins in the middle of the desert." - There is a giant aquarium in another mall, right around the corner from the giant waterfall with cool sculptures. The variety of the fish and underwater plants in this aquarium is stunning. A visit to the mall turns into watching NatGeo. 

There is a game center which is like a sci-fi movie came true. The experience lives up to the tagline; "Live the game". The virtual reality glasses provide an immersive experience which is the dream of every gamer. From the design of the floor stickers to the graffiti on the walls, from the zombie-themed male and female icons on the restroom doors to the fastrack access named "hackers entrance" everything was well thought out, impeccable.

Last but not least, all service personnel, from the waiter at the Buddha Bar to the attendant at the IMG Worlds of Adventure park, had a big smile on their faces and genuinely wanted to help. They turned every interaction into a heartwarming memory. They have been trained well on how to serve and they didn't hate their jobs (unlike most people in Qatar) so it was positively reflected in their work as well as the tips they got.   

Overall, Dubai was like a hidden gem or an oasis in the Arabian desert. I've already started planning my next trip! 

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Be A Badass Pollyanna

When I first moved to Qatar as a single woman who doesn't speak a word of Arabic, I took a chance on myself. Being an expat sounded so promising, full of opportunities to explore and develop both personally and professionally, that I didn't mind being in the middle of the Arabian desert. Since I've survived some pretty messed up shit before I figured I should be able to adapt to the Bedouin desert lifestyle. In the end, how hard can it be? That was the wrong question to ask. I should have asked, "Will I be able to live with myself once I adapt?".

This country makes you racist, sexist, ageist and bitter. 

The other day I found myself thinking a candidate with a newborn is not suitable for a social media position which would require her to control social media platforms after hours and on the weekends. All one needs is a smartphone with a good internet connection but you also need to be vigilant and eager to be online-all-the-time. I didn't think a 30-year-old woman with a baby is up to this challenge thus doesn't deserve to be given a chance. I wanted a young, single person possibly a fresh college graduate who grew up with social media (thus a natural user) and has no apparent ties (thus more flexible to be used and abused by the corporate slavery system).  

I also wanted someone non-Lebanese because you know "the Lebanese way", they tell you a story but the facts are quite different and they give you a million excuses to justify themselves even though deep down they know they aren't right. They also have that "I'm too good for this" attitude, they're not open to change as if they are already perfect.

Ohh, also I wanted a female candidate who is 'presentable' and relatively submissive since the position is embedded in the client's office. We need someone who can be cute and can ask for things so nicely that people would volunteer to make it happen.We need someone who won't get into a quarrel with the client, won't get tired of receiving contradictory orders and rebel. And you know boys..They don't take the path of least resistance, ever. A male candidate will reprehend the client for their impossible requests by day two and we will lose the client by the end of the week.   

Shufti? I've managed to be a racist, sexist and ageist all wrapped in one. Actually, when I first moved to Qatar and made my very first friends I criticized them for their racist/sexist/ageist comments. They've told me "give it 6 months and you'll catch up". I'm reporting from month 11; I've surpassed all expectations :/   

Don't forget the 'bitterness'. Merriam and Webster dictionary defines the word 'bitter' as "expressive of severe pain, grief or regret" or alternatively as "harshly reproachful, marked by cynicism and rancor". Yeap, that sums up mine and everyone else's feelings towards Qatar. 

I wasn't expecting rose gardens coming here but my almost 1 year in Qatar was full of disappointments. My job description was bogus along with the client portfolio. Whoever I tell this gives the same reaction; "Ohh, I experienced the exact same thing". They lie to get you to move to Qatar. They knowingly make promises that they cannot deliver and they are not a tiny bit ashamed of it. It starts with the driver who promises to pick you up at 8 o'clock and ends with your supplier who is bounded by a legal contract to deliver the goods on Monday. Neither of them delivers what they promised and there is nothing you can do about it. You won't find a better driver or a supplier and your next job will not be as promised during the interviews. You need to assume that most of the people you meet here will be dishonest, no one will tell you the truth or talk straight with you. 

This is how Qatar works. Everyone is here to make a quick buck and go back home. It's like everyone is intentionally doing a lousy job. They lie, they cheat, they deceive and they are incapable of shame. So, you need to assume the worst, lower your expectations and learn not to dwell on the things you cannot change. Let the sense of resentment settle in and then try seeing the bright side which is the ridiculous amount of salary you're being paid. There is no tax in this country because living in the desert with these people is tax itself. 

So, moving to the Arabian Gulf means constantly breathing a/c air, eating unhealthy, working for a job you never intended and dealing with lazy, dishonest people. You can choose to focus on the downsides and make your life even more miserable than it already is or you can learn a lesson or two from Eleanor Porter's Pollyanna. When you look for the bad in mankind expecting to find it, you surely will. You need to make a conscious effort to focus on the good. Play the "Glad Game" and find something to be glad about in every situation. It's the key to survival. 

Qatar is one of the safest countries with extremely low crime rates and rare (almost none) terrorist attacks. You're getting paid more than your mother and father combined. As a millennial, you can afford to have avocado for breakfast, lunch, and dinner whereas most of the millennials living with their parent because they cannot afford to live alone. It's almost always sunny and around 25oC and when it's not (when it's 45oC) you have a/c everywhere. And, there is always Facetime and occasional cheap flight tickets home.

Every day, every interaction is a battle between Pollyanna and my inner Queen of Misery. I am learning to count my blessings and stay positive in the face of adversity. I am super grateful for the values that are instilled in me by my family, the "can do" attitude I have been passed on by the women in my family and the incredible education I received through my family's money. 

I am determined to stay true to my core values and give this 30-year-old new mother a chance on this position. Even though chances are she's going to quit this job in 3 months and I'll have to look for a new candidate I still have to give her an equal chance. Maybe, she'll surprise me by abolishing my new biases that I developed in Qatar. After all, I have to practice what I preach otherwise I am no different than the chauvinists I often criticize.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Lessons from an Outsider

Being an outsider is challenging but rewarding at the same time. It’s true what Eckhart Tolle has said; it makes life difficult, but it also places you at an advantage as far as enlightenment is concerned. It teaches you a lot about what’s important in life and how you can navigate through the obstacles put in your way. It first puts you down, to the rock bottom, and then you develop certain coping mechanisms and ultimately grow as a person. So, basically it’s a blessing in disguise.

It’s not the first time I’m being an outsider but it surely is the most  conspicuous of all the times I’ve been an alien. Being a single, non-Arabic speaking, non-hijab-wearing Muslim, expat woman in the Gulf is awfully different than being the new kid in a private school or the young management trainee in a company where everyone has at least 7-10 years of tenure. It has nuisances in so many different levels but having a vagina complicates your life far more than vocabulary, faith and culture combined. 

Being a woman in the work place is tough, regardless of the geography. Being an ‘outsider’ is the one thing all working women have in common. Regardless of race, religion or social class it’s enough to be a woman in order to be judged and found ‘inadequate’ by men. Even Queen Victoria  had to prove her worth every single day as a young female monarch in the 19th century UK. She is now the symbol of great expansion of British Empire but she has gone through the same struggles modern women are going through. So, we can confidently say mankind has failed to accomplish adequate progress towards gender equality in the past century. 

Gender equality is almost non-existent in the Gulf. Not only we are paid less but also perceived as ‘lost causes’ since we are meant to get married, have kids – maybe follow our husbands to different countries –  and ultimately be mediocre employees. Being a highly educated woman with aspirations is perceived a passing fancy since your priorities will change soon after your marital status changes. In the eyes of the male-dominant senior management, having a career and having a family are two mutually exclusive things that a woman has to choose from. 

The annoying thing is people have the audacity to tell their sexist views right to your face. I’m sure men all over the world think like that to a certain extend but in the Gulf, they proudly share their views with you. On any given Sunday, you can receive advice from your manager, something along the lines of “Once you have kids, your productivity at the office will significantly decrease so you should work extra hard to climb up the leader as quickly as possible before you get pregnant” or your co-worker can make a comment like “Sometimes I wish gets married and becomes a housewife so we can have some peace of mind.” You just need to learn to let certain things go and choose your battles wisely.

Other than being perceived as an incubator, we are also a distraction, a temptation for our male co-workers. Using bikini models to sell sports cars is a widely accepted industry practice and we all have to accept the fact that straight men have trouble seeing anything (soul, mind etc.) beyond the female body. That’s why all the Abrahamic religions have rules on women’s attire and behavior in public.  There are people here who get aroused because you wear high heels or laugh or wear your hair a certain way (ie. pony tail). - Bear in mind, in Qatar, expat women has to wear clothes that cover from the shoulders to below the knee. 

Anything and everything you do can be deemed as flirtation and anything and everything you wear can arouse a co-worker. So, modesty has a completely different meaning in this region. Some people are basically stuck in the 19th century and they’re not so eager to catch up with the rest of the world. Meanwhile in Cannes, advertising campaigns to raise awareness on gender equality being awarded Glass Lions, the women of this region find pride in their seclusion. They think the best thing a woman can achieve is to lead a wholesome life which requires wearing an abaya while they judge anyone who does not comply with the same level of  purdah  a symbol of sin and a treat to their families. When you're surrounded with men who get aroused by the sound of your heels, you understand why the women think that way. - not that you agree with them but you come to see their reasons.

So,  every day is a battle in Qatar which is fought in many fronts. But as they say, what doesn't kill you gives you a number of coping mechanisms. You learn to hear the bullshit but not listen to it. You learn to accept the facts - it's a fact that gender equality is a global problem but it's a bigger one in this region- and then tailor your expectations accordingly. You cannot change the world views of people. You can be the best version of yourself just for your benefit - not to prove yourself to anyone - and some people will recognize the fault in their ways and some people will still never perceive your true value. Acceptance of the facts will make you a more tranquil person.  

Most ambitious women stay here for a couple of years to save some money and move to more open-minded parts of the world in order to be perceived as worthy as their male counterparts. Maybe, I'll call it quits like the rest of them or I'll persevere. Time will tell. Until then, the only way to survive is to make peace with your reality, choose your battles wisely and put a brave face on.  

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Gotta Luv Dust

Imagine a country with the highest GDP per capita in the world, overcrowded with low skilled expats, making the nationals a minority in their own country, that's Qatar. 
Every country has an income gap but Qatar's case is off the charts. On one side you have the Qataris, approximately 14% of the total population, who are entitled to revenues from the country's natural resources. Their lives are the dictionary definition of the word opulence. Education, health, water, electricity and many more services are free for them. Plus they receive very handsome salaries from the government starting from day 1 of their careers.
On the other side, you have Indian or Nepali construction workers with less than $500 monthly salaries and Filipina maids with roughly $700.  

You can clearly see the reflection of petrol money on the countless skyscrapers the city has. It's as if they dipped the city in gold brick by brick. The architecture is awe-inspiring. Interior designs are almost always shiny and glittering. You can smell the entitlement in the air.

Qataris may be blessed with both petroleum and natural gas reserves but its also their curse. The country has many deadlocks, a perfect example of which is 'bachelor ban' on a 'family day'. Qatar wants to build museums, malls, railways and many more vast structures which requires importing thousands of construction workers from Asia and Africa. But then they want to ban these blue collar workers who moved to Qatar alone, leaving their families behind, from the malls potentially on the only day of the week they get to relax. 

Some of these bachelors do have a tendency to stare at women in a very bothersome manner. Even though most Qatari men also give you the same unwanted attention they probably wouldn't be banned from the malls if the 'family day' concept were to be introduced. 

That's not the only contradiction Qatar has. The country wants to diversify its portfolio and get more tourists, but only on their terms. There are strict rules on alcohol consumption and way of dressing (mostly for women). Considering Qatar is planning to host the FIFA World Cup 2022, it's going to be an awkward experience for both parties.  

The country puts a great emphasis on education and invests in it. Qatari females are significantly more educated than their male partners.  Female students outnumber the males students in universities. But the place of the women in the society is archaic due to the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam. Women are mostly secluded from men, mixing between the two sexes doesn't really exist, though there are rumors about private house parties indicating otherwise. This seclusion doesn't apply to expat women, they are outnumbered by male expats but nevertheless, they are everywhere. Working with Qataris - and also Muslims from similar sects - is quite tricky for women. The workplace can easily get awkward when you reach forth to shake someone's hand and they refuse. Receiving borderline insulting comments like "You're sure you didn't get help from your husband on this?" or "You're pretty tough for a girl" is quite common. Men take it on themselves to try to put you in your rightful place if you dare to defy them. So, it's like anywhere else in the world in terms of gender discrimination but it's more out in the open.  

As you get used to the extremely hot and humid weather, you also get used to the new normal. You put another layer of clothing on your shoulders to persevere under the male chauvinism as well as protect yourself from the freezing a/c everywhere. You adapt to the new weekend; Friday & Saturday and feel lucky you're not working 6 days a week like most of the expats. 

Dust is everywhere because there is construction everywhere. They are building a whole new city for World Cup 2022. It's also hard to grasp the reason why Qataris love the dessert so much but there is no escape form it. The city is surrounded with dessert and filled with construction sites. So, you gotta love dust and color beige!

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Travel Often Getting Lost Will Help You Find Yourself: Sydney Episode

Sydney is like a second home to me.  After all it where my second family lives. 

The coastal walk from Clovelly to Bondi leaves you speechless. You are introduced to a beach life that you cannot find anywhere. Neither Barcelona nor LA can compete with Sydney beaches. You've got to teach your kids how the ocean works when they are around age 5. Otherwise, the ocean can be really scary. You've got to learn how to keep up with the waves. Then, all you need is to ride the amazing waves. 


Australia also means friends-for-life. Conversations that you pick up right where you left off years ago. Friends that teach you how to look deep into your soul and smile. Even though oceans apart, we are always together in heart and soul.


And the parties.. Crazy, fancy, mind blowing parties. I absolutely love partying with these amazing souls!   

The Kingsford Airport is the saddest place on earth. Its scarier than a hospital for me. Its always hard to say goodbye but we try to hold on to our beautiful memories rather than the distance between us. Keep on and keep the smile on! 

Travel Often Getting Lost Will Help You Find Yourself: Malaysia Episode

Malaysia was really Truly Asia with its rich culture and nature. 

In the Quran paradise is depicted as "gardens watered by running streams" and Malaysia is like a reflection of paradise on earth with its evergreen rainforests dancing hand in hand with the ocean.


From Buddhist temples to Hindu temples, from Roman Catholic churches to Maliki mosques all roads led to an indescribable peace that would take over one's mind and heart. The craftsmanship was laudable on each and every one these holly architectures. The colourful outlook of these buildings created a rainbow of joyful celebration of a variety of believes. But most importantly, it was surrounded with respect for one and other.

On a special note for Islam; the call to prayer wasn't broadcasted loudly from the mosques. You really need to make an effort to hear the azan but mosques were packed during the prayer times. So, I guess you don't have to scream at the top of your lungs to convince people to visit the mosque and carry out their religious duties.

The cuisine was as colourful and prolific as the religious front. It was a fusion of indonesian and indian cuisines with a twist of lime on everything. Most of the vegetables were advised to be consumed raw. Imagine the fresh taste! And, it was incredibly cheap. This is the first time that I've visited a country which offered incredibly delicious and nutritious food for less than $5. I thought food was cheap in Turkey, scratch that.  

On convergence with Turkey, the streets (in Kuala Lumpur mostly not in Kuching) were quite dirty. It looked like you've taken the back streets of Eminonu and placed them in southeast asia. There were super old and dirty looking apartments right next to newly built, super luxurious skyscrapers. The income gap was so evident and heartbreaking. I've come to realise that its also the case in Qatar. - but its another story for another post.    

Staying at a tree house in the heart of the rainforest was a-ma-zing! The nature was mesmerising. Waking up and going to sleep with the sound of the waves was therapeutic. But, no matter how much repellant you put on your skin there is no hiding from the mosquitos. And, you cannot use the tap water to brush your teeth so that's another challenge in the mornings.  

Closing remarks, kudos to Malaysia for showing me a version of Islam which was really like the ancient Medina people; lenient, respectful and inclusive.