Saturday, February 21, 2015

A Qatari Farm Visit

The woman in the scarf was a delight to meet--extremely vibrant, outgoing, and strong-minded.  Don't let the scarf fool you that she is timid or withdrawn!   The woman in the background was from Iceland, my own heritage.  None of us knew one another ten minutes before this picture was taken.  But friendships, sisterhood, and similarities were immediately discovered.


The Qatari Women's Association invited about 100 women--all from many diverse nationalities--to a farm outside of Doha to talk about living the Bedouin, nomadic life decades ago here in Qatar.   A bountiful, lavish lunch was provided.  In typical Middle East style, they could have fed twice as many people.  The concept of "hospitality to the stranger" that is taught in the Quran permeates every encounter and interaction here.  

As we gathered together on the floor around the meal, shoes and inhibitions were thrown off, as we entered the beautiful tiled home.  Women from about 20 countries sat knee to knee, while they spoke of their varied experiences, travels, ideals.   From one Egyptian woman, I was offered Arabic lessons, and another Middle East woman told me I would make a good Muslim because she said, "We really are so similar."  

The host invited many of us to share our experiences and thoughts of her country. When we were finished with the meal, all the guests were given fresh eggs and cut herbs to take home.  We were strengthened or fueled, not only with sumptuous food, but were instructed how to have a more boundless heart, a heart that can never have too many friends.



One of the ways guests are shown hospitality is the abundance of food that is always served.  Before this meal, we had already been fed many varieties of local pastries and fruit.
   





Several older Bedouin women spoke on what it was like to live in Qatar when cars were thought of as "monsters" on the street. She said as children they would run away from them, frightened that it was an alien from another world.  One said there was no sickness because people ate very simply, with lots of yogurt.  No one ever saw a doctor.  They shared the sparsity of what they possessed with one another.  Families lived closer to one another, she said, and life was much simpler.  

To leave the bustle of the city was soothing, nourishing--like drinking water when you are quenched for thirst.  But the farm visit was even more enhanced by meeting women from all over the world, and knowing that we are really all the same.  We had birthed children, studied, buried loved ones, tried to find joy, and most of all, loved. Hopefully, we have all laughed a lot too through the journey. One Qatari woman told me, " We women must never divide our love; we need to multiply it, make more of it.  We must not settle for only giving small amounts of love, but we need to learn to make our heart grow 
--especially in our family relationships."  Wise counsel from a woman with six children and ten step-children!


The purple finger tips were dipped in henna, as they were long ago--just as we modern women apply fingernail polish.  It is now more common to have designs on the body with henna.  Women of the desert used fragrances,  flowers in the hair, and scarves to appear more beautiful.  I agree!  A woman can never have enough scarves.....

All homes and even tents in the Middle East have some designated area for guests, even strangers, to be entertained and given hospitality of spirit and replenishment--however meager or abundant.   The three religions of the Middle East, Islamic, Christian, and Jewish, all are rooted in deserts places, where sojourners, and even foreigners were given precious nourishment and water.  This is a picture of an majlas (a place where men generally gather), an area away from the home or even separate from the home to host visitors--both family, friends, and strangers alike.


This room is located in an adjacent area in the same building, a place where people gather to drink and eat together.  When a person shares a cup of tea or meal with someone, one is almost transitioned to becoming a family member.  To entertain the stranger is to invite God or His angels to one's house.  This main pillar of Quran is not only believed, but lived with a magnanimous generosity of spirit.  I am constantly humbled by the kind acts and invitations I have been given in the few short months I have been here.  

This is the entrance to the farm.  Believe me, a lush, verdant field is very rare here in Qatar.



A picture, from the Art Gallery at the Souq (outdoor market) shows women on a farm sharing the work together.  
Lessons that I took home that day on the farm are shown in this painting:  This painting, also from the art gallery in the Souq (outdoor market), with the featureless faces, reminds me that we really are all so similar--poor and rich, young and old, illiterate and educated, religious and secular.   We all want to connect, have joy, and laugh heartily.  We all deserve or need a little more light and love as we intersect in our lives.  There is potentially profound purpose in the casual encounter.  If we allow the boundaries and definitions to define us, there is so much beauty and learning to be lost.  My first post in September, 2014 describes some of my own walls falling down in 'My New Neighborhood' when I first came here.  I will always be grateful that a woman in a burqa (my next door neighbor) taught me how to thrust off fears and preconceived notions of who my friends could be.