xmas

Repatriot

A month ago I referred to myself as being in the "honeymoon stage" of reentry, which drew objections from a friend who said that it's entirely unnotable that I'm happy to return home and find value in my own culture.

However, it seemed notable to me because people who are repatriating often do experience reverse culture shock. Many of my friends who've moved back to the States have expressed only small senses of loss at the transition -- missing the adrenaline of the roundabouts or the beautiful desert sunsets -- but some have talked about more serious reactions, like feeling an emotional disconnect from the friends and family they'd been so eagerly looking forward to visiting. So it seems worth saying that many people do feel a bit lost or disconnected when they come home.

I expected to feel significant ambivalence about leaving Doha after 6 years; after all, I had reverse culture shock after moving back from only 6 months in London. I felt overwhelmed by American grocery stores, and had a surprising sense of loss about the sudden irrelevance of all the small daily things I'd worked so hard to master, like learning the Tube map or how to hold my knife and fork.

After a month back from Qatar, though, I have to say I'm still genuinely thrilled to be home. The most striking feature of American culture to me over the course of this month has been how friendly most people are to each other most of the time. I think that every day I have witnessed some small act of kindness towards strangers: bus passengers shouting to the driver to wait because a slow-moving elderly person was coming, a jogger stopping to check a loose dog's collar for contact information, a stranger letting me know something had fallen out of my pocket. What's more, every time I've wanted to change lanes, merge, or make an unprotected left turn, someone has immediately paused to let me in. All these moments too are tiny and insignificant-seeming, but they add up to feeling like I am in a community where people are looking out for each other. It's strange, because I would never have said that Doha was unfriendly or that people were particularly unsympathetic to each other. Perhaps it's harder there to feel fellow-feeling for people whose lives are so inscrutably different from your own, or perhaps I'd underestimated how much daily interaction was stymied by language barriers. At any rate, I find my heart embarrassingly warmed by every routine pleasantry and small gesture of decency I experience here.

I'm not really one for national days or patriotism, but on this Independence Day I find myself remembering seeing a typo just before we moved to Qatar that referred to Americans in Doha as "ex-patriots" instead of "expatriates." That would make me a repatriot now. And maybe I kind of am. There are lots of really terrible things about the US, and I don't want to be Polyannaish about it, but I can't deny that it's really, really good to be home.
fetus

Zoe's blog

We have set up a blog for Zoë's birth and early days over at zoecarlson.com. (Why yes, we did check that that domain was available before finalizing our name choice.)

This morning's ultrasound video is on there, and I'm gradually copying old pregnancy updates from this blog to that. More notably, however, that blog is where we plan to post updates when I go into labor, so if you want to be kept up to date when that happens, that's the site you should RSS or bookmark.
xmas

suggest books!

I'm in the library, surrounded by books, which is a bit overwhelming after six years in a country where the best places to acquire books are a record store and an office supply store.

So... what should I be reading?
xmas

Identity crisis

My CMU accounts are getting deactivated this week. No more qatar.cmu.edu email address! No more OED access! Alas.

A former student pointed out on Twitter yesterday that I'm still using the username qatarperegrine everywhere. I guess it's time to come up with a new username?

I was rather fond of qatarperegrine. Peregrine means a wanderer; it comes from a Latin word meaning a foreigner traveling abroad; it's also the root of pilgrim, and thus has overtones of traveling in pursuit of religious understanding. All three of these meanings seemed to suit my frame of mind when I moved to Qatar. It's also thematically linked to the other two usernames I've used in my life: Sparrowhawk, as they're both names of falcons, and Luthien, as they're both Tolkien characters.

It may be that I overthink usernames a little.

At any rate, I haven't quite decided on a new one, so for now I'm still qatarperegrine. Friends have suggested something Pittsburgh-related -- but being in Pittsburgh is certainly less notable than being in Qatar -- or something baby-related -- but I suspect enough of my identity will be subsumed by parenthood in the near future as it is.

As for this journal, I think that instead of changing the username, I will probably just stop using it sometime soon, so that it retains its identity as a blog about my six years in Qatar. If I do keep blogging, I'll let you know where I move on to.
xmas

Censorship in action

Props to Nigel for pointing out a glorious example of Qatari self-censorship in action. Here, side by side, are a Reuters article and its redactions in the Gulf Times and Peninsula, with significant differences in red:

REUTERSGULF TIMESPENINSULA
A long-planned $3 billion bridge linking Bahrain and Qatar has been put on hold and the project team scaled back, sources close to the project said, amid escalating costs and increased political tension.A long-planned $3bn bridge linking Bahrain and Qatar has been put on hold and the project team scaled back, sources close to the project said.A long-planned $3bn bridge linking Bahrain and Qatar has been put on hold and the project team scaled back amid escalating costs, sources close to the project have said.
The 40-kilometre causeway linking gas exporter Qatar to the island kingdom of Bahrain was set to play a key role in improving infrastructure connections between members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), but has been beset by problems.The 40-km causeway linking Qatar to the island kingdom of Bahrain was set to play a key role in improving infrastructure connections between members of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC), but has been beset by problems.The 40-kilometre causeway linking Qatar to Bahrain was set to play a key role in improving infrastructure connections between members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
The project, first announced in 2001, had already been delayed in 2008 to change the project scope to include trains, and late last year the countries said work would start in the first quarter and be completed by 2015.The project, first announced in 2001, had already been delayed in 2008 to change the project scope to include trains, and late last year the countries said work would start in the first quarter and be completed by 2015.The project, first announced in 2001, had already been delayed in 2008 to change the project scope to include trains, and late last year the countries said work would start in the first quarter and would be completed by 2015.
That fresh date came and went, however, and the project prospects were further dampened in May, when Bahrain said Qatar's coast guard shot and wounded a Bahraini fisherman who had entered Qatari waters.
The project has seen many, many problems (and there were) also the political tensions,' a source close to the project told Reuters, adding 'the team has been significantly decreased.' “The project has seen many, many problems..,” a source close to the project told Reuters, adding “the team has been significantly decreased.”
The exact reason for the suspension of the project was not immediately clear, although Jassim Ali, a member of the economic committee of Bahrain's parliament, said 'the project has been on hold for some time, but it is not cancelled,' adding cost increases and financing issues had played a role.The exact reason for the suspension of the project was not immediately clear, although Jassim Ali, a member of the economic committee of Bahrain’s parliament, said “the project has been on hold for some time, but it is not cancelled”, adding cost increases and financing issues had played a role.Jassim Ali, a member of the economic committee of Bahrain's parliament, said “the project has been on hold for some time, but it is not cancelled,” adding cost increases and financing issues had played a role.
Contractors for the project, the latest official cost estimate for which stands at $3 billion, include France's Vinci and Germany's Hochtief , Qatari Diar Real Estate and Consolidated Contractors Company (CCC).Contractors for the project, the latest official cost estimate for which stands at $3bn, include France’s Vinci and Germany’s Hochtief AG, Qatari Diar Real Estate and Consolidated Contractors Company (CCC).Contractors for the project France’s Vinci and Germany’s Hochtief AG, Qatari Diar Real Estate and Consolidated Contractors Company.
A spokesman for Hochtief confirmed the construction phase had never been reached.A spokesman for Hochtief confirmed the construction phase had never been reached.A spokesman for Hochtief confirmed the construction phase had never been reached.
'We got a contract to do some planning (for the bridge), which we did, but a contract for the actual construction was never commissioned,' he said.“We got a contract to do some planning (for the bridge), which we did, but a contract for the actual construction was never commissioned,” he said.
Member countries of the GCC, a loose political and economic bloc, are trying to integrate their economies, with four of them eyeing a joint currency, but have built up little cross-border infrastructure.
The rail tracks on the causeway were to have been part of a planned train network that would connect the members of the GCC, which also include Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and the UAE.
xmas

Repatriation, day 3

People know to expect culture shock when they move abroad. They're generally less prepared to experience it when they move back home, because home is home, right? Only when you experience something that changes you, like living abroad (or going to college) then you can't just come back home and expect everything to be the same as it was.

So, like I documented my first impressions of Qatar when I moved there 6 years ago, I'm going to try to document some of my first impressions of the US now I'm back.

Observations from 3 days back in the States, in no particular order:

  • SO much foliage! And weeds! Plants grow BY THEMSELVES unless you actively STOP THEM!
  • It makes me so happy just to see pedestrians and joggers out and about. It somehow gives neighborhoods a much more "community" feel, which is odd since it's not like the pedestrians are communing with each other.
  • Way, WAY more people have tattoos than I remember.
  • Shopkeepers and other service-type people are friendly. Even the ones processing our driver's license renewal paperwork. I remember noticing, when I moved back to the US from London, that Americans seem to want friendly service while Britain seems to favor polite service. I'd say service in Qatar tends towards obsequious.
  • For some reason Americans don't know how to make a plane take off on time. Why is this?
  • It's weird sitting in a restaurant and understanding what the people at the next table are saying. You have to TRY not to eavesdrop.
  • Most of the shops I've gone in here have been playing music I liked. On the other hand, many of them have also had a TV blaring. TV is worse than I remember.
  • Fresh fruit, on the other hand, is way better than I remember.
  • I'm totally out of touch with American fashion. WHY are the 80s back?
  • SO MANY BOOKS in the bookstore!
  • Nobody's called me "ma'am" all week, let alone "ma'amsir." And I don't get the royal treatment for being pregnant, whereas in Doha being pregnant allows you to skip all lines everywhere.
  • I am for sure in the "honeymoon" stage of reentry. I know that American culture has lots of downsides that I will encounter soon. But I'm enjoying the honeymoon while it lasts. :-)
travel

Things I'll miss, things I won't

I started a list a couple weeks ago of things I imagined I'd really miss about Doha -- and things I was looking forward to about the US. I never finished cleaning it up, but I figure I should post it now so I can see in a few weeks how accurate it was.

Things I'll miss about Doha:
  1. Getting to know awesome new CMU-Q employees every semester; this is the best place on the planet to make friends.
  2. Our students. I will probably never work in an environment so diverse again, or have so many chances to learn from the students I'm theoretically teaching. :-)
  3. The travel opportunities -- I'm so grateful for the amazing places we've visited while here.
  4. Unimaginably spectacular fruit juices.
  5. Bharath's navrattan korma, and Petra's 82-cent falafels.
  6. Breezing into a hospital without an appointment and seeing a specialist 5 minutes later.
  7. Souq Waqif -- hanging out with friends, drinking lemon mint, smoking shisha, and people-watching.
  8. The fact that grocery stores sell my favorite American foods, my favorite British foods, and yummy local stuff.
  9. A4 paper! It's just so much cuter than 8.5x11.
  10. Being part of Education City -- feeling like I'm part of something new and awesome happening in the world.


Things I'm looking forward to (this was written before I knew I'd be going to Pittsburgh):
  1. Not being told by the government what websites i can & can't visit, what movies I can & can't watch, what books I can & can't read.
  2. No "Family Day" (explicit government policies that ban less-desirable people from public spaces at certain times).
  3. News media that is free to talk about societal and governmental failings. Relatedly, having outlets for disagreeing with government policies (protests, letters to editor, voting) other than bitching about them on my blog.
  4. Getting mail in days instead of weeks; in the last few months Qatar has started censoring mail more, so the process has slowed unbearably.
  5. Being treated by waitstaff, cleaners, etc., like a fellow person, not like a superior being from another planet.
  6. Being able to get things repaired in my house without weeks of unanswered email followed by an inability to accomplish anything due to difficulty communicating with repair people.
  7. Walking and taking the bus!
  8. Being more environmentally friendly (not driving everywhere, not running the AC all the time, buying organic food, buying stuff from Goodwill/Craigslist, etc.)
  9. Laid-back drivers.
  10. Mexican food!!!!!


I already know I overlooked a lot of important things. (Things I miss: being treated like a queen because I'm pregnant. Things I'm excited about: TREES! CLOUDS!!!) I figure I should document my reentry shock like I documented my initial reactions to Doha, so I'll keep you posted!
niqab

Repatriating

I'm in the Doha airport, waiting for my one-way flight to Pittsburgh. Ever since I printed our etickets, I've been flipping over the sheet of paper looking for the return flights; I can't quite get my mind around the idea that there aren't any.

I'm not a Qatari resident anymore. I'm also not a Carnegie Mellon employee anymore, which has hit me kind of unexpectedly hard. I think that this is the right thing to do -- we can't stay in Qatar forever, and with Justin finishing his doctorate and both of us transitioning to parenthood, I think this is the right time for a fresh start. But it's still really, really hard. I think these six years in Doha have probably been the happiest in my life.

Boarding. Next post should be from Pittsburgh!
xmas

Coin quiz!

While sorting through our change jar, I found coins in 12 different currencies. How many of the countries can you identify? (Click for full size.)



Bonus question: which of these coins is worth most? least? :-)
xmas

"Pittsburgh is kind of like Newark without the cultural advantages." -Johnny Carson

WE'RE MOVING TO PITTSBURGH!!!!!

In, like, a week. Eek.

I'm ridiculously excited.

Questions for Pittsburghy people:
  1. Do you know anyone who's subletting for the summer? We're looking for somewhere to stay while we house-hunt (preferably furnished, and definitely in Squirrel Hill, Shadyside or Oakland).
  2. Comcast or Verizon FiOS? Or are there other options?
  3. Do you have any recommendations for cell phone providers/plans/phones? I was all excited about getting an Android, but I had no idea mobile telephony was so freakishly expensive in the US. I hereby take back all the mean things I've said about QTel.
  4. In the extremely unlikely case that you have spawned young in Pittsburgh: Magee or West Penn?


Edit: In response to several questions -- it looks like Justin will have a couple job options in Pittsburgh, so we don't actually know where he'll be working yet.