The refugee hitchhiker who haunts me

She stood by the Katara exit kiosk with two boys by her side.

I slowed down to a stop, expecting her to cross the road. But she walked up to the car and in Arabic interspersed with a few English words asked me to drop her in Dafna.

How dangerous could it be? A well-dressed hitchhiker of about 40, with 2 young boys in tow. Yes, it was close to midnight, but this is Doha, after all.

When I offered to help find a taxi, she insisted politely (almost a plea) that I drop her home. It was not too far away from Katara… The boys were hanging behind, obviously uncomfortable.

So there they were in the car, one second discussing the amazing Cinema Paradiso we had all seen at the last screening of Doha Tribeca that night, and the next second we were discussing the war in Syria.

The mother with her two sons and two daughters fled to Doha from Damascus. The daughters stayed with their aunt (her sister), while she lived in a single rented room with her sons. No job in sight, and unable to afford to send the kids to school. Four months in Qatar, having lost all that was familiar and comfortable.

She had left behind a 20-year-old career as a French teacher, her husband, friends, her home. Now in Qatar, she is not quite sure whether she was at the threshold of greater tumult or little hope.

In that moment she was as lost as a person could possibly be. She doesn’t quite remember the route back home to her room. Mohammed, the younger one who could not have been over 10 seems to have an inkling. He guides me through the lefts and rights of Dafna. He is chatty.

Ahmed, the older boy — around 12-13 — is stoic. I can’t make out if he is unhappy about his mother talking to a stranger about her worries and fears; or if he was just unhappy. It’s him that I worry about most.

To take a healthy, bright teen out of school and to a strange country… How do you keep him happy and positive? What kind of courage and desperation did it take for that mother to make this move?

We finally find our way to their home. We are by now on first name basis. K writes her name, number, email id and Facebook user name on a piece of paper. She takes down my details. She believes I could be one of the people who’d help her find a job here.

Her sons are listening. Maybe they are buying some of that belief too.

I feel crushed by the truth of the matter — I can’t do much but I can’t tell her that.

Three days after the encounter, I am still haunted by the eagerness in her smile, the determination in her voice, the sadness in her eyes and by Ahmed’s unsmiling face.

This is what war does. It splits families. It crushes dreams. It makes warriors of mothers and children.

 

PS: If you know of a job she can apply for please contact me.

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Why do THEY hate us? Us, the Indians…

Why do they hate us? Why do YOU hate us?

Why, despite our much touted-diversity, are we treated as ONE? The whole bunch of a billion plus of us. Do our numbers threaten you? Then how come the Chinese get away with it?

Why are you so surprised by those of us who are successful? You don’t think a civilisation that dates back a few thousand years, and centuries of foreign influence should give us an edge?

Why is the way we speak English so much funnier than say, the way the French or Spanish or Japanese speak it? Or even some Americans. When most of you ‘native’ English speakers can’t get your plurals, apostrophes, Me and I right, why are our quirks so irritating to you?

English is the language of our business and education, of our laws and policies, so yes, we have earned the right to design our own idioms, and unique usages.

That’s Indian English, so live with it.

Ok, ‘the’ Indian accent is difficult to understand.  But, when you say things like “I can do the Indian accent”, you merely sound pompous and ignorant. Because–sorry to burst your bubble–there is no ‘the’ Indian accent. At best you might be able to do ‘an’ Indian accent.

Even in our accents we have diversity. Every state has a unique Indian-English accent, based on what the native language of that group is.

The only reason I can see why you find us and our English so funny and ridiculous is because you can’t accept that we have achieved success despite the bigoted opinions you might have of us.

Yes, there is poverty, corruption, sectarianism, murder of the girl child… any number of issues that make me cringe when I talk about being Indian. None of which gives YOU a frigging right to treat us poorly.

Despite all this, what you will find in EVERY household in India, from the poorest to the richest, is the altar we have built for education. Yes, we’ll live in slums and crap on the streets, but we will still have a revered place for books in our homes. We know that’s our ticket out of the rut we might find ourselves in, or that that was the ticket that got us out of it. That’s the ticket that will help us build personal toilets within the four walls of our homes.

Next time you say ‘those Indians’ with disdain, or treat me or my countrymen/women poorly–we who clean your homes, teach your kids, drive your fancy cars, do your accounts, write your books, fix your computer glitches or sell your produce–keep in mind we are laughing at you too.

Every day, every year, we are  all making ourselves indispensable to the way YOU lead your life. And every racist, bigoted action and word against us will come back to bite you. Because one thing you won’t accuse us of is taking the easy way out, taking our education lightly or doing ‘nothing’ to earn our living. We will work our asses off and we will make our kids study as if they were in a boot camp everyday (even if it’s Indian English along with Indian mathematics and science that they learn). Along the way we’ll learn from you too. We’ll have them focus more on arts and entertainment… we are already there remember?

We’ll be there in your faces everyday for the rest of your lives.

We will buy your supermarkets from London to Sydney; We will make the viruses, we will get the antidotes; We will clean your streets and lavatories; We will also own your banks and steel mills; We will take your sport, and make it our own megabucks venture; We will teach your kids, in your own countries, subjects that you brought to life.

And yes, we will make use of every immigration opening available around the world and move.

So get used to it.

I am sick and tired of the supposedly polite–and deeply racist and rude–questions that are thrown my way.

Am I to take it as a compliment that you are surprised I speak English well or read ‘your’ classics, or that my kids know more about Dr Seuss or Roald Dahl than yours do?

Am I to take it as a compliment that you can hardly hide your shock that I occupy the seat I do, just because you speak a European language? Even if your country is in debt so deep it will not be cleared in your life time, and it rarely ever moves away from the brink of another civil war? Am I to cower because of my Dravidian frizzy hair and brown skin, as I stand before your Aryan greatness?

I know there are some valid reasons for hating us. But that’s true for the rest of you as well. Am sure not a single one of you or your group is beyond reproach or annoyances yourself.

My next question should be Why do we hate OURSELVES so much. That’s for another day, another very long post… our actions unfortunately mirror our grievances.
 
Sorry Mona Eltahawy for borrowing your now famous line.
 
 

If I were a mare…

Today I spent an hour at a premium stable that’s home to over a hundred of the best Arabian horses in the world. And…

Not from the above mentioned stable, for display reasons alone. Link shows the source.

1. I now truly get the term ‘stud’ — if I were a mare… neigh!

2. Ringside view of genetic selection. Saw where the stallions are mounted, and the container into which they ejaculate. The railing where the mares are impregnated. In fact, as we were leaving the stables, saw a mare, tail up in the air and two men at work!

Only IVF permitted at the stables. Some of the semen is used on mares at the stable, some are sold, and some used on mares in stables outside Doha.

3. In my next life I want to be a show horse. A stallion, preferably. Gorgeous beasts. And what a life. Their spa routine includes a trot, a bit on the treadmill, a swim in the pool, followed by some serious grooming.

But I would also like to get it off with a mare every now and then, and not just pump my goodies into a plastic bottle all the time, even if it’s for the greater good of well-bred snobbery.

4. ALL mums and babies give out the same vibe. No matter what the species. Went to the ‘nursery’ where gestating mares, foals and their maters are housed.

The gestating mare looked tired and weary — no pregnancy glow there.

The legends outside each stall reveal that the most popular paters are an award-winning stud, and his award-winning son. Slightly incestuous, but that doesn’t matter I suppose.

The foals were curious and sticking their cute little(ish) heads out to be petted. Closely followed by the aggressive mums, ears flattened, teeth bared. Beautiful bonds.

5. Darker skinned horses are the most beautiful — majestic. There is also an aura of arrogance around the show horses. Not dissimilar to ramp models. That amount of attention and preening is good for neither man nor beast, I guess.

6. From now on, the ‘stud’ description will be reserved only for guys who have at least a fraction of these fellows’ charisma.

grace under pressure

today i spent a little over an hour with Aseel Al Awadhi, one of the four women elected to the Kuwaiti Parliament in 2009 — a first for the country, that has the oldest constitution in the GCC and is the first constitutional monarchy in the region.

she is in town to deliver a lecture, and the actual interview will appear in my titles — but i HAD to blog about her.

a ph.d. in political philosophy, she has an amazing way of dealing with her critics/detractors. she breaks down the premises from which they come with such eloquence; rationalises those opposing viewpoints in a much better fashion than the critics themselves could. and with that she exposes them for what they are, without any falsification, disrespect or anger.

it’s not easy being who she is in the region as a whole, and only marginally easier in Kuwait.

more power to your elbow, lady.