It’s Raining Stupid People

I had just begun the short walk to the nearby grocery store tonight, when a local driver in a parked SUV rolled down his window and threw out a crumpled up piece of paper. While this is an extremely common sight in these parts, creating plentiful litter-scooping jobs for imported brown men, it never ceases to leave me with smoke rolling out my ears. I muttered some choice words under my breath, just in time to witness the backseat passenger roll down his window and follow suit with a handful of napkins. My Confront-a-Jerkometer shot through the roof, and I could not stop myself from yelling,

“SIR!!”

All three men, in their white robes, in their white SUV, turned my way. Their smiles dissipated as I approached the vehicle, angrily gesturing to the trash on the ground. “Your trash is on the ground!” I scolded them, adding, “You should keep your country beautiful!”

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The driver immediately apologized, sounding surprisingly sincere. The man in the backseat jumped out, hastily collecting the litter before returning to his seat in the back. I thanked them and continued to the grocery store, mulling over how non-confrontational and apologetic the local men are here, and possible contributing factors to their careless habits.

What can be said for people who seemingly have neither bad intentions nor good intentions – rather, a general lack of intentions? How do people become so disconnected from, so unconcerned with, the world in which they live? When all a person’s wants and needs have been effortlessly fulfilled, are they left wanting for nil, uninterested in fixing what they don’t believe to be broken? Or do we just have a case of Intentional Assholes on our hands? It’s impossible to tell.

In another case of Things I Probably Shouldn’t Have Said, I made the mistake of asking an Applebee’s waitress what vegetarian dish she would recommend. Under normal conditions, I would never utter the word “vegetarian” to restaurant staff. After 4 years, I have pretty much mastered the skill of eating veg in non-veg places without drawing attention to myself. However, it was late at night, I was exhausted, and I was hoping to get in and out with a “takeaway” order as quickly as possible so as not to keep the taxi driver waiting.

Without missing a beat, the Filipina waitress scoffed at my request, giving me a once over and telling me I don’t need to lose weight. She then proceeded to explain how delicious meat tastes, and suggested a pasta dish with shrimp. I returned the menu to her and walked out, thinking of all the things I wished I would have said.

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At work recently, a 7 or 8-year-old student randomly commented that non-Muslims are going. I asked him where they’re going. He said he didn’t know, but when the world ends, they’re all going away. I laughed and told him the only place I’m going is home, and that I’ll worry about the end of the world if that day comes.

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January has been a Grumpy Cat kind of month. Welcome, February!

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Conversations with Young English Learners (Part 5)

I have tutored almost every day this last week! The shifts have been short, but rewarding. A few times, I wound up with four students at once, instead of the maximum three. The students are of varying ages and grade levels, each with their own lesson plan, so four of them at a time requires serious juggling. In the flurry of helping with reading assignments, writing assignments, and quizzes, I regretfully did not get as much one-on-one time to chat (I mean, “practice conversational skills”) with the kids as I like.

Somehow, I still managed to hear about one young student’s weekend plans to go catch crabs at the beach with his family! He described how the last time he and his family went crab hunting, they didn’t go very far out into the water. This weekend, they plan to go much deeper into the water. He stressed how important it is to not kick up the sand in the water when you’re looking for crabs, otherwise you can’t see them. He said to catch the crabs, they wear the kind of gloves that are worn for feeding eagles. He might have been thinking of falcons, since falconry is huge here, but then again, this kid is one smart cookie and I know nothing about crab hunting.

A different boy, probably around 8 years old and very soft spoken, was working on rhyming patterns. For example, in the word “dust,” the rhyming pattern is “ust.” Words that rhyme with “dust” will also have “ust”: trust, just, must, bust, rust. In this instance, I even let students make nonsense rhyming words like pust, gust, wust, zust, just as long as they “get” it. This little guy had to find a rhyme for “duck.” We identified the rhyming pattern as “uck.” I’m sure you see where this is going. I knew there was a small chance it would end explicitly, but figured with TWENTY SIX LETTERS IN THE ENGLISH ALPHABET, SURELY THE KID WOULD NOT PICK THE LETTER F TO MAKE A WORD THAT RHYMES WITH DUCK.

With his big, brown eyes looking right into mine, he innocently, and oh-so-articulately said,

“Fuck.”

I mentally cursed whoever made that stupid workbook before telling him that yes, that rhymes, but let’s think of a different one!

Another boy I worked with has a passion for sharks. When he is instructed to write sentences incorporating new vocabulary words, he writes sentences about sharks. When he is supposed to be reading, he draws sharks. I think it’s great that he is so interested in marine life and art. Good for you, kid! However, his parents would probably not be thrilled to discover the pretty pennies they are paying toward his after school English lessons are funding Shark Sketching 101. He and I made a deal: if he would stay on task with his assignments, the last 5 minutes could be spent on drawing sharks. When the hour was over, he gave me his masterpiece!

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A different hour, one bubbly student mentioned how much he loves to sing. Sadly, he thinks his choir teacher hates him. He says that when he sings, she yells at him, and when he’s not singing, she yells at him. He doesn’t like to sing at school any more.

One of my favorite local students, a young boy wearing the traditional white thobe with the white scarf (“ghutra“) on his head, struggled to read one of his assignments. A confident, witty kid with a great sense of humor, he’s actually a decent reader. This particular day, however, he was not interested in his assignments, so he wasn’t really trying. He made some comment about not wanting or needing to read, so I asked him what he planned to do when he’s 25 years old and needs to read something.

His reply: “I will pay you!”

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There’s never a dull moment with these kids!

Now, it’s Friday, and with J in India, I’ve had the whole day to myself. At the moment, the sunset (“maghrib“) call to prayer (“adhan“) is resonating from the nearby mosque.

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Men gathered at the mosque down the street – Sunset, Nov. 4

It’s good to have a day to recharge. I’ll be back to the books tomorrow!

Conversations with Young English Learners (Part 4)

This week, I worked my first shift at the tutoring center since leaving almost a month ago. I have had kind of a sour attitude since returning to Qatar, and was not particularly excited to go back to work. On the way to the tutoring center, J and I were briefly stuck in traffic at one of the many, many roundabouts. I looked at the vehicle next to us just in time to see a kid, maybe 7 years old, hanging out of the passenger side window, presumably to get a better view of the truck full of sheep on the other side of the street. Suddenly, a fugitive sheep bolted by with a little Indian man right on its heels. It was funny for a split second, this dirty sheep making a break for it, crossing multiple lanes of traffic, little brown man in hot pursuit. The scene was straight out of a cartoon. Then, like a ton of bricks, the reality of it hit: a lone sheep desperately trying to escape the path to slaughter, the futility of its attempt, the fighting of the inevitable. I wanted to cry, could have cried, but was dropped off at work just moments later.

It didn’t take long for the students to cheer me up. I don’t think they knew I needed cheering up, but their contagious charisma had me all smiles in no time. I missed working with them more than I realized.

One local boy’s assignment involved writing about his hobbies. Initially, he wanted to write about playing Call of Duty: Black Ops. I encouraged him to pick a different hobby. After careful consideration, he decided to write about sports. Soon, we were discussing different types of sports, how silly it is for Americans to call soccer “football” when it’s played with feet, and how the Indians “stole” cricket from the Brits.

Later, the same student had to write about his favorite season. It quickly became obvious he was not familiar with the four seasons. Another local student helped name the seasons: “winter, spring, summer… I know it starts with A!”

I wanted to exclaim, “Why, it’s only autumn, the BEST SEASON EVER!” I wanted to give them pumpkin pie with whipped cream on top, tell them about Halloween and trick-or-treating and apple cider, and walk them down a street lined with bright yellow and red Maple trees. Instead, I said, “Yes, autumn! Sometimes, we also call it fall.”

He decided his favorite season was winter, because of the cold weather, snowball fights, and snowmen. I told him winter is also an excellent time to drink hot cocoa (as if it’s not good year round!), and as soon as I said “cocoa,” he burst into laughter. I’m not sure if “cocoa” sounds like a bad word in Arabic, if I had something on my face, or if maybe, just maybe, he was really that excited about a season he has never actually experienced…

The next day (yesterday), I had an eager little 2nd grader at my table. He was reading through a list of new vocab words. He got to the word “rich” and exclaimed, “I like that one!” Before our hour was over, he confidently explained to anyone who was listening, “When a boy eats a lot of junk food, he turns into a girl!” I asked if he was sure about that, and he said he was, because his sister told him so!

Since a new school year has just recently started, there are a lot of new faces at the tutoring center. As one newbie cautiously sat down at my table, I asked him where he was from. He mulled over the question for a second, then responded, “Where was I born or where am I from?” I said, “Both!” He informed me he was born in America, but from a Mediterranean country. I love expat students! He wasn’t particularly interested in his assignments, but I’d bet his multiculturalism will benefit him far more than any degree. God knows that in retrospect, I wish I’d invested a fraction of what I spent on college into world travels instead.

I ended my shift listening to a local hijabi describe how she makes her nanny buy her tickets to scary movies, and how upsetting it was when she didn’t get to go to Bath & Body Works during her last trip to Dubai (which reminds me: I’m all out of body cream!). She moaned that now she must wait until she goes to Japan to go to Bath & Body Works. The agony!

I am happy to be picking up more hours tutoring this week, and always look forward to the unexpected things these kids say!

Will Tutor For Tofu

I have been pretty intimidated by the thought of private tutoring. Recently, however, I started meeting with a Korean grandmother who is so friendly. How friendly?

SHE GAVE ME A REAL LIVE TOFU DEMO!

AND TOFU AND SAUCE TO GO!

We had just ended our lesson for the day, when she motioned for me to follow her into her kitchen. The last time I was in her kitchen, she showed me cabbage (I think) kimchi and a very VERRRRRY potent shrimp sauce. Today, she removed a small, plastic container of minced garlic and chopped scallions from her fridge. I wasn’t too sure what was happening at this point, but then she started cutting up tofu and heating up a frying pan. To the container of garlic and scallions, she added soy sauce, sesame oil, sesame seeds, and chili powder, eyeballing all of the measurements.

The four tofu slices were quickly browned on each side, after which she artistically arranged them on a small plate and topped each one with the sauce mixture.

I wasn’t sure if the whole experience was just me watching her prepare her lunch, or if I was supposed to sit down and finish off the whole plate myself. When she offered the plate and a fork to me, I was more than happy to try a piece of the quickly prepared entree! In the past, I haven’t liked soft tofu, but it was a nice consistency and the simple sauce made it quite flavorful.

She even sent me home with a small jar of the sauce and a block of tofu!

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I was so excited about the whole experience (I’ve never had a tofu “cooking lesson” before!), I replicated the recipe as soon as I got home. It is a simple recipe – the best kind, in my opinion!

Yum!

Yum!

Here is the quick and easy recipe, replicated to the best of my ability, based on the method of and ingredients used by my Korean student:

A+ Tofu

Ingredients: organic soft tofu, 2+ T Canola oil, 1/2 C soy sauce, 1 T sesame oil, 1/4 C chopped scallions, 1 T minced garlic, 1 T sesame seeds, chili powder to taste

Directions: In a small bowl, combine soy sauce, sesame oil, scallions, minced garlic, sesame seeds, and chili powder. Mix and set aside. Cut tofu into rectangles or squares; remove water by pressing tofu pieces between paper towels. In a frying pan, heat canola oil on high/med-high heat. Add tofu. Brown front and back sides of tofu. Serve tofu topped with sauce mixture. Enjoy!

Just when I thought nothing could be better than hearing this sweet Korean grandmother reading The House on Mango Street, I hit the vegetarian jackpot with a free tofu cooking demo. It’s a good, good day!

Oh Em Ghee, I Made Sweet Chapati!

I hear jet lag lasts one day for each hour of time difference. Kansas City is 8 hours behind us and we’ve been back in The Country for 9 days now. I am feeling pretty well adjusted today (it’s 10:30PM and I’m ready for bed!), so maybe there is some truth to the jet lag equation.

The last week, however, getting back into the swing of things (sleeping before 4:00am) has left me very bored at odd hours. As mentioned previously, I have really been wanting to learn to make sweet chapati. It is one of my favorite treats here.

Last night, I decided to try the recipe I found online. My biggest worry about making it was finding ghee. I am totally unfamiliar with ghee, but live in the perfect place to find it with ease in any grocery store.

Ghee

Ghee

My sweet chapati turned out quite scrumptious! Unfortunately, it ended up looking like a stack of little cockeyed tortillas.

Success, kind of.

Success, kind of.

For future reference, here’s how it looks when the pros do it:

Sweet chapati at its finest!

Note to self.

I hadn’t had any of the real stuff for over a month, so my mind was a little fuzzy in the Appropriate Chapati Shape Department. Still, I was feeling pretty confident about it, so decided to share some with our building staff (15 on duty during the day and 5 at night) to see what they thought of it. In theory, it was a great idea; our night staff come from Sri Lanka, Nepal and the Philippines, so I figured maybe they could give me some tips for the next time I try making sweet chapati.

I took the elevator downstairs and found the building supervisor; a very kind, middle aged gentleman from Sri Lanka. I swear he works 12 hour shifts every day of the week, and even at the end of a long day he is always eager to be of assistance. I started out by asking him if he knew how to make chapati. Due to a language barrier, I wasn’t really able to convey, “I love sweet chapati and tried making it for the first time. Since it turned out so tasty, I thought I might share it with you and the rest of the staff! Can you tell me what you think?!”  Also, I talk fast when I’m nervous, which I get when I’m unsure of myself, which I was at that moment. Nevertheless, it was still worth the effort when his confusion turned into a big hearty laugh and warm smile when I uncovered the plate of chapati!

It might have been the worst sweet chapati he’s ever had, but I think he appreciated the gesture. Practice makes perfect, and that’s not the last of my chapati he’s seen!

This morning, I returned to work at the learning center for the first time in nearly a month. My first day back was one student’s last day. I asked the 12 year old if he was leaving forever, and he said no, just during Ramadan. He could hardly wait to play video games, sleep, and “focus on praying.” He’ll be back in August. I’m excited that he’s excited. Ramadan seems like a really fun time for Muslim kids. Ten more days until it begins!

For us non-Muslims, the last few days prior to Ramadan mean stocking up on booze, as the lone liquor store here will be closed during the Holy Month.

2013 stash

2012 stash

Additionally for us non-Muslims, Ramadan means getting a glimpse into a life that Western media will almost never show us, and experiencing a multitude of cultural activities with other fellow expats. It’s true that everyone here must abstain from eating/drinking/smoking/chewing gum/basically-putting-anything-in-their-mouth in public during the day, regardless of religious affiliation. Even so, once the sun sets, it also means fun nights that last longer, and an even wider array of delicious Arab food and drinks available. Just like stores in the U.S. “deck the halls” during the Christmas season, stores here will also go all out, with big sales and bright, festive lights and decorations galore.

Ramadan Kareem! (2012)

Ramadan Kareem! (2012)

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit excited. Let the festivities begin!