Tuesday, April 8, 2008


Last night Ron and I attended dinner at his dean's house. Before we ate, the dean gave us a tour of the home. Ron joked that he had considered bringing his camera along for the evening, and now I wish he had just so I could put some pictures up here of a traditional Qatari home.

The dean is currently renting the house, and he and his wife are not Qatari. They're American. Just thought I should throw that out there for starters. Also, this home is small for a Qatari home. Got that? Small.

When you enter the gated walls, there's a small swimming pool on your left with a fountain in the center. Granted, it's not a giant pool meant for pool parties, but it's deep enough for diving, and who can resist that fountain, for crying out loud? The patio is big enough for any neighborhood get together you could possibly imagine, and it's nicely landscaped with palm trees and other "local" plants.

Marble steps take you into the marble-floored home. Ron and I both went in through the same entrance, but there are actually two entrances: one for the men and one for the women. Qatari gatherings separate the men from the women for the entire time. This allows the women to take off their abayas and just relax. There are also separate entrances into the kitchen for the same reason.

Make that separate entrances into the first kitchen. Despite the marble floors, this isn't a deluxe kitchen you would necessarily want in your own home, especially since the oven is in the other kitchen. Sure, it's a large kitchen with plenty of counter and cupboard space, but since this is a room meant "only" for the maid, it's by no means a fancy one.

Now onto the second kitchen, which you have to go outside to get to, though just a few steps away. This is where the cooking and baking is done so as not to heat up the rest of the house. And there's no dishwasher. That's what the maid is for. (I never said there was no well-defined class system here.) Also in this other mini-building is the laundry room.

In total, the house has 7 bedrooms and 7 bathrooms, as well as a double sink in an alcove on the first floor, meant to make washing for prayer time more convenient when the house is full.

Before returning to the dinner party, Ron asked the dean what was on the third floor. The dean said, "The roof. Don't you have marble steps leading to your roof at home?" A bit excessive, sure, but I also found it interesting because in traditional Arabic homes--back when "traditional" meant the animals slept inside with you and there wasn't even a word for "home" because "home" was not your house. You slept in your house, but you cooked, ate, worked, and socialized outside. And when the weather permitted or you had guests you couldn't accommodate inside, the roof was part of the house. That's where you would sleep. Sure, there were no walls, but it was every bit a part of your house as the inside was. As beautiful as the evenings here are, I can easily imagine climbing a ladder or marble stairs or whatever it takes to get to the roof and lie down to sleep.

I have to say that after an evening of shop talk, I think there's a lot to be said for separating the men from the women. There were four of us women there--including the dean's wife--who are "simply" the wives of staff and faculty members. One woman works full time for CMU-Qatar, so I'm not counting her. She understood and could participate in all the shop talk. But the rest of us? Not so much. I told Ron after we left that although I'm not at all offended, I'm noticing more and more how, at his work functions, no one ever asks the wife what she does. It seems even more pronounced here, where the assumption is easily made that if a family can uproot itself for four months (or three years or 20 years), then obviously the wife doesn't do anything but take care of the husband and kids, so what can you possibly want to know about her. Is it just me who finds other people interesting, regardless of their gender? I don't fault the hosts for this divide. They were quite nice and they couldn't be expected to direct all conversation. It's just a natural divide, I suppose, that the traditional Arabic culture has decided to allow to remain.

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