otted plants, medical brochures, shelves lined with books, paintings and some personal photographs –
the room is a reection of the person who occupies it.Serene and soft-spoken, Dr Rachel manages admira- bly the family life she loves and the profession she isdedicated to. But it is not her profession that has put
her in the media spotlight; it is her recently published memoir;
My lifein Doha: Between Dream and Reality,
that has made her a public g-ure. The irony is that even with a published memoir, Dr Rachel is very much a private person, someone who hates to put her family underpublic glare. Her memoir is therefore a sensitive, 'culturally correct'account of a woman who embraces a foreign religion and explores thecustoms and new surroundings she was made part of following hermarriage.In 1974, a young Filipina doing her residency programme in Trinity Lutheran Hospital, Kansas City, Missouri met the Qatari resident whomshe would eventually marry and set up a family with. In this book, sheprobes the many differences, challenges and opportunities this unionextended to her, with a curious and tolerant mind.
to her about her book, the country and the people who inspired her...
Finding dr rachel hajar in the hamad hospitalmaze is indeed a herculean task. But once youenter her haven within the cardio Block –she is the director oF non-invasive cardiology –the chaos outside dissipates.
You have given an insightful peek into a Qatari household.
How difcult or challenging was the process?
I did not set out to portray a Qatari household. Some friends who werefamiliar with my writing style suggested that I write a book.
My Life In Doha: Between Dream and Reality
is a memoir of my life in Dohain the context of Arab Islamic culture. In this book I wrote aboutmy personal experience and how I met my husband and came tolive in Qatar; getting to know my in-laws; recollections of my early experiences, such as my rst encounter with the black face
veil worn by the women; and my observations and insights into
another culture. I wrote about the social changes, what it is to live within the heart of a culture not your own. I have written aboutthe evolution of my perspective about the region and its peopleand how the experience has enriched my life. The book has mul-tilayered themes, contrast of cultures, not only Arab and Western but also Christian and Islamic, and science and tradition. It alsohas a medical angle, since both my husband and I are physicians.
You have loads of information on Qatari customs and habitsin the book. Did you have a diary to assist you?
I started my book in the early part of 2008, and it took me 18 months tocomplete. My sources were my diary, letters to friends, and articles thatI've written on certain aspects of Arab culture which have been pub-lished in magazines before. Many details on the topics I wrote about areaccumulated information I gleaned through my years of living here.
What is the one tool that became indispensable as you startedthe process of writing? Was it fortitude, patience or insight?
I have to say patience and humour! Humour allowed me to get througha particularly overwhelming day. As they say, "laughter is the best medi-cine" – and it is!
What encouragement did you get from your family members?
My husband was always very supportive. He was patient in explainingmany local social customs. In addition, he gave me very interesting in-formation and was always willing to explain and clarify many local andregional customs and traditions whenever I had questions.
What is the one custom that you hold dear?
There are many practices here that I have come to treasure, such as fast-ing during the month of Ramadan. Since my rst Ramadan in Qatar,I have spent all subsequent Ramadans in Qatar. For me Ramadan isnot quite the same outside Qatar. Ramadan is different from the othermonths. It is a month lled with rituals: fasting from sunrise to sunset,preparation of special foods such as
, breaking of the fast with dates and reading the Qur'an daily, among others. I es-pecially take pleasure in breaking the fast with dates, feeling a kinship with other Muslims. My husband grows date-palms in our garden, anda day or so before the start of Ramadan we distribute dried dates to rela-tives, friends, colleagues and acquaintances. I know that Muslims readthe Qur'an during the month of Ramadan, and I also try to join in thisactivity by reading the English version of the Qur'an. I also enjoy listen-ing to televised readings of the Quran from mosques. I love the rhythm,tone and tempo of it.
You had a beautiful relationsip with your father-in-law,Sheikh Ahmed bin Hajar, who was a very eminent personal-ity in the country.
I loved my father-in-law. I called him Abui, just like his children did. Abui passed away nine years ago. I still miss him. He was a remarkableman, intelligent, fair and just. He was a keen observer of human nature.He was an Islamic scholar as well as a judge in Qatar. He was very toler-ant. He had an inquisitive mind and he was always interested to know my views on various topics. He had a healthy sense of humour, and my husband must have inherited that trait from him. My habits amused
him, like how I would sling a bag over my shoulder, perhaps because he
found it unusual. What I kept inside my bag was a source of wonder andamusement for him. I can truly say that my father-in-law liked me andregarded me with affection.
You seem to be mystied but never uncomfortable with thetraditions around you. What do you attribute this to?
Mystied implies confused and bewildered, which I was not. I admit thatsome customs, such as the full face veil, were initially puzzling, but I alwaystried to understand a particular custom by seeking its historical origin.There is wisdom in history. Looking into the history of a social custom ortradition gives us better understanding and insight on the practice.
I was immediately drawn to the
adhan al maghreb
-set call to prayer); I feel its magnetism. There is a chapterin my book "describing its beauty and my fascination withthe adhan. Listening to the adhan enabled me to reect. Forme, it is a small window to spirituality that I cherish.
segregation works in schools
"Single-sex education in many cultures is advocated onthe basis of tradition, as well as religion, as in Qatar andthe Arabian Gulf; it is also practised in many parts of the world. In fact in the USA there is a move to single-sex edu-cation, as the students seem to perform better. The numberof public schools offering single-sex classrooms rose from11 in 2002 to 540 in 2009. A study in the UK involvingmore than 700,000 girls revealed that those in all-femaleschools did better than those who attended mixed schools.The conclusion was that pupils of all abilities are morelikely to succeed if they go to single-sex schools."