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Barnes & Nobles here?’ And that’s true. Why not? Back when I was in Qatar University I had a problem finding English books. I was fortunate to be in London half of the year, to buy my own books. But what about the others? Such universities (in Education City) will make a difference. We have a very good library that is growing. We are looking at achieving the one million book mark soon. Each professor also gets to order a set of books. And I ordered a lot of books...,” she grins. However, what she found heartening was that the students she met on campus here were reading. “They are travelling a lot. We were interviewing students, to place them in their English level courses. And most of them were reading Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. They have access to those books while travelling. And we will work harder here, to find the good titles and make it available for students.” Her romance with books began rather early. “I started reading novels when I was only 10. I started with Arabic novels and English short stories. I read for pleasure and also during my graduation in Qatar University where I studied English and Education.” It was also at Qatar University that she decided on teaching as a career. “There was a requirement to teach students, as they were qualifying us to be teachers. I taught for a month at a secondary and then in a high school for a whole semester. Completed this in 1996. And then went to London for further studies. “I applied for QF when I first came back from London. I had a teaching position in mind. They told me Carnegie Mellon was opening a campus here, and asked me to talk to the people there. So I did. And I was here for 8 months and then my teaching break came and I went to Pittsburg for the Spring semester.” And the rest as we say is going to be her future! First Qatari faculty member at Education City She will now conduct an elective course titled ‘Writer’s Craft’ for sophomores. On why she chose this course to teach, she says, “I loved this course in Pittsburg. I wish it were something I had studied at the University. It is taught in Pittsburg for design students, by David Kaufer, head of the English department. We had students whose English was not perfect. “We have to bear in mind that our students here are ESL (English as a Second Language) students, how ever comfortable and fluent they are, it is still their second language. So there are ESL issues involved – and I have a background of Education where ESL issues were involved. I was an ESL student too. “In Pittsburg I saw students develop through the course, how comfortable they were with the assignments they had to do. We go through seven prototypes of English prose. And we don’t emphasise grammar. It is important of course, but we treat is as bumps. At the end what we hope to establish is people who are open to expressing themselves in other languages. Through experience and time they will overcome those bumps.” An apt choice apparently, as her work and studies have been about expression. After graduating from the University of Qatar (in English and Education), she did her Masters (Applied Linguistics and Translation) and Doctorate (Post-colonial novels: Anglo-African and Anglo-Arab) at the University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies. Hybridity is the way to go Dr Al Malki takes great pride in the ‘hybridity’ she has lived all her life and believes that is where the future is headed. So how does her fluency in English and Arabic affect her thought process? “I think in both. This actually started in my Masters degrees. Because I discovered more about how my mind functions while doing linguistics and translation. An African writer says though English is his second language, he dreams in English. I reached that stage, where most of my thoughts are formed in English sometimes, or hybridity of English-Arabic languages.” When she gets into a heated discussion, even while speaking to non-English speakers, she automatically switches to English. But when it comes to emotional talk or thought then it’s in Arabic. “Arabic is a romantic language. I love reading poetry in Arabic. If there is an Arabic novel translated into English, I read the original first. And when I read the English translation, how ever people say it’s perfect, I feel the Arabic is better. It is the same for all languages and translations, I guess,” she says. Her apparent ease with the Arab and Western thinking, and her skill to choose what suits her, are what will help her in her new role, she feels. “Well I think one of the things that benefits me most is the ability to relate to students... I was a student till recently. Back in the University (Qatar) we were treated as students. But in London we were treated differently. I was addressed as ‘Ms Al Malki’. They allowed us to gain confidence in ourselves. I have to treat them as equals – students I am going to
Teaching a passion
By Vani sar aswathi
s I walked in to Carnegie Mellon University Qatar Campus, looking for a Dr Amal Al Malki, I passed by two people deep in conversation. Teacher and student, I told myself and walked by trying to identify Dr Malki. Definitely in her 40s, a stern looking lady, buried deep in papers preparing for the course she has to conduct. Talk about presumptions and stereotypes. The student turned out to be the lady I was looking for. So different from what I had imagined seconds before, that when she tinkled a laugh and told me that it was her that I had come in search of, I could only grin stupidly, and follow her to her room. To dwell on how she looks would be an injustice to the person she is. And totally ignoring it would be one too. So here is a quick note: my contact in Carnegie Mellon who first tipped me off on Dr Malki was absolutely right when she described her as gorgeous. She laughs away an apology for mistaking her for a student, and adds “it happens often”. But dodges the next question on age: “I don’t have to tell you! You do the calculation. I started really early at school, skipped a year in high school and had the luxury of studying continuously, neither
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stopping to work nor waiting for a scholarship.” However, she gives me no time for mental math or to pull out a calculator. So we do away with trivialities of age and get on with the interview. So what tone should the interview take? Do I go by her casual and down-to-earth attitude or take the cue from her heavyduty degrees and theses? We comfortably settle for the middleground, as we realise a common passion for books in general and novels in particular – which incidentally is what her studies have been all about. Dr Al Malki, a visiting Assistant Professor, is Education City’s first Qatari teaching faculty. A Graduate degree from Qatar University, Masters and Doctorate degrees from the UK, and teaching in an American University. Hooked to the Book While she is clearly excited about the teaching programme ahead, any mention of books brings a totally different gleam to her eyes. A hunger to read and understand more, a satisfied look over the books recently devoured, an appreciation of the influence various writers have had over her, disappointment over the books she has not yet read... “The dean was saying, ‘Why not open
Inheritances from my mother: I would not have reached here without her. She is very smart and good in everything she does, and has encouraged us to be so too. She never settles for less. It is ok to make a mistake, but not ok to surrender and
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say this is my luck and I can’t change. You can always change it. Tolerance From my father: I am hoping his wisdom His calmness His sense of fairness, he never discriminates and taught us never to do that.
teach and learn from.” It is also her hybridity that is going to help. “Being an Arab is going to help. An Arab who studied abroad is going to help more. To help them towards hybridity. You can see it in my personality, the way I talk and dress. I have been living it all my life. But if they didn’t have my background, they are still going to hit it really soon. They will face hybridity in languages, they will be speaking both languages at the same time, they will be annoying people by doing that... but this is a fact that people have to accept. This is the language of their education. Culturally, we are very strong. I am sure that as the whole country is doing, we take what suits us as Qataris, as Muslims... we are tailoring it to our needs and our culture.” Arabic preserved for good Though her first course is on writing in English, she says that she would strive to introduce Arabic literature into the curriculum. “I don’t want our students to be deprived of such a large part of their tradition. My studies were in comparative literature (Arabic and English). So I will conduct a course on that too.” I draw her attention to a 2002 UN report on Arab Human Development that said there was “a severe shortage” of Arab writing. The report also said a large part of the Arab market was made up of religious and educational books of limited creative content. “If it’s a news statement, then maybe it is understandable in the political atmosphere we are living in. But otherwise, no, I don’t agree with it. Arabic literature was always highly perceived and highly encouraged, in Egypt and the Levant area, for its own artistic sake not for any religious purpose. But what about the Gulf? “It is true there is no recording of history and life in the Gulf area. And someone should do that. And one of my goals is to record women’s movements, feminism, literature, and female writers in the Gulf. It is going to need work and it is going to need time. But I would like to write a book on that.” But that work will have to wait till at least after she converts her PhD thesis
Books read recently: 1. Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown 2. Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi 3. Inside the Kindom: My Life in Saudi Arabia by Carmen bin Ladin 4. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez 5. Colloquial Bedouin poetry in Arabic by Prince Khaled Al Faisal of Saudi Arabia 6. And books of Tayeb Saleh and Chinua Achebe, the muse of her thesis
Influences My Parents HH Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Misnad David Kaufer, my mentor. I hope to work with him on future projects – We are working on courses together, we want to write a book together.
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into a book. She does not think that the language itself is under threat. “Arabic is preserved for good. I believe that. It’s the language of the Quran. Look at other nationalities who don’t speak Arabic but read it, because of the Quran. There is a very strong cultural background here which depends on language and religion.” On the effects of globalisation on languages, she says, “through my studies I discovered that colonialism in any form went through the same phases. There was the language domination through education, which started with colonialism and went on to hybridity and globalisation. The African writer I researched for my doctorate thesis, Chinua Achebe of Nigeria, wrote in English, though that was not his first language, whereas Tayeb Saleh (the author researched) of Sudan wrote in Arabic, and his works were then translated to English. This is a major difference of course, using different languages as the medium of expression. The first one used the coloniser’s language and the second used his own. But when you analyse the novels itself, you realise that the culture itself, be it African-Nigerian or Sudanese, was highly impacted by colonialism. Highly changed and impacted. Different shape and different form with globalisation, but we are living in the age of hybridity.” She does stress the importance of being bi-lingual and says she now finally gets an opportunity to live two languages simultaneously. “It is a bit funny. When I was in school and college in Doha, I found it difficult to practice my English. Because there weren’t that many people speaking English, and if you did it was a sign of being a snob. I was in boarding schools in London during the summer. I had to live these two lives, where each life had its own language. But one of the things that is making me really happy in this environment is that I get to combine both, and live both lives in one.” Straddling continents Since her school days, Amal has lived two lives. As sinister as that sounds, it was all for academic purposes. “I studied in Qatari schools, but spent
my vacation in English boarding schools in London.” So there was no real vacation was there? “I guess not. Should I be upset about that,” she laughs, looking rather pleased with the opportunities her parents made possible. “I am lucky to have such a family. Both my parents were educated in Lebanon. They are graduates. They know that education is the way to go. It is a family thing to keep studying. My brother is a senior engineer (petroleum and gas) and graduated from an American University. I have a sister who is doing her PhD and she is very young. Seriously young! She is a computer engineer. And I have another sister who is doing her graduate degree in AUB, Lebanon. And they all will come back here to work. But the lucky one is my sister in high school here, because she doesn’t have to go anywhere, everything is available here. She can choose Carnegie Mellon or other universities here at Education City.” While she was confident, through her all her studies abroad, that she would come back and work in Qatar, she had no idea at that point that these opportunities would be available - like Education City. But that never seemed to have deterred or worried her. “No, I knew things were changing. And I could have always gone back to Qatar University to teach. We have a lot of Qatari women PhD holders at the varsity. My best teachers at the university were Qatari. But, working at Carnegie Mellon is much better for me, because it is the atmosphere I am used to. The transition was easier for me to work in this atmosphere. And believe it or not, culturally too.” Being Qatari; Being a Woman Has she noticed an imbalance? More women are enrolling at the Bachelor’s level, in professional courses. Where does that leave the men? “Don’t forget that men have the opportunity to go abroad and study. To go to the US, to Europe. You will find in London that there are more Qatari male than female students. It is tougher for (Qatari) women to go abroad and study.”
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Concerns she shares with her students Traditions. I understand you have to go forward, but at the same time you can’t ignore your tradition. Not everything is outdated. You need to develop your sense of identity. They need to embrace it more, even if it were hybrid, it is still a sense of identity. Language. Preserve it. To be bi-lingual is great thing, but don’t overdo it, and lose Arabic for the sake of English.
And with a twinkle she adds in a whisper, “And if you notice, girls seem smarter than men. They get higher scores in high school, they have more time to spend on reading and educating themselves. We don’t have the ‘luxury’ men have, so we are at home reading.” Then she dwells on it further, “Men just want to work. They hit an age and just want to work. For women, at least for me, it is more about how they can feed their mind more, what they can do next.” So, how would she describe the women’s movement in Qatar? “There is no movement as such. This is how it’s supposed to be. Twenty years ago we had women figures, who led. But were more silent. Not everything was open to them. The whole atmosphere is changing for both men and women. It is the natural flow of things, it’s not a movement. You work hard, you’ll get what you deserve, immaterial of your gender,” and another smiling whisper, “We don’t want to scare men by saying it’s a movement, do we?”