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You have given an insightful peek into a Qatari household. How difficult or challenging was the process? I did not set out to portray a Qatari household. Some friends who were familiar 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 Doha in the context of Arab Islamic culture. In this book I wrote about my personal experience and how I met my husband and came to live in Qatar; getting to know my in-laws; recollections of my early experiences, such as my first 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 about the evolution of my perspective about the region and its people and how the experience has enriched my life. The book has multilayered themes, contrast of cultures, not only Arab and Western but also Christian and Islamic, and science and tradition. It also has a medical angle, since both my husband and I are physicians. You have loads of information on Qatari customs and habits in 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 to complete. My sources were my diary, letters to friends, and articles that I've written on certain aspects of Arab culture which have been published in magazines before. Many details on the topics I wrote about are accumulated information I gleaned through my years of living here.
I was immediately drawn to the adhan al maghreb (sunset call to prayer); I feel its magnetism. There is a chapter in my book "describing its beauty and my fascination with the adhan. Listening to the adhan enabled me to reflect. For me, it is a small window to spirituality that I cherish.
"Single-sex education in many cultures is advocated on the basis of tradition, as well as religion, as in Qatar and the Arabian Gulf; it is also practised in many parts of the world. In fact in the USA there is a move to single-sex education, as the students seem to perform better. The number of public schools offering single-sex classrooms rose from 11 in 2002 to 540 in 2009. A study in the UK involving more than 700,000 girls revealed that those in all-female schools did better than those who attended mixed schools. The conclusion was that pupils of all abilities are more likely to succeed if they go to single-sex schools."
segregation works in schools
otted plants, medical brochures, shelves lined with books, paintings and some personal photographs – the room is a reflection of the person who occupies it. Serene and soft-spoken, Dr Rachel manages admirably the family life she loves and the profession she is dedicated to. But it is not her profession that has put her in the media spotlight; it is her recently published memoir; My life in Doha: Between Dream and Reality, that has made her a public figure. The irony is that even with a published memoir, Dr Rachel is very much a private person, someone who hates to put her family under
By sindhu nair
What is the one tool that became indispensable as you started the process of writing? Was it fortitude, patience or insight? I have to say patience and humour! Humour allowed me to get through a particularly overwhelming day. As they say, "laughter is the best medicine" – and it is! What encouragement did you get from your family members? My husband was always very supportive. He was patient in explaining many local social customs. In addition, he gave me very interesting information and was always willing to explain and clarify many local and regional 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 fasting during the month of Ramadan. Since my first Ramadan in Qatar, I have spent all subsequent Ramadans in Qatar. For me Ramadan is not quite the same outside Qatar. Ramadan is different from the other months. It is a month filled with rituals: fasting from sunrise to sunset, preparation of special foods such as harees and thareed, breaking of the fast with dates and reading the Qur'an daily, among others. I especially take pleasure in breaking the fast with dates, feeling a kinship with other Muslims. My husband grows date-palms in our garden, and a day or so before the start of Ramadan we distribute dried dates to relatives, friends, colleagues and acquaintances. I know that Muslims read the Qur'an during the month of Ramadan, and I also try to join in this activity 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 personality 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 remarkable man, 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 tolerant. 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 and amusement for him. I can truly say that my father-in-law liked me and regarded me with affection. You seem to be mystified but never uncomfortable with the traditions around you. What do you attribute this to? Mystified implies confused and bewildered, which I was not. I admit that some customs, such as the full face veil, were initially puzzling, but I always tried to understand a particular custom by seeking its historical origin. There is wisdom in history. Looking into the history of a social custom or tradition gives us better understanding and insight on the practice.
Finding dr rachel hajar in the hamad hospital maze is indeed a herculean task. But once you enter her haven within the cardio Block – she is the director oF non-invasive cardiology – the chaos outside dissipates.
public glare. Her memoir is therefore a sensitive, 'culturally correct' account of a woman who embraces a foreign religion and explores the customs and new surroundings she was made part of following her marriage. In 1974, a young Filipina doing her residency programme in Trinity Lutheran Hospital, Kansas City, Missouri met the Qatari resident whom she would eventually marry and set up a family with. In this book, she probes the many differences, challenges and opportunities this union extended to her, with a curious and tolerant mind. Woman Today talks to her about her book, the country and the people who inspired her...
Oyster Fund has been set up by Dr Rachel to financially assist cardiac patients in need, and the proceeds from the sale of the book will go to this Fund. The book is available at Virgin Megastores, Jarir and Abu Karbal.
Education and exposure to the outside world are responsible for the social changes, especially in the role of women. Education has changed the role expectation for women in society. Few Qatari women pursued a career 20 years ago. Nowadays, more and more Qatari women are joining the workforce. This is a positive change, but only if the woman is able to juggle motherhood and the demands of a career. However, if the mother-role is compromised by working, then the effect is negative, for the family becomes dysfunctional. I think that if a woman is a mother, her primary role is to bring up well-adjusted children who grow up as responsible adults. If she can fulfil this role and still work, that is laudable and I would encourage her. Around the world, the home and raising children are still the responsibility of the woman, while the man's role is to be the breadwinner. There are instances where the roles are reversed, depending on the circumstances and needs of the family, but such role reversal is not usual. I am not an admirer of the western model of single parenthood. You need a father and a mother to bring up children to be responsible and happy adults.
women in Qatar
How did you fit into the system of segregation in the traditional household? Do your children still follow the rules? This system of segregation is also followed in many schools and work places. I have no problem with segregation of the sexes, and my children follow what is the norm of Qatari society. I see nothing wrong with the concept. I'm a very private person, and I find that this practice gives women a lot of privacy. I went to a Catholic university in college (premedical school) where classes for boys and girls were separate. When I was a student, the exclusive universities and colleges in my country were single-sex schools. In the workplace, such as in Hamad Medical Corporation for example, women and men physicians are evaluated according to their qualifications, their degrees and experience. For the same post or job, men and women enjoy the same privileges. I would not say that men and women are equal, for the two sexes are different and society's expectation of roles is not the same for both sexes. Healthcare and Qatar, where do we stand? What are the changes that have taken place? I'm a cardiologist. I have been involved primarily in patient care. However, my husband, Dr Hajar Ahmed Hajar Al-Binali, was the Undersecretary of Health from 1981 to 1993 and Minister of Health from 1999 to 2005. Therefore I am aware of the changes that he implemented during his term. I am proud to say that my husband was responsible for catapulting medical care in Qatar into the 21st century. He upgraded medical care services to keep up with modern progress in medicine, with a resulting decline in child mortality (from 107/1000 live births in the 1970s to 14/1000 in 2000), and an increase in life expectancy (from 58.7 years in the 1970s to 73.6 years in 2005). He implemented an appointment system for the hospital; built satellite health centres; recruited highly trained senior physicians; improved the health infrastructure and implemented health strategies to enhance the country's healthcare system such as the adoption of a nationwide vaccination programme; put into operation screening of the labour force in Qatar for major communicable diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS; and raised the public's awareness of health risks such as diabetes, and risky health habits such as smoking. These are just some of the reforms he undertook. Many of his strategies are still in place. Many of his ac-
complishments in the health sector were realised with the support of HH the Emir. There is no doubt – and no one can dispute – that Qatari and non-Qatari citizens benefitted from his health reforms. His term in office was the Camelot of healthcare in Qatar. How would you describe yourself? Filipina, Qatari, Muslim? I am ME – Rachel. A passport is a legal document issued by a government which certifies, for the purpose of international travel, the identity and nationality of its holder. Identity is closely linked to an individual's heritage, culture, upbringing, social class, and religion. A person must know who he is to find his place in society. You've embraced new traditions – some for the sake of your children (as mentioned in your book) – and your life has changed dramatically. Does this make you feel as if you have taken on another persona? Has that ever confused or grieved you? No. I have never felt I have taken on another persona. I have always been "myself". I've never had an identity crisis. I know who I am: "This above all: to thine own self be true." Did you convert? Ash-hadu ann la ILAHA illa-ALLAH. Ash-hadu ann Muhammedan Rasul-ALLAH. How did Qatari women welcome you? Qatari women – and Qataris in general – are warm, generous, hospitable and welcoming. I have always been welcomed into their homes with open arms. Qatar is my home now. Living here and learning about the customs and traditions of the country has enriched my life
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