Although I was less than thrilled about being up for a 7 a.m. trip to Qatar University after a restless night of jet lag, getting up early was worth every yawn. After breakfast, (I’ll probably devote another post entirely to the hotel’s chocolate croissants) the seven other women on the program with me sat down to talk with a class of Qatari women. Although the black abaya and shayla each Qatari woman dawned was quite different than the loose hair and casual clothing us American students wore, I found that we had a lot more in common that I would’ve imagined. We spent the next hour talking about arranged marriage versus the American ideal of falling in love, how the QU women liked having classes separate from men, and how in the world they made their eyebrows so damn perfect. All the while, the Qatari students passed around treats, tea, and coffee for us to drink—it really is true when you hear how hospitable the Qatari people are!
Here are a few notes that stood out to me from this morning’s discussion:
- Each QU class is taught four different times: once for men, once for women, once in Arabic, and once in English.
- Although men and women are separated in their learning and buildings, professors can be either gender.
- Veils (shayla) are worn for more than just religious reasons or to symbolize a level of conservativeness. The women in the class spoke about how they choose to wear veils that cover their entire face or everything but their eyes based on if they want to be recognized in public or not.
- Although arranged marriage is prominent, females always get the final say—even if they are just saying no because the man is too short.
- There is a stigma involved with women openly talking to men in Qatari culture. As one student put it, men may think that because a female is speaking to them, she speaks to lots of other men as well, which casts her in an unflattering light.
- According to the women we spoke to, Arabs have the same fear of Americans as Americans may have of Arabs. One student told a story about her trip to Texas and how she was scared about going to the south in fear of how she’d be treated. Airports are also unpleasant experiences for these women and several discussed their experiences being interrogated in security.
At the end of the discussion, the Qatari students discussed the popularity of the pearling economy before the oil boom. They opened a pearl from a kit to show us how it was done and gave us each our own kit to take with us and make into pearl necklaces. My group plans on opening them tomorrow to kick off the New Year.
As for tonight, I am sitting in the hotel room watching Arab Idol and feeling full from pita bread (I bought 5 pieces each bigger than my head for 1 riyal/$0.27 at the bakery outside our hotel.) I will leave a few other pictures from my trip. Thanks for reading along on my journey. It’s been wonderful and educational thus far.