Ask me if I make a difference ...

I think most everyone asks themselves at one point or another what their purpose is.  Why are we here?  What have we done today or any day to make the world a tiny bit better?

Most of us aren't policy-makers or multi-millionaires; we can't change the plight of a village in a day or feed all the hungry.  We aren't all prepared to become full-time social activists or to voice a protest that would jeopardize our family's livelihood and wellbeing. 

But I'm a firm believer in 'voice'.  We all have a voice, no matter how soft or how loud.  No matter if we use it sparingly or constantly.   And we can use that teeny tiny voice or that GIANT BOOMING VOICE to make a little difference every day.

I'm living in a country where worker welfare has been thrust (finally!) onto the forefront of the national agenda.  There are many official bodies working to turn an existing system upside down to better the plight of foreign laborers.  Most of the agenda items they are dealing with are beyond my remit and my control.  I fully support them, but I realize that my voice carries little weight at that level.

A laborer heading home after a hard day's work in Doha ...

A laborer heading home after a hard day's work in Doha ...

But some - SOME - differences I am able to make on a daily basis ALL ON MY OWN.  Simple things, little things, big things.  I can make a little difference every day.  Little differences that thousands of people just like me have used over the years to contribute and lend credence to the shift in perception that is now reverberating in this country.  I have a voice, shouldn't I be compelled to use it?

The other day, as I was dropping Kiddo off at school, I saw a dad give the crossing guards some juice boxes.  He made a little difference.  Because he was helping them stay hydrated, but mostly because he 'noticed' that they might be hot and thirsty.  And cared enough to do something about it.  We all like to know someone cares.

There are so many people toiling around us each day.  So many lives that we can touch by caring.  By caring enough to do something.  Or ask something.  Or show we care about something.  Even just a little something.

Every office, establishment and compound in Qatar comes with some degree of cleaning, pantry, maintenance and security staff.  These people do everything from clean toilets, offer to help carry paperwork, remember that someone likes mint but no sugar in their tea, and so much more.  

I've written out a list of questions below, for me, to figure out where I am using my voice to show these people I care and where I might try to use it more. 

Do I know the name of the young man who brought me my coffee with two scoops of sugar and a 'spot' of milk this morning?  Did I call him by his name and say 'thank you' when he brought it to me today?

Did I smile at the security guard who asked me for my I.D. before letting me into the parking facility at work and thank him for a job well done?  Did I ask him if the night shift had been long?

Have I ever brought the compound maintenance staff a nice chicken curry 'just because', or had my child bring compound security staff a note that says 'thanks for keeping us safe'? 

Do I hold the door open for the weighted down delivery man at the office?

Do I actually stop to have conversations with those people in my life who make a difference to me every day?  Do I actually care about THEIR day?

It may be that my greatest purpose in life ends up being 'caring'.  Caring leads to 'doing'.  There are many things I simply cannot do.  But there are little things I can.  Little things that show I care.

It's just a matter of recognizing them, and doing them.  And maybe, just maybe, one little thing will make a little difference in someone's life.  And make their life just 'a tiny bit' better.  And eventually, if we're all doing it, maybe collectively make a monumental difference.  Or maybe not.  Maybe a little difference in one person's life is all the purpose we need.

If we all commit to that little bit, eventually it might amount to a lot. 

I would love to hear how you've made a little or a big difference. In the world you live in.  Inspire me!

Language Art ...

Disclaimer:  This post is in no way meant to offend; it's merely my take on the complexities of communication as an expat, and how misinterpretation can often lead to some pretty wacky reactions.  

Finding humor in tragic misinterpretation.   Pic from Venice, November 2011.

Finding humor in tragic misinterpretation.   Pic from Venice, November 2011.

Language is truly an art to be mastered in Qatar.  Beyond struggling with my limited knowledge of Arabic, I often find myself befuddled by variations on English.  

But I'm getting better. 

My mastery of pidgin English is likely most obvious in dialogue with our maid, Tita L. (who's from the Philippines and whose first language is Tagalog). 

Case in point:  

On the way to the grocery store with Tita L. yesterday, we drove by one of the cushier West Bay compounds, where each house boasts a minimum of five bedrooms and two kitchens.  

Me:  "Tita L., that's how the other half lives." 

Tita L.:  "Madame?" 

Me:  "Oh, I mean, those are really, really big, fancy houses.  You wouldn't want to have to clean one of them ... they all have at least nine bathrooms."

Tita L.:  "Oh, yes, Madame.  Maybe all these houses, they come with a fool too." 

Me:  "Eh?" 

Tita L.:  "I think they all have a fool.  Maybe if I work there I have to clean the fool too." 

Me:  "Aaaahhhh, yes, a pool.  You're right.  And maybe a few fools too." 


I was barely phased this morning when Tita L. said to me:   "Madame, da lady who hab tree-plezz?  Now he hab tweenz."  

Me:  "Eh?"

Tita L.:  "Da lady who hab tree?  Now he hab two more."

Me:  (focusing, thinking, concentrating ... Aha! I GOT it!)

TRANSLATION:  "Madame, you know that woman with the triplets?  She just had twins."


Yes, I'm definitely getting better at deciphering the intended message.  Compare to one of my first trips to a local shop, where I stood stumped and mortified when the Philippino cashier asked me:  "Would you like some phuckaging, Madame?"  

Me:  "Eh?" 

Cashier:  "Phuckaging, you like me to phuckage for you?" 

Me:  "Eh?

Blessed veteran expat eavesdropping behind me in line:  "He wants to know if you'd like it wrapped."   

("Phuckaging" = Packaging = Wrap) 

Me:  "Oh, no, that's ok, no phuckaging today thank you." 


There is one that continues to catch me unawares, however, and even though I've mentioned it in a previous post, I can't help but re-post:

Tita L. to Kiddo as we're scurrying to get ready for work/school:  "Did you brush your tit?" 

Me:  "Eh!?!"

Tita L.:  "He didn't brush her tit yet, Madame."

Me:  "Oh, teeeeeeth, did you brush your TEETH?"

Bless Tita L.  She probably has a blog with a huge following in the Philippines where her compatriots laugh hysterically at my constant look of bewilderment and incessant peppering of conversation with the very Canadian "Eh?"

Good times.

The Irony of Ironing ...

As I sit here this morning, staring blankly at the computer screen while a load of laundry spins furiously 'round in a washer that insists on bouncing across the room at each cycle, I can't help but wonder what our maid, Tita L., is doing while on leave in the Philippines.

If she were here, she would likely be setting up the ironing board about now, preparing for her daily ironing session.  Have I mentioned she loves to iron?  Like, everything?  Like the rumpled but clean sheets I am about to throw on the bed?  She would make sure every last crease was nought but a memory before setting them down for us to toss in restlessly and crinkle shamelessly.

I, on the other hand, am much more practical.  I will throw them over the mattress while they are still hot (old university trick ... you can avoid a lot of ironing by hanging clothes up while still steaming), figuring if we are going to rumple them ruthlessly within the space of 12 hours, why bother pressing?  The fact of the matter is, I hate ironing.  Hate it with a passion.  Hell for me would be to stick me in a room full of clothes that has been lying rumpled in a hamper for a week and arm me with nothing but a can of starch, an ironing board and a hot iron.  You simply could not pay me enough.

Et voila!  Bed freshly made.   (I was going for that 'previously slept in' look.)

Et voila!  Bed freshly made.  (I was going for that 'previously slept in' look.)

Yet Tita L. happily spends hours ironing everything from underwear to hair ribbons every week.  For a salary that I have guiltily calculated works out to about 4% of Smilin' Vic's and my combined income.  I often gaze upon her in wonder and amazement, truly perplexed at how she can find such contentment in this tiresome activity, smiling to herself as the steam rises from a skillfully pressed shirt collar whilst humming Air Supply and Celine Dion tunes.

What is it about the paltry salary and tedious chores that contribute so to her happiness?

I know it's not because this salary is going towards a month of luxuriating on a beach, getting pampered in a spa, or going on a safari expedition.  So what could possibly bring such a smile to her lips as I watch her enraptured by the 5 foot high pile of laundry that separates us?

Ahhh, yes.  I think I've got it.  Tita L. is gone home this month to whisk around town on the scooter she purchased last year for her family.  

She is flitting from store to store to choose the building supplies she needs for construction of her second house.  She is gone home to approve the floor plans, to oversee the pouring of the foundation, to supervise erection of the walls, and to make sure the wiring is being properly laid out.  

She wants to make sure the living room will accommodate the home entertainment system we gifted to her (save the applause, it was the annual gift from Smilin' Vic's work, and since we already had one it would have been silly to keep a second one even as back-up), and the flat-screen T.V. she won as a result of dutifully filling out the million raffle tickets I bring home each year from the grocery store (and am to lazy to fill out).

She is building this second abode on the plot of land she purchased three years ago in anticipation of setting up a small farm and house to sustain her through her old age.  

She is building it right next to her existing mortgage-less house, which she will gift to her children so they can remain close and not have to worry about a mortgage, at least not in the foreseeable future.

I make a few quick calculations and realize that Smilin' Vic and I only have to work here another 24 years at well-paying jobs to afford the equivalent back in Canada as Tita L. is securing in the Philippines.  

I think I'm starting to get the irony of ironing for a pittance.