You really really should read this. I find it quite fascinating. You will too.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Day 4: Mirage or Reality?
"Life does not consist mainly -- or even largely -- of facts and happenings. It consists mainly of the storm of thoughts that is forever blowing through one's head." - Mark Twain, Autobiography
The desert weirds your mind. My mind, anyway. Or maybe it was driving my car, AC blasting, along the desert road. Now, Qatari drivers are notorious for being aggressive and fast. But as I cruised I noticed....cars seemed to be keeping a safe distance from me. No honking. No tailgating. No cutting me off. Huh. Why? Is it because, as a clearly identifiable representative of the hetero-normative, white dominant, gender encoded, hegemonic American regime (as the scholars would say or, more simply as the fabulous band Majestic Twelve writes in the song, Condoleeza Check My Posse, which you really should check out, "I'm straight and white and male American and free"), the other drivers were graciously deferring to me? Not likely. Is it because they can see I'm a foreigner and, as everyone knows, foreigners can't drive? Perhaps. Is it all just the storm of thoughts blowing through my head?
Naturally, I was immediately tailgated, honked on, and cut off.
But, things do happen in the desert. My bald head is exceptionally dry, for example. Buying some body lotion at the store, however, made me face some existential choices: specifically, I could choose between lotion for "normal" skin, "dry" skin, or "sensitive" skin (not counting all the various flavors of each type). But I'm normal! Does normal skin even need lotion? And, in fact, my scalp is both dry and sensitive! What to do? WWJD?
The choices left me in tears. My eyes were literally watering. And reddening. And hurting. And more of each throughout the evening. My conclusion: I have conjunctivitis. Pink eye. WebMD helpfully tells me that this could be caused by a) viruses; b) bacteria; c) allergies; d) irritations. I want to check e) all of the above as my eyes are killing me. They feel like a size 8 shoe on a size 12 foot. They look like I'm now wearing the tux I wore to the senior prom: tight and hideous. If I don't look like the Great Satan, I do resemble Satan's spawn.
Pre-demonic, I took a chance in yesterday's class and discussed abortion (although I'm not censored any way at school, I do want to find topics that are useful and appropriate, so I had been reading up on abortion policy in Islamic countries.) I began by noting "This topic is extremely controversial in the US, with some people holding views that abortion should be totally banned, and others believing that the right to choose is absolute. Is it controversial in your country? (Note: I've now learned that six of my students are from Qatar, and eight are from other countries throughout the middle east; all, as far as I know, are Islamic.) The students overwhelming concurred: not controversial. I then posed what I think are some of the hardest questions for the ardent pro-life and pro-choice positions, and tried to expose the weaknesses in each....
As it turns out, abortion is not completely banned in Qatar: exceptions are made if the pregnancy threatens the life, physical health, or mental health of the mother (if verified by two doctors) or if the fetus has severe birth defects. Abortion is not allowed from cases of rape (and it's not clear about incest, although I'm guessing that might fall into the "mental health" category). Abortion is available on demand in Bahrain (a one hour flight from Qatar, about the same flight time from South Dakota to Minnesota). Indeed, policies vary across Islamic countries; yes, they differ. So Qatar has more strict policies than the US, to be sure, but they hardly reflect an absolutist position.
It seems that anyone imagining that Islamic countries are alike, and extremist, is buffeted by a desert storm of thoughts, more mirage than reality.