Saturday, April 17, 2010

An ordinary day...

Most of the acquaintances I have made since coming to Qatar have been through my work or incidental contacts to my work (a few others have been through arts events). One of the acquaintances who has become a close friend is Sha, a security guard for Education City. We became acquainted because I have a habit of rolling down my window when I enter Education City to greet the guards who are posted at all the entrances. From the first time I saw Sha, he greeted me warmly and we began making a point to see each other every day. Eventually, I started stopping to talk with Sha as I left campus every night after exercising; that is what brought about the ordinary day... that just happens to be changing my life.

Sha and I had talked for some time about meeting each other outside of work. So, we chose last Friday; a change in shift allowed Sha to visit me at my ville during the afternoon. We spent several hours trading experiences with music, starting with Sha telling me about how he discovered American pop music when he first heard a Gwen Stefani song. From there he developed a fascination with Aerosmith, the Eagles, Elvis, and others. He shared many of these songs with me, along with songs of his country, India. Great A.R. Rachman ballads and the Indian national anthem were some that particularly struck me. As the afternoon went on, Sha informed me that the residents of his accommodation, 14 guys who room together, had decided to throw a party for me that night. I had already made plans for dinner with other acquaintances but hurriedly modified my timing so that I could join Sha and the others at his accommodation.

It was casual - shoes off at the threshold of the room, papers on the floor where we would eventually sit on the floor to eat together, and a fresh fruit drink to greet me as I entered the room. The cook for the day (and the master chef in the center of the picture to the right) had fixed one of the best of traditional Indian dishes, byriani. They offered me utensils at the same time that they invited me to join them as they usually do - using the best utensils any of us have - our hands. My quick judgment - hands only for me as well! (The only problem is that anyone who has ever eaten Indian food with their hands can see that I was really struggling) The byriani was beyond imagining - spicy, full of interesting flavors, occasionally uncomfortably hot for my palate. As the temperature rose, everyone pitched in to help me learn to mix other things like cucumber salad or bananas into the byriani to cool it down.

The time passed so quickly and I had to run off to my other obligation. In the flurry of leaving, I was again enveloped in hospitality as Sha, the others, and I jockeyed for photos to record the night. A leisure afternoon with Sha, turned into an impromptu dinner, and then a deeper and unfolding insight into the lives of others that I will never forget.

When I invited Sha to my home, I thought that I was providing an opportunity for him to get away from the crowded conditions of his accommodation. What I totally missed was that Sha was more worried about me - worried that I lived in such a big ville all by myself with no one to share the joys and challenges of each hour and day. He described his great joy of rooming with 13 other guys who knew nothing of each other until they came to Qatar and were placed together in their shared room. Brothers - no strife, conflict, or inconvenience. All knowing that they needed to rely on each other and support each other when all were so very far away from their loved ones. Indeed, although I call back to the U.S.A. every day, and Darbi shares considerable time with me each week, I am alone in a way that seemed very strange to Sha and he reached out to bridge the solitude which I sometimes experience.

Sha and his roommates find little usefulness in petty things. They have little conflict but instead enjoy a warmth of relationship that is hard to find among many of the privileged professionals with whom I've worked. If Sha and his roommates can get along in one room, why is it that professional colleagues have difficulty understanding and embracing their personal differences across the hallway? How hard could it be to offer tolerance and appreciation rather than impatience and rejection? Why is it so difficult to dismantle our privilege to accept the possibility that someone else's views may be as valid as our own?

I struggled to sort out my experiences with Sha and his roommates. I'm not entirely sure why it was so difficult but the perspective of Dr. Jim Rhatigan, venerable student affairs leader and scholar helped me put it together. When asked to offer advice to others in a recent NASPA "Letters to our Colleagues" Jim said, "It is in the routine of life that our habits take shape, our reputation is established, our openness to challenge and change is developed, and our love or regard for those closest to us is deepened." When I read these words, suddenly last Friday, 16 April, 2010, came into focus. An ordinary day... one that seemed routine but reflected new habits that are shaping my life and reflected a new kind of appreciation and love for Sha and his roommates. An ordinary day... that just happens to be changing my life.