Friday, February 29, 2008

Letter from Doha

Neanderbill writes:

Thursday, February 28, 2008
Letter # 4
And yet another greeting from Doha,

1. Trouble in Paradise
Apparently not every expatriate is treated as well as Education City professors. As I understand it, in order to work in Qatar, you need to be sponsored by an employer. If you work for Carnegie Mellon, they take good care of you. In fact they take amazingly good care of you.

But suppose you are a construction worker from Nepal, or a housemaid from India. Depending on your employer, this may not be such a good deal. And even though you come in through the front door, so to speak, in some ways you are not as well of as, say, an undocumented Mexican in the US. Why? Because an undocumented Mexican can always quit one job and seek another. If you are in Qatar because your employer sprang for the blood tests and chest x-rays that are required, your employer has a stake in you, and may not be willing to let you take advantage of a labor market. Or you may have had to “pay” all of that plus transportation, and owe it to your employer out of your wages.

There is a website that has the following definition.

Qatar: A slave state in the Gulf where deceived, unsuspecting, and poor laborers are exploited for the benefit of Land Cruisers and late model mobile phones for unapologetic and heartless Qataris.

As the website says, the Indian government won’t send women to be domestic servants because of experiences of exploitation of all kinds. Is this website fair-minded and objective, as I have made the case for Aljazeera? Obviously not. But there is a problem here. And the Qatari government blocks this website, though it permits it at Education City. All in all, this is not a good situation.

2. On the other hand …
Qatar is the only one of 21 Arab states not to sign a “Charter of Principles” designed to rein in satellite TV talk shows that might embarrass Arab governments. (Thanks to my very knowledgeable cousin Marlene Kasting for bringing this to my attention.) And Aljazeera English, which I have praised in an earlier letter, had a documentary on such problems in the Persian Gulf, with specific mention of Qatar. It was a half hour show called “Blood, Sweat and Tears.” My colleague Silvia Pessoa, who brought many of these issues to my attention, gave me a DVD of the show.

3. Kite Runner
The Education City faculty organization sponsored a viewing of the film Kite Runner, which I had read. It is remarkably true to book in terms of specific events, but not nearly as compelling. The producer of the film, Walter Parkes, spoke afterwards. Since Afghanistan is busy with war these days, they had to film it in Kashgar, China, which is in the far west of Xinjiang province. Two Afghanis here have said that that is just what Kabul looked like in the seventies, even to the modern ranch house that Baba and Amir lived in.

I had a chance to ask Parkes what it was like filming in China, and whether the Chinese government put any restrictions on them. Except for one thing, the answer was not at all. There is a stoning scene at halftime at a football (soccer) game. When the Chinese government found out that they were going to assemble thousands of Uyghers (a Muslim minority) in one stadium, they thought that that was not a good idea. Parkes said that five or six black Suburbans rolled up with drivers talking on cell phones. Can’t be done. So the stoning / football stadium scene was filmed near Beijing, I think, with a veneer of Uyghers in front, and the rest of the crowd, whose faces you could not see, were Chinese.

I had never known how to pronounce Uygher. Was a little disappointed to find that it’s pronounced “weeger,” if only because it sounds too much like a casual deck shoe that you can order by mail from LL Bean in Freeport, ME.

By the way, in looking up Kashgar, I discovered that Afghanistan has a little panhandle that touches China. This made me think of Mad Magazine’s apocryphal Panhandle Airlines, which flew to and from panhandles in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Alaska. Now they can be an international airline.

4. {NeanderSpouse}

While I’m thanking people, I should thank George Tsebelis for reminding us of Skype, with which you can talk from computer to computer free. Now {NeanderSpouse} and I can literally talk every day, instead of email chat. I am happy to say that she will arrive in Doha Thursday, March 7, and we won’t need any kind of electronic devices to communicate. We can hardly wait.


Funny that George Tsebilis reminds Neanderbill of Skype. George T reminds me of a Greek Fred Flintstone.