Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Mohammed Ali and the Driver's License

Okay, is it Drivers License, Driver's License, or Drivers' License? I think appostrophes are grossly neglected in signage and print today. . . Well, when we arrived in Qatar we were exhausted. Abbey and I slept while Brett began the process of immigration that first full day. Part of that immigration was to get a Qatar driver's license. That sounded simple enough, but Brett told me that it felt like he had stepped back into the old world when he went. When I went a few days after he did to get my license, I knew he had been accurate.

VCUQ (Virginia Commonwealth University) has a man working for them who is the liason officer, which simply means he speaks Arabic and knows how to bridge the gap between western and middle eastern folk. He is pretty much the go-to guy. His name happens to be Mohammed Ali though, so every time I see him, even though he is dressed in the traditional Arabic garb with the thobe and the shimagh, I think of that song that was written for the fighter Mohammed Ali: "He floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee." Instead of being a prize fighter, this Mohammed Ali is an Egyptian immigrant to Qatar who has worked for this American University for ten years.

So last Thursday I got to see Mohammed Ali in action, and I must say, his moves are as impressive as the boxer's moves in the ring. First of all, he walks very quickly with short strides. How he does that, I don't know. I could barely keep up with him when we walked from the SUV to the government office that looked like it served people as well as livestock. Secondly, Mohammed Ali uses very little verbal communication, but is able to breeze past long lines and accomplish so much with less trouble than the regular citizen. Obviously his reputation preceeds him. I felt like a gawky western bumpkin running to keep up with this man. We got to the souq (shop) where I had to have my polaroid taken for the license, and he said maybe two or three words in Arabic to the two men behind the counter, pointed to me and the stool in front of the blue cloth on the wall, and said, "You, sit." When the pictures were unveiled they showed that I had blinked. Mohammed Ali rolled his eyes at me and said, "You sit again." Again, another gawky moment.

The other VCUQ employees I was with started visiting with me in the reception area (and I use that term loosely, because there wasn't a whole lot of welcoming atmosphere there), and I guess we got a little loud. Mohammed Ali came over and with just one look and a weird hushing sound let us know that we were being inappropriate in the official office. We quickly quieted down, but somehow I felt like I had let him down yet again. First the blinking in the photo, now this. I was just praying that I would pass the eye test so they would actually give me a license.

Well, I now have that Qatari license, and from what I've seen it is simply a license to drive like a Nascar sponsored allstar. What is more important though is that I didn't let Mohammed Ali down, and I have begun my cultural journey toward understanding a people who can have the smooth poise of a butterfly and the driving ettiquette of a bumble bee. Since Mohammed Ali is the "go-to guy" for the university, I've been told that another one of his jobs is to provide support in all situations, and if I get in a car accident I should call him first and then the emergency number. I just hope that never happens, because I would just be adding to the list of times I had let him down. He's just one of those people you don't want to disappoint!


adrienne said...

First--I know where your daughter gets her writing ability!

Second, I must admit that your new life has caused me to visit your blog every day hoping for new tidbits. This is big for me, because until now, the only blogs I ever read were Bethany's & Kristy's & I have never understood why people would want to read about the minituae of other people's lives. Well--I understand it now. I am dying to hear about the minutuae of your life! It all seems so mysterious and exciting. I am living vicariously through you!

Manuel,Chelsea, and the kids said...

I am loving these stories, be careful driving there and keep us posted on this fun time in your life!