3 Ways to Make Sure Your Birthday is not Ruined

I was raised as a Hindu child in Christian America. We did not celebrate Christmas or Easter, nor the more food oriented Thanksgiving or 4th of July.  Far from India, and away from the Indian centric metropolises of Orlando or Pittsburgh, even the Hindu festivals did not receive communal pomp and circumstance. The Hare Krishna farm was about as close as we could get to worship.

Yes, you can understand why a birthday was a big deal. Coming as it does in September, in the early part of the school year, I was never sure who to invite. Usually the people who came over for pizza or went out for a movie were not the girls I was talking to in January.

As an adult, and now mother, I love celebrations. We have added Christmas, Easter, New Year’s, Thanksgiving and the 4th of July to our family’s repertoire, with international travel on Eid holidays to boot.

Birthdays, however, haven’t yet been replaced in my heart. Until last week. Every few years I have a party. Same childhood dilemma but newer version: who in the expat community is still around to invite? Who will I still talk to in January?

Last weekend we had a party. No one likes the night before work (in the GCC falls on a Saturday) so Friday night it was. Three days before the actual day. There was dinner. Dancing. People jumping in the pool. On the whole, many 30somethings recapturing the essence of college, floating in the air as a new semester was starting at the universities where many of worked (or trying to).

Then came Tuesday.

Midweek in the GCC (we start the week on Sunday). Everyone in the house up early, a big lifestyle shift, to accompany new schedules. No boxed gift on my pillow like in years past. Completely fine: I asked for donations to charity instead of luxury brands.

Hubs left the house in a rush, wanting to avoid traffic, without a happy birthday. And so it went. None of my students remembered until my 70 year old aunt interrupted class with a buzzing phone. She wanted to say happy birthday. Good old auntie. Somehow that call made me feel worse.

I slunk back to my office. Facebook was pinging away: Happy birthday! Hope you’re having a great one! Each virtual ping pushed me further down in my chair. You’re alone, they all seemed to say, alone, and worth only a few virtual seconds. Even worse (never say it can’t get any worse, it always can) I was getting emails from people on LinkedIn. People I had never met because LinkedIn knew it was my birthday and thought they should too. Lower and lower I sunk, opening the door now and then to answer a few student queries with wads of Kleenex on my desk.

I went to pick up the cake, chosen by our older son, a toddler, a la edible Paw Patrol characters (look it up, it’s what you think it is). The baker forgot to say happy birthday.

Sobbing in my car on the way home, safe behind my sunglasses, a realization hit me. I am not as important to anyone as I am to myself.

This may sound counterproductive but it was a breakthrough. Somewhere on the lone highway in Doha, between birthday wall post 90 and 100 on my Facebook wall, my ego caved in. I’m only important to myself. Expectations are the road to disappointment. These ideas are the essence of Zen Buddhism. They are freeing, humbling, and awakening. I’m still mulling it all over.

Suffice to say, this will be the last party for a long time. Never say never. If you don’t want your birthday ruined, here’s my advice.

1) Don’t have an early party.

2) Don’t go on Facebook.

3) Learn to sit with the quiet in yourself.

Sunday Supper: Easy Leftover Rice and Black Bean Soup

My birthday party meant cups and cups of leftover rice from catering. I’ve made lots of things with them including baked rice and cheese balls (arancini), fried rice, and black bean veggie soup.

This soup was so easy, once I tossed everything in there and put the lid on, it literally cooked itself. With fall’s cooler temperatures right around the corner, can’t wait to make this again.

If You Want to Look at Nude Photos, Look in the Mirror

Women’s bodies are their property. If they want them to appear in advertisements, or as fictional movie characters, that’s their business. Don’t look at unauthorized photos of anyone, male or female. Whether Kate Middleton or Jennifer Lawrence: looking at leaked photos supports so many ideas antithetical to how you want your mother/sister/wife/daughter/friend/self treated.


5 Rules for Reading Gender in Arab Pop Fiction

As many of you know, I am a professor of literature and writing. Last week the fall term began with exciting new developments: I am teaching a new course, called Gender in Popular Arab Fiction. I love literature, both reading and writing it, but often am teaching first year composition. The opportunity of developing a writing about reading course is the best of all worlds.

After hearing the course’s title, many mentioned wanting to sit in on the course – which meets at 8:30 a.m. but few (other than those registered) attend. So here’s your chance! This semester we are reading short stories from Beirut 39, as well as Girls of Riyadh, and Finding Nouf. Read along with us. Feel free to test out the elements of literary analysis as well.

If you’ve ever wondered how to analyze fiction, here’s your crash course. Grab any one of these books, write a 100 word post following these directions, and I’ll give you some feedback (if you want it). The most important thing about reading – have fun. Write about an aspect of the text that engages you – or explain why it didn’t.

Use Reader Response Theory

The premise of this strategy stresses you, as the reader, as central to interpreting a work. There’s no fixed meaning of a story – no right or wrong answer. Rather we create our own meaning, filtering the text through our life experiences, feelings, and backgrounds.

In order to write about your response as a reader to a text, try following these “close reading” tips on how to examine the text of the story.

Close Reading Ins/Outs

  1. Pay close attention to the language and structure of the story.
  1. Consider the relationship between the parts of the story that stand out to you (symbol, theme, figurative language, etc.) and the meaning of the whole story.
  1. Discuss specific details and patterns in order to make a generalization about an overall issue, idea, message, or effect.
  1. Look for patterns in the text (or across texts)—repetitions, contradictions, or similarities.
  1. Ask questions about the patterns you’ve noticed—especially how and why. PROVIDE ANSWERS.

Providing answers is the part where we the reader demonstrate our understanding or position on the text.


Sunday Supper: Baked Goat Cheese Starter

Experimenting with a baked goat cheese recipe moved this  item to the top of my appetizer list. Roll a log of goat cheese in any combination of nuts and dried fruit, then drizzle with honey (I used cranberries and lime chili cashews).
Bake at 180C/350F for 7-11 minutes (depending on how spreadable/gooey you want the cheese). Serve. Seriously, you’ll want to make another, especially if this Labor day weekend the grill is taking longer than usual.

Greatest part about the dish is that you can within 10 minutes.

Let me know what combo your palate prefers. Enjoy!

Wordless Wednesday: What No Parents Should Have to Teach Their Children


How to Rock Being a University Student

August means the first day of university for many students, at least in North America. You could be attending for the first time, starting your senior year, or coming back as a non-traditional student.

The rules for success are the same: show up. That’s right – Woody Allen is credited with the saying “80% of life is about showing up.”

That means be on time to class; turn in your assignments when they’re due; come to your professors’ office hours with questions.

That is what it takes to be successful as a student. Show up, again and again, do the work, engage in class. You think I’m down playing it but trust me.

This advice comes to you after teaching and working for 14 years on at 9 different university campuses.

The hardest lessons in life are deceptively simple.

What advice do you have for university students? Or what do you wish you had known on your first week?

Sunday Supper: Lime Tuna Cliantro Burgers

I’ve made Black Bean Quinoa Burgers before as meat alternatives. Tuna burgers take your patty to a whole new level. You may want to add breadcrumbs and an extra egg like I had to do to get a comparable thickness and consistency. They were so delicious, I ate them with salsa and no bun.

Wordless Wednesday: “How Rude! You’re Wearing Jeans.”

Modesty is the hot topic this summer (pun intended) in Doha. From the modesty campaign, where people, mostly women, give correctional cards in public to those who they feel are in violation, to the recent censure of a group of Qatari youth on a trip in the Amazon, everyone, expats and locals, are talking about women women should and should not wear.

This cartoon sums up the irony of critique perfectly.

Don’t Let Cyber Bullying Win in Qatar: #ISupportQatarFirsts

QatarLast week I wrote about the criticism a group of Qatari youth received for traveling to Brazil. To be more precise, traveling to Brazil, in a mixed group of men and women, where the females were photographed without veils or wearing traditional dress. On Wednesday I invited us to ruminate on who defined Islam: the masses or the individual?

This week, the company that was sponsoring the trip, Vodafone Qatar, has pulled their support of the trip and by association, the group. Yes, you read that right. A corporate entity, who sent young people to a remote village in the Amazon, where they are currently in basic conditions and far away from their families, disavowed the project midstream.

What’s more important is the psychic effect this has on the participants, particularly the female members of the group. In a traditional, tribal society like Qatar, a person’s reputation is a stand-in for him or her. While the participants were being abandoned abroad, the girls’ families at home were being chastised in a Friday sermon at the mosque; their parents’ actions were being questioned on social media.

The countries in the Arabian Gulf have long walked a fine line between their traditional values and a space at the global table. Westerns may not realize that consumption – iPods, Cadillac, and Coke – do not alleviate conservatism. In fact, for most consumers in the GCC, consumption is an economic activity that does not effect their personal choices (expect perhaps in the case of the BDS movement against Israel). People may stay up all night watching episodes of the sex filled scenes of popular HBO shows but in public they behave appropriately.

A long held practice has been that what happens outside of Qatar is the prerogative of the traveler and his/her family. You would find the bathrooms occupied on flights descending into Qatar as women went to robe themselves in preparation for the Doha International Airport. What the criticism and abandonment of the #qatarfirsts campaign has shown, however, is in a world with social media, this limited space of freedom may no longer be the case. Qatari women’s (and men) right to choose how they conduct themselves while abroad may now be at end.

This is a #qatarfirst but perhaps not in the way the original organizers intended. The first time cyber bullying has gone unchecked. The first time women were publicly shamed for a private choice. Given the plans for the country’s rapid development, and the oft repeated, now synonymous with modernity, the 2022 World Cup.

Let it not be the first time we in the community allow a group to dictate the actions of individuals.

Here’s what you can do:

Reach Vodafone Qatar and tell them their action has been ill advised.

Reach Vodafone’s global office in the UK and let them know their brand is behaving irresponsibly locally.

Use the hashtag #isupportqatarfirsts or #istandwithqatarfirsts on social media to let the team know they are have our support.


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  • Black Bean and Leftover Rice Soup - Cook Smarts

  • Yummy recipe for using up leftover rice. Spinach, onions, garlic... makes a great appetizer or side dish.

  • I subbed real rice because I had a lot left over from a party: delicious and colorful! 8/31/14

  • Doing it for 36th bday. The volume should be flattering ...

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