Sunday, October 16, 2011

Compound Living (aka I Live with a Celebrity)

So I'm screening someone for a position with our Communications team (hi, Scott!), and he mentions, "You know, you really should update your blog."  And I realize:

a) how easy it is to find out information about people online;
b) and that I haven't written anything since Ramadan!  Man, and I had such good intentions too (and we all know where those lead).

Anyway, I'm back.  I hope you're all doing well.  We're fine here in Qatar.

The weather is beginning to mellow some.  We're getting highs in the low 90's instead of 100+, and if humidity cooperates, it's actually quite pleasant here.  That being said, when I walked the dog this morning, it was 82 degrees with 80% humidity (according to  Humidity, she is a capricious hussy.

But about that dog walking...

By and large, I'm not a fan of apartment complexes.  Living closely together with strangers whose homes are identical in layout (and in this case, furnishings) seems wrong to me somehow.  Too cookie cutter.  Soulless.  My family and friends know this about me.  When my sister had visited me in Baltimore, I'd told her how much I liked Mt. Washington, where I'd been renting at the time, and had pointed out a nice condo complex, saying, "If I were to stay here, I could probably afford to buy in that complex.  But I don't know if something like that is for me."  Her immediate response was, "Oh, no.  You couldn't do that.  You'd need to find another way."

You'd think we were talking about my planning to storm the beach at Normandy.

Samrya Gardens is a fair-sized compound, 150 units, all two to three bedrooms.  We have kids living there.  Lots and lots of kids.  We're two doors down from what is arguably the best English language school in Doha, The American School, and next door to Doha College, which is comparable to an American high school.  When you walk around, you bump into people--going to the pool or mini-mart, playing on the swing set, or doing their own turn around the place.  I imagine it has to be like what village living would be like.  But what does a big city girl know?

This is Oliver.

I walk him three times a day--before work, after work, and before bed.  He's litter box trained, so during the day, he simply stays inside.  I've learned that walking a dog introduces you to people.  Lots of people.  Some of these are fellow dog owners.  We have in our village/compound (off the top of my head): two dachshunds, a maltese, a couple terrier mixes, a shihtzu, a yorkie, and a larger dog named Jack, who belongs to my boss.

But some of the people I chat with don't have dogs.  They just like them.  It's an automatic conversation starter.  People seem to like coming by to say hello and to (try to) pet Oliver.  If you're an adult male, good luck with that.  He's afraid of men, which says something unflattering about my social life.  However, he does like women and children.

And children like him.

It's become habit for us to come past the compound playground and hear shouted, "Ah-li-vah!  Ah-li-vah!"

And then the stampede starts.

There is a core group of about eight to ten little children, nearly all girls (there's one little boy, who is there because of his sisters), who love Oliver with the same passionate intensity American tweens have for Justin Bieber.  It's adorable and, for Oliver, terrifying.

They rush up to him, shrieking with delight.  In particular, there is a little Asian girl of perhaps one or two, who walks the same way most toddlers do--like Frankenstein, her steps heavy and lurching, her arms held straight out in front of her for balance.  She is surprisingly speedy for all her unsteadiness and she has absolutely no fear of the dog.  Not so Oliver for her.

My poor little dog weighs five pounds with a full stomach.  He is nothing but fluff and bones.  He loves people, but he can also get overwhelmed by them.  So when he sees this wall of humanity heading his way, he doesn't realize he has a fan club.  His first instinct is, "Run away!  Run away!"

Which makes the little Asian girl chase him, shrieking at an ever higher and more frantic pitch.

Really, the kids are very sweet, and most of them know not to try to touch him all at once.  A couple of the girls, Jewel and Cara, are particularly fond of Oliver.  Jewel is ten, and a couple of nights ago, she was out on her own, and she and I sat down on one of the sidewalk curbs and let Oliver come to her.  That worked much better.  They got a little bonding time they both enjoyed.

Her baby sister, Cara, is only four, and she adores Oliver.  She's also afraid of him.  So she runs up to him with the rest, yet doesn't touch him (or didn't).  She hangs back and calls out, "Hello!  Hello, Oliver!  Hello!"  She also likes to ask, "Do you think Oliver knows my name?"  I assure her he does.

Everything changed though the night Jewel and I sat with Oliver.  After a time, Cara and her mom came outside to find her big sister.  Oliver was feeling very mellow after being petted by Jewel, who was very gentle with him.  So I picked him up and brought him over to Cara, who for the first time patted his side.  She was very pleased with herself afterwards.  Her mom tells me the girls have been after her to get them a dog.  I know I'm not to blame.

It's all Oliver's fault.