The first thing I did when I saw the invitation to the TEDxSummit in Qatar was search Wikipedia for where in the world Qatar is located. When I saw it is in the Middle East, I looked for more info on their policy and treatment of women. I wondered, would I need to be covered from head to toe? Escorted? Protected? So many preconceived ideas about what that experience would be like. The most frightening part of it was my total ignorance of the region. My journey to Qatar started the moment I received my acceptance letter.
I started telling everyone who’d listen that I was going. I know people mean well, but going to the Middle East, is like telling people you’re pregnant. All the horror stories come out! You know the ones about 30 hours of being in labor, etc. etc. etc. Well, some people told me horror stories of what could happen to me as a woman traveling alone, if I showed too much skin, if I made eye-contact… I am very proud to report how progressive the country of Qatar is. As a western woman, I felt safe to walk alone, talk to locals in public including male taxi drivers and shop owners. I felt more than safe. I felt welcomed. I watched Arab men walk with their families at night pushing the baby strollers, feeding infants with bottles. I even made friends with a woman in her beautiful black bedazzled abaya while we waited for our flight. We were shivering in the night air, wishing we had more layers on… I love these desert women! I met another woman from Dubai who had a pair of Ugg boots in her bag, “Just in case it gets cold.” (You know, it the 70′s.)
That was my favorite part of the TEDxSummit: meeting all the beautiful people with exotic names from far away places. Many times I asked if they’d say their name again, slowly… as the sounds were truly new to my ears. They all smiled. And one by one, sounded out the syllables. I learned that my name, “Jodi” means “pair” or “couple” in Hindi and “sapphire” in Arabic (which I LOVE because that’s my birthstone).
So the miscommunications happen too. I sat in a workshop called, “Sponsorships in Small Towns.” The guy sitting next to me introduced himself and said “My city has 1 million people… but that’s small in China.” It’s funny, right? Words we use, assuming they mean the same things to others. How often do we do this in our own companies? With our families?
And another layer, is when there isn’t miscommunication but criticism… I was called “Yankee” (sounded more like ‘Jan key’ and not as a compliment) after a friend read my bio and called it BS.
Slam! Wow, harsh reality with a bit of sarcasm thrown in. It was just what I needed. It’s true… I couldn’t read my own bio, without squirming. So why did I keep it? Well, I thought that’s what it was supposed to be. I wanted to sound important. Making myself the hero. (Again, a Yankee trait.) But internally, I felt like a fraud. Time to re-write and get honest. That’s what real friends do… even if they’ve only known you 5 days… they call you on your self-important non-sense. And still like you anyway…
Thinking of you…
PS The international or even, universal things that bring us together are food, dancing, laughing…
…All the best things translate beyond words.