Franklin Regional grad pens CMU Qatar memoir
Lisa Kirchner lives as if she isn't afraid. After all, going through a divorce by telephone in a country where dating is illegal affords you that luxury.
Living without fear is what led Kirchner — a 1984 Franklin Regional High School graduate — to write her memoir. In “Hello American Lady Creature, What I Learned as a Woman in Qatar,” Kirchner, 47, shares a series of essays about her experiences in Qatar as a woman charged with setting up a Middle Eastern campus for Carnegie Mellon University.
“Going in, I had all these ideas — I'm going to save everybody,” she said. “The reality was I had a lot more to learn.”
There are a lot of misconceptions about the country, including how to say its name. Early in her book, Kirchner makes sure to correct often incorrect pronunciations of Qatar. It's “Cutter,” not “Catter” or “Cu-tter” or “Cu-tarr.”
Kirchner, who now lives in the Alphabet City neighborhood of New York City, had a lot of misconceptions about Qatar when she traveled there for the first time in 2004. But most of hers revolved around a society of women who she viewed as being oppressed and in need of salvation.
But the longer she stayed, the more she began to realize she might be wrong.
“I thought we were so much better off,” Kirchner said. “I was so critical of how they view wives and mothers, but deep down, we have the same views.”
During her time in Qatar as director of marketing for CMU, Kirchner transformed fundamentally. Out of necessity, she traded cardio and strength training for yoga and eventually became an instructor.
“I never meant to be a yoga teacher. It just came my way,” Kirchner said. “These opportunities kept coming up.”
When she's talking about her book, Kirchner doesn't exhibit the sterotypical yoga serenity. An animated storyteller who hates to leave her docile pup Hartley, she practically vibrates with passion as she talks about what she's seen and how it has changed her life.
Living in a country that didn't have addresses or phone books made her more self-reliant and more introspective. That led her to conclude that a lot of Americans are hypocrites when it comes to their gender-based worldviews.
There's the idea that the women of Qatar are treated badly because they aren't treated as equals, she said. There aren't stonings, and women are given the opportunity to be educated. In fact, Kirchner said, women traditionally are the best students.
“Their only option is to go study,” Kirchner said. “A lot of women did go on to graduate studies to avoid marrying their cousin.”
But women in Qatar do take a backseat to men. A man can divorce a woman simply by saying “I divorce you” three times over a time period, but a woman cannot. There's no public dating, and women are expected to stay quiet.
But some of that happens in America, too, she said.
“People say, ‘Oh, they treat women so badly there,' but in America, you have two choices. You can be a bitch who is respected, or you can be a bimbo who is pilloried for being an idiot. I don't think we've come a long way, babies.”
As she travels across the country conducting yoga workshops and public readings of her book, Kirchner said she hopes readers realize that inequality doesn't go away if it's ignored.
“Equality is great, but it's not natural. Evolution favors the winners. Everybody wants to win. But everybody can't win,” she said. “The way to be able to change it is by being aware of the problems. If we're not aware that we have these beliefs that's when there's a problem,”
Daveen Rae Kurutz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-871-2365, or firstname.lastname@example.org.