WLM Member Monday – Jennifer Ziton Bendriss
Victoria Twead: Today is Member Monday, and our chance to get to know WLM mod Jennifer Ziton Bendriss better! What an interesting lady! Morning Jennifer, and thanks for agreeing to answer our questions! — with Jennifer Ziton Bendriss.
Janet Hughes: Wow Jennifer, that’s an impressive list! So how are you finding teaching English in an Arab state?
Fay Kearney: Hi Jennifer, you’ve had an exciting life so far. I would like to ask you if there are any restrictions upon women in Qatar?
Jill Stowell: Hi Jennifer. Sorry to be a total ignoramus, but what is TESOL? Is it anything to do with food?
–Just googled TESOL and it’s nothing to do with food!! So why the desire to get stuck into culinary school, where do you want that to lead?
Cherry Gregory: Hi Jennifer, what is life like in Qatar?
Mark Bean: The American Military University- all sorts of images are going through my mind- what was that like?
Jennifer Ziton Bendriss: Oh my! I just got out of school. I was proctoring tests all day. I will answer shortly.
Sandra Lee Kuns: Did you live in Merritt Island, Cocoa Beach or Cape Canaveral when you lived in Florida?
Alison Teeshirts: Hi Jennifer, enjoy being the star!
Jennifer Ziton Bendriss: Teaching in the Gulf is interesting. Especially when English is the main language spoken. But this issue we have is motivation. Why would a student be motivated if they come from huge wealth? What motivates to learn? Not all students have this issue, but it is common.
–No restrictions on women at all. Actually I have more rights than my husband! For example, I can leave the country any time I want. He has to get an “exit permit” from his employer to leave. Also, as an American woman, I am respected more than others. (There is a huge caste system in Qatar. Qataris and Americans/Canadians are the highest caste. (Sorry Victoria and Alan) then Brits, Aussies and Kiwis.
–Culinary school because I love cooking. But even more, I need something to do once the kids leave. I know many people who wrap themselves into their kids so much that when they leave for college-the mother has nothing. No hobbies, job, friends, etc.. they literally can’t function without their children. I want enough to keep me occupied so I won’t mind them being away. Weird maybe, but my mother was a bit like that and doing my own thing has always been a giant guilt trip.
Janet Hughes: Do your children share your Disney addiction? I once offered mine to go to Disneyland when they were about 8 yrs old, but they weren’t in the least bit interested. Saved me about £5,000
Terry Bryan: Okay, let’s get real nosey…how did Dad make his money and would you be interested in following in his footsteps?
Cheryl Butler Stahle: What was the most challenging part of being a woman in Qatar?
Jennifer Ziton Bendriss: Our whole family are Disney addicts. My husband and I met while working at Disney, and we lived about 30 minutes from the parks. We would about almost every week. Sometimes just for dinner, sometimes to just go on a rides. If other people go to the local park to play, my kids went to Disney to play. We’ve been on 13 Disney cruises (One was 25 days long!) Our next cruise is Alaska this June for my big 4-0.
–American Military School was when I thought I wanted to work for the State Dept./FBI. Then realized my other goal of being a stay at home mom wasn’t conducive to working in the FBI. So, I had to choose…
–As a woman in Qatar, I have no challenges. Really! Women are treated better here than probably in the States. The only issue could be that men don’t think women drive well (but that thinking is EVERYWHERE), but otherwise, I am more respected in Qatar being a woman than in most other countries. Again, including the U.S.
–Now also, I don’t really drink. So being in a country where there is no alcohol isn’t an issue. I probably have 3-5 drinks a year. For many people – that’s a deal breaker, not me. Also, I already dress more modestly So keeping my shoulders covered and skirts to my knees is what I wear anyway.
–Dad dropped out of school after the war ended (WW2). Later he became one of the youngest people to own a Ford car dealership (still to this day), but eventually joined the family in the shoe business. Our family has stores in Minnesota, Missouri and Florida. My grandfather developed the process to dye shoes to match the gowns of the Hollywood stars.
–Sandra Lee Kuns- actually we lived in East Orange county, bordering Brevard. Our house still shook with the sonic booms and the night launches were the best.
Victoria Twead: Going back to your teaching, have you ever been offered bribes, like we were, in exchange for good grades?
Jennifer Ziton Bendriss: Well, I am a tutor and substitute. So I don’t touch the grades. But, I am offered money from parents who want me to go above and beyond in tutoring, like parent conferences and other school obligations the parents typical would do.
Cherry Gregory: In Qatar, is there an equality of learning opportunity between the girls and boys?
Jennifer Ziton Bendriss: Yes, public (government schools) are divided into separate schools for boys and girls. The schools teach the same exact lessons. Private schools are mixed. Girls are actually furthering their education than boys. For example, the medical school has more girls enrolled than boys. They realize the importance of education and that it can lead them to bigger and better things. Most students go overseas (UK) to study for University.
–Victoria Twead, how do you think women were treated in Bahrain?
Cherry Gregory: Thank you, Jennifer, that’s really interesting. In UK also, there are higher percentage of girls in higher education than boys.
Jennifer Ziton Bendriss: In the U.S. you especially notice this with the different minority groups. What is the reason, you think?
Cherry Gregory: I think it is partly because girls mature earlier and are more likely to see the advantages of studying and thinking about the future than a lot of boys do. And there’s an image thing too…in some communities being good at school is seen as uncool.
Micki Stokoe: Hello, Jennifer! What are the best & worst things about living in Qatar?
Linda Kovic-Skow: What an interesting life you lead Jennifer Ziton Bendriss. BTW, you and I share common ground – I love to go on cruises too! Where did you meet your husband? How many children to you have? How long do you plan to stay in Qatar?
Jennifer Ziton Bendriss: Good question: I think the best things about living in Qatar is how easy life is (For western expats). Maids, nannies, drivers are all affordable. My girls are getting an experience they would never get in the U.S. My 12 year old went to Abu Dhabi for a week with her entire grade for a team building experience. In April she goes to London for training in theater (again, a school trip). Next year she goes to Sri Lanka to help build a school. Also, we get to travel much more than we ever could (also due to the big bump in my husband’s salary). We’ve been to Thailand, Maylasia, Dubai, Morocco, and hopefully back to Thailand again next year.
Jennifer Ziton Bendriss: The bad: not being to speak my mind and having to watch what I say and to whom I say it. Freedom of speech is something we take for granted in the U.S. Also, the healthcare system leaves a lot to be desired. Most everyone travels home for more serious ailments. Also the driving. It’s not “if” you’ll get into a car accident- it’s “when”. 18 year old kids in Ferraris and Lambourghinis who think they are fearless. There are way too many accidental deaths due to reckless driving.
Susan Joyce: Hi Jennifer– from Uruguay! Sorry to be late checking in on your very interesting life. I think it’s great that you want to be a chef. It’s a very creative field. I also love to cook and our son attended chef school here in Uruguay last year. He treats us about once a week to a wonderful meal, with French sauces and all. How long will you stay in Qatar?
Jennifer Ziton Bendriss: Well, we have anther 3 years. It will all depend if my husband decides to sign another contract.
Eman E. Davis: Jennifer, I think you’re very interesting and I would like to read your memoir!
Susan Joyce: What is your husband’s job?
Jennifer Ziton Bendriss: I am just starting my memoir. The problem is I probably can’t publish until I leave Qatar. Which stinks as who knows how many years I will be here.
–My husband is Assistant Dean of Pre-Med at Cornell Medical College. Cornell opened a campus here to educate and train students in the Middle East.
Mary Griffith Chalupsky: Nice to meet you Jennifer…Wishing you all the best…You sound as though you have an interesting life.. Lots to write about…
Zvezdana Rashkovich: Hi Jennifer.. My daughter attended the pre-Med and is one of the first batch of their Biological Sciences graduates. She now works at CMU as a research assistant
Jennifer Ziton Bendriss: In Qatar or NY?
Zvezdana Rashkovich: Sorry yes, Qatar. I visit her often. My sister works for qatar Airways. Tons of friends. In fact I think you might have met one of them. How do you find the social life in Qatar?
Jennifer Ziton Bendriss: What’s your daughter’s name and what year? That’s cool!
— Um… I’m 40 with 3 kids. My social life consists of Friday breakfast and being in bed by 10pm on weekdays. If I’m lucky, I meet some friends at Tim Horton’s for coffee.
Zvezdana Rashkovich: She has already graduated and works with Professor Finkle in yeast research in coordination with Hamad Hospital. Her name is Mei. She has been featured in many publications in Qatar. I know I am bragging but so proud. Back to you Jennifer. Hope you meet her one day… Yes, life is slower in Doha but imagine how much more time you will have to work on your memoir!!
Elaine Beckham: I am finding this all very interesting – Jennifer, what would it be like for a single woman there – do you know any single women there and how do they cope?
Jennifer Ziton Bendriss: I do know a few. Most are young professionals getting job experience or divorced and wanted a change of scenery. To come to Qatar, you have to have a job. You just can’t move there then figure out what you want to do. (Of course you can visit, but to reside, you must have a job secured prior to arriving). The dating scene I hear is decent from what I’m told. I know quite a few younger women teachers who ended up getting married to other single male teachers at the schools. The hotels have night clubs and you can get alcohol there, so the social aspect is not too bad. Plus, if you really want to have fun, you fly to Dubai. It is safe here in Doha for single women, but since the ratio is 4-1 men to women, there have been some issues lately. Unfortunately due to drinking and behavior of some expats.
–Please keep the questions coming, but they will have to be answered this evening (tomorrow morning for me.) Thanks everyone for the great questions so far! It’s my bed time!!!
Susan Joyce: Jennifer, thanks for your time and a great interview. Fun to hear about your life in Qatar and watch some connections happen. Wishing you luck with your writing and cooking.
Karen Knight: Hi, wow what an interesting interview. If you could holiday anywhere in the world, where would it be? X
Jennifer Ziton Bendriss: Oh… gotta answer this one. Amalfi Coast and Positano. I was there for one day during a cruise and I have been dying to go back ever since.
Cherry Gregory: What sort of books do you like reading, Jennifer, and what is your all time favourite book?
Linda Austin: Jennifer, wow, you are so interesting! Most of the memoirs I read are about other cultures and history so would love to read yours since I knew nothing about life in Quatar until now. I am in St. Louis – what is your family store name? I used to live on Space Coast, too, in Melbourne, where we would just step outside to watch the shuttle launches. You will love the Alaskan cruise – I did, twice!
Charlotte Smith: Jennifer I’ve had a really busy day but I am going to read this entire link tomorrow with great interest. X
Bambi Flanner: Oh I was gone to work all day!
–First question, you’re dad is a multi-millionaire. Will you marry me?
Susan Jackson: Or adopt me
Bambi Flanner: I would like to know how difficult the decision was (if at all) to make the move? I don’t think I would hesitate a second, but for others it can be hard. How was it for you?
Betty Sue Brewster: Do you like the local food? What is your favorite local dish?
Terry Bryan: Dumb question…just curious…did you watch the Super Bowl? Could you if you wanted?
Jennifer Ziton Bendriss: Local food is rare. I don’t really know what Qatari food is. Everyone eats Lebanese or Indian food. Biryriani is very popular but it is more Indian than Qatari.
–We have cable TV so we get all the prime time stuff like the Super Bowl and the Oscars. The biggest issue is censorship. My favorite show Modern Family is sometimes cut to less than half the original show. The time zone is weird, too. During the Oscars, I was able to wake up the next morning and catch the last 30 minutes of it airing.
–It was hard to move because of how close my kids were to their grandparents, but this was too good of an opportunity to pass up. Of course we thought we’d only be here 3 years.
–I think all the family stores are sold or closed now. Everyone is in their 70’s and 80’s now and most of the off-spring went off to other careers. (Including me.)
Victoria Twead: Hi Jennifer, a bit late here! I found this thread particularly interesting because of my own experiences in Bahrain. In Bahrain many women had high powered jobs, and it wasn’t like Saudi where women aren’t even allowed to drive a car. However, many women were expected to stay at home while their husbands could go out and do as they please.
Jennifer Ziton Bendriss: Victoria, are you referring to the locals or expats?
–My favorite book of all time? That’s really hard… classic I think Grapes of Wrath. Modern I would say One Day, Da Vinci Code or Julia Child’s My Life in France. Stephen King’s Seasons novella also is fantastic.
Victoria Twead: Expat women can be headmistresses and stuff, Bahraini women can work, but many stay at home.
—Jennifer Ziton Bendriss, thanks so much for being our Monday Member, fascinating stuff! Please choose 2 people to give ebook prizes to.
Jennifer Ziton Bendriss: Thanks for having me!! I hope people would find me interesting. I don’t feel very fascinating. How about the winners be Jill Stowell and Eman E. Davis
Terry Bryan: Well, considering you’re so uninteresting, I certainly enjoyed reading about you and your life over there!
Victoria Twead: Congratulations to Jill Stowell and Eman E. Davis! Let me know which books you’d like as your prizes!
Jill Stowell: Well, that’s a lovely surprise. I’m not usually around to take part in the Monday morning slot, so that makes it a bigger and better surprise! A one hit wonder. Thank you Jennifer. I’d like the “Two Old Fools on a Camel” please, in keeping with the occasion.
Victoria Twead: Thanks, for choosing my Camel, Jill Stowell, sending now! Eman E. Davis, *cups hands* Coooooeee… where are you?