Jeri Chase Ferris
by Jeri Chase Ferris

What is an author from Lincoln, CA, doing in Qatar on the Arabian Peninsula?

In December, I was invited as a guest to Qatar’s first International Children’s Book Festival. Why me? Because the Festival organizers asked the International Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) for help. The SCBWI had just awarded my latest book, NOAH WEBSTER & HIS WORDS, the Golden Kite gold medal for best nonfiction book of 2012 in the United States, and sent them my name.

So, on Dec. 4 I boarded Emirate Air for the seventeen (17!) hour non-stop flight from San Francisco to Dubai, then further across the Persian Gulf to Qatar.

Doha, the capital of Qatar, wants to be the next Dubai, and in the last seven years an enormous forest of skyscrapers has risen out of the sand dunes. A recent newspaper article says Qatar is now the richest country in the world, and I can believe it.

The people of Qatar are warm, hospitable, and very proud of their country and their sheikh/emir. I was told that only 20% of those living in Doha are actually from Qatar. The other 80% are foreign workers, mainly from the Philippines and other Asian countries. And most of those in the business or helping fields speak about eight languages. Sigh.

A friend and I took a taxi from our Hilton Hotel to the I.M. Pei-designed Museum of Islamic Art. It’s a stunning building with an enormous collection of art and calligraphy, and a handful of visitors. I took a taxi to the huge local souk (market), where I was the only Westerner, and also almost the only woman not in a full burqa. I took a taxi to a friend’s home on the outskirts of Doha and we drove out to the sand dunes and the Persian Gulf. (If you don’t have a car you take a taxi everywhere. No bikes or motor scooters as in China. Only cars. Gasoline-powered cars. After all, “petroleum” is the word in Qatar.)

The Book Festival itself was a tremendous success. Doha’s huge brand-new convention center was thronged with white-robed men in their immaculate, starched and pressed white thobes and beautiful white flowing head-dresses with colored tassels. When I commented to one man on the perfection of his attire, he said his white robe “reflects the whiteness of my soul.” Also, of course, the Festival was packed with children, grade-school classes with their teachers, and in the evenings children with their parents. And then there were the women, almost all completely covered. It was difficult to know with whom I was speaking as I tried to recognize different sets of eyes. The organizer of the event, a young, slight, single woman, was one of those covered women. She seemed extremely capable, extremely devout.

As I signed NOAH, children who were learning English and adults who had studied in England or America stopped by, all very curious about Noah Webster and what he did for America.

Visiting Qatar was not a dream come true, because I’d never dreamed I would ever be in Arabia. Sometimes I wonder if it was a dream. But fortunately I have photos – an author from Lincoln really was there!

For more on Noah Webster, find NOAH WEBSTER & HIS WORDS (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children) at Barnes & Noble or on Amazon.

Jeri Chase Ferris in Qatar
Jeri Chase Ferris in the Persian Gulf

At local souk/market

At the Festival

At the Festival

A tiny view of Doha, capital of Qatar

Qatar children
At the Festival

Children in Qatar
At the Festival

© Jeri Chase Ferris