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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Day 71, Saturday - Doha

So do you remember those camels I mentioned seeing at the market last night? Well, I think we saw them again today. Mary Anne and I were meeting Trish and Betsy at the souq for breakfast and on our way there we got stopped in traffic and saw this:

So, we aren’t really sure why this was going on, but it is the only time I have seen camels being ridden on the road. They look like they are dressed up for something but I’m not sure what.

Me & Mary Anne
We had a nice long breakfast at a French-style restaurant and then we walked around the souq for a bit. Mary Anne and I ended up going to one of the shops where she has gotten to know the guy and had insisted we sit and have tea. He brought it to us from a place next to his and said that this tea is really good because it is heated over coals not direct flame. I don’t know much about the method, but I can tell you that it was good tea.

Mary Anne, Trish, & Betsy
We did a bit of shopping and I got to bargain a bit. By the way, I am not very comfortable with bargaining. It is probably a mix of being Western where we don’t bargain much and my personality, but I feel like I don’t really know what I should start the bargaining at, how hard to push, etc. I have gotten better at it on this trip though. I even did one of my bargains completely in Arabic. It is definitely a skill though, one I am working on.

After that, we walked to the gold souq to look around. It is different than the others that I have been to as most of the storefronts face the street, as oppose to facing each other across a walkway.

We didn’t have a car (Trish had picked us up to go to breakfast) so we took a taxi home.

Later on we went to City Center mall where I practiced my now near-perfected art of acting disinterested. We went into a back part of the mall where there are lots of souvenir type things which were largely run by men and being that both Mary Anne and I are Western I am sure they start with a higher price for us. Also, remember how things went with me at the sheep/goat market? Well, there are certain cases you learn to recognize where showing interest, not even in the person but just in whatever they are selling, just causes trouble.

Oh, and in case you wanted to know what a typical party dress looks like in the Middle East, I took a picture of some in a window (since I can't take pictures of women in them at the parties):

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Day 70, Friday - Doha

*And we're back! Sorry for the long delay! By the way, go check out my post from Day 68, I finally was able to get the camel videos up!*

Today was a pretty calm day: went to church in the morning, which was really nice, and Mary Anne and I went for a little walk in the evening.

However, we had a pretty busy evening. Mary Anne had some friends stop by who were passing through Doha on their way to India. They had a bit of a layover so Mary Anne brought them over to the house and then we went out for a bit.

First we went to dinner at a place called “Turkey Central,” not to be confused with “Turkey Center” which is right next door.

This place serves a great mixed grill and I absolutely loved their sesame bread and hummus. I also had a really good mixed fruit drink which Mary Anne recommended. Btw, I think they have the most talented bussers I have ever seen:

After dinner, we went to Souq Waqif, which was really fun to see at night. Although most of the shops were closed, the place was packed with people getting dinner, smoking shisha, and milling about. We had to drive around for quite a while to find a parking spot.

We also noticed some camels in a pen just off from the parking lot which definitely had not been there when we came earlier in the week. I wonder what they were there for…

Looking into a traditional coffee shop in the souq
I loved walking around the souq at night, it has a great atmosphere.

We weren’t able to stay at the souq long as we had one more stop to make before taking our guests back to the airport.

Our last stop was one of the really nice hotels in Doha: Sharq Village Luxury Hotel & Spa. It fun to visit hotels in the Middle East, they are pretty amazing. This one had separate villas, private beach access, and pools with vanishing edges and small lights in the bottom to make them look like they were reflecting the stars.

After that it was off to the airport to say goodbye and then back home to sleep as it was very late and we had plans for the morning…

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Day 69, Thursday - Doha

Happy Thanksgiving! Today, in the US, is “Turkey Day” and an annual reminder to count our blessings and be thankful for the things we have and people in our lives.

To commemorate said day, we have the great tradition of eating a lot.

So, in true American fashion, Terry and Mary Anne invited over some guests for dinner. Mary Anne, however, is very well prepared and had most things done ahead of time. So, while the turkey was roasting, we attended a talk over at Qatar University.

The talk at QU
The talk was really more of a discussion between the guest of honor, former head of the World Bank James Wolfenson, and members of the audience who had questions and comments. The topic was on the preparedness of Qatari graduates for the working world.

Mr. James Wolfenson

It was an interesting discussion.

After the talk, it was back to the house to get some final things ready for our guests.

We had a mix of people at the dinner, some Americans, some Qataris, plus a few other nationalities sprinkled it. We had business people, academicians, homemakers, and a couple of us (including me) in the “other” category.

It was fun to walk around and talk with everyone. I had conversations about my trip, international relations, education, and falcon hunting, among other things.

We had all the traditional Thanksgiving dishes: turkey, cranberry sauce, corn, yams (or sweet potatoes, I can never remember the difference), salads, fruit, pumpkin pie, apple pie, pecan pie, etc. I can’t believe I forgot to take pictures, but I was so busy meeting people!

Oh, I also made a new friend today:
He is about 1 1/4" long (I'm guessing) plus antenna and very fast. I have not seen him since this morning and I have kept the bathroom door closed ever since. I am hoping that he went back to wherever he came from and not into one of my suitcases.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Day 68, Wednesday - Doha

We had to get up early this morning because Mary Anne said that would be the best time to visit the camel race track. :)

See the image of the guy riding the camel?
That’s right, more camels! I love it. This, again, is one of those things best describe visually.

On the move

Taking the camels out to stretch their legs

Camels taking a break during the morning's exercises

Still resting

Picture 1: Camel hanging out

Picture 2: Camel has an itch

Picture 3: Trying a different approach to get the itch

Picture 4: Got it.
However, I didn’t just get you pictures, I would like to also present you with a couple of video clips! (Sorry about the noise that the wind causes on the video, I didn’t notice it when I took the video, but you should listen with the sound on...)

And now for my favorite:

After the race track, Mary Anne and I stopped by a little place to get some tea (it was like 25cents for a cup!) and I love the name of this place:
What are "tasty buds"?
Here are a couple other signs we liked:

What does it mean to be "high clean"?

I hear Brad Pitt and George Clooney go here...

After that, we went home to change our clothes before Mary Anne dropped me off again at the QFBA office (same place I was at on Monday).

I got to chat with a couple people in the office today and learned that one of the women is Omani, one of the guys is Bahraini, although both he and the Qatari guy in the office speak perfect American English without any Middle Eastern accent. I also heard the Bahraini guy speaking perfect French on the phone.

I admit, I’m jealous that they are so fluent in all three languages, and for them it is easy. It is actually rather common for people in the Middle East to be able to speak Arabic, English, and French because they learn them is school. Oh well, I’ll just keep working at it the hard way. :)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Day 67, Tuesday - Doha

I went to school today, literally. I went up to Education City where Terry works as a professor of Chemistry.

Education City is one of the initiatives of Sheikha Mozah, one of the wives of HH the Emir Sheikh Hamad of Qatar. The idea is that several universities have a sort of shared campus, each housed within its own building and specializing in a particular field. Some of the represented universities include Carnegie Mellon, Texas A&M, Northwestern, and Georgetown, among others.

I was interested in learning more about this system, whose goal is to brig quality education to the Middle East through a unique method, so I attended a couple of lectures today.

One side of the Carnegie Mellon building
Terry goes to work rather early, so I went with Trish and Dave who also work up at Education City. Trish works at Northwestern and Dave works at Texas A&M. Northwestern is the newest university in the system and so, while they are waiting for their building to be constructed, they are sharing with Carnegie Mellon.

After taking me on a little tour of the building, which is beautiful, Trish dropped me off at Terry’s office so that he could introduce me to Professor Alan Montgomery, whose lecture I would be attending first.

This first lecture was a Marketing class and the topics for the day were International Branding and Business Ethics, two of my favorite subjects! The students were really nice and I got to chat with a few of them before class started.

After the lecture, I went up to chat with Professor Montgomery. We talked a bit about my trip and how Carnegie Mellon operates in Qatar. He was very nice and we had a good conversation until it was time for me to try to find my next class.

From one of the bridges in the CMU building towards outside
The second class was smaller, more like a seminar. The topic of this class is Entrepreneurship; but today, Professor Tom Emerson, also of Carnegie Mellon, was talking about how to give a good presentation. He has coached numerous entrepreneurship teams in case competitions and several of his teams have been top finishers. It was definitely one of the best presentations on how to give a presentation I have ever heard, and I have heard a lot of them in my business classes. :) Bad PowerPoint’s (and presentations) are one of my pet-peeves, so I appreciate a professor who can give a good lecture on the topic.

Once I explained who I was (beyond just being a friend of Terry and Mary Anne) and what my educational and professional focuses are, Professor Emerson asked if he could pick my brain after class, I was happy to oblige. He is interested in conducting research on how culture has impacted the economic development of regions, which I think would be a fascinating project, so we had a great chat about the subject.

We both had somewhere to be at noon, but since I didn’t know exactly where I was supposed to go, he showed me the way. I actually had been given a couple of options for what I could do at noon, and I thought it might be interesting to attend a talk which I believe was about Qatari Arabic. However, when I got to the room, either the talk had already started or something else was going on, so I headed back towards the auditorium where Professor Emerson had gone, and where Terry said he would be at noon, to watch a film.
The main hall in CMU (from one of the bridges)
The film, which was done by PBS and presented by Nova, was about engineering teams trying to program vehicles (cars, trucks, even a motorcycle) to have the ability to drive themselves through a tricky desert course using only pre-programed hardware and software to navigate their way.

I thought it was incredible what the teams were able to accomplish and what the technology was/is capable of.

I said hi to Terry and Professor Emerson after the film and then headed over to the library to check out a study book for the GMAT. After getting the book, I went over to the café to grab a cup of tea before heading off to my last appointment of the day.

The last class I attended was a Logic class taught by Professor David Gray through Northwestern. He was quite funny and I think being in his class would be really fun.

Looking down on the common area
Trish also decided to sit-in on this class. She knew I would be there but she was also hoping to meet Professor Gray’s dad, who was also supposed to be there but whom we didn’t see. Trish is a Writing Counselor for Northwestern and often observes the different classes. Since she had a little time after the class before her next appointment with a student, and I had some time before Mary Anne came to pick me up, we walked back to her office and talked about Education City and its educational environment for a bit.

I noticed that within the campus, the atmosphere feels very American. Most of the professors are American, I believe, and many of the students dress exactly the way American students do in the States, though others dress more traditionally. The interaction between the professors and students also seems more Western. This is difficult to explain, but I can say that the back-and-forth discussion between them reminded me very much of a typical class back home.

In the afternoon, Mary Anne and I went to the grocery store, Carrefour, which is everywhere in the Middle East. I took this picture to demonstrate a point in a previous post about the signs telling you which country the different types of produce come from.
Grapes from the USA!
In the evening, Mary Anne and I went back to the Pearl to see some friends of hers. These friends were having a little gift sale of items which they bring over from Jordan and I think also Lebanon. The items are largely made by people with different disabilities who have a hard time getting other steady work, like the title-work place I visited in Madaba, Jordan.
From the apartment

The proceeds from the sales either go back to the companies where the items came from, and therefore back to the workers, or go to social organizations which work to provide safe environments for women and children who might otherwise be struggling.

The Pearl at night
They were playing Christmas music in the apartment and it made me excited for the approaching Christmas season. It has been a little hard for me to keep track of the progression of the year without the customary weather indicators which I am use to having at home. Here, it just feels like summer has sort of been put on repeat.

All in all, it was a pretty busy day.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Day 66, Monday - Doha

I did my first job shadow in Doha today, at the Qatari Financial and Business Academy which provides training programs in different business skill sets. This seems to continue along my path of “continuing education” job shadows which has been an unintended side-focus of my trip.

View from the elevator
It is a company which has been growing quickly and is in the process of separating from its parent company, so while I am here for a couple of days, I will be helping them novate some of their contracts (move the ownership of the contract from the parent company over to QFBA) as well as do a few other things.

I was taken on a tour of the offices, and on two of the floors, they have some of the largest televisions (and I mean regular televisions, not jumbo-trons with giant pixels or projections on screens) I have ever seen: custom-made 99inch screens. They were too big for the elevators so it took something like half a dozen workers to carry them up the stairs over three days. They make for awesome presentations though.

It seems like a really interesting company with good programs, so I hope to learn more about it.

In the evening, Mary Anne took me to the housing development known as “The Pearl.” It is only partially complete with residential sky-scrapers, villas, marinas, and high-end shops. It was perfect weather for walking around a bit.

In case you want to pick out your new Ferrari or Mazerati, you can simply step out of your apartment building and voila!

Inside one of the the mall areas

I also got to pick out my new yacht:

Though I may have to save for a few years before I can actually buy it…

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Day 65, Sunday - Doha

*Thank you for your patience. And now...*

Today was a busy one.

The main street 
Mary Anne and I started out the day by going to the souq, Souq Waqif. We first walked down the main stretch and then through the small side streets. The souq is organized by what they are selling, so there is an area for textiles, another for repairs, another for food stuffs, etc.

One "sidestreet"

The first area we visited after the main street is one of Mary Anne’s favorites, and now one of mine as well: the falcon shops.

That’s right, there is a cluster of shops which sell falcons. Hunting with flacons is a popular pastime of Qataris and so the market for good birds is strong.

When we walked into the first shop, I was surprised to find the birds sitting in an area, surrounded by a short wall, just a few feet from us. The birds had hoods on, of course, to keep them calm. We walked through a few of the shops and saw gentlemen discussing the birds and possibly negotiating a sale.
Birds inside

Some were also outside in a courtyard

I love this picture:

I even got to hold one!

After the falcons, Mary Anne took me to a shop where a gentleman makes model dhows (boats). His shop was also full of other random and antique looking objects, such as old cameras and sewing machines. We also walked through the jewlery making/reparing area and the textile repair area.

Then we headed over to a gentleman known as “The Old Pearl Diver” who owns a pearl shop where he sells jewelry but he also was happy to tell us about his days as a pearl diver and then a body builder. Apparently he is quite famous for his talks about traditional pear diving and has a photo album full of newspaper articles written about him and pictures of him with all sorts of famous people, from athletes to politicians.

He told us all about how he and a bunch of guys would all go out on a ship for a couple months during the good weather of the year to harvest the pearls. On board the ship were the captain, the divers, and the divers’ helpers. The divers would put a clip on their noses and then each one would jump in the water with a heavy rock on a rope slipped around the foot to take them down. They also had a knife to cut the oysters and a basket tied to a rope in order to collect the oysters and to be used as a signal and a way for the helpers to pull the divers back up. The divers would typically stay down for about two minutes at a time.

Pearl diving was, and still is, an important part of the Gulf region’s economy.

After the pearl diver it was over to the spice section. The smell of the spices permeates the air so it is impossible to miss once you get anywhere close to it. I love the way they pile the spices. It reminds me of pyramids.

Next, we found ourselves in an area where the stores were selling pets. There was an amazing number and variety of birds as well as fish, lizards, bunnies, kittens, and turtles. I want one of these little turtles, I think they are adorable.

This kitten was also especially cute:

After our tour of the souq, we headed back to the car for our next stop: the sheep, goat, and camel market!

So, Mary Anne had warned me that if the sales guys at the market got too friendly, we would just get back in the car and drive away. I wasn’t too worried, but it is better to be prepared.

As we started to drive through the area (by the way, it was a slow time of day in terms of sales, I think most people do their livestock shopping in the morning or maybe the evening as well) the young men waved at us to try and flag us down in order to sell us something.

One gentleman’s waving seemed rather insistent and we thought that perhaps we weren’t supposed to be in that area. Mary Anne stopped the car and lowered her window. The guy walked over and asked what kind of sheep we were looking for.

Mary Anne told him that we didn’t want anything but that we were just looking. By this time several more guys had surrounded the vehicle and a few came over to my side of the car and were tapping on my window to try to get me to lower it, but I know better than that. :)
I took this later: can you see the finger marks on the car?

The guys on Mary Anne’s side started asking if I was Arab and if I was married. A couple more guys even brought over an adorable black baby goat for me to see and I really wanted to take a picture of it, and the guys, but I knew better than that as well because it would have only caused more of a scene. I think that by the time Mary Anne rolled up her window and started to drive away, there were about a dozen guys around the car. I’m not kidding. I thought it was funny. :)

May Anne said, “Well, it looks like we won’t be getting out of the car.” But, we did end up finding a sort of “alleyway” of the pens so that I could get out a take a couple of pictures.

From the sheep and goats we went over to the camels. There were lots of camels and a variety of colors:
Traditional "camel" color

Another black one for my mom (okay, so technically dark brown)

A white one
There were also baby camels:
Baby camel and its mom!
Next stop was the plant shop where Mary Anne wanted to pick up a couple of things for their house. And here is a picture of her at the store:

Then we went to see the fruit and vegetable market:

Mary Anne tells me that this is where the produce comes first before it is distributed to the stores around the city so this is where it is freshest. It is sort of arranged in a square pattern where the middle is open, one half is mostly fruits and then the other is mostly vegetables, then there is a second ring with more stalls that sell both.

After that it was off to Mega Mart, which is where you go for American products and where we stopped to pick up the turkey that Mary Anne had ordered for Thanksgiving! (She had actually ordered it several weeks before because I think they are not an easy thing to get, but they had been storing it for her since it is hard to keep a bird that big in the home freezer for very long.)

The last stop was “West Bay Petrol Mart” or something like that, which is like a gas station with a few little stores for different food items, a pharmacy, etc.

By this point it was time to head home.

Living at the Murphy’s is a cross between American and Middle Eastern culture; so, we had a more typical sit-down dinner, instead of the Middle Eastern sit-down lunch. We also ate at a more American time and I only ate as much as I felt like eating without feeling afraid of offending anyone by not eating more.

I have also been acquainted with the location of everything I need to make my black tea with low fat milk and sugar, and I have been assured that I can make it as often as I like. :)

And that was my first full day in Doha.