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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Day 76, Thursday - Doha

Mary Anne and I should go into the cartography business in Doha after the morning we had. Who knew it would be so difficult to find the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Turns out it is actually not that hard to find if you can get someone who actually knows where it is to give you directions, but finding someone who actually knows where it is, is another matter entirely. Don’t worry, I made it.

I took a picture of the sitting room where I waited:

A few other gentlemen joined me in the sitting room while they waited for their own appointments and I chatted a bit with one. When this gentleman came in he spoke to me first in French, I responded a bit but since my brain has been working so hard on Arabic it was easier for me to understand the French than to respond in it. I asked if he spoke English and he did only a little so we settled on Arabic as our primary language.

 A young man brought us coffee and we let it cool a little but the other gentleman drank his quickly and I felt bad making the young man wait for me so I tried to drink it quickly too. I think I only burnt off one layer of taste-buds.

Finally a young man came to take me up to my meeting. The three of us – the young man, the Minister, and I – had a nice conversation. They brought me some coffee, which is typical, but I think it was a cappuccino which is something I hadn’t been expecting as I had been served the typical Arabic coffee in the sitting room. I hadn’t finished my coffee by the time the formal meeting ended and the Minister insisted that I stay and do so; however, he had a meeting to attend so I went with the young man, named Mohammed, to work out a few details and finish my coffee.

It was at this point I realized that the coffee had a lot of sugar in it and the combination of the sugar and my lack of exposure to large amounts of coffee over the last few months (not that I drink all that much coffee at home) definitely contributed to me feeling rather energetic and personable. The caffeine didn’t really hit until after I left the office though, so, sorry about that Mary Anne! I definitely was very chatty for the rest of the day.

After the meeting, we went to pick up our newly framed pieces of art (yes, it did occur to me that they will be harder to pack this way but I have become a near-expert packer now). Then it was off for henna, round two!

I promised people that I would come home with henna, so here is me getting it done:


 

There were a lot of women in the parlor and I wish I could have taken pictures for you, but since the women were not fully covered (as it is really hard to get henna done that way) I couldn’t. It is pretty amazing though, to watch five women work on one client, covering her arms and legs with varying patterns.









This evening, Carnegie Mellon Qatar (where Terry works) held a Mexican themed “end of the semester” party. Yes, Mexican themed. When Mary Anne and I arrived, however, the main hall was mostly empty except for the tables which awaited a couple hundred people and the fiesta decorations. So where was everyone?
The main hall. See the cactus?

Terry & Mary Anne in Terry's office













Well, Mary Anne and I decided to go find Terry, who had stayed on campus to catch-up on some work before the party. Turns out, we had arrived a little before the big announcement of who would be hosting the 2018 and 2020 World Cups for soccer. Who knew?! Well, apparently everyone except me.

Everyone watching the bid announcement


Qatar was up for the 2020 bid, apparently against the US, and we (USA) were thought to be favored. The students and faculty had all gathered in a common area with a giant tv screen hooked up to a live feed of the announcement.



 If you care about all this, then I’m sure you watched it, and if you don’t then I’ll give you the short version: Qatar won the bid. The whole country subsequently went crazy. I’m half kidding; but seriously, people are celebrating as if they won the World Cup.
The announcement...

On our way home, we saw people driving around with Qatari flags flying out of their cars or painted on the windows. (The next morning, it was all over the papers and there were stories about all of the people who stayed out driving around and burning tires and just partying all over the country.)
 
I was excited mostly because now when I tell people at home that I am in Qatar they go, “Oh right, they’re going to be hosting a World Cup,” instead of what I use to get, which was usually a confused look.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Day 75, Wednesday - Doha

Mary Anne’s Arabic teacher, Noura, wanted to invite me over for breakfast one morning, so this morning, Mary Anne and I headed over for a little gathering. Noura is Lebanese but lives with her husband and children in Qatar and gives Arabic lessons to expats. She had also invited her sister and one of her other students to our little gathering.
Noura, me, and Mary Anne

Noura made some wonderful, traditional Lebanese breakfast dishes, like cooked hummus (chickpeas, not the hummus spread we might be more familiar with) and a herb salad, and we also had some more American type things as well, like the croissants from Dunkin Donuts (although I suppose that is more “American meets French”).

When we first got to the house, Noura insisted on talking to me a bit in Arabic as, of course, being an Arabic teacher she wanted to see how my Arabic was. I think I passed. J It was also fun for me to speak with a Lebanese-Arabic speaker again and compare it to the other accents I have been hearing over the course of my trip. Once we all sat down to eat, however, we spoke mostly in English. It was a very fun morning.

During our post-breakfast tea, I got a phone call from Faisal at Maersk saying that he had sent me an email with contact information for the Minister of Follow-up Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Qatar, and that this gentleman would like to meet me. Needless to say, I hope this works out.

But, before we could return home for me to check my email, Mary Anne and I had some errands to run. We said good-bye to our friends and started off. First, we had to go to the plant shop again since we were already on that side of town and Mary Anne wanted to get a few more flowers. And a cactus, which is adorable, but poky as cacti tend to be.

I also realized as this point that there was one very important thing I needed to do before I left the country and I was quickly running out of time. What is it that I simply must accomplish, you might be wondering? Why kiss a camel of course! Okay, maybe it’s not “of course” in your mind, so let me give you a little background:

Several years ago (and if I get any more specific my mother might hurt me or at least give me that sad face) my parents lived in Kuwait. When they first got there my mother didn’t like camels very much as she had been told that they were mean and that they spit. (By the way, I have been warned that if you see a camel on the freeway and it is facing you, proceed with extreme caution as they have been known to attack cars in such situations, otherwise they are very sweet.)

One day my parents went out to a camel market to see them up close and when the camel herder found out that my mom didn’t really like them he said “No, no! They are very sweet, here, see?!” And he kissed the camel on the nose. Then he brought my mom over and told her to kiss it too. Well, she did and has loved them ever since because of their beautiful eyes.

Growing up, my sister and I always heard this story and saw the picture of my mom kissing the camel on the nose. When my sister was 20 she went to China and when she visited the Great Wall, there was a guy with a camel that you could take pictures with, so she decided to take a picture of her kissing it on the nose.

So, guess what? My turn! Well, at this point I have about three days left to find one to kiss. I told Mary Anne about it, since we were back near the camel market, and she said, “Well, let’s go!”

Me with the baby camel
We found a guy who invited us in to a camel pen with a mother and her baby. I was a little afraid that because it was a mom she would be wary of having us so close, but she was very mellow. The baby even nibbled on my fingers a bit, though it was very shy.

Mary Anne took pictures while I chatted with the guy in Arabic. I kind of just pretended to kiss it at first, but then he grabbed it, kissed it on the nose and told me to go ahead, so here it is:

Oh, I also came close to getting married off again, as inevitably these conversations always lead to the question of whether or not I’m married. However my Arabic suddenly and mysteriously became very poor and I couldn’t hold up my end of the conversation. Mary Anne said in English that he was asking if I was married and I told her that I knew that but he didn’t know that I understood him, and I slipped away still single. :)

The "river" and Venetian building fronts
Next stop was Villagio which is a mall designed so that the inside looks like being outside in Venice, complete with a mini river and gondolas to ride. 
The gondolas


























 We strolled through the expensive area which houses just about every high-end brand you can think of. There was even a Valentino store and I didn’t know they even had stores.

We also went to another shopping mall which is famous for its giant shopping cart:

And here are a few funny signs we noticed along the way:

Read the heading carefully...

Here is the actually "Carbon Fibber" car. Does that mean it's like a carbon fiber off brand? Or that it is fake carbon fiber?

And finally, a little video for you from the last place we stopped (sorry it’s sideways again, but make sure you turn your speakers on):
video
 
By this time we had to head home to get ready to go to the American School of Doha for their high school production of “Once Upon a Mattress.” Terry and Mary Anne know some of the kids in the production and thought it might be fun to go to. It was. :)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Day 74, Tuesday - Doha

A big day for business today as I got to visit Maersk Oil. Sheikh Faisal, who has known the Murphy’s for years and came to our Thanksgiving dinner, also knows my father and was kind enough to let me visit him at his office.

Sheikh Faisal is a very busy man but he took some time to talk to me about what he does. One important aspect of his job is developing and managing programs which support nationals in the work force, known as “Qatarization.” He also introduced me to a colleague of his, also named Faisal, who works on corporate marketing and media management.
 
I got to talk to Faisal about marketing in the Middle East as well as the regional and local economies. I also mentioned that I was interested in their Qatarization efforts, which led him to suggest there was someone who he thought would like to meet me. But that bit comes later…

Tonight's sunset, viewed from my room

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Day 73, Monday - Doha

This morning, Mary Anne and I ran a few errands. First, we took some artwork to a framing shop to get custom frames done. I had a couple of pieces I had got at the souq for Christmas presents which I wanted to get framed and Mary Anne had a couple of things too.

After that we spent a long time looking for a place where I could get henna done before I return home (I will be getting it done on Thursday, so you will have to wait for that. I will say, however, that it took a lot of driving around, a lot of asking people, some more driving around, and a bit of walking (including crossing a very busy street with no crosswalk) to find one. And then, of course, we found two, but that was just salt in the wound. I’m kidding. About the salt bit, not about how much effort it took to find a place.

But it was all worth it, as we did find somewhere and I got to take this awesome picture outside the one shop:



In the evening, we went to visit Mary Anne’s neighbor, who is also Qatari. I mention that as this was the first time I got to visit a Qatari home. Moona was very kind and we had a great chat, partly in Arabic partly in English. She also served fresh juice and a delicious White Forrest Cake (think white chocolate and pineapple). It was amazing. :)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Day 72, Sunday, Doha

*So, first of all, I am so sorry that it has taken me this long to get back on track with my writing. I have been home for over a month now and have been pretty busy since I landed. No excuse, however, is good enough for my prolonged absence from my blog and so I hope that this last week’s worth of posts can at least make up for it a little.*

From the first day I arrived in Doha and saw the pyramid-shaped building which is the Islamic Museum of Art in Doha, Mary Anne has promised that she would take me there. So that’s what we did today.

It is a very interestingly laid out building. When you walk in, the first things you will probably notice are the circular staircase and the open atrium. The central plaza of the museum is quite open and everything is light colored. One wall is made of glass and gives a beautiful vantage point overlooking the bay. (By the way, this is the same bay which hosted the hydroplane races which finished my first day in Doha.) 


The levels of the building are arranged in stacked semicircle configurations so that, while you can enter through a number of doors along the route, I think the most logical way to peruse the artifacts is by entering one end of the semicircle and following from one adjoined room to the next until you have reached the other end where you can exit and proceed to the next level. If that didn’t make any sense to you (and I don’t blame you if it didn’t) here’s a link to the museum’s website where there is a map:

http://www.mia.org.qa/english/#home

The rooms housing the artifacts were quite dark but each piece was well-lit. You can get an audio guide, but I just read the little plaques next to everything.

Mary Anne and I also had fun stretching our Arabic vocabularies since the plaques had both English and Arabic on them. We would read the names in both languages and match the words we knew in order to match the ones we didn’t through process of elimination. Mary Anne took notes and I greatly admire her dedicated pursuit of the language. I was a little more interested in the shiny objects (though Mary Anne has told me that she has been to the museum so many times that I am sure she probably knows what all of the pieces look like already).

Here are a few pictures of things I saw (you are allowed to take pictures, yay!).
Amazing wood carving

I liked these little glass artifacts.

Glass lamps

Yes, those are real diamonds, emeralds, pearls, gold, and silk.

This is for my brother-in-law because he is in medical school: Look, Ben! Anatomical drawings! I thought they could help you study. :)
I thought it was interesting that most of the pieces in the museum were found in modern day Iran.

After the museum, we took a little drive and went past Aljazeera’s headquarters, a major news-source in the region (here's their website: http://english.aljazeera.net/). You can’t see much of the building from the road way so I didn’t take a picture. Apparently they have been set back from the main road for security reasons.

On our way home we drove through the sort of downtown area and saw one of Mary Anne’s favorite buildings, I like it too: