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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Welcome!


Welcome to my adventures in the Middle East! In the Fall of 2010 I took a self-designed trip to the Middle East to visit people, see some sights, learn about business in the region, and practice my Arabic! I grew up in the Pacific Northwest and took this trip while earning my Bachelors in Business Administration and after studying Arabic for two years. It was my second time to the region; I have always loved traveling and was very excited to take this trip to see old friends and make new ones!

This blog was written while I traveled and has one entry for each day of my trip, labeled with the locations I was in. My whole trip began with a week in Europe before starting my ten weeks in the Middle East where I traveled to Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, UAE, and finally Qatar.

Please feel free to click around and I hope you enjoy seeing the region from my perspective!
Me dressed for a holiday while visiting the UAE


Monday, February 14, 2011

Day 78, Saturday - Doha to Seattle

Today is December 4, 2010, and so begins my long journey home. Literally. From Doha I will be flying to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for a quick stop-over to pick up more passengers and then fly up to Frankfurt, Germany. After a layover in Frankfurt, I’ll fly direct to Seattle, arriving about mid-day (yes, technically I leave here and arrive home the same day, it’s just an extra-long day).

Once I get home I have been promised lots of help from family and friends to keep me awake until late in the evening in order to counteract jet-lag. We’ll see how well that goes.

Here's  map to show you where I'm going:

So here was my original plan: my first flight takes off just after mid-night Doha time, but back home it is about mid-day, so since I want to start readjusting to Seattle time, I want to stay awake on the first flight, and sleep for part of the second flight.

This plan is also supposed to help me stave off the inevitable boredom of being stuck on a plane for over 15 hours by sleeping during the middle part of my traveling, which is often the roughest in my opinion since you have been traveling for hours already and you still have hours to go. At least I’ll get to stretch my legs in Germany a little.

However, there was a fatal flaw in my plan: I greatly overestimated my abilities to keep myself awake on a plane when my body is telling me that I should be asleep. In my defense, being on a plane meant that I couldn’t deploy some very important “staying-awake measures,” such as drinking large amounts of highly-caffeinated beverages or doing physical exercise. Staring at a little movie screen just doesn’t cut it.

I also have to tell you about my traveling companion.

After getting to my gate in the Doha airport, a group of gentlemen sat near me and were speaking German to each other (turns out they work for Lufthansa which was the airline I was booked on). One of them noticed my henna and said something to me about it. Now, my German is pretty limited and while I can say simple greetings and count to 20, I have no idea what he said to me, other than the word “henna.”

My confused look must have given me away because, while I tried to figure out what language to respond in, I did catch that one gentleman said something along the lines of “she doesn’t speak German” (yes, my German vocabulary stretches far enough for me to understand that much).

I told them I spoke English and the one gentleman started to chat with me in English. Once this guy discovered that I also spoke Arabic, we switched to that as our primary language. We also discovered that we both spoke French and from that point on, we spoke primarily in Arabic with French being our second language and English was our last option.

We had a fun conversation in the terminal and then it was time to get on the plane. Since we were stopping to pick-up more passengers in Saudi Arabia, the aircraft was pretty empty when we got on and my new best friend came to sit next to me.

This turned out to be a great test of my language skills as he is fluent in the three we were using (plus German and I wouldn’t be surprised if he knew others) and I am only conversant in Arabic and French while my English is a little spotty. ;) Keeping up the conversation became progressively harder as my brain fell further and further asleep, but I was proud of myself since I only had to slip into English occasionally.

Eventually it was too much for my brain to take and I had to sleep. I’m not very good at sleeping on planes but at some point I guess you don’t have a choice.

When we arrived in Frankfurt, there was a light dusting of snow. Not surprisingly, it was very cold which was a bit of a shock after being in warm weather for so long.
Arriving in Frankfurt! Can you see the snow?
Being early in the morning, not many people were in the airport. The airport staff were nice, especially considering every time they said something to me in German I usually responded with, “Sorry, what?” 

Here’s a picture of me sitting in the airport:

And a couple hours later on the plane to Seattle, here is my view out the airplane window:

The green-stuff they are spraying is to de-ice the wings. I think it’s probably green so that they can see where they have sprayed and where they haven’t, but I thought it looked weird. Remember, I’m pretty short on sleep by this point.

I got an empty seat next to me on the way home, so I could curl up and doze on and off, no more Arabic-French-English conversations to pass the time. I also discovered on this flight that I have an uncanny ability to wake up any time the flight attendants come by to offer food or drinks, whether I’m hungry or not and no matter how quiet they are being.
Almost home!
At one point I noticed that the flight status, which you can check on your personal monitor, said that we would be arriving quite a bit earlier than scheduled. That made me happy since it meant a shorter flight, and of course seeing my family sooner. ;) However, as we got closer and closer to Seattle, I noticed the expected time of arrival moving back and back. This is incredibly disappointing to observe. Every time I checked, it seemed that the flight time stretched longer until we actually landed, which was pretty much the original scheduled arrival time. I don’t see why they had to get my hopes up, but oh well!

I made it home! In one piece too, with all my luggage! That is a real miracle, not losing any of my luggage.

My family met me at the airport and a couple of my friend threw me a welcome home party.

And so ends the saga of Isabelle’s voyage to the Middle East.

And here sits the last entry of my travels.

Thank you so much to all of you who have read any of my blog and a special thanks to those of you who have read all of it! Thank you also to all of my wonderful hosts: my experience would not have been nearly as amazing if it were not for all of you! Finally, thank you to my family and friends who supported me on my trip with prayers and stories from back home.

A very special thanks to my family who has supported me so much. To my mom, who let me fly half way around the world for three months even though she hates it when any of our family travels; to my dad, who helped set up my trip and who has been an amazing support with this whole process; to my brother-in-law, who provided me with hours of entertainment; and to my sister, who encouraged me to write this blog and who I have promised to bring with me on a trip around the region someday. I love you all very much. :)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Day 77, Friday - Doha

Well, today is actually my last day in Doha (although there is one more day left in my trip), and by this point I’m sure you know what that means: packing day! Once more, I have produced a near-miracle by figuring out how to get all of my belongings and all of the things I have picked up along the way into two suitcases and a duffle-bag.

Unfortunately for you, that means I don’t have much exciting to write about. Fortunately for you, I have some last observations which I have forgotten to include in earlier posts (yay!):

1. Travel mugs: they are a rarity in the Middle East, at least from what I’ve seen. I am starting to think that the fact that I have three of my own at home is more a comment on my own tea addiction and our whole society’s addiction to caffeine than a loss for people in this region. Not that I have any intention of giving mine up. Ever. Just saying.

2. I haven’t been watching much tv lately, but earlier in my trip I noticed an interesting tendency with commercials here. I don’t know if this is true everywhere, but I noticed that with some programs at least, there are fewer but longer commercial breaks and the patterns goes something like this: preview the first half of the commercials, show the first set of commercials, show the second set of commercials, recap the second half of commercials. As a marketing specialist, I wonder how effective that is. 

3. Frozen yogurt is quite trendy here, just like at home. There is this one chain called "Pink Berry" and apparently it has been quite the hit. Personally, I'm not a big fan of the stuff, but Mary Anne and I went to Pink Berry to share a guava one with berries when I first got to Doha and I have to say, it was really good.

Today wasn’t completely uneventful (really no day on this trip has been, there is always something to learn!), as this evening some of Terry’s students came over for their own little “end of the semester” party. We played some mixer games and had dinner catered from Turkey Central (yes, the place with the amazing hummus, sesame bread, and grilled meats).

For desert we did something a little unique. Terry is a chemistry professor and so instead of buying ice-cream from the store, we made some. Oh, and by “made some” I mean we used regular ice-cream ingredients and cooled them by using liquid nitrogen. Terry would pour and we all took turns mixing:
video

That stuff is cold. Even the mist floating off the table was cold!

After ice-cream, it was time for me to go. I said good-bye to the students and Mary Anne and then Terry drove me to the airport to start the last part of my journey. Since I technically did all of my traveling on Saturday (my flight took off after midnight) I still have one more day to write about…