Sunday, October 28, 2018

Rain Reprisal & Work Resumption

So I will be returning to work today and it is a strange feeling. The Liberal Arts and Sciences (LAS) Building, the building that houses the Academic Bridge Program (ABP), the school in which I work, was closed for one week due to complications from the severe rain that fell last week. In fact, the damage from flooding was so bad that the school has been relocated to the HBKU Student Center for, at least, the next two weeks. Other buildings did not seem to have received so much damage, but our building is one of the oldest on campus. I have my doubts about returning to the LAS building at all this semester, but I really don't know how long it will take to repair the damages.

Last Wednesday, after three days in post-storm limbo, the ABP staff convened at Education City Headquarters for an emergency meeting, and staff members learned about the severity of the rain and its ensuing flood damage to the LAS building. We also learned about our plan to relocate. The plan involved returning to the LAS Building on Thursday to retrieve necessary materials (books, papers, etc.) so that we could get up and running as soon as possible. I grabbed essential items from my office and stuffed them into the backpack that I had brought with me--other colleagues filled large cardboard boxes or had even brought suitcases! I also unplugged my computer and put the various components into a box and labeled it with my name so that it could be delivered to the Student Center. No one was sure about whether or not we would have computers to use in the temporary space, so common consensus demanded packing up the ones from our offices.

In the meanwhile, yesterday, on the way to Vito's piano and theory lessons at Katara, in a sardonic twist almost exactly one week since the previous storm wreaked its havoc on the city, a small thunderstorm seemed to crash down upon us from out of nowhere, shocking the sky with flashes of lightning, flooding many roads with heavy rain, and shaking trees hard enough to break off limbs and tear branches asunder. It was so intense that we thought we should have turned around as we had done during the previous storm, but we had had already gone too far to turn back. It was raining so hard when we arrived at Katara that Vito actually stayed in the car waiting for the rain to lighten a bit and he missed most of his piano lesson. The thought crossed our minds that the rain might be strong enough to, if it lasted very long, cancel school again. That was Vito's hope, at least. Fortunatley, it didn't last long and, after the music lessons had finished, we returned home without further incident.

Anyway, ABP staff reports back  to work today, but without students. At first, we will receive a tour of the new classrooms in the Student Center, after which we will break up to have departmental meetings. We are really just moving into our new space today to prepare for the students' arrival and the resumption of instruction tomorrow. Hopefully, repairs can be completed to the LAS building in a timely manner so that we can get back into our offices and classrooms as soon as possible!

Monday, October 15, 2018

Stormy Weather

The picture doesn't really do the sandstorm justice.
x
So there I was, thumbing through social media in the bedroom when I hear Vito exclaim from the living room, "Oh, my gosh! Look out the window!" I put my phone in my pocket, looked around the bedroom, and noticed that the apartment seemed darker than it usually did at that time of the day. I got up and walked down the shadowy hallway into the living room and looked through the giant window making up about two-thirds of the wall that faces the street in front of our compound. There's a little landscaped walkway with spindly trees and little manicured shrubs between our apartment and the compound wall. On the other side of the compound wall is a two-lane road separating our compound from The Clubhouse, a kind of recreation center for the compound with a small gymnaseum, swimming pool, tennis courts, etc.


"Oh, wow!" I uttered, moving closer to the window and standing next to Vito for a better view. I could see the yellow air outside. "We haven't had one of those in a while." Trees were leaning and straining against the rough wind, and the air was swirling with clouds of dust. The wind continued to blow fiercely, the sky turned a grey orange, lightning bolted through the atomosphere nearby in jagged streaks and far away in illuminated pulsations behind the clouds and dust, and thunder cracked overhead and echoed across the desert. It looked like it was going to rain, but it never rained. I thought I saw someone post a message that it rained somewhere in the north of Qatar, but the wind eventually died down, the dust dissipated, and nothing much else happened the rest of the evening.

* * *
A few days later, it really did rain. A sign of the season's changing, perhaps. I was at home and Angela was out. All the same buildup as previously described, but with the added addition of actual rainfall. It started about midday and rained for an hour or so, although maybe it wasn't even that long. I was sitting at the computer when it started coming down quite forcefully, and then I heard a sound like glass breaking in the kitchen. After investigating, I could see little pea-sized beads of hail bouncing off the window ledge and clattering against the glass, which was causing the sound that had disturbed me. I watched the rain clamor down and the little bits of ice jumping off every surface for a while and then returned to my work.
       
I texted Angela and told her to be careful on the way home; when she had left, it hadn't really looked like it was going to rain, so I knew she might not be prepared for the unusual change in the weather. When she got home, however, she told me that it hadn't even rained where she was.

* * *
The main entrance of the compound.
Yesterday, it rained again and stormed even more fiercely. It was easily the worst storm we have experienced since living here in Doha, and also one of the scariest storms that I have ever experienced anywhere, possibly made scarier by the fact that we were out tying to drive around in the mayhem. We had plans to meet friends of ours for lunch and left the apartment at about 12:15PM. It was raining quite hard, but we thought it would subside. The street outside the compound was already beginning to flood. Wind was blowing, visibility was low and we drove much slower than usual as the conditions were horrible. Various segments of the road were completely submerged in the dirty brown water, and traffic stalled to a crawl while cars rolled slowly through the roads turned waterways.
       
At a stoplight not far from our compound, a strong gust of wind pushed a large plastic barricade into the road in front of our car and I had to get our of the car and move it. It was too heavy and the driver from the car behind me got out to help. When I returned to the car, I was soaking wet. We decided to go back home as it simply wasn't safe to be on the streets. Angela called our friends to let them know that we weren't going to make it, and we began to make our way back to the compound.

The roads were even more flooded on the way back and we were worried that we wouldn't make it all the way home. We could see cars that had stalled in knee-deep water, and cars on the wrong side of the road or backing up looking for alternate routes. Debris was scattrered along the streets and roadsides, on the water, unseen under the brown water and flying through the air. We got about 300 meters from the entrance to our compoundthe rain was pouring hard and wind was knocking down wallsand I pulled over to the side of the road where a number of other cars had stopped on the edge of a large dirt field. We could see that the entire road leading to our compound was submerged and that a few cars had already failed to make it through and were stuck in the mud or water. We knew we couldn't go that way. The three of us watched a wall-sized sheet of plywood suddenly take flight from the opposite side of the road, spinning through the air in the wind, and colliding with the car that was parked behind us, bouncing off the windshield. It didnt' look like anything was damaged, but it was scary to see. That made me nervous. I didn't want anything like that to happen to us and I resolved to find a way back to the compound without wasting any more time.

While we were thinking about how long we would wait or what other options we had, we noticed that a car had taken a detour through the dirt field, around the submerged road, and followed a side road that appeared to be drivable, so I took the car out of park and rumbled along after it. We returned home without incident and watched the rest of the storm from the safety of our apartment.

The apartment wasn't completely unscathed, though. The roof in our kitchen was leaking in a few places. The leaks were not severe and we placed some towels on the counter to sop up the water. Within a couple hours, both the leaks and the rain had stopped. We didn't even bother calling maintenance because we were sure that there were much bigger problems to resolve. We knew that it had taken some people many hours to return home yesterday.

* * *
Today, Vito's school was closed and Qatar Foundation schools were also closed; I don't really know about other schools. The usual signs of lifepeople coming and going from the clubhouse across the street and the distant sounds of trafficwere absent this morning. It was peaceful and vibrant and sunny. Everything I could see from the window was more colorful, greener, washed clean by the storm, but the road was still closed; the main gate to our compound was closed and the body of water that had engulfed cars and trucks was still covering the street. Some kids were paddling a kayak around. When we went out later to "survey the kingdom," as one of my neighbors put it, we could see that the roads and sidewalks were covered with silt and mud. Unfortunately, the severity of the flooding on the other side of the compound was much greater as we observed that the water had entered some of the apartments and villas over there. This wasn't the only place affected by the foul whether. We heard about other disasters in other parts of the city, as well, but it is hard to say when things will get back to normal. I know that Qatar Foundation schools are closed for, at least, one more days, so I will stay at home again tomorrow until I hear otherwise.

Monday, October 01, 2018

Angela's Orchids

Orchids have lovely, unusual flowers. If you've seen them, you know what I mean. The orchids we have have flowers, when they are blooming, that almost look like the squinty faces of little open-jawed animals. The flowers also last for quite some time, which makes them nice to have around. I don't do much for them, however; Angela is really the nurturing one who provides all the care. No minute change goes unnoticed under her watchful eye. We have ten orchids in our apartment, starting the collection after receiving a couple as gifts many years ago. Now that I think about it, we have eleven, but the eleventh is a fake orchid that we picked up at a garage sale or somewhere, and it lives out its ever-blooming days in a dark corner of the hallway.

Nine of them hang about in the living room, all of them with long wide droopy dark-green leaves. The tenth, in the bathroom in the master bedroom, is a small thin-leaved little plant so far, which sprouted in a bottle that I brought back from Thailand a couple years ago and was transplanted to a pot recently. Once it had grown to a certain size in the bottle, we had to break the bottle to take it out and move it to a pot, but we have yet to see the plant bloom. It still seems quite undeveloped. Before we broke it, the picture on the bottle showed a plant with an orage and yellow flower. That will break the color theme of the orchids pictured in this post, although we know we have a few that bloom all white flowers. Right not, coincidentally, only the orchids with shades of purple flowers are in bloom.

Most of the time the nine in the living room don't do much, just growing in their pots with their big floppy leaves hanging down over the grey-green knots of roots. Sometimes they bloom and sometimes they don't. A dictionary definition describes orchids as perennials, which, I suppose, indicates that they could bloom over and over again throughout the year. It's surprising to me that they even survive at all in this desert environment. Anyway, after returning from summer vacation at the beginning of August, one of the plants (pictured at the top of this post) with purple-striped white flowers and a dark purple lip in the center was in bloom. A couple of the flowers dropped off after a few weeks, but then three more opened on the same plant miraculously. We hadn't seen that kind of delayed bloom before, so it was an exciting event.

Since then, we noticed that, at least, three of the other orchids were budding, and the buds on two of the plants started opening within the last week. One has flush pink petals and sepals with a dark purple center, roughly the same size as the striped one, and another has smaller puple flowers. The orchid with small purple flowers (pictured at right) is remarkable in that there are two flowering stems, which is also something we had never observed before.

Finally, the other budding orchid is a giant orchid. I don't know if that is the correct name fot it. When we received the plant, even though it was smaller than the other orchids, there was one large white flower about twice as large as the other flowers. This one that is budding now actually has two buds at the end of its squat bent stem, so we are hoping that both of them will bloom, but who knows. They look small, clenched inside the little buds, and we wonder if the blooms will be as large as they were when we acquired it. Sometimes the buds don't open at all. We'll have to wait and see.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Reading Glasses

It was getting difficult to read small text. I noticed a few months ago but didn't do anything about it, relegating a solution to after the summer. When I returned to Doha after summer vacation, someone else noticed when, at a social engagement, I looked at a bottle in an unusual manner. I tipped the bottle at a particular angle to read something printed on the label, holding it at arm's length, and my friend, whoever it was, said that's when you know you need glasses--when you have to look at things like that. I was a little chaffed to be outed, but took it as a sign to take action.

The next day, I went to the hospital to have an eye test. After scrolling through fuzzy letters in an eye gadget that seemed like an incredibly old slide-projector, the doctor said it was simply a result of aging; the lenses in the eyes lose their flexibility at a certain point. He wrote a spectacle prescription for me that I took home and slipped under a magnet on our refrigerator.

Last week, I went to a shop in a mall here and tried on some frames. Angela and Vito were with me so it was a kind of family outing, and I found some frames that I liked, which, by themselves, were over 500 QAR (approximately $137). Not incredibly expensive, but nothing to jump at. Surely, they would be much more expensive with the prescribed lenses. In any case, we thought we should sleep on it and do some price shopping at different locations, and left the store. Then, things started moving much more quickly.

Another friend of ours mentioned that I could find some cheap reading glasses at Daiso, a kind of Japanese tchotchke shop that has stores in a few of the malls here, which, Angela assured me, would suffice. So, a few days ago, I went there to look and returned home with a pair that set me back 9 QAR (approximately $2). When I got home, Angela said that I should have bought two pairs: one for work and one for home. So, this afternoon, I picked up not one, but two more pairs! I bought another cheapy from Daiso, but came across some fancier reading glasses at a pharmacy and purchased those, too.

Anyway, I'm getting used to them. I haven't used the glasses in the classroom, yet, but I'm sure the time will come. I carry a pair with me, in any event. I was wondering, tho: Will my eyes continue to deteriorate? Will they just get worse and worse until I can't see anymore? Will I lose my ability to read? The thought was disturbing.

Friday, September 07, 2018

A Window into the World

Wearing yellow hard hats and uniform blue overalls, two compound window washers arrived to clean our apartment's windows yesterday. Such cleanings seemed to be scheduled twice a year, once in the fall and once in the spring. I can't remember the last time anyone came to clearn them. Streaked with little dry rivers of dust, caked on when moisture condensed and perspired on the glass day after day in the humid conditions outside, the windows had been long overdue for cleaning.

We were preparing dinner when they hoisted the ladder up to our second story apartment: one held the ladder down below and one climbed up and applied the squeegee. When they were nearly finished, a processs which lasted no more than one or two minutes, I passed them two Magnum Mini ice-creams, the only momentary reprieve and thanks that Angela and I could think to offer them from the extreme conditions of the job. It was around 6PM and the sky was darkening as the sun set so, while the windows certainly looked cleaner, we hadn't really noticed the whole effect of the improvement. 

When I walked into the kitchen this morning, it was noticeably brighter! The world outside looked crisper, the air appeared less dust-clotted, the sky bluer, even. And while the temperatures were essentially the same as the day before104° in the shade with 71% humidity—the impression had improved. I wondered how much, in previous days, my outlook had been skewed by the dirty windows, coloring everything on the other side with the dingier, diffused and drabber hues of the former residue. Had it altered my mood on all those prior mornings, waiting for my coffee to percolate? Had it set my mind in a disparaging direction before I had even headed out of the apartment for another day of teaching? It's hard to say.

Monday, May 21, 2018

More Time to Play

I'm done with another school year in Doha—the end of my seventh. I finished a couple weeks ago, more or less. The ABP Graduation ceremony was held last Monday. I never imagined that I would have lived here in the desert so long, but here I am biding my time before another summer escape that will precede the eighth year that I am committed to serving. At least the weather has not been very hot or humid this season, although I haven't had many occasions to go out much.

Outside, there are little green orbs scattered on the sidewalk bricks, unripe dates that were pruned from the palm trees near our building and left behind in the cleanup afterwards. Groundskeepers in the compound used to encase the hanging green bunches in little net sacks, but I guess they just cut them off now.

In the meanwhile, both Angela and I are waiting for Vito to finish the end of fifth grade, which is earmarked for the next three weeks. Actually, Angela's in Italy right now attending to the Confirmation ceremony of our two Italian nieces, so I am a full-time househusband. Angela left a variety of prepared and/or unassembled ingredients in the freezer and fridge that I could combine so that I might provide healthy meals for our son in her absence. Her worry is that we'll dine on chips every night. Anyway, she left four days ago and she'll return after four more have passed, but who's counting?

Lastly, if you are uninformed, it is Ramadan. One of my neighbors strung Ramadan lights along the front of his villa. They look like what I would call Christmas lights. Anyway, Ramadan is approximately ten days earlier each year, and this year it encroached upon the end of the school year. Hours of operation are modified here to accommodate Ramadanians who are fasting and many shops and businesses are not even open, or, if they are closed during the day, open late into the night. The timings adjustments even affect school hours by shaving an hour off the beginning and the end of the day. Vito likes it because it gives him more time to play.