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.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Brew Qrew Baseball Comes to an End

Great way to end the season, Brew Qrew.
Baseball season in Qatar is finished. At the start of the season, I was asked to fill-in as Head Coach at the last minute as no one else had volunteered to coach the second of two teams in the Qatar Little League (QLL) Minor League Devision. I had some experience coaching, having assisted with Vito's previous teams for the past three seasons, but I had never really tried to handle my own squad. Anyway, I took the reins of the Milwauqee Brewers against my better judgment.

It was not the most culturally sensitive choice of team names, perhaps, but I didn't have anything to do with choosing it. The first one that I was offered was the Qleveland Indians (equally awkward for different reasons), but due to the blockade in Qatar or some other ordering snafu, those uniforms were replaced by Brewers uniforms so there you have it.

I took my job seriously, researching activities and drills each week before practice and spending hours crafting lineups and various rotations, but I decided from the very beginning to move all of the kids around every inning every week so that everyone would get an opportunity to play every position; no one would be able to play any particular position every week.  I'm not sure where I came across this idea or if it was my own, but I thought it would build more awareness of the game and instill a greater sense of teamwork. I think it did, although, not everyone (parents) considered my decision so noble.

Anyway, we played our last game today, closing out the year on a high with a two-game win streak. I stuck by my method all season and its success was quite apparent in the last two weeks as both games featured inning-ending or game-ending plays that cleared our bench in jubilation!

There were many challenges throughout the season and I don't know if I handled everything as gracefully as I could have, but I learned a tremendous amount and really enjoyed myself. I have to say that I really looked forward to both practices and games, even though it meant driving across Doha during rush hour or getting up early on Friday morning. More importantly, however, I believe the kids had a great time learning about the game and learning about how to get along with each other.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Sports Anyone?

Almost everyone had the day off today to observe National Sport Day in Qatar, part of an ongoing movement here to emphasize physical activity. A day off for almost any reason is always welcome and this occasion was no different. After waking up and breakfasting, Vito and I played some Wii Resort Sports on the television, occupying ourselves until Angela emerged from the bedroom. You can see that our holiday was already in full swing.

While we were waiting, I took a break and signed up for beIN Connect, the local sports media provider, which would allow us to watch olympic events on the computer. I was feeling left out of the olympic action without a way to watch any of the games, so I caved and subscribed for one month of online service for $18 (approximately 67 QAR). Signing up was quite easy and, within minutes, Vito and I were watching men's halfpipe qualifying in Pyeongchang, South Korea. It seems like we will also be able to watch NBA basketball games and tennis matches from the tournament in Doha, otherwise unavailable.

People enjoying Oxygen Park on Sports Day.
Eventually, we motivated enough to get out of the apartment, loaded Vito's bicycle into the back of the CR-V and drove to Education City where a number of activities were scheduled throughout the campus. The weather was fantastic with clear skies and a light breeze, and really couldn't have been any better. Vito ran into a friend and pedaled around Oxygen Park while Angela and I walked. I wanted to win a t-shirt by participating in one of the hosted events, but I ended up socializing with friends instead.

We ended our day by driving out the the Education City Golf Club, which looked deserted, and then returned home to while away the afternoon...

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

A Year in the Making

The previous week was very dusty. In fact, the dust was so bad that baseball practice was cancelled on Monday.

Anyway, I finally posted the final entry about our trip to Myanmar last winter. It took me more than a year to finish—obviously, I put off completing it for whatever reasons—but an overview of our trip is finally ready for mass consumption. Now, to start writing about our trip to India in December...

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Back in the Swing

The spring semester started a couple weeks ago, and so far, so good. Vito's schedule keeps us busy: swimming on Sunday, baseball practice on Monday, trombone and wind ensemble lessons on Tuesday, theory and piano lessons on Wednesday, swimming again on Thursday, and a baseball game on Friday morning. I am the head coach of his baseball team this year so I'm more involved in those activities, as well. Also, Sunday through Wednesday, Angela teaches in the evenings, which complicates matters, but it doesn't pose an insurmountable challenge. Our only day without scheduled  activities is Saturday, but it often means we have to catch up with everything that we put off during the week, such as buying groceries. One good thing that you probably know about such a busy schedule is that it makes time pass quickly.

In any case, the new year is a natural time for renewal. Looking through my social media footprint from the past year and upon further non-technological reflection, it seems that my previous post about the difficulties of 2017 was not entirely accurate. I guess the foggy weather had clouded my ability to weigh the various elements accurately. Anyway, the tempest that reared its head at the end of last year has quieted for the time being and, to mark the transition to a new period, I have implemented a name change for the blog. I may update the blog just as infrequently, but I have always simply used my own name as the blog's title, and I thought I would try something new.

Friday, December 22, 2017

India: Last-Minute Heartbreak?

There were many barriers to the successful departure on our winter trip to Kerala, a state of India along its southwestern coast, also known as the Malabar Coast. The main barrier involved the procurement of the necessary documents for travel. I will try to relate the mess to you in its complexity, now.

About a week before departing, Angela applied online, without incident, for the e-visa for travel to India. Unfortunately, when she tried to apply for Vito's, she discovered that his passport did not have the necessary validity required. His passport was only valid for two more months, but, to obtain the e-visa, it should have validity for six months. So, having booked and paid for all of our flights and hotels, we were a little panic-stricken that we would not be able to travel! Would we be able to renew his passport in time? We thought that was the only problem.

I immediately contacted the American Embassy in Doha and made an appointment to renew Vito's passport. The representative at the embassy told us that, cross-your-fingers, we would get it back on the 19th of December, the day after Qatar National Day, three days before our departure. We were still worried, but relieved when we received his new passport on the date predicted. We went home and tried to re-apply for the e-visa, but met with another barrier: to complete the online application, we should have applied four days prior to travel. Unfortunately, we were trying only three days before our departure.

So, imagining again that our travel plans would be shattered, I completed the application for both myself and Vito, printed the forms, and took them, in person, to the Indian Embassy on the following morning, December 20th, only hoping that they would be able to accommodate us. We didn't wait long, submitted the necessary documents, and were then assured that we could return in the evening to collect everything. Miraculous! When we received the passports with the visas for India, we felt like we had won the lottery. Everything was coming together. Soon we would be sunbathing on the golden sands of Kerala.

The next morning, Thursday, December 21st, we made plans to have lunch with one of my colleagues. We met and, over a bowl a ramen, discovered to our dismay that we also needed a new Residence Permit (RP) for Vito. The RP shows that we are residents of Qatar and that we can enter and exit accordingly. Vito's RP was rendered invalid upon acquiring a new passport, the number of which was linked to the RP. We hadn't thought to connect the two. Our hearts sank. Would we be able to overcome this new obstacle in time?

We finished our lunch and hurried home to get Vito's passports, both old and new, to take to the Immigration Department to beg for a last-minute new RP for Vito. It looked bleak as it was quite late in the afternoon on Thursday, the end of the work week here. We would not be able to get any help on the following day, Friday—the Islamic holy day in Qatar—a day on which all government offices would be closed. We were supposed to depart in the evening on Friday, as well, so everything needed to happen on Thursday. We went in and the services that we needed were clearly closed for the day. Angela did the talking as women seem to receive greater deference in such situations, and, after denying us multiple times and then speaking with "the commander" in the kind of broken English that passes here, we were told to wait. After about one hour, Vito had received a new RP.

Incidentally, we had been driving a rental car (my Nissan Juke had been destroyed in a car accident in May and I had never replaced it—which is a story for another time—and Angela had been rear-ended about a week before in our second car, a Honda CR-V, so we were making due with a temporary insurance-provided replacement vehicle) and had planned to return it on the way to the airport on Friday evening. However, while we were waiting for Vito's RP, we called the rental company and discovered that they would not be open on Friday and that we had to return it on Thursday. So, after procuring Vito's RP, we returned the car and took Uber back to our apartment. By the time we got back home, it was around 8:30PM. The last minute change in plans had delayed our dinner and our little family Christmas celebration. As we were going to be away from home on Christmas, and as we didn't want to bring gifts with us, we had planned to open the Christmas presents from each other before leaving. So we ate and opened our Christmas gifts. It was quite late when we were finished., but a welcome reward from the trials of the week. We were exhausted, but everything appeared to be in order for our eventual departure on the following evening. Now, we just had to pack!