Saturday, December 24, 2011

Ho, Ho, Hold Your Horses!

Holiday activities are going as planned with one exception: the three of us have picked up a raggedy cough. We seem OK during the day, but last night, weirdly, Vito and me both woke up at 3AM with serious coughing fits that kept us going for a half hour. Vito has been receiving an aerosol treatment, and I'm utilizing cough drops.

Since we've been in Putignano, the weather has been ice cold. It rained a little and the sky has generally been cloudy. I tease Angela that it always rains here. A couple days ago, I thought it would snow, but it only hailed briefly. Today, however, Christmas Eve (or as they say here, La Vigilia), it is spectacularly sunny and warm outside. I went out this morning without wife or son to get some last-minute Christmas gifts and the stores were bursting with shoppers, the sidewalks were crowded with people, and the streets were choked with traffic. It put me in a great holiday spirit despite the various delays that such activity induces.

Time in the blogsphere moves faster than it actually appears to...

We got home about an hour ago after a huge dinner at Angela's sister's house, and Santa (Babbo Natale) had left his mark. It was just about midnight. There were a few gifts under the nativity (il presepe), namely a guitar. Vito was ecstatic. It wasn't the bass guitar that Vito had asked for, but I'm sure Santa did his best. We don't have a Christmas tree, either, but there is a large nativity scene, which is why Santa left the gifts there. To add to the post-Santa excitement, Angela's Aunt's family (celebrating the arrival of their daughter from England that evening) joined us and, after daddy tuned the guitar, listened to Vito's one-chord renditions of "We are the World" and "We Will Rock You."

With this post, I've exceeded my blog output in any year since 2007, which largely comprises the last four years in California. Clearly, living in the states and blogging (and writing in general) don't go hand-in-hand. We lived in California for four hard years made more difficult by simultaneously working two jobs and studying. Things got even more hectic last year when Vito started going to school and Angela started working, but we made it out. I didn't die and I feel stronger. Anyway, I'm happy to be blogging more and plan to ride the writing wave into the new year with a more emphatic return to greater poetic intentions. Wish me luck...

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Happy Q Year

The last week before a long holiday is busy. I'll spare you the business minutiae, but a vacation couldn't have come at a better time.

We're leaving the Q tomorrow night for three weeks. A cab (inshah'allah) will arrive at 11:15 and take us to the airport. Then, Turkish Airlines at 2:55AM to Turkey before a transfer to our final destination in Zurich, Switzerland. We really had no particular reason for stopping in Switzerland. Anyway, from there, we will meet Milanese friends and, after frolicking and fondue and fun, journey south to Milan with them for more of the same on more familiar soil. Then we'll catch a train even further south to our final destination, Putignano. We'll spend Christmas and the New Year with family there, and return to Doha on the 7th of January.

I still have four essays to grade in the morning, but that is the only deadline on the agenda tomorrow. Grades are due by 11AM so I should have plenty of time to get everything finished. Hopefully, there won't be too many distractions in the office.

Later on at home, we still have to pack, of course. As usual, we leave it until the last minute...

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Season's Fleeting

Vito displays his gold medal.
Winter's here. It has been windy outside, but also sunny and clear. In the throes and humidity of never-ending Summer, I didn't think it would ever get so cold here. We had a little rain spell in recent weeks and, since then, it has been cold. Our apartment is made of stone and tile, and we're thinking about picking up a space heater. Actually, Angela's not, but I am because I'm more delicate.

Vito had his final soccer practice of the season last weekend. Soccer practice happened two times each week: once indoors at Doha College on Monday afternoons (when Angela took him) and the second time outdoors on the Education City campus on Friday mornings (when I took him). I was never thrilled about waking up at 8AM on Friday mornings (which is the first day of the weekend here). Practices will resume again at a different location after the new year. It has been fun to watch lately. In the last few weeks, Vito has finally started to get the hang of it—chasing after the ball  and running in the right direction instead of looking at the clouds or whirling dervishly. I suppose he takes after his father in that way.

We're friends with a German couple and their kids—the first friends we made here in Doha—but they are moving to Bahrain next month. They went out of their way for us at the beginning of our stay here, and we'll miss them tremendously. Anyway, they're packing and sorting through their things, and they asked us if we wanted a Christmas tree and their fish. We passed on the fish, but the Christmas tree is blinking and sparkling away in our living room right now. Angela found some colored bulbs and lights, and the three of us decorated it a couple nights ago.

Christas comes to the Q.
On Monday night, I wanted to celebrate Angela's first substitute teaching gig here, so we all hopped in the Honda and drove to Souq Waqif to try gelato at La Dolce Vita, a little gelateria here in Doha, and we came across these Christmas ornaments with Arabic imagery on them. We bought three, one for each of us, and added them to our little Chrismas tree when we got home.

Despite the lack of Christmas overkill that can usually be found in the states at this time of year, there is a festive spirit throughout the city. Qatar National Day takes place on the 18th of December. Apparently, a parade will march along the corniche. Flags and banners and bunting and lights and grandstands are being erected toward that end, and it looks it's going to be a nice party. Unfortunately, we depart on our Winter extravaganza on the 16th, so we will miss all of the holiday hullabaloo here. We're happy, however, that we will be able to visit family in Italy as we haven't seen anyone there in about 18 months.

It's hard to believe the school year's almost over. Today was the last day of regular classes at the Academic Bridge Program, too. Next week is finals week!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Vito's Prayer

When we leave our apartment, Vito likes to interact with the echo. This is one of his recent efforts:

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Corniche, the Dhow, the Pearl, Oh, My!

Busy weekend. Thursday evening we went to The Pearl to eat and, aside from the unusual customized cars waiting for valet parking, we were quite impressed. We had only driven around the exterior of The Pearl once way back in August when it was really too hot to get out of the car and do anything. So Thursday, after parking and walking to the interior, we weren't really prepared for what we found there: a gigantic promenade (we only walked half of it before we were exhausted and realized that we had to walk all the way back) encircling a harbor full of yachts, high-rise luxury accommodations (some buildings were still unfinished), lights, fountains, music, shops (many still unoccupied), restaurants (we ate at The Noodle House and were quite pleased on all accounts), cafés, and water taxis. It wasn't very crowded, but the restaurants were full. Vito was in heaven running up and down the exotic marble stairs and brick walkways and playing in the water. We didn't have our camera with us or we certainly would have taken some photos. In any event, we'll be returning there to discover more of the treasure.

Then on Friday night, we attended Doha's First Traditional Dhow Exhibition at Katara Cultural Village. There was much more traffic than we had anticipated, but that simply generated more excitement about the happenings. The exhibition was a display and events celebrating the old wooden Arabic boats that go by that name, and included food, artisans, and live music. People from many different Arab nations were in attendance, and, everywhere you looked, there were different groups of people wearing their traditional garments. The dhows were all anchored together close to shore, and visitors could actually board many of the vessels that were on display.



Later on the beach, we ran into an Italian couple we know and their kids amid all the mayhem and merry-making of the exhibition, and went with them for a gelato. The kids watched Tom and Jerry inside as the adults talked outside while the cars trundled past.

Doha City Center in the Background
Finally, today, while Angela was helping judge the Academic Bridge Program's debate competition, which was an all-day affair, Vito and I went to the Corniche to catch some of the hydroplane boat races that were taking place all weekend. Since we've been here in Doha, we hadn't really made time to stroll along the Corniche, which is a beautiful landscaped area along the bay here, so we were excited to find an opportunity to explore part of it. Unfortunately, after arriving, Vito vomited on me while we were waiting for the people that we were going to meet. That didn't deter me, however. A trip to the bathroom took care of most of the unsavory side effects and we stuck around to enjoy the rest of the afternoon.

We met one of my colleagues at the park there, a neighbor of his (they both had two kids), and while us fathers sat on the grass and talked, the kids played together. Vito seemed to recover enough to play a little. Soon, though, as helicopters got in position above the water, the hydroplane heats started, and we all moved closer to the water to get a better view. The races were fun to watch, and followed by the French Air Force aerobatic team.

So, there you have our weekend of water-centered activities. Back to work tomorrow. Counting the weeks until the Winter holiday. In the meantime, next week, Arabian Thanksgiving considerations?

Monday, November 07, 2011

Down Came the Rain and Washed the Spider Out

Young man of steel.

We woke up with rain this morning at 7AM. I went out to take pictures, and it rained fairly hard for about three hours. It has been dry for awhile, now, but the sky is still grey and threatening.

I forgot to write you about Halloween, but there was holiday action here. Initially, it was not clear how many people would be participating or if it would even be acceptable. Vito's school had planned to have a Halloween parade after school on the day, but it was canceled at the eleventh hour due to a misunderstanding by some parents that all students were required to participate. In any event, we kind of did everything at the last minute. Luckily, Angela found a nice costume and it all worked out.

Pumpkins and palms.
Earlier in the week, someone had forwarded a picture of a pumpkin to everyone at work and suggested that, if we wanted trick-or-treaters to stop by our residences, we should print out the pumpkin and put it on our doors. You can see in the picture below that some people even had real pumpkins. Unfortunately, we didn't get any pumpkins. When we priced them at our little neighborhood Lulu's, they were around $5 per pound! Maybe next year...

Anyway, there were roving bands of costumed kids and adults in our housing lot. Everyone was walking from house to house looking for the pumpkins (or other obvious indications of Halloween welcome) on all the doors. It turned trick-or-treating into a kind of mystery as we had to look for the residences that were participating. The weather has been splendid, and many people were out on their porches to greet the kids and parents. There was even a haunted house in one townhouse that was quite good. It scared Vito, dressed as Superman, irrevocably. After the haunted house, he wouldn't go near anything that was on the scary side. Loot was generous and Vito could hardly carry his treat bag at the end of the evening. All told, we had a great time, and it really made us feel like we were back in the states for a little while.

On Saturday, we went to the Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al-Thani Museum with a friend and her two kids. The museum looks like a castle or a fortress with a large pond in the front complete and an old dhow or traditional wooden Arabic boat in the water. There appeared to be two main wings to the museum, although we only visited one on this occasion. Here, at left, is an unlabeled painting that I liked; however, there were dozens of others, equally unidentifiable, still on their easels. After viewing the old Arabic dress, jewelry, weaponry, furniture, doors, paintings, BSA motorcycles, carriages and children's toys, we thought it would be more interesting for the kids if we went to look at the animals that were rumored to be somewhere nearby. I had read that there were oryxes on the property but, after driving around and dodging all of the peacocks, we couldn't find any. I don't know if it will be in my best interest to say so, but there was a great deal of trash on the premises. Much of it, aside from the upturned snow-white styrofoam containers and blue plastic bags, was covered with dust, like everything in the desert, and difficult to see without close inspection.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

As the Crow Writes

Daddy woke up and made pancakes this morning. I should say that Vito woke us up and then demanded that the rest of us get out of bed, too. So I got up and made breakfast. Vito helped. He likes to mix the batter. In fact, he likes to cook. While I'm writing this, he is in the kitchen preparing a Play-Doh apple crumble.

We picked up our new car Thursday night, a Honda CR-V, on the last day before the Eid al-Adha holiday. No work next week! We called the rental company to return our rental car, but there was no answer yesterday. It can be tough to get through to people on Fridays since it's the holy day here.

Yesterday morning after Vito's soccer practice, we went to Carrefour and bought a few chairs, a cooler and a BBQ, and now we're ready to hit the beach. Can't wait to explore more deeply into the Q. We would start today, but we have to go to a birthday party this afternoon, and I have my last djembe drum circle meeting tonight. Otherwise, the weather has been wonderful lately. 9AM as the crow writes and the temperature is 84° F (29° C) with nary any humidity. I have been told that it will remain this way until March when it will warm up again. Caw!

My Arabic lessons have fallen by the wayside for various reasons, but Angela has been studying regularly at Carnegie-Mellon, an Education City university.

It is written that Vito will pursue a new ride of his own today, so we're heading out now to look at bicycles...

Saturday, October 29, 2011

I Walk With Beauty

A week or so ago, I attended an open mic on the Education City campus with one of my colleagues. It was being held in a place called "The Black Box" in the student center, and when I walked in it looked like a disco with green laser lights and a booming sound system. I felt a little out of place, especially as most of the crowd appeared to be about half my age, but I was determined to read the poem I had brought with me. As it turns out, there were about five other poets, and I really wasn't as out of place as I thought I might be.

Back on the 23rd of February, before moving to Qatar was real, I went to a poetry reading in San Francisco at the Sacred Grounds Café, which is an old haunt of mine. I lived very close to that café many years back, and met Frank, my former roommate, there. Returning to our old neighborhood brought back many memories. Weirdly, however, I had never had a chance to catch the open mic there when I lived in the neighborhood. Times were different then when I was a student and thought I could fritter away my time. Anyway, I finally made it, and that night one of the poets started chanting. I recorded his performance, and here it is:

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Reality of Bedtime

Angela's in bed sick with the flu and Vito's asleep. The apartment is nice and quiet. When I'm done here, I'll go grade some papers so I don't have to do everything on Saturday night. Pretty domestic.

When I was putting Vito to sleep tonight, he said:
     "Daddy, October's taking a long time."
     "Why?" I asked. "What are you waiting for?" I expected him to say December because, earlier in the evening, we had been talking about Christmas as a time when he might get some more toys.
     "May!" he answered without any hesitation.
     "Oh! For your birthday, right?"
     "Yeah!" He rolled over and put his feet on his pillow, contemplating our conversation or coming to grips with the reality of bedtime. "I'm hot."

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Eight Legs a Week

I got myself too busy, somehow, with activities five days a week. Arabic lessons three days a week after work started it all. Lessons will last until the end of November. Angela's going to start taking some lessons next week at Carnegie Mellon. Perhaps, then, we will be able to help each other and teach Vito, too!

I should be grading papers right now instead of, er, socializing with my blog...

In class tonight, I wrote my name in Arabic, which is a nice milestone in my writing progress, although I don't know why I never thought about doing it before today. Actually, I didn't even think about doing it. My teacher made me do it. I can handle the alphabet and I'm learning to join the letters. I'm far from the best student in the class, but I plug along happily. It didn't help that I switched classes a couple weeks ago, moving from a conversation class to a more formal writing and reading class. I had to switch classes because I started assisting with the ABP Debate Club on Mondays. I've never debated before, and I'm looking forward to learning about it. We also started the ABP Creative Writing Club, too, which meets on Wednesdays. A blog documenting our activities will be available soon.

Sculpture Maman by Louise Bourgeois.
It's good to be so busy. The weather is bearable, finally, and we're meeting people and staying active. The last two weekends were somewhat shortened due to special events. The first one (two weeks ago) was the TESOL: Putting Research into Practice conference at the new Qatar National Convention Center. This is the giant spider sculpture in the center of the building. It was a nice event, and I enjoyed many of the presentations, including one on Cooperative Development by my colleague Magda Rostron. The conference culminated in a Qatar culture party at College of the North Atlantic.

Last Saturday, it was Family Day at the ABP. Everyone had to attend a presentation by the Director and key staff members. Afterwards, we had to speak with the parents and guardians of our students. We were required to be in the office from 10:30AM until 1:00PM, and a lunch buffet was served at the end. It was nice to meet parents, of course, but it cut the weekend short.

Last night, Angela and me went to the Sheraton for an special dinner to celebrate the accreditation of the ABP by The Commission on English Language Program Accreditation (CEA). We are only one of eight international schools outside the US that have received this distinction, so it was a big deal for the school. While I wasn't directly a part of the process, which spanned more than three years of preparation and scrutiny, it's great to be some small cog in it now.

We bought our Winter break tickets to return to Italy in December. We'll be stopping in Switzerland for a few days before returning to the homeland. More on that, later. I'll try to write more often, but I won't make any promises.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Forty-Oner

Hectic work week with multiple observations followed by busy birthday business further followed by the first grading period of the semester. Mix in Vito starting school and soccer simultaneously, and it's clear where our efforts have been concentrated.

All's well, otherwise. Seems like we're not at a lack for things to do in Doha so far. Here I am (take two) last weekend at Belgian Café at the InterContinental Doha about to enjoy a chocolate mousse in a martini glass with this giant sparkler stuck in it. Angela is keeping herself busy, too. At least, for now, it's leading to considerable happiness. How long can it last, though? I may have bit off more than I can chew with Arabic lessons three days a week, but that's the way it is for the time being.

On Thursday, we've been invited to the Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern of Art by the Faculty & Staff Life Committee (that's what is printed on the tickets) for a little tour and cocktails (certainly fruit, not alcohol) afterwards. Even though admission is free, we were given tickets. We went once before with Vito, but we didn't stay very long, so it will be nice to return to see a little more of the museum. To be fair to Vito, however, it was too close to dinner time.


And finally, I'm going to the new Qatar National Convention Centre (QNCC) this weekend for the TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) Conference: Putting Research into Practice. The new building basically looks like the one rendered above, but without the clouds, blue sky and green grass. We drive by it almost every day, and we can see the parking garage from our apartment. Anyway, many of the teachers from the Academic Bridge Program (ABP) will be attending (many from the English department, that is), and we'll get an extended weekend with Sunday off to attend conference activities, which is nice.

So that's some of the latest...

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ho Hum

While typing away in the wee hours, I notice a sound in my apartment and walk around clicking off switches in an effort to eliminate it, but nothing works. They stay, denizens of this insistance. The refrigerator forges a path to nowhere in the dark corner of the kitchen, defying me. Orange rectangular eyes on the outlets--some off, some on--keep watch around the apartment; the neon green modem halo above the storage closet shows that we are ever connected to the greater e-world. iAm. Outside, streetlights, unblinking, star along the no-hill horizon, well on their way to another day of perpetuity. Hooray!

And there is also our constant hum here from all of the electrical suck taking place. During the day, it goes somewhat unnoticed but, at night, Ahoy!, beneath the whisper of traffic in the distance, the sounds come out of the great sea of sand that surfaces Qatar. How many, while updating their statuses, notice their hard disks flicker awake momentarily to scan whatever hot magnetized inner storage spaces remain? And what else calls in the social networking flatulence?

They're even more intrusive outside, the sounds, where they come out of nowhere, behind corrugated restaurants and shisha tents. Turning a corner between a giant generator and a mall, they gang up on unexpected passersby in gusts of hot AC exhalant. I was noticing them a few weeks ago during a muggy walk along the deserted Katara Cultural Village esplanade, massive air-conditioning angst machines marring the midevening.

Back at home, however, when I listen closely, I can pick out the layers or different registers of sounds: hums, ticks, buzzes, throbs, rattles, pulses, vibrations, whirs. The walls get nervous and my companions turn in their sleep. When will I turn in? What mulch in the humid hang-time? What song? New sounds blossom, envelop weaker ones. I stay to listen...

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Follow Me...

I added a link in the sidebar so you could follow the blog. I know there are lurkers and hangers-on from my blog days of yore out there, but now there is an outlet for you. I'm following myself for starters...

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Shop Ahoy!

For me, Eid kicked off with my fifteenth annual Junior Robert Football League (JRFL) fantasy football draft on Sunday (which is the first day of the week here). Unfortunately, not everything went according to plan, and we have to hold a re-draft this coming Sunday. On top of that, I caught a cold so I haven't been feeling too hot.

Father and son at City Centre Mall
I don't like shopping that much, but we have gone shopping every day this holiday despite my cold. It was a kind of shopping marathon. The quest for two sets of matching bed accoutrements, one for Vito's and one for ours, was almost never-ending, especially with Ramadan / Eid Al-Fitr interference making for late night shopping, but we finally found something that satisfied our desires. When we arrived in Doha, the beds were only made with matching comforter, flat sheets and pillow cases--Vito's a pink and yellow floral pattern on light blue and ours on pink. Not our colors, but enough to start with, and leaving plenty of room for improvement.

Anyway, we finished shopping for such pressing necessities today. Here is a picture of Vito and me at the City Centre mall in downtown Doha. I think there are five levels in this mall, which is, perhaps, the largest in Doha. We're pictured here standing above the ice rink located on the ground floor of the mall.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Car-R-Us

The Shuttle Bus
Without a car, it is virtually impossible to get anywhere in Doha, especially in the heat, and especially with a young one among the three of us. The heat just crumples the tender. We tried taking cabs for a few weeks, but they have to be hailed well in advance for both coming and going, which can be a little tedious. We went back and forth about it for a while, but finally decided we should rent a car.

Unfortunately, I can't drive yet. Angela went to the traffic department a couple weeks ago, showed her Italian license, paid 150 riyals, and a temporary Doha license was issued. I have to make an appointment to take the driving test; however, Ramadan ends in the last week of August (or close to it), and I won't even be able to make an appointment until then. I heard a story that a sheikh went to the USA and was forced to take a driving test, so now USA folk have to take the driving test in Qatar, but I don't know if there's any truth in it. At least, I can take the shuttle to and from my office every day. It literally picks me up right outside my apartment and drops me off at the steps of the LAS building.

A Traffic Sign
Among the car rental shops that we called, Petra seemed to have the best deal, so we made arrangements to  acquire one of their cars, a Nissan. I had heard that we could have a rental car delivered to our apartment, which was great. For whatever reason, though, we had to go down to their office to get it. Over the phone, Petra said that they would send a car at 9:30 the next morning. We met a German couple, and they laughed at us when we told them. "We waited around until 7PM or so," Jorg said. Well, that wasn't going to happen to us. At about 11AM, after a few disgruntled phone calls, a cab arrived to take us to Petra.

While we were filling out the paperwork, Vito saw a red Tiida in front of the shop, and that was what he wanted. Weirdly, that's what we got. We reserved a different model, but whatever. Anyway, it looks OK on the outside, but the engine makes a little whistling sound. The interior is not so nice, either, but the air-conditioning and the CD player work. So far, it makes grocery shopping much more convenient, but we haven't taken it into the heart of the city, yet. On the way home, we hoped that we would be able to find the way back to our apartment, but we arrived home without incident.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Muezzin Zzzzz...


Every day, when it is time to pray, the muezzin's voices ring throughout every neighborhood here, broadcast from the minarets that can be seen everywhere. I've come to like the sound, but it is still a little unusual. Yesterday, I opened my eyes at around 3:30AM and Vito was standing in front of me next to the bed. He said, "Daddy, I don't want to pray right now." I took him into his bedroom and put him ito bed with the muezzin lulling both of us back to sleep. His bedroom is closer to the street, which means it is closer to the neighborhood mosque, and so the call to prayer has been waking him up occasionally.

Souq Waqif
The video above shows the Souq Waqif, also captured in the picture on the right, which is where we went last weekend for dinner. We were celebrating our anniversary, and we arrived in the evening across the street from the Islamic Cultural Center just as the muezzin started. It was terribly hot and humid, perhaps the hottest and most humid day since we arrived in Doha, and the streets were nearly deserted. As muslims here are fasting from dawn to dusk, this call to prayer indicated the end of fasting. During this period of fasting, people do not eat or drink, and eating and drinking are not permitted in public.

Anyway, this is my last weekend before school starts with its abbreviated schedule for Ramadan. I still have some things to get used to, but I'm about as prepared as I can be to start teaching. Things will feel more comfortable after classes get rolling, of course. This first semester, I will be teaching two sections of Academic Composition on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, and another section of Academic Composition and an Academic Literature course on Mondays and Wednesday for a total of four classes. In addition to my courses, I have to serve a few hours each week in the Language Resource Center as an English tutor, which is one of the unique attributes of the ABP.

Friday, August 05, 2011

School's Cool

The LAS Building in Education City
I work for the Qatar Foundation in the Academic Bridge Program (ABP) on the Education City campus. Education City is really a megacampus that hosts a number of different educational facilities. The campus continues to expand as can be seen by the tremendous amount of construction going on around here, and visible projects include the nearly completed Qatar National Convention Centre and the Sidra Medical and Research Center.

As a result of Ramadan beginning last Monday, we have shortened work days, which is a nice way to jump into the culture here. The day starts at 8:30AM and ends at 1:30PM, and we will carry on with that schedule until the end of the month when Ramadan ends and we have a week-long Eid or holiday. I haven't started teaching yet, but there are many other things to take care of before students arrive. Over the past three days, for example, we have been administering placement tests to our students. Actual classes start on the fourteenth.

My Office
The ABP is located in the Liberal Arts & Sciences (LAS) building in Education City, and the staff includes teachers and administrators from countries such as Australia, Canada, Egypt, England, France, India, Ireland, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Palestine, The Philippines, Poland, Qatar, Sudan, Switzerland, Tunisia, and the United States. A free shuttle picks me up right outside our apartment, and, about ten minutes later, drops me off at the front entrance of the LAS building. It's very convenient. The ABP shares the building with the Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies.

In this region, among many other characteristics, the ABP is unique in that male and female students attend classes together, which is something that, up until this point in their lives, our students, predominantly Qatari nationals, have not previously experienced. As a result, in order for Qatari parents to allow their daughters to go to school with male students, all of the classrooms and offices had to have glass walls.

Here is a picture of my office. If you look closely, you can see a kind of geometric pattern on the window of my office, which mirrors the pattern on the outside of the building. The pattern is not actually on the window, however. It is an aluminum wall or curtain suspended from the ceiling, and appears throughout the interior of the LAS building. It almost looks like a veil. While difficult for someone new like me to get around, it makes for a striking panorama within the building.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Apartmental

Kitchen
Our apartment, one benefit of my job with the Qatar Foundation, is quite pleasant. If we have to stay inside all day long because of the heat, at least we really like our living quarters. I can't speak in terms of square feet, but it is spacious and certainly an upgrade from what we had in Santa Clara.

We arrived with all of our clothes (even our Winter clothes as we'll be taking those to Italy during the semester break at the end of December) and many of Vito's toys, but we left all of our decorations and knickknacks in storage in Vacaville. Our apartment still looks about the same way as it did when we arrived, but, when we get around to doing a little more shopping, we will look for some things to personalize our living space.

We live on the second floor, which is great because there was no furniture to move in, but we also don't have anyone tramping around on the ceiling. The apartment is fully furnished, and came with all of the basic necessities for our survival, such as silverware, bedding, dishes, etc.

Vito's bedroom entrance and closet.
There are two bedrooms, both with walk-in closets, and two bathrooms, both with showers. Each bathroom also has a bidet, which makes Angela happy. All of the rooms have tile floors except the bedrooms, which have hardwood. The kitchen has marble countertops and plenty of cabinet space. Additionally, there is a large storage room, which is akin to a giant closet, and our own little laundry room with a washer and a dryer. All of the walls are made of stone, and we don't hear any of our neighbors. Even though it's so hot outside, we don't have to run the air conditioner 24-7. The apartment stays fairly cool.

Unfortunately, these pictures don't really do the apartment justice, but I'm not going to retake them and they give you the basic idea.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Too Hot to Trot

That's our compound behind the yellow building.
It's hot here: 41°C (106°F) right now. We live in a compound called Education City Community Housing Lot 2. Right across the street from us there is a Recreation Center, which has a pool, a gym, a sauna, squash and tennis courts, a game room and a restaurant. Aside from the restaurant, we have free reign on everything else. There is a Lulu Express on the corner that sells groceries, and additional little shops that sell electronics, toys, coffee and baked goods. There is also a bank, a center for beauty products (restricted to women only) and a medical/dental clinic. Its placement is quite handy. We really haven't had a chance to explore Qatar, yet, beyond these places, but we're planning to adventure out on our own after dark tonight to explore Souk Waqif, a traditional Qatar market.

As we are still without a car, one of my colleagues was going to pick us up at 1PM yesterday and take us to the Villaggio Shopping Mall. Anyhow, at 9AM, we thought we might try to walk to the other grocery store before it got super hot. We were hoping that the supermarket might have a better selection and better prices for produce. There was no one else out walking around. Even though the distance was only one kilometer (about two-thirds of a mile), we never reached our destination. A nice man in what appeared to be traditional Qatari dress stopped to offer us a lift in his Land Cruiser, which I declined, and a few other cars slowed down to see if we needed any help. It was just too dang hot, and we could see the life running out of Vito, which also worried us a little, so we turned around and went back home.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Qatar Rhymes with Butter?

After returning from a last gasp trip to Reno to visit my parents before moving to Qatar, our computer crashed last Sunday evening. We thought we had lost everything, but, even after telling us that they would not be able to recover our data, the miracle people at the Apple Genius Bar at the Valley Fair Mall in Santa Clara restored everything important. Anyhow, we learned that we can't underestimate the importance of a good backup.

In the midst of the computer uncertainty, we packed and moved our belongings into a storage unit in Vacaville on Thursday, getting the computer back on Wednesday evening just before our move. My parents met us in Vacaville and helped put everything in storage, otherwise, we wouldn't have finished in time to return the moving truck. After packing everything in our unit, we drove to Sacramento and spent the night there with friends.

With nothing specific on our agenda for Friday, one day before departing, we got up early and went to the California State Railroad Museum in Old Sacramento. After that, we drove back to Vacaville to spend our last night in the states with my grandmother Ruth.

We woke up on Saturday morning, showered and breakfasted, put our luggage in the rental car, and drove to San Francisco International Airport. Despite the various hiccups during the week, everything had been miraculously working out until we tried to get our boarding passes. For some reason, Angela didn't receive a boarding pass, and we had to wait to see a United attendant. This is not a recommendation. After some dangling unattended in the self-check-in queue and huffing and puffing, we learned that we had to wait in another line to resolve our problem. In the meanwhile, our flight was getting closer and closer to its departure time. With 30 minutes to go, we were still waiting in line, and Angela, unhappily, suggested that Vito and I leave without her. As I was flying to Qatar to meet my future employer, we thought that it wouldn't look good if we all missed the flight. So Vito and I left without Angela!

We hustled through the security check and headed for the gate to catch our flight. At the gate, I asked if they could hold the plane for Angela, but the attendant informed me that we were going to leave on time. Vito and I boarded. Almost as soon as we were seated, the plane began to move. Vito's head snapped and he said, "Where's mommy? We're leaving our mommy!" Up until then, I had been cool, but hearing those words brought a tear to my eye, and I did my best to explain what was happening. And so we departed, heading to Qatar via a five-hour flight to Washington, D.C., where I hoped to get more information about what was happening to Angela.

Everything went smoothly in Washington. I called Angela and learned that she had arranged to depart on the same flight the next day. I was relieved, but we still had an almost thirteen-hour flight ahead of us, which would surely challenge my fatherly prowess. Vito, fortunately, slept almost the entire flight, and we landed without further incident.

We arrived on Saturday and were promptly taken to our apartment where, after receiving some instructions from the colleague who brought us to the apartment, Vito and I went to sleep. The next day, we went back to the airport and gathered Angela, and our happy family was reunited.