Friday, November 16, 2012

Listing but not Listless

Busy. In the interests of time, more listing.

Unusually active five-year-old birthday party business every weekend, dinners and play dates, mom's massages and physical therapy, dad's tennis, son's swimming lessons, conferences, festivals, travel, trips to the beach and a visit from grandma and grandpa thrown in. We certainly can't say that we're bored...

Last night, after full days of school for all three of us, we went to a birthday party at the St. Regis. On the way there, Vito told us that Samuel--his classmate and the guest of honor at the birthday party to which we were headed--already had the gift we purchased, Monopoly Junior (a call to Samuel's mother confirmed it). So, mildly unhappy that Vito had told his friend what we had purchased for his birthday, we felt it necessary to go back to the store to exchange our gift. Jenga would have to suffice as a replacement. While at the party, against our better judgment, Vito had his face painted as Spiderman. His evening turned to tears later when, after already crying and whining all the way to the car because we would not stop for an ice-cream snack, falling into an exhaustion-induced sleep in the car and arriving home much later than usual, it came time to wash off the face paint, but I'm getting ahead of myself. Anyway, we left the party and met a couple friends for dinner at The Pearl because we had two-for-one coupons for The Mango Tree, a Thai restaurant, that we felt like we needed to use before the end of the year (when they would expire), and rounded out the evening at Katara's 2nd Annual Traditional Dhow Festival. Maybe we packed in too much, but there was no residue this morning.

Today and tomorrow I'll be attending the Middle East North Africa Writing Center Alliance (MENAWCA) Conference at the College of the North Atlantic. There were presentations scheduled for the whole day today, but I left at lunch to go to Fuwairit with family and friends. All work and no play makes Bob a dull joy.

The Doha Tribeca Film Festival kicks in next week--we have tickets for three movies--as does the Doha Climate Change Conference (COP18), both of which will surely ramp up activity around the city. We of the ABP have actually had our schedule altered to accommodate the goings on. Sadly, we are required to work next Saturday; however, we don't have to work the following Monday. I guess it will be nice to have a day off mid-week for a change.

Next weekend, we're hosting our first Thanksgiving ever. We're a little worried about the bird, but we have a plan. We'll be preparing the turkey, and our guests will be bringing the rest. They won't all be Americans, but they'll get involved!

I have to find time to grade papers in all of this. Where do I find time to write? I can't even make time to play the Wii that grandma and grandpa brought us when they visited at the beginning of the month. While they were here, we flew to Dubai and spent a few days there to start a tour of the Middle East mall circuit that ended in Doha.

December will be here before we can blink, the semester will be over and we'll be off for our Winter recess. Christmas and New Year's in Vietnam...

That's how it's rolling in the Q.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Weekend Wanderings

It was a busy weekend starting with a tour of the National Mosque after work on Thursday evening.

The Imam Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdul Wahhab Mosque.
On another excursion sponsored by Qatar Foundation (QF), the three of us joined a large group going to the Imam Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdul Wahhab Mosque in Doha. Many of my colleagues went, accompanied by a number of other QF employees in three large Karwa tour buses that were waiting for us outside the LAS building at the end of the day on Thursday.

It was the first time many of us had been in a mosque here in Qatar. Angela and I had only been inside a mosque one other time when we were traveling in China, a mosque in Xian, which was purportedly the oldest one in China.

After an explanation of how the mosque functions, what happens after the call to prayer, and general information about Islam, our hosts, Adam and Dominique, answered the group's questions. We stayed inside the mosque for more than two hours and, once discussion had finished, watched the evening prayer before boarding the tour buses and returning to the LAS building. Little did we know that our fun was just beginning.

Friday morning, we had as many as four maintenance men at one time in the bathroom in the master bedroom, because we had a problem with the water heater. Jokes about how many so-and-sos do you need to change a lightbulb came to mind. They had started fixing it on Wednesday afternoon, but couldn't finish and planned to return on Thursday morning. Unfortunately, both Angela and I had to work on Thursday and we didn't return until late, so they planned on Friday morning.

While we were eating lunch on Friday with Ruth and Samuel, it rained briefly.

On Friday evening, we left Vito at home with Samarrah, his sitter, and went to the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) to watch 13 Assassins, the final Japanese film showing as part of a year-long celebration of forty years of Japanese and Qatari relations. I thought it was great, but it is not really a family film.

Arthur and Vito outside the Education City Student Center.
Lastly, on Saturday, after making pancakes with "the flipper," the maintenance men arrived and finally finished repairing our water heater. They were done by lunch time.

After eating, we drove across the city and picked up Vito's friend Arthur, and they spent the afternoon together. We played a game and watched a movie before heading for the arcade at the Education City Student Center. After burning through some tokens and taking Arthur back home, we returned to our home to get ready to see the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra at Katara Cultural Village. Aside from pieces by Beethoven and Dvořák, the concert featured the music of Khachatur Avetisyan highlighting and instrument called a kanun, which, according to the program, is a kind of Middle Eastern lap harp. Neither Angela nor myself had ever heard it before.

Now, I'm staying up too late to watch football and finish this blogpost, but I want to post something in September before it ends.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

From Russia with Love

Statistics indicate that I have more pageviews from Russia than from any other nation. That seems unusual. I don't think I know anyone in Russia, and I have never traveled there. I will add a label for Russia and watch to see if those pageviews increase. Perhaps, there is an overabundance of netspiders that originate from there...

Monday, August 06, 2012

Back to Work

I arrived back in Doha about two weeks ago. Our apartment was under a layer of dust, but I had time to clean it. Angela and Vito stayed in Italy, and they get to enjoy one more month of vacation. Vito doesn't start school until the beginning of September, so I'm on my own until then. I called Angela today and they were at the beach. I could hear the surf in the background and wished it was comfortable enough to do the same here.

Not much has changed in two months since we left. It's hot and humid and dusty. There are still heaps of construction projects and heavy machinery littering the city. I like it, though. It's home.

And I'm back at work. Ramadan is in full swing, and, for the next two weeks, we have a modified work schedule. I worked four short days last week and have a full week of preparation this week. Over the next few days, the ABP will get busier and busier as student orientation occurs at the end of the week. We begin actual teaching next Sunday. With great colleagues and special students, I'm really looking forward to my second year here.

Qatari Nasser Al-Attiyah taking aim.
During Ramadan, all the stores have unusual hours, and the pace of life is quite different. Around 6:15PM, the roads are dangerous with speeding Qataris on their way to iftar, the evening meal when they break their fast. At about 6:45PM, the roads are quiet and it's much easier to get around the city for a brief time. After that, however, traffic picks up as shops open and people start to emerge.

Aside from using the time to prepare for my classes this semester, I have plenty of time to watch the olympics taking place in London. I have been watching them almost every day after work! I discovered that I can watch events on four different channels, but most of the broadcasts, if there is sound at all, are in Arabic. Occasionally, for whatever reason, it is possible to listen to English commentary. On August 1st, all Qtel (my telephone service provider) subscribers here received 24 hours of free local and international text messages to commemorate Al-Attiyah's bronze medal in the Men's Skeet Shooting event a few days ago, which was nice. I don't know if I took advantage of it like I could have, however.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Three-Point Turn

Three-point turn.
We arrived at my parent's home in Reno on the third of July. The weather is much warmer here in the high Sierra Nevada desert, and we were happy to unpack our suitcases, wash our clothes and sleep in familiar beds for a change. It's nice to be resting instead of traveling for a while, too, although we have made a number of short day trips since we have been here, so we haven't really been resting.

On the fourth of July, grandma and grandpa took us to the National Automobile Museum. I'm not much of a car aficionado, but it was neat to see all of the old cars and car paraphernalia. We were really taking Vito who loved every minute of it. There were even cars formerly owned by Elvis Presley and John F. Kennedy on display. With Angela's help, I discovered that there were a also few Italian cars in the collection: a 1955 Ferrari Type 625 Grand Prix car and a 1961 Fiat "Y." The cars on display dated back to the end of the 1800s and continued to the modern day. Interestingly, to round out the tour, there was an additional display that included numerous photographs and "art" cars from the famous Burning Man festival.

After eating dinner, we went to Sparks to watch fireworks that were going to be launched from the roof of the John Ascuaga's Nugget Hotel and Casino. Unfortunately, they were delayed for almost one hour due to windy conditions, but we were finally rewarded for waiting.

Mattux and Vito locked in a Wii duel.
On the fifth, we just stayed around the house. It's nice to sit outside in the early evening when it is starting to cool down, look at the brown hills at the bottom of the Sierra Nevada Mountains clustered with sagebrush as the grey shadows stretch across them, and listen to the birds chirp and the wind sigh through the scattered pines. My brother Todd and his family arrived from Colorado around noon, so Vito has someone to play withhis cousin Mattux! They haven't seen each other in about three years, but they quickly reacquainted themselves with each other. We stepped out and took the kids swimming at the clubhouse for a little while in the afternoon, but other than that, we didn't venture too far afield.

On the sixth, after everyone woke up, we went to visit the Nevada State Railroad Museum in Carson City and then drove up to Virginia City. It was hot, but not terribly. Viginia City, famous for its mining history, has some notable Mark Twain lore, as well. After eating lunch, we walked through the old schoolhouse, watched a comedy gunfight and took a ride on an old train pulled by a steam engine. Everyone was exhausted by the end of that adventure.

Vito in the cockpit at the Truckee Air Show.
Yesterday, all of us caravanned to the Trukee Air Show in the morning, and then tried to eat lunch near Lake Tahoe, but it was just too crowded. The roadsides were crawling with bicyclists, the Trukee River was choked with rafters, and traffic was unbearably heavy. We ordered sandwiches at a local supermarket, were chased by the camp host out of the campground in which we were eating because we hadn't reserved the campsite, and finished near the river in Verdi on our way home where the kids got to also play in the water. In the evening, my brother and his wife and me and Angela booked rooms at the Sands Regency Hotel and Casino, left the kids at home with grandma and grandpa, and went out for a night in the biggest little city in the world. We walked along the river, ate a nice meal together, tossed back a few pints, gambled a littbitle, and generally caroused until the early morn.

Today, my mom's parents, my Aunt Sue, my cousin Katie and her two kids, Grant and Emily, and some friends of my parents (Steve and Sharon, and Amy and Lou) came over for lunch. We had a nice visit with family and made some new friends. Everyone is resting now.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

West Coast Continues

California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco
We left Putignano, Italy in our sky blue Fiat Panda rental at 6:30AM on Tuesday morning, and drove to the Bari airport to catch our 8:35 Alitalia flight to Rome. We were going meet one of my colleagues there and stay one night in Rome before departing for our West Coast adventure, the second of three legs of our Italy—United States—Italy Summer vacation. With dolci secchi di mandorle (dry almond cookies) wrapped in a napkin, Anna and Vito, Angela’s parents, waved to us with tears in their eyes.

The road to the airport was relatively traffic-free, and we returned the Panda without incident. It had taken us about 55 minutes to get there. We checked in two pieces of luggage, a black suitcase with my clothes and a red one with Angela’s and Vito’s. Unfortunately, when we arrived at Fulmicino Airport, our red suitcase never appeared on the carousel!

This flight from Bari to Rome, a domestic flight within Italy, only lasts about 50 minutes, and there weren’t many other checked bags. How could Alitalia lose our suitcase? What could we do about it?

Despite our woes, Rome was fantastic! We met Asmaa and her daughter Iman in the early evening, and walked from the Spanish Steps to Trastevere where we found a great restaurant with live traditional music. It was dark, and there were torches burning outside the restaurant. We sat outside the ivy-covered building and watched a comedic skit with the musicians while enjoying our meal. At the end of our meal, we walked to the coliseum, marveling at the beauty of Rome by night, hailed a cab as it was quite late, and finally bid our friends good evening as we returned to our hotel near the train station. Still no suitcase.

Mama's, San Francisco
The next morning, we flew to San Francisco, where we spent three nights. We had to spend a little time shopping to get something warm for Vito and some other essentials that were lost with our suitcase, but we didn't let that dampen our spirits. The highlight of our stay, aside from delicious food (we waited one hour for breakfast at Mama's!), was an afternoon at the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. After experiencing the earthquake simulator, we concluded our visit with the earthquake video in the planetarium, and it knocked our socks off.

In the meanwhile, Angela has called, perhaps, twenty times to speak with various representatives from Alitalia and has only received conflicting or confusing information. We finally received a e-mail message that our suitcase would be delivered to our hotel in Portland. We should be there tomorrow. Cross your fingers.

Glass Beach, Fort Bragg, California
Yesterday, after two nights in Vacaville at my grandmother Ruth's house, we loaded up our little red Nissan Versa rental and followed Highway 1 along the coast to Fort Bragg, California. After checking in last night, we found Glass Beach, and spent some time lingering over the glass-scattered beach sand looking for the rare red glass bits. Afterwards, we ate some fried fish in a little restaurant next to the water in Noyo Harbor, and then returned to our hotel and went to bed.

It's wonderfully sunny outside now, and we're sitting in the dining room of Country Inn waiting for our breakfast while Vito draws pictures with his colored pencils. After eating, we'll continue north along the coast. We're not sure where we'll end up today, but we need to be in Portland tomorrow. Our suitcase should be waiting for us when we arrive. If that happens, all will be forgiven.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

A Trullo in Time

Our vacation has been going fine, and the mosquitoes haven't torn me apart, either. Everyone's eating well, too, as usual.

All the Italian kids in Apuglia are still in school (today's actually the last day), so no one else has been on vacation but Angela, Vito and me. However, Vito has been seeing two of his Italian cousins (Alessandro and Adrianna) every day as they come over with Angela’s sister, Annamaria, and eat lunch with us when they’re done with school at around 1PM. It makes for an active afternoon. I have plenty of time to use the computer, but that will change soon. We haven’t been doing much else as the weather has been too cold. Also, the cooler than usual temperatures haven’t allowed Angela’s parents to move out to their countryside trullo yet, but we’re looking to do that in the next day or so. Cross your fingers.

Swimming cove - Monopoli, Italy in the distance.
As the weather has finally been cooperating, we took the train to Bari yesterday morning to rent a car for the remainder of our stay. Getting around hasn't been much of an issue so far as we have been staying in town and it is fairly easy to go from place to place on foot, but if we want to leave the countryside when we move there, we need our own vehicle! Moreover, we will need one if we want to go to the beach. In the past, when we have visited Putignano, we have borrowed Angela’s sister’s husband’s (Francesco's) commute car, an old Fiat Uno, but that is not an option for us any longer.

We have been in Putignano since the 26th of May, but we went to the beach with one of Angela's friends, Annalisa, for the first time yesterday. If possible, we are planning on going every morning until we leave for our California-Oregon-Nevada adventure on the 19th of this month. Other than that, we don't have much on the agenda.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

D'oh! Ha!

It's surprising how busy I can be when I don't have to go to work. All of the little things that Angela used to do around the house have suddenly fallen upon my shoulders, even if I don't carry them out as meticulously as she does. I still don't do any cooking, although I have been more successful than usual with pancakes in recent efforts. In any case, one week without having anything in particular to do has passed and I feel tired. Did she really wash dishes that many times in one day? Does the apartment get so dusty every single day? I want to take naps in the afternoon! Am I exhausted from overworking? Is it the heat? Perhaps, merely a side-effect of aging? Is that premature or am I old enough to say use that as an excuse?

Vito and Angela in front of the Museum of Islamic Art.
Yesterday (Wednesday) was Vito's last day of classes at the American Community School (ACS) Doha International School. The school year actually ends next month, but we're heading into vacation on Saturday so we're pulling Vito early. Usually, there are classes on Thursdays, but the students had a day off for student-let conferences. We had an appointment at 11AM in Vito's classroom. He showed us the portfolio of work that he had completed throughout the year and gave us a tour of the art and music rooms. Vito was eager to show us around and share his experiences with us. It will be difficult to take him out of school early next year, especially now that he is in the rhythm. Vito was disappointed that he would be missing the end of the year activities, and that disappointment is sure to increase after another year. It would be much easier if our school schedules were a little more in synch with one another—the two schedules are about six weeks off—but we can't do anything about that for the time being.

Anyway, there are so many things to think about at the end of our first year in Doha. After what has felt at times like a breakneck stay here, we're looking forward to returning with even greater excitement after our Summer adventures. We have a long list of places to visit and people to see, but it should be restful enough, too.

It's hard to believe we'll be leaving Qatar for Italy in a couple more days. In the short time we've been here, we have made many new and interesting friends and seen a completely different part of the world. While not without its sacrifices, it's a real privilege to have the opportunity to immerse ourselves in this kind of lifestyle and we are counting our lucky stars. Where will we end up? Insha'allah, I will continue to bring you more of this adventure as it develops.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

The List

Burj Khalifa, Dubai and me.
I can't believe March passed so quickly. Life seems like little more than a list at times. Too much going on: spring break with family and friends in Sri Lanka at the beginning of the month, TESOL Arabia in Dubai with colleagues, and heaps of papers to wade through and the end of the second marking period at the Academic Bridge Program (ABP) last week.

I accompanied Vito and Angela to a pre-school birthday party out at The Pearl, and watched poets from Bahrain (Hameed Al Qaed and Ali Abdulla Khalifa), Kuwait (Shurooq Amin), Qatar (Maryam Ahmad Al-Subaiey), Saudi Arabia (Nimah Ismail Nawwab) and the United Arab Emirates (Nujoom Alghanem) read poems for the launch of Gathering the Tide: An Anthology of Contemporary Arabian Gulf Poetry at Virginia Commonwealth. Last weekend, Angela and me went to the Museum of Islamic Art and watched Departures, a Japanese film shown as part of events honoring forty years of relations between Japan and Qatar.

Yesterday Vito and I went to the Doha Zoo, and today I attended the first session of TEDx Education City at the Qatar National Convention Center. Tomorrow we're all going to the Motocross Grand Prix to cheer on Valentino Rossi.

The list. That's what it turns into when so much time passes. In four weeks, the ABP will adjourn for the summer. Then we're off to summer wonderland and continuing adventure in the United States and Italy. We couldn't be having a better time and, I suppose, from where you are, it sounds a little like bragging.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

February Bragging Rights

It has been difficult to find the time to do this. In fact, I should be writing letters of recommendation for my students instead of blogging way past my bedtime.

Clearly, I am busy these days both at work and at school. Our weekends have been booked solid, and the weekdays, too.

Who's that in the yellow shirt?
Among the things that I have done this month: went to the Takashi Murakami art exhibit; ate camel meat and watched a camel race (we actually followed the camels around the track in our cars with about fifty other drivers in a high carbon-footprint activity); participated in a beach clean-up with students and colleagues from the Academic Bridge Program (ABP) followed by a BBQ; quizzed in a quizbowl to raise money for leukemia; watched the Qatar Open women's tennis final won by Victoria Azarenka of Belarus; defended well in the student / faculty basketball game (sadly, the faculty lost); dunebashed mildly (I drove!) while attending a geology field trip near Sealine with ABP students and colleagues; attended a Qatari wedding reception and had my picture in the newspaper. Extra credit if you can find my picture!

Anyway, there's your nutshell update. It's all good. We're on our way to Sri Lanka on Thursday evening as it will be the ABP Spring break. I'm also going to Dubai at the end of next week to attend TESOL Arabia, which should be interesting, at least.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A Rose in the Desert?

Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex
After the holidays, we returned to Doha enshrouded in fog. The night of our arrival, after sleeping most of the daylight hours away, we went to the 20th ExxonMobil Open and watched Jo-Wilfried Tsonga crush Gael Monfils in the final match. It was my first live tennis match, and I really enjoyed it. There was actually a fog delay at the beginning of the match, because the word Qatar, painted on the court at both ends, was too slick and was caused the tennis players to slip. You can see the stadium in the lower right of the photo and the city center with the moon peeping in the background. The tournament concluded with a dramatic light show during which a montage of winners from previous years were highlighted. In fact, some of the previous winners were in attendance to thrill the onlookers. Unfortunately, all the delay and hoopla made for a long evening.

I had to go back to work at the Academic Bridge Program the next day. It was only for a meeting, so I wasn't teaching, but regular classes resumed midweek. The jet lag was slight and, as we had been traveling for more than 24-hours, we weren't quite 100%. Vito's school had also resumed, but he stayed home another day to rest and regain his energy. Everything should be firing on all cylinders next week, however.

It has been foggy almost every morning since we've been back, which is quite nice and refreshing. It burns off by late morning, and then there's the usual sunshine. The weather is warmer now than it was before we left on our Christmas / New Year's adventure. We had run into a little cold spell before the holidays, which seemed a little colder than usual, although my perspective is limited.

Today, we were invited by some friends to go on an adventure with our kids to look for a desert rose, a kind of stone that forms its petalled appearance under the sand in certain places. After taking Vito to soccer practice and despite having a great deal of work to do to prepare for the onrushing semester, I threw caution to the wind and we all rode out into the desert together.

The quest certainly took us too some remote parts of Qatar. Among the many unusual things we observed, the baby camel pictured here was, perhaps, the most striking. It couldn't even walk yet. The way the other camels crowded around it was interesting to watch.