Monday, November 3, 2008

Doha Debates Videos

Part of the Qatar Foundation's vast network of organizations includes one called 'The Doha Debates'. Modeled after the Oxford debate system and chaired by former BBC interviewer Tim Sebastian, the Doha Debates are meant to spark public dialogue and inquiry into controversial topics. Calling someone out or challenging a stated position is not a cultural norm here. Newspapers fail to cite facts and announcements are accepted at face value. In class, I find that some of my students lack the critical reasoning skills to pick apart an argument or to analyze the supporting evidence. 'But I did exactly what the class told me to do!' Yes, but did you evaluate those statements and consider the source?

It's become extremely difficult to get a ticket to these debates and my goal is to attend one before I leave Doha. However, for all those unlucky to get tickets or living far-away, we can watch the debates at the new Doha Debates website. Enjoy.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Happy Deepavali!

The view from my landing of my downstairs neighbor's apartment last night.

The carefully laid colored powder and the fresh flowers made me smile. I was extra careful not to mess it up on my way up and down.

Happy Deepavali!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Bachelor Ban

Even though Qatar is a very Westernized country, there are occasional moments where I am distinctly reminded that Qatar is not like the suburbs of Chicago. Take shopping at the local malls. Being a female, I'm never restricted access and can enter anytime I wish (provided I'm not scandalously dressed of course!) However, it's a different case for males, particularly single males, and even more so for single laboring immigrant males (who currently make up about 1M out of Qatar's 1.7M people). Malls and even public places frequently institute 'family only' hours or days, restricting the access of single-males. Some apply this mandate to all males, regardless of race or appearance, but others seem to employ it only against " bad-smelling, poorly-dressed adult men".

A recent newspaper inquiry tested the basis for denying admittance to single males. The paper found that generally, well-dressed and proper single males were allowed in while those in worker clothes or with scruffy appearances were denied. Also, some reports have found that Western and Arab males would be let in, but Asians were not. Two single professors at Carnegie Mellon expressed concern over this ban, as they are Pakistani and Bangladeshi and could be mistaken for being part of the laboring class.

While 'family only' time has been a practice here for several years, it recently made headlines over the Eid holiday, where workers had time off but were prevented from gathering in the malls, the souqs, or even the Corniche (waterfront area). Where should they go? What happens when you don't give 1M people something to do during their off hours? In the States, this situation could breed resentment and problems but Qatar has a unique solution: deport 'em. Since only Qataris are citizens, anyone else is an expat (even if born here) and could be duly deported to their home country if they act up. That certainly has a way of quelling unrest...

And unlike the States, there really is no effective way to protest or counter this 'bachelor ban' situation. Write a petition? To whom? Boycott the spots with the ban? Where are you going to go? Organize a protest? Fine- how soon that you pack your things for your deportation flight back home? :/

Friday, October 17, 2008

My commute

Before I move to my new apartment at the Education City Housing Compounds less than 5 minutes from Education City, I thought I'd share my current commute home from EC to my apartment at Al Samrya Gardens. The ride home is usually significantly shorter than the ride to work, mainly because in the morning traffic backs up due to a short light that only lets traffic in one direction at a time. Each cycle takes four minutes, so sometimes it takes 20-30 minutes just to get through the light, meaning my 10 km drive could take 30-40 minutes! Crazy. In order to lessen my impact on the environment and recapture about an hour of my day, I'm moving to EC housing (inshallah) next week.

Items of potential interest in this video:
-You'll perhaps notice a large white building with 'holes' in the facade on the right- the LAS Building at EC was the most recent former home of CM-Q.
-After that, the large white towers and space on the right is the EC Ceremonial Courtyard, where EC senior celebration was held.
-This video was shot before I received my vehicle permit pass, which now saves me the trouble of dropping off and picking up my international driver's license at EC Security each day.
-Where I pause before I turn onto the main road was the site of my March accident (which ending up costing me about $1K). I'm a lot more cautious in my driving now.
-Note the roundabouts- once the bane of my driving existence, I know generally embrace them for speeding up traffic. Some roundabouts in Doha have traffic lights, which does slow things down somewhat but probably reduces accidents.
-The huge billboards at the final main intersection are the site of my usual morning long-light. This time I got lucky and zipped right through.
-Since one can't make left turns throughout most of Doha unless using a roundabout or making a U-turn at an intersection, I take the back way to my compound to avoid the crowded roundabout I would need to use to get to my compound.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Before my students complete their next assignment in a week (the infamous LAS Faculty Film Poster), I thought I'd share the most recent designs: 'Opposites'.

The students were randomly assigned two relatively opposite words. Their challenge was to visualize the meaning of each word, with each composition succeeding individually and together as a pair. I was pleasantly surprised by some of the solutions this semester. Remember- these are non-design students and for many, this is their first foray into the mean world of the Adobe Creative Suite (mainly Illustrator).


Maryam Alsemaitt

Nada Mohsin

Noora Al-Mannai

Shaereen Vencilao

Amna Al-Hitmi

Asma Al-Kuwari

Aysha Siddique

James Harrell

Lawrence Tan

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Ein Prosit! Oktoberfest in Doha

Wait- Oktoberfest? In a Muslim country? Come again?

Yep- you read right. As far as I can gather, there are two major expat entertainment events here in Doha- Dunestock (an open air music festival and party) and Oktoberfest at the Intercontinetal Hotel. I didn't attend Dunestock last April because of a sand storm and I hadn't arrived in Doha yet for Oktoberfest last year, so I jumped at the chance to attend Oktoberfest this year. Darbi managed to snag the last two tickets for last night's festival. And what a party.

600 expats, crammed into the tent that the Intercontinetal had used for their Ramadan events (little ironic), complete with Bavarian blue and white, an Oompah band, and lots of beer. There was plenty of good German food (all beef sausage of course) to be enjoyed on long communal tables. And when the band and crowd wasn't cheering 'Tony' along to drink 12 litres of beer (we think it was water/beer or apple juice), there was dancing on the benches. And there was a lot of dancing. We partied from 8 pm to around 12:30 am. And for Doha- that's huge. The evening would be considered a lot of fun anywhere in the world, but for it to happen in Doha, where all this was certainly 'haraam' (forbidden), it somehow made it even more fun. Happy October everyone!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Eco-Conference Call

In addition to teaching at Carnegie Mellon Qatar, I'm also the new Sustainability Coordinator and the faculty adviser for the student environmental group LiveGreen. The group was founded a year ago in collaboration with some Pittsburgh campus students who were doing an exchange in Qatar. The Pittsburgh campus has always been keen to have the two groups work together, although we have been a little less optimistic about what that collaboration could yield, given our situations are very different. (There is no recycling here, we're not an autonomous campus, we don't have a democratic system, most students don't live in dorms, etc....)

One step towards that fabled collaboration was to finally arrange a conference call between the two groups. Conference calls are easy on our end- every conference room and practically every classroom is set up for distance meetings and teaching. Not as easy for Pittsburgh- which needs to book one of a few special rooms. Then we get into the issue of timing- Doha is currently 7 hours ahead of Pittsburgh, meaning meetings have to be a little late or early for each party. We scheduled a 4 pm meeting for us, 9 am meeting for Pittsburgh- pretty decent timing considering most simulcasts from the States hit us at 8pm to 2 am...

The meeting was beneficial in that it gave the Pittsburgh campus a better sense of the difficulties we're having setting up recycling and developing sustainable habits here. We also discussed idea sharing and the idea of having a book/reading discussion each month during our conference calls. Then- we mentioned the idea of a huge big joint project: instead of us traveling there and creating little change during a week visit (and likewise if they visited Doha), we could meet somewhere in the middle, in Africa, and participate in an eco-service trip. I think it could be a fantastic global experience for the students (but would require planting quite a few trees for all that carbon offsetting...). So I'm in the process of looking for eco-service opportunities in Africa and convincing others that yes, we could do this. Ah- the curse of travel. It only makes me want to travel more. :)

Friday, September 26, 2008

Pause. Update.

Quick update before I leave town for a 10 day Eid Break trip to Morocco:

Blogging has taken a back seat to applying to business schools and getting my classes in order. Basically my day to day life isn't exactly thrilling blogging material. I didn't think you'd like to know about what alternative career would I pursue if I wasn't aiming for a consulting position or what's my most significant professional accomplishment. Plus, many of these musings aren't necessarily related to living in Qatar. One can find thousands of MBA hopefuls out there, but how many know someone living in Qatar?

I kept thinking this blog had to be 'significant' items or a 'collection' of thoughts/images to revel some insight. It now seems that many of my realizations about life here in Qatar aren't necessarily 'big' revelations or events. Often they are small things that, if put into words, would probably only take up a sentence or paragraph or one photograph. But those items might actually be more interesting to folks (and quicker to read too). So- inspired by the blogging style of Maryam of My Marrakesh, I'll leave you with this little visual before I leave for Morocco.

(On the box of frozen lamb kabobs, made in Saudi Arabia: 'Environmental awareness signifies a civilized society. Please recycle.')

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

GMAT Update

I leave 5 minutes late, sit in traffic for ~38 minutes and arrive right before 8 am (one should be at the site 30 minutes before the appointment). It was at a computer and technology training center on the way to the airport- the only GMAT testing site in Qatar.

I walk in and find.... no one. Only an attendant (sadly, they are mainly called 'tea boys' because that's their main job- we're trying to come up with a less demeaning title) was around and sweeping. Then I saw the counter: 'Ramadan Hours: Open at 9 am".

What?! My test is 8:30! Will I be counted late? What do I do?
I realized things were out of my hands. I went out, moved my car to a shadier spot and brought my Official GMAT prep book to review writing samples. An Indian gentleman arrives around 8:10, also to take the test. He's nervous about testing on time as well.

Five minutes later, someone shows up and starts to head upstairs. 'Oh- you have a test? Which one? GMAT? Ah...Mr. Abdullah does that. Inshallah he will be here soon.'

Inshallah? God-willing? For many Westerners, they often interpret that as 'nope. probably not going to happen.' Uh-oh.

At this point the anxiety was gone. I couldn't do anything but wait. 4 minutes before 8:30, miraculously Mr. Abdullah from upstairs and acts as if nothing is odd.

The Indian gentleman and I are escorted to a little glassed-in room w/ 3 computers. Our pictures are taken, fingers are scanned, and personal items are locked up. We start. My monitors refresh rate drives me nuts at first, but I adapt. A Qatari student appears late, gets set up and then I realize he must be taking another test. He left and re-entered the testing room about 8 times in half an hour. Then left. I don't know what it was, but it didn't help me focus.

Needless to say, the test went faster than I thought. Must have been the adrenaline. And then my score popped up on the screen- 690. Ten points short of my goal of 700. AH! Quantitative 39 (55 percentile), Verbal 45 (98). Should I retake? After looking online, some recommend not retaking, for- if I had gotten 700, would I be considering retaking? If no, then don't. However, my Quant. score is so off my Verbal score and given the high quantitative level of MBA education and my lack of it in undergrad, I think I need to bring that Quant. score up some more. I'm signed up for Oct. 14th, the next earliest I could take the test.

(I later found out, after I signed up to retake the test (GMAC- please, take my $250 again), that I got a 6.0 (perfect) on the writing portion. Ok- I get it. I get the Verbal part. Now I just need that Quant. score to bump up...Inshallah).

Monday, September 8, 2008

GMAT Abroad

This is it. I take the GMAT test tomorrow in preparation for business school applications. I'd ideally like to enter business school in Fall of 2009 and specifically focus on sustainable business. I spent this past summer studying and reviewing things like ratios and percents (and non-calculator math!) and brushing up on my grammar. Carnegie Mellon Qatar was also nice enough to give me a Kaplan Prep Book (although I more highly recommend and prefer the GMAC's Official Guide for the GMAT Review, 11th Edition).

My GMAT experience should be fairly typical compared to a graduate entrance exam in the States, except there's only one place in the whole country where I can test and they only offer the test twice a week. So- not quite as convenient as the States but miles (or should I say, kilometers?) above the GRE for convenience.

See- there is nowhere in Qatar to take the GREs. No place. What so ever. So, any prospective grad students from Qatar (or teaching/working in Qatar) have to fly to another country to take their GRE exams. Carol from Student Affairs took her GREs in Kuwait I believe. I've heard of others going to Dubai. Still another employee, Dave, originally spoke of flying to Saudi Arabia to take his GREs and now instead is flying to Syria. That makes an already expensive test even more costly. In Dave's case, it will be around $130 USD for the exam, $130 for the Syrian Visa, $500 for the plane ticket and then some more for a hotel and expenses. That's probably close to a $1000 for a 4-hour event. Yipes. Makes my $250 exam look tame in comparision.

Supposedly the test centers abroad are not as stringent as in the US. For example, students sometimes get another individual (perhaps professional test-taker) to take the test for them. This could explain why the GMAC is unveiling a palm-reading (not fortune-telling) identification system for test-takers and starting the program in India and Korea. I have no idea what my testing center will be like tomorrow. All I know is that it took a 20 minute drive in the non-existent traffic after sunset, so I'm giving myself 45 minutes in tomorrow's morning traffic.

I'll update you tomorrow on my experience. Send me some good vibes please! :D

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Ramadan Kareem!

'Generous Ramadan'

Ramadan will be upon Qatar either starting tomorrow or Tuesday. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, abstaining from food, liquids (yes, even water), and other sensual pleasures in order to practice self-restraint and generosity. Fasting is one of the "five pillars" of Islam along with the declaration of faith, daily prayers, charity, and a pilgrimage to Mecca. All this fasting means means the hour prior to sunset, folks drive like crazy to make it to their Iftar meals (the first meal after fasting all day). The US Embassy sent a warning email suggesting that expats avoid the roads the hour before sunset, as there is a higher rate of accidents during that hour during Ramadan. Restaurants are closed during the day and no alcohol is sold or served (even in the hotels). Non-Muslims are to take their food, drink, or smokes in private and not do any such activities in the views of Muslims during that time (no, not even in your car). One is also suppose to be more modest in clothing (watch those necklines and hemlines!). After sunset- the shops and restaurants will stay open later to accommodate all the merrymaking. I'm curious to see how my students are in class during this time.

The month is the ninth month of the Islamic and is based on lunar-sightings. There is some contention if the month starts when the moon is viewed with the naked eye (leading different Islamic countries to start on different days) or starts based on astrological calculations. At the end of the month, Muslims celebrate with communal prayers on Eid ul-Fitr, or feast of the fast-breaking. It also means a week-long vacation from classes, during which I will be in Morocco, hiking the mountains!

Speaking of sporting, a former high school cross-country teammate of my brother's was Muslim and fasted even during the season. He would train and compete without a drop of water until the sun went down. And given how Ramadan is determined, the month will fall during the cross-country season the entire time he will run cross country in college. I asked a colleague if Muslim athletes get any sort of dispensation. She said no, religion is first, sports second. Her father played in soccer leagues and the team simply trained a little less or worked out closer to sunset. The Education City Recreation Center just sent out a notice of when to work out or lift during Ramadan fasting time (so as not to over-tax a fasting body).

This being my first Ramadan, I'm curious to see how it goes. I do believe I will fast for a day or two myself, just to experience what my peers and students experience for a whole month. In the meanwhile, I'll be extra sure to remember my lunch each day , as the Subway in our building will be closed all month (ditto for the Starbucks in the LAS building). Ramadan Kareem!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Marhaba Qatar!

I'm back in Qatar! The little push-pin that represents me on the world map has moved back to the Middle East for the next academic year. I'll be teaching both semesters, mainly because the students desperately want/need electives and they seem to think I did a good job. But my teaching position also covers my salary as the new Sustainability Coordinator for Carnegie Mellon Qatar. I hope to coordinator, promote, and encourage environmental and sustainability initiatives on campus. I'm still figuring out what that entails but I have some ideas.

It felt surreal packing to return- I couldn't believe it was time to leave already. I had made two lists before I left Qatar- one of things I left in my spare room and things I brought back to the States. The lists proved helpful in answering questions such as recalling if a jacket was here or there and did I really need that wide-brim hat? I packed significantly less than last time- I shipped two boxes and packed four suitcases (one suitcase even had another suitcase in it!). Last trip I had 3 boxes and 5 suitcases. I knew that I didn't need too many going-out clothes and that I should stock up on shoes before I left (shoe quality can be doubtful here). Logistics were easier this time as well, as I didn't need a visa, medical testing, or any new shots.

The emotional packing proved harder though. I found myself becoming very distraught about leaving my wonderful boyfriend James for another few months. We've been together for over two years now (having known each other for 8 years prior) and have done some version of a long-distance relationship for the entire time except summers together in Chicago. I've been in Pittsburgh, Washington DC, and now Doha. He's been in Chicago and spent this summer's Mondays-Thursdays in Virginia, so we only saw each other on weekends. The 4 months we have until we see each other again really isn't so bad when you hear stories about the laborers/nannies/maids in Doha who don't see their families for years. That puts things in perspective but it doesn't make things hurt any less.

It now feels odd but also normal to be back. I know the roads, the stores, the apartment complex. It feels 'normal' and while in the States I often referred to Doha as 'home'. But Chicago felt familiar and 'home'-like as well. It felt as if I had hit pause on my Doha-life, lived a Chicago-summer, and then returned to Doha to hit 'play'. Since things feel more normal, I hope this means I've recovered from my culture shock of last semester and I'm now more acclimated to this world. Well- to the stores and the driving and the people, but not necessarily the heat. That's another story.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Carnegie Mellon Qatar on PBS

Tomorrow PBS will feature a show on Education City, to be shown at 8:30pm (EDT) local time in Pittsburgh. (Check out PBS Website for local showtimes- Looks like the show will air on Channel 11 in Chicago on Sunday, May 18 at 12 noon CDT.)

The program entitled, "Should American universities be trying to win over young hearts and minds in the Middle East?"should feature a good amount of Carnegie Mellon Qatar and our students. However, I'm wary about what angle the show may take.

The title of the program alone makes me suspicious about their portrayal of our campus. However, a recent story Dean Thorpe told at Carnegie Mellon Qatar's first graduation also leads me to believe the story may not be entirely favorable.

As the graduation ceremony wrapped up, Dean Thorpe offered true story with a bit of random advice attached. He cautioned the students, whom we fully anticipate to be the leaders of tomorrow, that when they encounter media and the press, to be prepared for 'ambush journalism'. He said a camera crew from the States was in a few weeks ago and brought all their lights and cameras into his office and 'just wanted to ask a few questions'. So after the normal niceties and the usual questions, they sprung on him a question something along the lines of 'How would you respond to the accusation that you are taking away good educational resources from your home campus and/or America?'

Uh. Um.

He said he responded something about how this campus offers our students and faculty a chance to be exposed to different cultures, to become more active and engaged in world affairs, and be better global citizens when they rotate back into the Pittsburgh campus.

I understand he had to come up with that on the spot, in front of a rolling camera, and needed to address the issues related to the 'accusation'. However, as one not intending to 'roll' back into the Pittsburgh campus or for those faculty not from the Pittsburgh campus, this is a bit of a stretch. I'd would have to joke and say I'm here as an immigrant worker, seeking opportunities not available to me in the United States.

But getting back to the PBS show, I'm curious how they will present Education City. How they will bring up or address hostile comments towards our community and if they will embrace the idea that education is crucial ending the ignorance, hostility, and unrest that permeates this region. (Check out Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin's Three Cups of Tea for another take on the importance of education).

Monday, May 5, 2008

Some Feedback on the Sustainability Mini

Yes- I need to update (especially about India and Jordan!) and I'm thankful that Blogger now incorporates the ability to schedule future posts. That will be especially helpful while traveling.

I'm sorting through the piles of '51-276 Examining Sustainability in the Gulf Region' self-evaluations I requested of the students. I originally did not plan to request these self-evaluations but I was curious how they would rate themselves (and I was also unsure how to grade the students).

In going through the evaluations- I noticed a few interesting observations:

1) One student commented and wondered if anyone would honestly give themselves lower than an 'A' ? Actually, yes- some did. And interestingly enough, they were all non-Arab students.
2) One student (Palestinian) informed me that 'doing such evaluations is very hard for us. Our culture is more of community based rather than individualistic, so we tend to underestimate our work to favor community.' I'm going to email the student and hopefully get more of an explanation about this statement.

(On a related note- I've heard that it's hard to student groups to have true club elections- for students won't run against each other for fear of shaming the other person by beating them. I've also heard it's been hard to have a debate club on campus- for students don't want to shame the other person by pointing out the faults or errors in the other's arguments. Interesting.)

[Breaking News Alert- freak rain shower in progress here at 3 pm in May!]

Regarding the course, I received some positive feedback.
"I enjoyed this course very much. I learned about many solutions and systems that I have never heard about before. ...I would like to thank you for every thing you have done for us. Your feedbacks were very helpful and valuable to me. I hope to see you the next semesters."

"Thanks for the course again :) was fun thinking about the environment and not code design. If the same amount of smartness and work is put by students into environmental sustainability, there surely can be a change."

"I hope this course will continue and more students take it as its very interesting and fun learning at the same time. I found out very fascinating facts from the book we read and from class discussions."

"I really enjoyed the class and enjoyed doing the project"

"Thank you for the course , it was really [sic] benefical. "

"Thanks for a great mini course!!"

"I’d like to add that I really enjoyed the content and idea of this course, and wish it would have been a full semester course as that would have given us plenty more time to work on the final project. Thanks a lot for this course!"

I'll give my own assessment of the course when I have a little more time to think about it- but overall I think I achieved the original goal of having the students begin to recognize the importance and prevalence of systems in our everyday world.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Traveling to Jordan

I'm off in an hour and a half to Jordan for four days. I'll be traveling with my good friend Darbi and her hometown friend Anne. We plan to do the basics- Amman, Dead Sea, Petra, and Wadi Rum. Prior to living in Qatar- visiting Jordan would have made me more nervous- especially if you pay attention to everything the US State Department sends out.

However, I find that I seem to be one of the last people on campus still to visit Jordan. Those that have gone before came back with rave reviews, fun stories, and only praise. We'll see how it goes.

I'm about to give myself away when I'll say I knew nothing about Jordan until a week ago. Darbi suggested the trip and made most of the details and I simply booked a plane ticket. Only a few days ago did I realize what we will be visiting or what's in Jordan. (Petra is the ancient city built into the rock & where they filmed the ending scene of 'Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade'!)

I have to pack but I'll leave you with the Visit Jordan website- which is fairly well done and includes some great photos. Since the semester is done and I only have grading to do when I return to Doha, I will retroactively update folks on the events of the last month. I feel like one of those kids on a school trip who fills out the required travel journal at the end of the trip but I will do my best.

Friday, April 18, 2008

James' Take on the Country

Yes, I've been doing a very poor job of updating my blog. But there was India, and then post-India ickiness, then work, then oops- I need to catch up and then my boyfriend James is in town...and yeah. The excuses pile up. I'll fill you in later- I promise.

In the the meanwhile, here's a bit of James' impressions of Qatar. I asked my brother to write a similar entry of his impressions but being a busy college didn't so much happen.

"- It’s amazing how young the city is. The country was a poor herding/fishing region before they found oil. Now they have more money then they know what to do with. There’s a sense of urgency to build infrastructure and fast, in order to somehow make sure that the country does not become poor again. Because of how quickly the money came into the region, you definitely get the feeling that the area is still having an “identity crisis”, not quite knowing what it wants to truly be yet.

- If a building is old, it’s just torn down right there. I still have no idea where it goes, if anywhere. Like Rose’s brother Henry said, “This entire country looks like it’s under construction”.

- There’s dust everywhere. It’s a desert, for crying out loud. Don’t expect carpets, unless you have a team of Roomba’s working 24/7. And don’t expect to dust. The next morning, it’ll be like you didn’t do anything.

- You could easily live here for years and never learn Arabic. Everything in this country is in English and Arabic, and most everyone speaks some form of English. The school where Rose teaches is entirely in English, and the students here talk/gossip/behave exactly like college/high school students back in the States.

- The dress code is an odd mix of traditional Muslim thobes and Arizona retirement community. Expect a lot of golf shirts, capris, and khakis. And even if people are wearing traditional thobes, you can bet that they have on the latest from Gucci, DG, LV, or Gap/H&M (we can’t all live the high life) underneath.

- Driving done on the right hand side of the road, with the cars exactly like America. The roads are similar to Europe, however, with tons and tons of roundabouts. However, this is assuming there is even a road- some places in the area haven’t quite gotten there yet. SUVs are a good thing if you have one.

- Rose filled up her car with a half of a tank of Premium gas while we were on the way to a beach. Full Service, like in New Jersey. Total bill: 22 QR, or 5.72US. Just let that sink in for a moment.

- Prices are generally ridiculously cheap, unless you go to one of the many 4-star hotels- in which case they’re ridiculously expensive. However, due to the country’s low tolerance to drinking (read: none), those hotels are the only places you can get a cocktail.

- It’s hot here- generally 70-80F at night with a cool breeze, but 90-120F during the day. The country generally works from 9-12, then goes back home for 4 hours, and then works from 4-9. Most places are open until 10-11. Nighttime is a wonderful time to walk around and explore the city.

- In order to be more competitive with the Western world, the Emir in 2003 moved the work week from traditional Middle Eastern (Saturday-Wednesday) to Sunday-Thursday. Most “corporate” businesses also follow a 9-5 workday as well.

- The Education City where Rose works is one of the first places in the Middle East to use virtualization (VMware) for the infrastructure (IBM BladeCenters). I smell a Tech Consulting opportunity… :) (Yes, they also use Cisco switches, if you were interested)"

Monday, March 31, 2008

Looking Back on India..

I spent my Spring Break in India- one week of sights, sounds, smells, colors, food, heat, sun, and pollution. India was my down-fall in updating this blog. I wrote four entries before I left for the airport and then next to nothing afterward. I think I was hesitant to put my true impressions of India out on the web but now I believe it's important to be honest and not rosey about the experience. I still have mixed reactions to the trip.

On the plus side,
I've been to Asia.
We were able to put it together less than a month before we traveled.
The tour provided a relatively tame introduction to India (even if Irmgard later wanted the spontaneity and freedom).
We went before the bombing in Jaipur (at the exact spot we visited!).
I rode an elephant and a tuk-tuk (auto rickshaw).
I met some cool Brits, South Africans, Kiwis, a Scot, a Mexicana, and of course- Indians.
I can say I've seen the Taj Mahal and also the Lotus Temple (Baha'i).
I have more of an appreciation for everything I have and more of an understanding how problems in a nation such as India are not solved easily or quickly.
I found and purchased the exact wood-block print blankets that my family had and used as beach-blankets during my childhood. I associate the smell of those blankets with the beach and play-forts.
The Delhi metro is quite nice.
India is cheap!
The food was good.
Color! Color! Everywhere and practically nothing left unpainted!
I normally sweat like it's my job and yes, it was hella warm, but my punjabi tops kept me relatively cool and sun-burn free.
I got my brother some sweet birthday presents (an Indian cricket jersey and a mock-turban).

However, there were parts I wasn't crazy about or at the time proved too much and left me perfectly willing to leave India..
I've never witnessed extreme poverty and it was startling and upsetting.
There are a lot of people in India, all with a different definition of personal space. (Immediately in the Delhi airport guys queuing up in line for immigration stood and stayed right (touching) next to me and didn't bat an eye.)
Traffic can crawl. I think it took us two hours to crawl back into Delhi at the end of our trip.
Squat toilets (could be fine any other time of the month...)
Toilet attendants who give you paper to dry your hands and give you pleading eyes for a tip. I understand it's crucial to give someone even that small job, but it feels like slightly fancier begging and hard to comply when it's very difficult to get small bills in the country (this also may be a tourist problem).
Roads can be bad and or they just drive slower (in general) The ~225 km during one of our legs of our journey took ~5-7 hours (with an hour stop for lunch).
It's pretty dusty/dirty most everywhere (I heard this attributed to Indians focus on the family not the community, which is how you have spotless homes with piles of trash outside).
We received lots of aggressive touts and sales pitches and 'very good price! Excuse me- excuse me! Kama sutra- kama sutra? Bangles? Book of Taj Mahal-Delhi-Agra-Jaipur?' It gets old. I don't know how bad it would be if we weren't in a group.
As Western tourists, we were overcharged on autorickshaws, bike rickshaws, taxis, horse carriages, camel rides, etc. But it's still fairly cheap.
People piss/crap in the street. Animals shit, sleep, and die on the street. Near the end of the trip I just got sick of intense smells everywhere I went (food included).
There is trash EVERYWHERE. In both big cities and small sleepy villages. Never before have I had such a strong compulsion to clean something...
You need to only drink bottled water and even brush your teeth with it. I thought I had an iron stomach at the beginning of the trip as nothing had come up but later realize other plumbing wasn't working as it should. I had a nasty last day and a half in India and was fairly ill and delirious upon my return to Qatar. Imodium later helped... I wonder if it was the Thali meal I had our third to last day in India. I haven't really had Indian food since...

And things that weren't bad or good but just interesting...
Cows wander the street. They are sacred and are left to fend for themselves after they've stopped producing milk. People might feed them- but mainly they just eat whatever- shit wherever- and some people might collect the dung to make fuel.
Literary rate in India used to be 30%, it's now doubled to roughly 60%.
Qatar like a variable melting pot compared to India, where all you saw were Indians, Indians, Indians, and the tourists at the hot spots.
'Masala' does not necessarily indicate 'spicy' as in 'hot' but rather it literally means it has a lot of spices and therefore can be very flavorful (and sometimes hot).
I saw more camels in India than in Qatar.

I could possibly go back to India- see the Northern mountains, the southern areas, and the party spots (Goa comes to mind). However, I certainly do not feel the need to race back there as soon as I can. I had a taste of India and for now, it was enough for me.

For some visuals to go with my commentary, check out my India photos.
Also- check out the video of our trip made by Tom, a freelance videographer who traveled with us to make the video for OnTheGo Tours. I'm a few of the shots. :)

Friday, March 21, 2008

Updates 4: Arabic

Since I'm thinking I may be around a little longer, I'd like to get better at Arabic. Especially if I might need to work with Arabs in the country/region on environmental work. I'd like to know that I'm communicating clearly (as my run-in (literally) with the Egyptian proved earlier this month). Also- I'd like to have another language under my belt so I don't feel like a stupid American when interacting with other nationalities.

I already take 2 Arabic classes here through Carnegie Mellon- but that's only 4 hours a week of so-so curriculum. One class is only devoted to learning the alphabet for pete's sake. So I'd like to learn more and try to practice when I can.

I tried in the souqs, asking the football scarf vendor 'how do I say, 'how much?'' and Darbi and I ended up getting a half-hour Arabic lesson. ('They were totally flirting with us' as Darbi would put it). I also took out my sketchbook to prove to them that I can write the letters and then promptly forgot my sketchbook in the shop. That sketchbook held almost a year's worth of thoughts/musings/doodles and travel notes. I was bummed and went back the next day to recover the book- which I swore must be in the shop. No luck but I left my business card anyway. I was bummed.

1 week later I get a call, saying that my book had been found in the shop. And since he had found the book, I was to bring some 'sweet books'. Huh? I feared that this was some sort of come-on or that he was requesting porn. :/ I asked others what should I do, especially if I wanted to show my thanks but not send the wrong-messages. Others (Qataris) deemed a monetary reward would be insulting/weird and a gift would be awkward/unnecessary and suggested I just offer extreme thanks.

I showed up and he did indeed have my sketchbook. However, he asked, 'where are the sweets?' and made an eating motion. Oh that's what he meant! I quickly ran out and returned with 2 scoops of rich gelato as a thanks. He was appreciative and promptly handed over my book- pointing out that there was a message for me in it in Arabic (and a mobile number). It may very well be an Arabic love letter (it does include drawings of hearts) but I'd rather not find out right now. I'll figure that out after break.

After recovering the sketchbook, I swung by the Technical Care Center (an electronics store with the worst type tracking and horizontal/vertical stretching I've ever seen in a sign) and lingered for a long while over the electronic speaking dictionaries/translators. I had been attempting to look up Arabic words during class in my little fat student Arabic/English-English/Arabic dictionary and things had not been going well. So now I have a funny orange Nintendo-DS looking dictionary that can speak the words and also gives conversational phrases and could recite the Quran if I wanted.

Why plunk down the dough for a talking dictionary? Because I'm that serious about learning (I already have Rosetta Stone Levels 1-3). But to learn a language- you really need dedicate time and teacher-student interaction. So I'm proposing to take advantage of CMU-tuition reimbursement/assistance benefits and study Arabic at the University of Chicago this summer. If I took all 3 sessions- that would be 6.5 hours a day, 5 days a week, for 9 weeks. Whew! Hopefully I'd be as fluent as a kindergartner by that point! I'll also find out more details about that after break.

Speaking of break- I'd better get on that. Take care and Happy Easter!

Updates 3: Spring Break

I'll be in India in 12 hours!

Irmgard (CMU Math Post-doc) and I booked a tour online about 3 weeks ago- just a simple 8 day tour of the 'Golden Triangle'- Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. Yes, we'll get to see the Taj Mahal.
But other than that- we weren't too picky about where to go in India. "Just get us there" we said. And since neither of us had the time, energy, or knowhow to plan a trip to India, we ponied up the funds and simply booked our tour. We'll see how it goes.

So I will be MIA for the next week, as I am leaving my computer at home & setting up my automatic 'vacation response' within the hour. I'll post lots of pictures and stories when I get back. Happy Early Easter to the folks back home and I'm sorry to hear about the freak snow storm. (It was 88F here in Doha today. :) In India, it's suppose to be between 96-100 the entire time we're there- unseasonably warm.)

Updates 2: Design

The students wrapped up their designs for the LAS poster series last week and I've delayed in sharing some of their work with you. Below are a selection of the final posters. Their finished size is an A3 sheet of paper. Needless to say, I was please and pleasantly surprised with the results. (Dan Boyarski- who sat in on 3 of the crits, was also pretty impressed). Many of them went light years beyond their original design concepts or what they would typically see in the hallways here). I didn't have time to scan in the 'before' designs for you so I'll just have to press this upon you- these posters were designed by business, computer science, and information systems students. Some of the posters are pretty decent to begin with but when you realize these are not design students, and that many of these students have been working with the Adobe Creative Suite for less than 2 months- that's impressive.

Nasreen Zahan

Nida Ilahi

Noor Al-Maadeed

Rana El Sakhawy
Amna Jassim
Bayan Yousef Taha

Eatidal Al-Qatami

Hanoof Al-Thani

Maryam Khalil

Amal Badar Al-Barwani

Updates 1: Sustainability

Spring Break started today- so that of course meant students were scrambling this week to get things done. And if there was a class to miss, unfortunately my courses were often the courses to skip. I don't take it personally; I recognize the situation.

For the students that did show up Wednesday (the afternoon before the big 'Professional Day' and the day before the huge 'regression' exam), I gave them a bit of a break. I had planned to show "The Story of Stuff" and then make concept maps of the systems mentioned in the video. However, with half of the first section missing, I didn't very well want to re-teach the material later, so instead I slashed my lesson in half, created a new assignment (1 page response paper to the video) and allowed the students present to orally give their responses rather than having to write them. (As many of the students are non-native English speakers/writers, they tend to abhor writing assignments. Their oral presentation skills tend to be much better than their writing skills). We actually had some good discussions, as it was nice to see a glimmer of comprehension and emotional response in even the quietest and more distant students.

Also on the sustainability front, I recently submitted a proposal to CMU-Q Dean Chuck Thorpe for the creation of a 'Sustainability Coordinator' position and to consider me for the job. Yep- that means I'm thinking of another year (or two. or...) The following excerpt is from my proposal:

"Sustainability Coordinator:
This individual would be responsible for spearheading new sustainability initiatives in operations and academics, support and monitor current environmental enterprises, and coordinate efforts both internal and external to the campus community. The SC’s duties and influence would break down into four main categories; academics, operations, outreach, and visioning. "

I go on to list possible duties, such as teaching a few course, advising the student environmental group LiveGreen, act as liaison to Pittsburgh, work with faculty to incorporate and foster environmental learning in other courses, and generally coordinate all the environmental activity of CMU-Q.

Hopefully I'll have some sort of response waiting for me after Spring Break.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Urban Myths

On Sunday, I emailed the students the details for a short 24-hour design charrette assignment. I challenged them to come up with an engaging story using only 3 images and no words. The first image was to be an object, the second image was to be an action, and the third image was to be the effect/result, arranged in some way on an A3 sheet of paper. They could take their own images or find them on the Internet.

The results varied in complexity, readability, jumps in logic/comprehension, and one or two presented cultural discussion opportunities (one included a rotting brain, a protester holding a sign of Bush & Hitler and the words 'Kill People', and then a dead Arab child in his mother's arms).

However the one that struck me the most was an image of Starbucks, then people holding a Starbucks coffee cup, and then a bloodied, wounded crying child with a bandage around his head. I was thoroughly perplexed and asked another student to explain this image story to the class. Without hesitation, she explained that the image was an injured Palestinian child, pointing out a faded image of a Palestinian flag imposed on the corner of the image. The class explained to me that the Starbucks CEO is Jewish and Zionist, and a portion of Starbucks profits go to support the war against Palestine. (The British-based Marks & Spencers' support of Israel also came up.) So- did everyone see that story in this series of images? Of a class of 18, only 3 people (myself included) did not see that story in the images. Some students reported that they do not purchase Starbucks coffee (of which there is a location in our building) because of this story. 'Why do other Arab students purchase the coffee then?' Perhaps it doesn't bother them as much was the answer.

Instead of focusing on the legitimacy of the story (because I had never heard this before and could not comment on its validity), I focused on the jumps of logic the image story required of the viewer and what the images actually conveyed. Later, I mentioned this incident to Darbi who works in Carnegie Mellon Student Affairs. She sighed and said that story was the result of a hoaxed email forwarded by another student last semester. The email was a hoax but many students saw it out of context and had strong responses to it.

This morning I did a bit of my own research on the topic and sent the following email to my students:

"Because it intrigued me- I did an Internet search on the issue of Israel and Starbucks and found the following links suggesting that the story appears to be an urban legend of sorts:

Also- interesting enough- Starbucks does not have coffeehouses in Israel any more...

So the particular picture story using Starbucks and an injured Palestinian child could reflect a spoof of a story, rather than a story itself."

I'll be curious to see how this image story gets revised for tomorrow's class.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

What are the issues?

Before I began my two sections of 51-276: 'Examining Sustainability in the Gulf' last week, I gave the students a questionnaire, asking basic details about their background, expectations, and whatnot. However I also asked them to list what they perceive as the top 3 issues/problems/challenges facing 1) the world? 2) the region (or their home county)? 3) Qatar? 4) themselves? It was enlightening to see the answers and gives me hope that their interest will be sustained in the course.

What are the 3 biggest issues/problems/challenges facing...
the world?
peace; poverty; illness; hunger; global warming; terrorism; animal extinction; pollution; energy; World War III; America; self-interests & self-disputes; pharmaceutical companies; democracy; modern economic framework; world politics & corruption; inequity of wealth distribution; starvation in Southern African countries

the region? (or your home country?)
education; oil/petrol; America; labor rights; wars in Iraq/Palestine; population increase; unemployment; politics; money allocation; poverty; ethnic/social integration; goods smuggling; global warming; pollution; inflation; dust; traffic; illiteracy; development; economy; civil war; international intervention; high cost of living; religious intolerance; corruption; immigrants; ignorance

environment; education; labor rights; expats; roads/traffic; public transit; obesity; uncivilized behavior; global warming; pollution; population; cost of living; planning & development; liquid natural gas production; developing the economy; immigrants; health care; Qatarization; oil; ignorance; inflation

programming; time management; laziness; pressure to study; lack of sleep; surviving CMU; shyness; desire to succeed; future career; Dean's List; low self-confidence; family pressure; finding like-minded people; losing weight; high grades; speaking problems; procrastination;

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Film! Passion! Controversy!

We're now in week 3 of the LAS Faculty Film Series. My design students are working through the complexities of designing an engaging movie poster for the remaining movies and I extended the deadline to this Wednesday. However, the architecture professors are showing 'Blade Runner' this Wednesday, so we needed to get something up for 'Blade Runner' soon. A very driven student, Mena Assad, dedicated himself to finishing a poster ahead of time and completed it today. We edited some details, discussed the colors, and printed/trimmed 35 copies. At least 15 of them are up in the building right now. (The image here is the near-final, as I do not have the final PDF yet).

I just received an email that the poster appears to be creating some controversy. The part in question is the yellow bar containing the word 'Passion' and a obscured image of a kiss. Apparently it's been deemed 'inappropriate' by some students. I wondered what is the main objection- the word, the image, or both? We've determined that it's probably the image and jokingly said we could put 'censor' bars over their 'lips' (?) if things become really controversial. However all this 'controversy' could fuel increased awareness about the event and possibly boast attendance. We'll see.

The thing that strikes me about this are the conflicting messages within the culture. As I mentioned before, kisses  or embraces can't be shown but we can play songs about a woman's anatomy in the grocery store? We can't show a very stylized still from a movie but students can watch 'Desperate Housewives' and 'Sex and the City'? Movies and TV shows are censored here (downloaded ones probably are not)- so you don't see sex or kisses or nudity on TV or in the theaters- but that doesn't change the fundamental moral message of a show like 'Desperate Housewives'. With this poster- one could argue that it's a very obscured 'kiss' and also that if a student objects- then he/she doesn't have to see the movie.

I have never seen 'Blade Runner' or another future LAS Faculty Film Series film, 'Cold Mountain'. However, someone marveled that we would show 'Cold Mountain', given that there are some very suggestive scenes in it. Curious to see how 'Blade Runner' compared to 'Cold Mountain', I looked up the sex/nudity rating of both films online. 

The result? 
Blade Runner-5
Cold Mountain- 7

However the posters currently in development for 'Cold Mountain' are much tamer, while 'Blade Runner' host Professor Kelly Hutzell described these posters as an "accurate portrayal of the movie." So will it be ok to hide the sex/nudity/gore of one movie while honestly expressing the extent of it in another? We shall see.

Friday, March 7, 2008

My Brother's Visit to Qatar- the abridged version

Feb. 29- Lunch with Dan Boyarski at the City Center Mall. My brother Henry arrives that evening in Doha. We unsuccessfully try to find a BBQ at Qatar Foundation Housing and then pass out.

Mar. 1- Bill Brown Memorial Ride early AM. I bike 46 km in total from Doha Golf Club to Simaisma Bridge. My brother- on the small loaner bike, rides 26 km to Lusail. See some pics from the event. Henry passes out and then goes to see 'Vantage Point' at the City Center Mall. I help LiveGreen (CMU-Q's student environmental group) prepare for the next day. I stay up too late preparing for my own speech.

Mar. 2- I give a ~20 minute presentation ('The Opportunities of Sustainability") 2 times at Qatar University's " Go Green. Change Our Future" كن صديقاً للبيئة. غير مستقبلنا Conference (Women only). I'm in at least 2 English papers and apparently some Arabic papers the next day (See The Gulf Times & The Peninsula). My brother heads back to City Center Mall with a student of mine, only to accidentally have my car keys in his pocket. We sort it out, do some food shopping, cook a veggie dinner and call it another early night.

Mar. 3- I give my presentation twice again (Males Only), teach my communication design class, teach my first section of 'Examining Sustainability in the Gulf', add another section of it, discover CMU-Q accidentally sent my textbooks back and we've now ordered them to arrive with the Pittsburgh students this Saturday. Henry and I play volleyball with the students, faculty, & staff. We then head to the souqs, Henry purchases souvenirs, and we have Iraqi food.

Mar. 4- I go to Arabic class, do some work at school, & swap my sedan with Darbi/Greg's SUV so my brother and I can go find the 'Singing Dunes'. I tell Henry I'm on my way home (we communicated via email, 2 American cell phones, 1 Qatari cell phone with mixed results). I leave Education City and pull into traffic too soon, getting slammed in the back, smashing up a little blue car driven by two Egyptians that don't speak English. We wait ~3 hours for the police to come to file a report. One tank of gas, one traffic department, 2 reports, 12 riyals, and 1.5 hours later and I'm finally back home to my stranded (and ill-informed) brother. In the fading light we attempt to find the Singing Dunes but no luck. Henry and I go with Greg and his visiting girlfriend Sophie to pick up Turkey Central. We eat at Greg's and then they watch movies at Greg's place. I work.

Mar. 5- We plan to get my brother to the Qatar National Museum for the morning and have him join me in the afternoon (after my classes). We have conflicting reports of whether the museum is open, closed, partially-open and can't confirm any details. We find the place deserted and later learn it won't be open to the public until November. After some phone calls- we learn the Weapons Museum is now open to the public and will be open until noon. We call, confirm, and then unsuccessfully try to find the place. Back at campus, we're given exact directions of how to get there- we head back out again and Henry books a cab for the ride back. We arrive- it looks nice- clean- legit. I bid Henry farewell and then he runs back, saying it's closed. I throw my hands up. At this point Henry begins to truly realize what it means to live in Doha and that while a decent place to live, Doha is not primed for tourists yet. I teach 3 classes (my sustainability course now has 20 students in two sections)- Henry relaxes. I secure a GPS from Justin & Marjorie and in the fading light Henry and I set out for the Singing Dunes again. 45 km from the city, we find the dunes and by flashlight we hike towards them on foot (as I have my sedan again and it would have not been happy on the rocks). It was eerie to make the dunes hum and vibrate at our footsteps and even eerier that we only had a flash-light at this point. We did see some fantastic stars.

Mar. 6- I skip out on Arabic class and Henry and I do tourist shopping. We purchase a photo book for Grammy and Henry picks up some foodstuffs at the Carrefour (as well as some helpful new sandals). We head back to City Center and pick up some carmel and stuffed dates at Bateel. We find time running short and Henry cheerfully suggests trying the 'McArabian' chicken pita-sandwich at McDonald's. I agreed because yes- technically it's a cultural experience. Like many McDonald's products- while initially tasty, the meal leaves us feeling disgusting. I'm done with McDonald's in Qatar. We're signed up with 5 others for an 8-hour desert cruise with QIA. Two others not from CMU-Q would also join us. We set up the night before for them to pick the CMU-Q folks up a little later due to other's time conflicts. The driver calls us up 45 minutes early demanding to know where we were. After some semi-heated phone calls and calls to the company, we clear it up and the 2 other tourists don't appear mad at us. We drive off, ride camels (20QAR each), bash dunes, feel like we're about to tip the car (it was our driver's first time- greeeeeeeeeaaat), collect sea shells, attempt to sand board (sounds like a better idea than it actually is) , hear a helicopter air-lifting someone who flipped their quad-bike on the dunes, have a BBQ on the beach, and then drive back in the dark.

Mar. 7- We got Henry to the airport (almost the wrong airport- Qatar is building a new airport and they already have signs up for it. Thanks Qatar.) by 6:30 am. I see him checked in, bid him farewell, drive home, and sleep for another couple hours. I think I plan to use this weekend to recover from his vacation.

Lessons learned:
-Very few of the students have environmental exposure.
-Give your expat host more than a week to plan.
-The tourist experience here leaves something to be desired.
-GPS in the desert is good.
-Wear sunscreen.
-Avoid McDonald's (my stomach still isn't very happy).
-Call. Confirm. But don't be surprised if things change.
-Always check your pockets.
-If you have to teach a difficult/boring/unpopular subject, offer it as a 4th quarter mini course so that students who fail other courses, drop those classes and then desperately need units pack your course.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Oh- did I mention?

...that Dan Boyarski (Head of the Carnegie Mellon-Pittsburgh School of Design) arrives in Doha tonight to participate in VCU-Q's 'Tasmeem' Design Conference next week? And he'll be siting in/TAing 2-3 of my Communication Design classes?

...that my 19-year old brother arrives tomorrow night to spend his first collegiate spring break in a dry-Middle Eastern country with his big sister? It will also be his first time in the Middle East.

...that I've been biking on Friday afternoons with a group of cyclists, through heat, sun, wind, and sand, riding on the loaner bike, which turns out to be the old bike of the renowned and sadly departed Bill Brown (CMU-Pgh and CMU-Q Bio Professor who died last July)? Or that I am signed up to bike 68 km (48 mi) from Doha to Al-Kohr in the
Bill Brown Memorial Bike Ride on his old bike this Saturday morning?

...that I've been taking two Arabic classes in the mornings, each 1 hour, each twice a week- with one class focusing on learning the alphabet (which I already learned at a class last fall in Washington DC) and the other on writing and reading sentences? (It's a little advanced and I would be entirely lost if I hadn't been working on Rosetta Stone)

...that I've been taking Spanish Level 2 classes here at CMU-Q? (The term 'taking' is used loosely here- the class meets 4 times a week and I often show up 2-3 times a week- although I only went once this week... :/ )

...that I'm giving a half hour presentation 4 times this Sunday and Monday at Qatar University's " Go Green. Change Our Future" كن صديقاً للبيئة. غير مستقبلنا Conference, presenting to a minimum total of 2,100 people?

...that the 'Examining Sustainability in the Gulf' mini course starts this Monday, and that I've had numerous inquiries into the course and received enthusiastic interest? I just received an email stating that "Me and my friends want to joing this mini course so badly, but unfortunately the timing is bad since others and I have a class that starts at 2:30". I responded that if the demand was high enough, I'd consider requesting to create another section of the course... Imagine that!

So- yeah. I didn't mention any of that? Sorry- I've been meaning to blog on that for a while now... :)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Control Room

The LAS Faculty Film Series opened this evening with a showing of the documentary 'Control Room' (viewable in full-length video here). It's a 2004 documentary showcasing the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera news network's reporting of the 2003 United States invasion of Iraq. It was made by an Egyptian-American woman Jehane Noujaim, who turns out is a childhood friend of fellow visiting architecture professor Rami el Samahy.

It's a very powerful, moving, and well-made documentary. I watched the first hour last week to get a sense of the film before creating a poster to advertise the film. The line that stood out to me the most was from the widow of an Al-Jazeera reported killed by American missiles. She implores the group of reporters at the press conference on her husband's death to 'please tell the truth'. Thing is- there can be many 'truths'.

Al-Jazeera's station is located across the street from LAS Building here at Education City. I recall hearing Darbi recount her visit to the Al-Jazeera TV network over a year ago and felt fear in my heart. Wait- wasn't that the network that showed bin Ladan? The network we Americans were told is the mouthpiece of the Taliban (a name I now know as derived from the Arabic word for 'student')? And they have a children's network?! What were you thinking?!

After learning more about the region, Islam, and Qatar in particular, I have no such mental fears or misconceptions about the network. It's the local and regional news station- the one that Mehran- the Georgetown CIRS director across the hall, speaks at occasionally. Or whose English-language station that Darlene- the English professor down the hall (who hosted 'Control Room' this evening) is researching with some students (they are evaluating if the newly launched Al-Jazeera English channel is producing as quality journalism as it professes). It's just a news network to me now. But after watching this documentary, I also find them to be an admirable one at that, showing realities the US networks failed to show.

(side note- I meant to end this post an hour ago- but in searching for a site for this entry, I quickly found myself treading through a variety of related topics, from Sudan baning Danes over the Muhammad cartoons, to the condemnations of John Esposito of Georgetown's work on Islam (I saw him speak recently, previewing his new book 'Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims really Think'-based on the largest Gallup pole ever), to a sites watching 'Dhimmis' and 'Jihads' and detailing the violence of Islam. Seeing how drastically this contrasts to the Muslims I work with daily and with my own research into the religion, I feel ill now).

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

National Geographic's Take on Qatar 4 Years Ago

In attempting to track down a printed version of National Geographic's EarthPulse project (supposedly it exists-but my sources in the States can't confirm and NG's website has not been helpful), I discovered the National Geographic page for Qatar.

The page has some standard history bits and facts and figures, but links to an article on Qatar what I believe was a 2003 issue of National Geographic (also not very clear- poor User Interface NG *tsk *tsk). The article, "Revolution from the top down: soon to be the world's richest nation, tiny Qatar--a key U.S. ally in the Persian Gulf--steers toward the modern world"
(only available in partial form on NG- the full article may be viewed on other article sites) includes additional images and media, including video on how to correctly pronounce 'Qatar'. No, it's not 'Qa-tar' as in 'guitar' (or 'Qatar Hero'- some folks back in Chicago never found that joke old) ; nor is it 'Cutter'. The best way I can describe its pronunciation in Arabic is make the make the 'Q' more guttural and also move the 't' sound from the front of your mouth to your throat. Also- the 'ar' or 'tar' is very short, so it sounds like 'ter' to English-speaking ears but still is a very short 'a' sound. That's as best as I can understand it. I plan to do my own mini-audio documentation of how folks pronounce 'Qatar' here, highlighting that even in the nation there's a wide-variety of pronunciations.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Examining Sustainability in the Gulf Region

So after the inability to launch 'Designing Sustainable Systems' at the start of the semester, I set about reworking the semester-long course into a half-semester 'mini' course (6 units). Re-titled 'Examining Sustainability in the Gulf Region', it will introduce the concept of sustainability, systems thinking, sustainable issues and solutions and how those solutions may be adapted or completely rethought to the unique environment and societies found in the Gulf. (Note that it's the 'Arabian Gulf', not the 'Persian Gulf'). This course will be half lecture (me rattling on) and half research/seminar. I don't know what sustainability means to this region; that's what I hope to learn along with the students.

My course already has at least 4 registered with at least 2-3 other considering it. That's not bad- it's roughly 2-4% of the student body. One has to remember the proportions and sizes are different here, changing expectations for class sizes. 2% in PGH that would mean a course of at least 100 undergrads. By comparison, my CDF course has 18 students, or roughly 11% of CMU-Q's student body. Wow.

Below is my current description for the course to be listed on the CMU Course Schedule:

"Over the last couple of decades, humanity has become increasing aware of the complexity and interconnectedness of our world. We now recognize that our actions impact the earth around us and this in turn can affect the planet's ability to support life. The challenge of our time is to balance human growth and development with planetary limits, considering how our societies and world will be sustained into the future. This minicourse examines sustainability as it applies to the Gulf Region, dividing the course into two main parts. The first half of the class will introduce students to the concepts and principles of sustainability and systems thinking, examining how ecological, economic, and social systems interactions are crucial to a sustainable world. Using readings, movies, and lectures, we will review key environmental/social issues and sustainable solutions from around the globe. In the second part of the class, we will examine and define key issues and solutions as they apply to environments and societies of Arabian Gulf region. Students will then pick a topic to investigate further, applying the design method to define, research, and develop a unique solution to a sustainability problem faced in the region. Students will refine their findings in the form of a final project to be presented at Meeting of the Minds at the end of the semester."

The class starts next week and runs for seven weeks. We meet Monday and Wednesday for an hour and half and I'm capping the class at max. 15 students (hoping for a few less- I'll be tickled with 8-10). I'm looking forward to it, as it's a new subject for many of these students and one that I enjoying discussing. I'm also extremely interested in their findings and how that information can be used in future projects. I'll keep you updated as the class develops.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Al Zubarah Fort

So this was technically a trip from last weekend but I found myself waiting for my computer, camera, internet and free time to all be in the same place at the same time. Considering it's already the end of another weekend, I had better hop to it.

A group of 6 of us headed out a week ago to go visit 'the forts in the desert', supposedly ones you didn't need a SUV to visit. This was good as most of us have sedans and were too cheap to spring for the extra 500 US a month to rent a SUV instead. We piled into a sedan and a station wagon and headed out.

Our main destination was Al Zubarah fort in the NW corner of the country (we literally drove half-way across the country!) Supposedly it had been used as a fort until the 1980s and now contained a little museum inside. Other remains and forts were nearby as well. Our directions were a little lacking and encouraged us to either have GPS or a compass- thankfully one car did have GPS. The drive only took us an hour, past a lot of very flat and partially developed sand. Not much to see.

Turns out, overall, the forts weren't much to see either. Al Zubarah was nicely preserved (should be- as it was reconstructed in the 1930s!) but simple. It was four walls, 4 towers, surrounding a 2 story courtyard. The "museum" was a few faded photographs and some dusty glass cases of some rusty old coins found in the nearby Al Zubarah town. The towers had either bird dung or dead birds but one did allow you to crawl up the wood rung ladder and view the sea to the North. That was fun but the wind was so strong that day it threatened to blow you away.

As long as we were up North we wanted to see something else for our travels, so we headed to the remains of the Al Zubarah town. There wasn't much there- some town and building walls sticking out of the sand. However, the sand itself was the most fascinating part to me- it was thoroughly filled with tiny shells- some clam shape, some conch-esque. I had to walk very carefully so not to fill my sandals with the rough forms.

Not quite satisfied, our group decided to try another fort, hoping this one would really round out the afternoon. As we drove back West and closer to the water- we noticed this huge plum of black smoke in the distance, wind moving it away at a rapid pace. Turns out it was a dump burning garbage and my heart sank to just think of what might be in that rubbish and now in the air.

This second fort lay over an unpaved road of rocky and sand. We temporarily abandoned one sedan to pile into the 4x4 station wagon for the rest of the way to the fort. This one was supposedly older than Al Zubarah but for my money, looked even newer! I wonder if by newer they meant reconstructed in 1930 as opposed to 1935... It supposedly at one point guarded natural springs nearby and we did see farming. (Along with some interesting farm/barn architecture and solar panels!) This fort was the exact same shape as the other one and even more covered in bird dung. By this point I had had about enough of the forts and sand in my mouth, so I opted to head back early with Zaher, CS PhD candidate . The rest decided to find the third fort. Zaher and I had the last laugh when the other group phoned to say they went to the GPS coordinates for the third fort and found practically nothing there! (In seeing others photos of the third fort- it appears something is there-but nothing we had not seen already).

I'm glad I went out and saw more of the country but I don't think I'll need to head back up that way until they complete the Friendship Bridge between Qatar and Bahrain.

*Few of my photos from the trip
*Check out photos of the trip from fellow explorers:
Justin & Marjorie