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

Friday, February 22, 2008

Vacuum Yourself Before Heading to UAE

In researching flight costs to nearby locations, I stumbled upon this article from The Independent, detailing how an UK TV-executive is facing 4 years of jail time in the United Arab Emirates for 'possessing' an amount of cannabis that weighed less than a grain of sugar. Authorities found 0.03 grams of hashish in the bottom of his bag, an amount not even visible to the naked eye.

One could take this as a freak and extreme interpretation of the law or a misunderstanding, but according to the article, 9 British Nationals have already been jailed in UAE for drug charges. One of those individuals was jailed for a speck of cannabis found on the bottom of his shoe.
This from the same country where I see Facebook photos of Arabs hammered at bars and clubs in Dubai? Hmm.

This story reminds me of how careful expats or travelers sometimes feel they need to act in this region or even here in Qatar. Simply flipping the finger or even the suspicion that one is publicly intoxicated or driving with alcohol on one's breath can get one deported. In a dispute, the Qatari word holds more weight against an expat word- so much so that one fellow expat is scared to death of even honking at another car for fear of being reported and deported. I previously thought this outlook extreme but the UAE story made me pause. It seems all I can do is just keep doing my best to be polite, respectful, drive safely, and make sure to vacuum my person before I head to UAE.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Getting back in the designer saddle

Before I came to Doha, I worked at the Alliance to Save Energy in Washington D.C., in their Building Codes Assistance Project (BCAP). I researched building energy legislation, efficient building case studies, and helped restructure the information architecture of their website. I also helped coordinate a conference for the Commercial Building Initiative (CBI), aimed at advancing the efficiency of commercial buildings. It wasn't much of a design job, but then again, that wasn't why I went to Washington.

At the end of my design education at Carnegie Mellon, I wasn't sure how keen I was to be in design, to be a designer. My interests seemed to be focused more on environmental topics and less on pushing pixels. I wasn't sure that graphic or communication design was for me. I found myself drawn to the bigger picture, bigger-system-level design, and at the time I thought that meant environmental policy, perhaps even a policy or law degree. (I even took a practice LSAT). So I went to try it out as the Alliance. I also wanted to see what, if anything, I would miss from design.

During that time, I looked up obscure 'Residential Energy Code Ordinances', calculated the difference between Energy Star and HERS ratings, and searched numerous House and Senate Bills. It a little alarming to discover that I did find researching legislation scarily enjoyable at times. However, I mainly found myself aching for something visual, some software beyond 'Photoshop Effects', for the opportunity to create something. Thus I was more than happy to mock-up BCAP's new website or develop an visual identity for the CBI conference. It was refreshing and it felt good to be of use to this NGO. I left DC with more uncertainty about policy and a renewed optimism about design. I figured my time in Qatar would be a good place to experiment.

They say if you want to jump start your thinking, your work, your creativity, teach. And it's true. When I assign exercises, I imagine my own solutions to the problems. I see fresh wonder, excitement, and ideas from my non-major students and it invigorates me. And, as the only design faculty in Education City outside of those at Virginia Commonwealth University next door, I do feel the need to prove myself. So I willingly volunteered to design the overall event poster for the upcoming Carnegie Mellon 'Liberal and Social Science' (LAS) Faculty Film Series. LAS Faculty are basically anyone not in computer science or business- such as language, history, English, science, architecture, and * design *.

Carnegie Mellon is currently housed in the LAS Building with a very distinctive tangram-like pattern on both the exterior and interior. I turned to this architectural language as the basis for film series mark and the initial A3-sized poster. I am also slated to design 2 other posters before having my students design the rest as an assignment (sshh- they don't know yet!).

Sunday, February 17, 2008

First Major Assignment (Aka Rosie Learns How to Grade)

My Communication Design Fundamental students turned in their first major assignment last week and I just now finished my grading. Grading is confusing enough when you're a TA (do you have the authority to be harsh? Are you the good cop/bad cop?) but more daunting when you're grading on your own for the first time. Am I too harsh? Is this fair? How much will they care or compare? And I too easy?

As I design student, I only cared about grades for the first semester or so- afterwards I quickly realized grades don't matter and it was more the quality of my work/portfolio and how I present myself. However, that is not the case with non-majors, especially non-majors that have not taken this sort of course before. I'm expecting some responses and some concern from students- but we'll see.

Their assignment was to visually interpret the definition of a pair of words randomly assigned to them, using only letterforms or punctuation as illustration. The words were roughly opposite verbs, such as dodge/confront or clap/hiss.

In order to combat grading arguments, I presented them with a rubric beforehand, clearly telling them what I would be looking at and grading on their final work. The five main categories were: quantity/quality of process, use of letterforms/punctuation, conveys word meaning (we focused on showing the action of the word, not the noun definition), composition (of individual and the two designs combined), and typeface selection(s). Being a product of Carnegie Mellon Design, they received a process and an overall grade. For this assignmnet I didn't include the process grade in their overall grade but they could clearly see that a lack of process in the future will really bring down an otherwise great piece.

Below are some examples from the class. Remember- this is the first design class for many of these students and the majority of them are using Illustrator (or using it more thoroughly) for the first time. Since the class only meets for 1 hour and 20 minutes twice a week and we have 18 students in the class, we didn't have time to focus on the two compositions together- so some of the examples are only one of the student's two designs.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

V-Day in Qatar

Happy Valentine's Day everyone (special love to James).

Interestingly enough, I noticed a bit more Valentine's Day hoopla than I was expecting- the Hyatt Plaza mall had a huge display/shopping section with large balloons, candy displays, and the Hallmark and Giant Food store had cards, stuffed animals and candies as well. I wondered how much of the local population participated in V-Day or how much of it was for the expats. I did notice some Arab/Qatari men in the Valentine's day section and did notice how some of the V-Day cards had cheeky British humor- so perhaps it was a mix. CMU-Q's Fine Arts Club and Culture Club were even selling and delivering roses for 8QAR each ($2.20 each). I was initially surprised that they were selling roses at all, for it seemed very liberal and somewhat anti-Muslim.

Turns out my initial impression was correct. I was prepare to plunk down some dough for roses for my coworkers when I heard a rumor that one particular student (male Qatari) was completely against the Rose Sale and harassing the students organizing the sale. He argued that Valentine's Day and the Rose Sale in particular, could be seen as promoting immoral relations between unmarried individuals- it was too amorous. He made them feel like they were being 'bad' Muslims. The organizers bowed to this pressure and withdrew their support of the sale. The sale was canceled and customers received refunds.

Shortly after receiving the email that the Sale was canceled (we have a very open communication policy- students, faculty, and staff regularly send out emails to the entire school- like a recent one regarding a fitness challenge, to which the Dean and faculty began to 'reply to all' and playfully trash-talk. Another difference between here and the main Pittsburgh campus). Where was I? After hearing about the cancellation of the Rose Sale, I found this article on, detailing how 'Saudi Arabia bans all things red ahead of Valentine's Day'. According to the article, "Every year, officials with the conservative Muslim kingdom's Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice clamp down on shops a few days before February 14, instructing them to remove red roses, red wrapping paper, gift boxes and teddy bears. On the eve of the holiday, they raid stores and seize symbols of love." It's certainly not as strict here in Qatar, but as our canceled Rose Sale suggests, religion and morality still play a huge part in daily life here.

However, it's curious to note what gets censored and what is freely distributed. I've been shopping in Carrefour Grocery store and heard songs with 'mothaf*cker','n*gga-what' & 'b*tch'. Recently Darbi and I were driving by a Burger King and heard them blaring through the children's play area a song using a host of descriptive names for female genitalia. Hmm. So it's ok to sing about these things but not ok to have suggestive material? Or do they not recognize the words for what they are- the slang goes in one ear and out the other? Considering the censorship of websites and reading material, I am surprised that the songs are not censored as well.

Ah- well. Roses aside, there is still a decent amount of chocolate floating around- both my parents and my Grandma sent me over 2 lbs of Fannie May chocolate candies and a coworker just gave me a liquor-filled chocolate truffle (shh- don't tell anyone) ;) Grammy also sent over a huge tin of gumdrops and conversation hearts, which I brought to class yesterday and my students devoured. The gumdrops may have been haram (forbidden to Muslims) due to the inclusion of gelatin (which may or may not have been made from pork) but I left that decision up to students. Many of them ate the gumdrops anyhow, but whether out of ignorance or conscious decision, I don't know.

Anyhow- Happy V-Day!

(Later: I just found this NYTimes Op-Ed by a Saudi graduate student studying in Chicago- giving more details about her experience with Saudi Arabian Valentine's Day- an enlightening read.)

Monday, February 11, 2008

Education City in the NYTimes again!

Today's NYTImes featured another article on Qatar's Education City and included extensive quotes from CMU-Q students and faculty.

CMU-Q's Dean Chuck Thorpe points out that students in this country hadn't been challenged with critical thinking questions before or were hesitant to criticize. I had also read something similar in 'Understanding Arabs' by Margaret K. Nydell prior to my arrival in Qatar. After meeting with the language and academic resource staff at our new faculty- orientation at the start of the semester, I wondered and worried how my students would respond to the critique-style classes. Would they speak up? Would they think I was being too mean? Would they criticize each other's work? How would they move beyond 'I think it's nice'? Or would I spend a lot of time talking to myself and them staring at me? 

I pleased to say it hasn't been like that at all. They challenge my response. They have responses different from each other. We focus on the work rather than the person. I stress the critiques are to improve the work and that feedback is critical to creating better work. 'Ask others. Ask your peers. Try it out. See what happens.' 

They had an assignment due today and the final revisions and process book of their work due Wednesday- I'll post the better solutions later this week. We had a quick critique before moving on to discussing categories and hierarchy and I found them animated, opinionated, critical and encouraging. They were able to critically evaluate the effectiveness of the design solutions and weren't immediately seduced by software filters and tricks. They've begun to learn to edit, to limit the number of bells and whistles they employ. And some of them have done some really great work.

I realize I've fallen into the what I previously perceived as the annoying design professor trait of giving feedback without really answering the question, 'What should I do Professor?'. I don't tell them outright what they should do; I provide insight, suggestions, and alternative ways of approaching the problem. I do offer more software assistance than I ever received in college and I've found it helpful to keep print out of Adobe Illustrator and Indesign tool menu handy. I believe design software is a tool but can also be a hindrance. Especially when one is learning the software for the first time, one tends to create designs that one knows how to execute on the computer. By offering software assistance, I can help them focus on creating a better design than fretting about how they will create what they envision. Classical design education and software skills need to go hand in hand, something that I eventually realized over my own undergrad design education. 

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Carnegie Mellon Qatar featured in NYTimes

Head over to and check out the article on American Universities setting up international campuses. You can also send questions to CMU-Q's Dean Chuck Thorpe. Also- note the great image of Carnegie Mellon's current 'campus' on the article's front page (the student on the left is Khalid Al Sooj, a student in my CDF class). This is the inside of the LAS building in Education City- the student lounge are the yellow-colored spaces in the image (behind the students). The stairs pictured lead up to the first level (it's not the second floor- first floors are ground floors here and second floors are first floors) where administration and faculty have their offices. 

If you were to take those stairs up, veer left and keep following it around, aiming as straight as possible for another corridor or two- you end up at my office- A121, waaay in the back and right near the women's bathroom and the border with Georgetown.

There's only 3 other CMU-Q faculty over here; Silvia, an Uruguayan who teaches English (literature) and immigration studies (and sometimes Spanish-along with her Swedish but Spanish-teaching husband Eric- they just announced they are expecting in September- congrats!); Amel, who teaches writing and is the only Qatari female professor in Education City, and Darlene, a American PhD candidate who teaches English literature as well.  Our CMU-Q outpost borders Georgetown's CIRS offices- the CIRS director Mehran (Iranian) and I share a horrible sweet tooth and often exchange sweets.

My office is a decent size and has four tiny windows (at least I can see outside). It's lit with two massive overhead lights than I often leave off and only utilize my bookshelf lights. I've finally decorated with a mix of 'Advice to Sink in Slowly' prints, a Rasterbator print of Chicago, and map of Doha circa 2002. I hope to get a large push-pin board shortly so I can tack up even more visuals. My office is also often freezing despite me stacking boxes, papers, junk on top of the numerous floor vents. I often leave a sweater and a shawl in my office for such chill attacks.

Additional images of the LAS building, such as our cafeteria where I sometimes buy a complete (huge) meal for 11 QAR ($3.02 US) are viewable at this NYTimes image gallery.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Iraqi Dinner at the Souqs

Darbi and I have meant to go to the souqs (market place) for Iraqi food for about a week now and last night both our schedules aligned and we headed off into the Thursday night traffic for the souqs. Recall that the weekends here are Friday & Saturday, so Thursday night is similar to a Friday night back home- intersections are packed, families are out, workers have the next day off and you're generally waiting 2-3 lights to make it through some of the busier intersections. Took us about 30-40 minutes to get there and find parking, not aided by the fact that we got lost in the one-ways and twisting and turnings of the older city streets. 
I have only heard of the souqs but had never visited this shopping area until last evening. It's an outdoor market with very narrow pedestrian only streets- similar to older Arabian cities. Small shops and stalls line every narrow street- reminds me of the touristy Plaka neighborhood of Athens. The souqs look weathered and authentic but don't be fooled- it's all brand new. It was built to look old and authentic- a 'Disneyed' souq if you will. We parked outside and wandered in, past the brilliant colored lights and cameras recording Qatari men signing and playing music, past the sheesha smokers (flavored tobacco water pipes) and found the Iraqi restaurant. We opt to sit outside for a view of the open-fire bbq, the people watching, and the fact that it was only 12 C or 54 F. (My apologies to readers in the Midwest United States who received 10 inches of snow in 6 hours). :)

We started with a parsley flavored-hummus (I failed to document the names of the dishes- my apologies) with copious amounts of huge soft/crispy flat bread and tall glasses of lemon-mint juice. Our waiter recommended a dish that were 3 balls of spiced-meat mixture encased in couscous and served with a red sauce. Fantastic. He also recommended a traditional Iraqi preparation of lamb (some part of the lamb spine) on a bed of rice, with some small (saffron?) flavored noodles?veggies?dunno? and served with veggies in another red sauce and stewed black eyed peas with dill and what I thought I recognized as molokhia from my previous cooking experience. Very, very good food. We noted how fresh and comparatively healthy our meal was compared to typical American fare. A huge bowl of whole fruits arrived after our meal and I snagged a banana for my breakfast. Total for the meal-$33 for two of us including tip. 
Walking around after our meal past the bustling cafes, shops, and the musicians, I noted the quantity of Qataris, Arabs, and some Westerners. I don't recall seeing immigrant laborers. We wandered to the 'date man' who had some tasty dates and I purchased 3 oz of saffron for 20 QR  ($5.5 US). Being American and experienced at bargaining, I only bargained him down 5 QR from the original price, but after checking prices elsewhere- I'll be bolder next time. Making our way out of the souqs, we happened to find a loose tea vendor from Syria that Darbi had been seeking. However, we quickly realized that our lack of Arabic, his lack of English and our combined hand gestures, facial expressions,  and smiles would only get us so far. We vowed to return with Greg, our coworker, who has a better command of Arabic than us. As we left, the Syrain tea vendor from Damascus told us that 'Damascus' (point to himself), 'America' (point to us), and then said 'We love you' and told us we were cool. Far from a come on, we interpreted this as folks from Damascus we ok with Americans (or perhaps earnest American females who were honestly interested in the culture and purchasing something). Either way- we'll be back. 
As we drove away from the souq, my American sweet tooth took over and I expressed desire for something sweet. Darbi indulged me and promptly turned toward Ramada junction (aka ' Colesterol Corner'), populated with fast food joints such as McDonald's, Hardees, Burger King, Johnny Rockets, TCBY, and Dairy Queen. We headed for DQ, as I could do with a Butterfinger Blizzard and hadn't had one in a good while. (I also needed to compare it to the American product, strictly for food and cultural research you see). Small Butterfinger Blizzard 12QR, or $3.30 US. Not bad- no difference as far as I could tell, although I was disappointed that the cup didn't have DQ in Arabic (only the sign outside did). All in all- a very rewarding food evening. 

I found this evening to be one of those moments where I am startled into realizing where I am, what I'm doing. When I travel, I sometimes imagined my current location as a pin on a map and I have moments here where I recall that my pin is currently in this tiny country in the Arabian Gulf.  Not only that, but I'm here with a good friend, whom I met 6 years ago, and our paths have remarkably followed each other through college, Fifth Year, and now Qatar. Sometimes I wonder how and why my life has happened to me as it has- but whatever the case, I'm thankful for it.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Some Lines Scrawled on the Door of Vagabond’s House

My father's brother in Houston, TX, my Uncle Mike, emailed me this poem a bit ago and I just rediscovered it in my email archives. It's by Don Blanding (1894-1957), a poet and sometimes called the "poet laureate of Hawaii'. I thought I'd share it- for poetry reading is not a common activity and aside from the looting of foreign cities (unless you count foreign paychecks), I can relate to its sentiment.

Some Lines Scrawled on the Door of Vagabond’s House

West of the sunset stands my house,

There…and east of the dawn;

North to the Arctic runs my yard;

South to the Pole, my lawn;

Seven seas are to sail my ships

To the ends of the earth…beyond;

Drifter’s gold is for me to spend

For I am a vagabond.

Fabulous cities are mine to loot;

Kings of the earth to wed;

Fruits of the world are mine to eat;

The couch of a queen, my bed;

All that I see is mine to keep;

Foolish, the fancy seems

But, I am rich with the wealth of Sight,

The coin of the realm of dreams.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Scanning the Radio

One of the most interesting things about travel or being in a foreign place is the medley of different but familiar items encountered in one's everyday life. I'm fascinated by foreign shopping, toilets, street signs, food, etc. I go to famous places and take pictures facing away from the famous sites- it's more human and real to see the street vendor, tourists or sex shop (that was in Barcelona, not here) across the street rather than another stinking photo of a famous site. I can buy those in the tourist shop.

The same goes for the radio-it offers a glimpse into the local listening preferences and audio availability. Despite the prevalence of English in Education City and in Doha in general, you don't find much English on the radio. Go ahead and have a listen to a clip of my car radio scanning completely through all available radio stations in Doha.

When I'm feeling cultured, I leave the radio on Arabic music or talk. However, I find myself often doing the expat-thing and leaving it on Qatar Radio, 97.5, which broadcasts in English most of the day (minus a few hours of French).

Friday, February 1, 2008

More internet trouble?!

Emailed 5 hours ago:

Qatar Foundation Customer Service Desk today provided the following update
and request for our cooperation.

"As of this Morning (Friday 01/02/08) our connection carrying traffic out of
QF toward the Pacific Link suffered a failure. Please note that this is a
separate issue to the internet degradation being seen in recent days.
A backup link is in place; however, this link does have reduced capacity."

It is therefore important that until further notice, we refrain from using
network resources for personal use to minimize traffic on this backup link
and allow the business to continue without interruption.

This affects our campus and Internet Services as well. While local Qatar
access, E-mail, and web access are still available, until the Pacific link
is restored, real-time applications such as videoconferencing will not be
practical and may only contribute to the congestion.

QF is working with the international fiber providers to resolve the issue.
We will update the community once the incident is resolved."