Saturday, December 26, 2009

Schuster Family Christmas…

The last week has been wonderful. In Doha as I was packing and getting ready to come home for a very fast two week vacation with my family I was starting to worry that the trip would be too short, or too long – or too boring (if everyone else had plans and I was stuck at home.) Week one of my trip home has now come and gone, and I can tell you this trip will be too busy, and too short! It started off on the best foot possible. My flight from Doha arrived on time and I had a pleasant layover between flights. I was not worried about my flight to Columbus until I realized there were a lot of people waiting standby for my flight and many were commenting about the flight getting out before the storm. Thankfully I was oblivious to the winter storm that was about to hit the DC area – and was just happy my flight left on time! I landed and was surprised to see not only my mom, but also Sarah and Augie, waiting for me. Augie of course was as cute as can be, but a little fussy. The only snag in the trip home was that my luggage did not arrive in Columbus until the next day.

The next several days consisted of family time with a lot of Augie. He is the best nephew ever! He did a really good job of sleeping, eating, and looking at things. I was also impressed that at 2.5 months he is waving! It is true, if you wave at him and say “Hi Augie”- then wait a little bit, he will wave back. I love it!!!!! I am so glad I was able to spend this time with him, he is going to grow so quickly and be so big the next time I see him.

Christmas was packed with activity. The day before Uncle Mark and I made the homemade lasagna that we would serve on Christmas day. The next day I finished last minute Christmas prep (not gift buying, but clothing essentials for Christmas Eve outfit) and came home to start the celebrations. I love my family Christmas traditions. While we do not do everything the same every year, there are some staples, like a nice dinner, church, and family time. This year because of dialysis schedules and logistical needs, we decided to go to the 5 pm family service at church. Oh my goodness! It was a great service, but it was loud and most of the kids stopped paying attention about five minutes into the service. When they called all the kids up to hear a story, some of them took the opportunity to explore the front of the church and to catch up with their other 4-7 year old friends who they had not seen in a while. It was very cute to watch, but also painfully long and disjointed. The highlight of the service was the sermon, which as always was beautiful, and the candlelight portion of the service when we get to sing Silent Night.

Following church we headed home for a wonderful dinner of pork tenderloin, veggies and rice. (I ate a lot of pork this vacation – at least once a day… I don’t even like pork, but since I can’t have it in Doha, I have been getting as much as I can here). While eating dinner Uncle Mark and I were talking about how we needed some excitement this Christmas. Oh how we wished we had never spoken. Within seconds of Uncle Mark saying he could bring some excitement, Papa started choking. Mom started the Heimlich, but could not get whatever it was out. Thankfully Josh was quick thinking, and jumped in and saved Papa! We got our Christmas excitement and I am glad it all ended up ok. We finished the evening with Mike, Sarah and Augie opening gifts since they would have to spend the next day with Mike’s family (boo – I am going to try and find an orphan to marry). Augie kind of loved his camel – he did not look too happy in the picture, but I think on the inside he was dancing with joy. Christmas day was relaxing and wonderful. We woke up late, enjoyed some time together, had a great meal (yeah Uncle Mark!), then everyone opened their gift.

I have a little less than one week left at home, and I am hoping it is relaxing. I would love to spend more time with Augie, and possibly go shopping for some books to bring back to Doha. (Half Price Books here I come!). This break will be just what I need to go back to Doha refreshed and ready for work.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Inky the sinky kitty…

If you had asked me a few weeks ago if I would get a cat I would have told you I wanted one, but I would rationalize myself out of getting one. Since then my friends Timika and Rory got two cats, Blinky and Inky. Blinky is a little kitten who was born with no eyes. She is too little for surgery right now, so the holes where her eyes would have been are not sewn shut. They got Inky to be her friend and companion, thinking Blinky might need some help. When they got home they realized Blinky did not need any help, and was clearly the main cat in that house. Inky and Blinky did not get along very well and fought a lot. It is normal for kittens to fight, but Blinky could not defend herself very well, and Inky’s claws were getting in her eye holes. As a result Timika and Rory had a kitten they could not keep.

I had met both Inky and Blinky, and they are both wonderful cats. When Timika said she needed to find another home for Inky I volunteered. I was excited to have a pet, because living alone sucks! (I wish I still lived with my college roommates – they were the best!) I prepared my apartment, put away the non-kitten friendly chemicals, decorations, and food items, and I bought a litter box, kitten food and some toys. The only catch was that 4 days after I got Inky from Timika and Rory, I would be heading back to the US for Christmas. I talked with Timika and Justin and they agreed they would come to my place to feed Inky. They both already had a cat (Blinky at Timika and Rory’s and Justin was watching a friends cat) so they would not be able to keep him in there place.

With everything sorted out and ready, Inky moved in. This kitten is so loving and will curl up with you and purr during the day… at night when you would want him to curl up and be calm, he decides it is time to play. For the first two nights I had him he woke me up at least every two hours to play. He did not understand me when I told him I wanted to sleep – and shutting him out of my room only led to really loud, and sad, meowing. The third night was an improvement. I forced him to play a lot before I went to bed and then I turned off all the lights and left him asleep on the couch. I think when he woke up to play he didn’t think I was there and just played with his toys… I am not sure why it worked, but it did, and I was happy to sleep.

The other thing I am still getting used to is how bad he smells. This cat has the worst breath ever. I know it is from the wet food he eats – and I know he needs the food so he can gain the weight he needs, but oh my lord is it bad. There are times when he tries to cuddle up to me, or sit on my shoulder, but I have to push him away because I cannot take the bad breath. When I get to the US I am going to look for cat breath mints. I want to love him, but when he breathes on me, it gets a little hard. The good news is, most of the time he is not breathing on me, and he is really cute and fun to play with.

I love that I now have a great kitten (although to be honest, he is not a great as my first cat Rupert Sampson Bean, or my second cat Finnebar Nehemiah Sprout – there was something special about them), but I am nervous I am becoming the “Cat Lady”.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The day it rained in Doha…

This past weekend was amazing. The weekend was full and in addition to the various activities, it rained!

The weekend started Thursday night with going to the Doha Horse races. QF took 600 faculty and staff (and family) to enjoy a night at the races. I signed up to go, but was not sure who else would be going. Thankfully, Wil and his girlfriend Hailey were also going, and they let me tag along. I have never been to a horse race and was not sure to expect in a country where gambling was not a part of the race. It was a lot of fun and really well put together. I also learned it was free, so I can go back the next time they have a race! (and if you come to visit me when a race is on we can make a weekend of Camel and Horse racing!)

Friday was a more practical day. I did laundry and grocery shopping during the day. At night I went with Timika and Rory (yeah – I did spend the weekend as the third wheel) to see a pantomime of Cinderella. This was the first pantomime I have been too, and it took me a while to get used to being able to talk during the play. The play was really funny, and really British. One of the men playing a step sister looked just like Mimi from the Drew Cary show – it was unbelievable. There also was a really cute little girl in the chorus who was taking everything so seriously and had this determined look on her face the whole time. The play was put on by the Doha players, and I will defiantly be checking out their next performance!

Saturday morning I did the typical thing and proctored the ACT. I saw several students who have been making the rounds of the standardized tests. I even got to check back in with the student who freaked out the week before (she was doing well and like the ACT much better than the SAT II). Working the test made it an early morning, - and having everything really disorganized while at the test made it a long day… but thankfully it ended and I was able to go enjoy the rest of the day.

I have been wanting to buy some pashminas and scarves for my family, so I ventured out to the souqs solo. I got there a little before they opened so I walked around and now feel like I know the area a little bit better – but still not well. I thought I was going to buy 6 or so pashminas – but I kept seeing things I liked, or thought someone else would like, so I ended up buying close to 20. Thankfully they are much cheaper than in the US, so they will make great gifts for family and friends.

I caped off my weekend with a Christmas movie night with Julie, Jon, Justin and Justin (I know – there are too many J names in Doha!). We watched Elf and it was the most amazing thing ever. While most people get excited when it snows while watching a Christmas movie, I was just as excited when it started to Thunderstorm! It was a genuine thunderstorm with lightning, thunder, and lots of rain. Not only did I get to watch the best Christmas moving ever, I finally got rain in Doha. The only problem was when it came time to drive home. Doha has been built-up really quickly without a lot of quality planning. As a result, there are roads, but not drainage system – and no planning to make the roads somewhat level. Driving back I was very grateful I had a small SUV and could drive through the deep puddles – I saw a few cars that were not as lucky and stuck in the middle of a roundabout. I am also grateful that I was not on call, as there were several leaks that had to be handled that night (thank you Justin, and I am sorry you had to miss the end of the movie night).

The rain continued into Sunday and made the week start off on a really positive note!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Fabric shopping and tailoring measurement…

One thing that has been on my list since moving to Doha has been going shopping for fabric and having a “custom” garment made. I have now checked that off my list – but it will likely happen many times again.

I am so grateful for Timika because she shared her knowledge and time to help me navigate the fabric and tailoring world. We ventured into the souq area and expected it to be crazy packed as it always is. We lucked because it was relatively mild and we were able to enjoy ourselves. She took me to her favorite fabric shop and explained that you find something you kind of like and they bring you similar things until you find the one you want. Then the challenge is negotiating the price. I went in with the thought that I would get fabric for a Christmas or New Years Eve dress, and fabric for a few pairs of pants and a shirt. I started looking in the first section and was put off by the patterns – which were loud and made me want to vomit a little in my mouth (floral with animal print on the same fabric). There was one fabric that might have worked for the dress, but was not just right. Timika came in with her experience and asked the man working near us to start pulling similar fabrics. I save a few that were great, and I think I picked one that will work with the design I wanted… I will find out in a week when I pick it up. After getting the fabric for the dress I started looking for pants. We hit the jackpot and I found 3 fabrics I wanted to get made into pants! I don’t own a single pair of work pants that fit, so this is a big step. I was ok stopping there, but I still kind of wanted to get fabric for a shirt. As I was looking for shirt fabric I decided instead to have a salwar kameez made. This is a traditional Indian outfit that pairs different patterns and colors together in a way that just works. I ended up picking a more subtle combination, but still a little more color and pattern than I am used to – but I think I will love it. At that point I had to stop buying fabric. While the prices are good, it still adds up when you buy enough from 7 garments.

After shopping we walked around a little bit and ended up at the “new old souq” and sat outside and had some amazing ice cream. This is the first time I have been to that souq where it is calm and not packed. The weather was even a little chilly (70s) and it was amazing to just sit relax and talk. I lucked out this year because Timika is an amazing person to have as the other female RHD. We work well together; and even better, we get along as friends.

The next day I took on the task of going to the tailor to have the items made. Timika recommended two, but since I really wanted the dress in time to fly home, she said one might be able to do it in a week. She warned me that the assistant who sometimes takes measurements has a tendency to linger when measuring your chest area, but said if you just tell him to stop or make a point to laugh about it he will move on. I went in and he was the only one there. I explained what I wanted. This was a challenge, and I am still not sure he knows what exactly I was looking for. I really hope it turns out right, but if it doesn’t, then I will just have it altered into a different style. After explaining everything I asked him if he could also alter a pair of pants I already owned that were too big. He said no problem and asked me to change into them so he could take measurements and pin.

At this point take a minute to recall a very specific Friends episode – to help you I have included the dialogue…

Chandler: Joey's tailor...took advantage of me.

Ross: What?

Joey: No way! I've been going to the guy for 12 years.

Chandler: Oh come on! He said he was going to do my inseam, and he ran his hand up my leg, and then, there was definite...

Ross: What?

Chandler: Cupping.

Joey: That's how they do pants! Ross, will you tell him? Isn't that how they measure pants?

Ross: Yes, yes it is. In prison!

Yeah – I wish that is what it was like. Yes he lingered a little long when measuring my chest, but the shock came when he put his hand inside my pants to measure my inseam and pin the pants. Just incase you are wondering, that is not how it is done, and you defiantly do not have his hand where his was. I pulled his hand out once, and he had the nerve to do it again twice. By that point I was just ready to get the measurements taken and leave. I will not be going back – I will go to Timika’s other tailor. The measurements were finally done and I went to see if things could be done in time. The dress will be done on the 17th! The rest will not be done until I get back L but that is ok, it will give me something to look forward to!

All said, I am so glad I got to go fabric shopping and can not wiat to see the final process!!!!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The stress of the standardized test…

To fill time and make some extra “fun” money I proctor standardized tests every few weeks. This is actually kind of fun because most of the people I like in Doha do this too! We will work the test than grab lunch together and talk about the silly things students did. I know we should not take the plight of the high school student so light heartedly, but sometimes it is humorous to hear their questions and responses to things that looking back seems so straightforward.

Today I actually had to write down some of the things students did and asked me about. To set the stage I should tell you I was proctoring the SAT II subject tests. Typically I have had about 12 students in the room for these tests, but today I have 37. Since things are a little different for the SAT II, having more students does add some time to the start of the test. As I start reading the directions I get to the part that says, “please refer to your test booklet and copy the information from section 8, 9, and 10 onto your answer sheet.” I then add that they will need to do this for each test they take. They then turn the page and start filling out information for the first test they are taking – and I repeat again that they will need to write the information for 8, 9 and 10 again. Directly after saying this I get the first question. “Do we need to write the information for 8, 9, and 10 again.” “Yes, you will write the information for 8, 9, and 10 for each test you take. If you are taking 1 test you will write it on the front and on that test. If you are taking 3 tests you will write it on the front and on each of the 3 tests.” I move on to other directions and think I am about to start timing the test. The script prompts me to ask if there are any questions before we start. A hand pops up… “Do we need to write the information for 8, 9 and 10.” “Yes, you will write the information for 8, 9 and 10 for each test you take. Any more questions… no, ok – you may now begin. You have an hour to complete this test.” The test ends, we take a short break, and I begin reading the directions for the start of test two. “Please turn the page and begin filling out the information for the subject test you will be taking. Please fill in the information from your test booklet for 8, 9, and 10 onto your answer sheet…” I finish reading and three hands go up… “Do we have to fill out the information for 8, 9 and 10 again?” (in my head I really want to say no – you don’t, fill in whatever information you want, it won’t matter at all when they score your test… instead) “Yes, please fill out the information for 8, 9, and 10 for each test you take. When your answer sheet is scored each test is scored separately, this information will make sure they are scoring you for the correct version of the test.” I have no idea if this is true, but I figure it will shut them up. I was wrong, before starting test three, I get the question again. All they got from me was a laugh and a short yes.

Backtracking a little, after starting the first test I am sitting at the front of the room filling in the seating chart information. All of a sudden the “Back to School” song from Billy Madison starts running through my head. From those of you who are thing “Awesome, I would love Adam Sandler’s voice running through my head singing the same silly song over and over again” – no, it is not awesome. At first I was ok with it and thought it was a fun song to have – I even remembered some funny parts of the movie. About 40 minutes in when I announced that there was 20 minutes remaining, I wanted to bang my head against a wall. Thankfully the song was interrupted by questions from students.

During the break between the first and second test I heard the call to prayer. It sounded like it was coming from inside the room. I found this very odd because it was not time for the call to prayer, and it sounded too clear. That is when I realized it was one of the students cell phones. I asked him to turn it off, and then I had to ask him if his ring tone was the call to prayer. His response was, “yes, no one gets made when they are interrupted by the call to prayer.” Smart kid, I was not made at him for having his cell phone on. Also during this break as student asked me how I would score his test. I proceeded to explain that I did not score the test; I just gave it to them. He then asked me if I was comparing him to everyone else and if that would affect his score when I scored his test. Since he clearly did not understand that I did not score his test, I just said yes. He responded with, “good, I will get a better score.”

We then started the second test. As it started one student called me over to answer her question. At the top of her page were the words no calculator and two images of calculators with lines through it. She then asked me if she could use her calculator. I said no. She then asked again and explained she needed it to do the question. I said that it was not allowed for this test section. She then asked me if I would tell her how to do the question. I did know how to do the question, and no math was involved, but I told her I would not be able to tell her how to do the question. The rest of test number two went off easily. At the end as I was collecting tests from students who would not be staying to take a third test, one girl asked me, “So these tests are not the tests I need to take to get into school?” After asking her some questions, my response was no – she needed to take the SAT, not SAT II. She had no idea, and she really did not know what she was doing when she took the test. This was a student who I genuinely felt bad for. Another student getting ready to leave asked me if I worked “here” (meaning Education City). I responded with yes. He asked where and found out I work in Residence Life. “Oh, so you don’t work in admissions?” “No” “Will you get a job in admissions because now you know me and will let me in.” “No, I like my job, but I am sure you will be able to find the right school for you.” “Oh…”

While most of the questions I got during this test were somewhat amusing (some I can’t even remember, but they were good) one interaction was not at all amusing. As the third test started I noticed that one student looked very upset and was not writing. I went over to her and she started freaking out. I took her to the hallway where she proceeded to speed talk about this test determining her life, and how she was not ready for it and she did not want to take it. I had to calm her down and eventually told her she could just not take it. The first two would be scored and the third would not since she had not written anything down. She was concerned that she would not get into school. After talking to her more it turns out the schools she wants to go to do not even require the SAT II, and would be ok with her not having that score. She calmed down and decided to turn in her forms and go home. About 10 minutes later she knocks on the door and asks to talk to me again. She asked me if I was sure she could just walk away and then asked me if she was the only person who was stressed about college. I reassured her that everybody has some anxiety about college and taking the tests to get in. She asked a lot more questions and eventually walked away with a smile. I hope she realizes she does not have to put so much stock in one test that happens on one day – there is so much more that matters.

The reality is, working these tests (SAT, ACT, and SAT II) reminds me that it is really stressful being a high school student. When you consider where they are in their life, the experiences they have to maneuver, and the capacities they have to cope – of course it would be stressful. Now, if I took where I am in my life now, with the capabilities I have now – no it would not be stressful. Sometimes it is good to get a reminder that stress does exist for others even when you would not consider the situation stressful. It was not that long ago that I was taking these tests, but I somehow managed to forget that part of the experience. If you are reading this and have a child, sibling, or someone close who is in high school and is talking about “stress” don’t laugh or think they are exaggerating. For them life is stressful. We are asking 16 and 17 year olds to take a test that we tell them will determine their ability to get into a school that will determine their ability to accomplish “their” (or their parent’s) goals and have a “good life”. That is a lot of importance to put on one test – and yes it would be natural to feel a lot of stress.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Giving Thanks…

My first Thanksgiving in Doha has come and gone. Overall it was great, but it is not the same as Thanksgiving with your family.

I was able to spend Thanksgiving dinner with Timika, Rory and Justin. Timika planned a great meal with all the traditional Thanksgiving dishes. It reminded me how lucky I am to have great friends that I also get to work with (or great colleagues who I also get to be friends with).

Ok, now the highlight of my Thanksgiving. After dinner at Timika’s I headed home to skype with my family! I am so thankful for free technology! It was not like I was there with my family, but it did feel like I wasn’t missing out by not being there. Sarah and Mike are amazing and have made a big effort to include me in things that are going on back home; they send me pictures and updates, and they bring their computer with camera to family gatherings. They set it up so I could Skype with my grandparents, parents, siblings, uncle, and nephew. One of my favorite parts of Skyping with my family was watching my 85 year old grandfather helping my 89 year old grandfather figure out where to sit and look so he could talk to me. It was perfect. I also was so happy to get to see Augie, even if he slept the whole time.

Only a few weeks until I get to see everyone in person.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Sailing the seas with Tess… Venice, Dubrovnik, Corfu, Athens, Kusidasi, and Crete…

After arriving at the airport I gathered my bags and began looking for the fastest way to get to my hotel to meet Tess. I was excited to see her, and I was excited to take a shower after being awake and flying for so long. I saw signs for busses, taxies, and water taxies, but I had not idea what I should take into the city. I asked information and he responded, “It is very easy, just take the water bus to Saint Zachary and get off. It is a strait walk.” Being very naive to the realities of Venice I trusted these simple instructions and began running to catch the next waterbus that was due to board in 5 minutes. The walk to the waterbus is not a short one, and I was stuck behind a very slow couple. I was nervous that I would miss it and have to wait an hour and would be late to meet Tess. Deciding it was not a good idea to walk behind the slow couple, I ventured into the street and moved quickly ahead. I make the water bus and was pulling out of the dock when the couple I was following approached to buy their ticket – smart move to run into the street. Once on the boat I took a seat and realized two things. First, it was really really cold!!!!!! Many around me were wearing fur and heavy coats – but I had packed for fall, not winter. Second. Everyone had a map in hand and were charting their course once they got off the boat. I got slightly nervous, but they guy said it was a strait walk, so I did not get too bothered.

At my stop I gathered my bags from the front and began pulling my large bag (really big – I pack way too much) and my carry-on up the pier. When fully planted on shore I realized there was no “straight” option. I started to pick a route, but thought better and bought a map. The “straight” route ended up involving several turns and several foot bridges. I really did not plan for Venice. If I had known the only way to get everything to the hotel was to carry it over several bridges, I would have worn the same outfit everyday. Eventually I found the hotel and went to check in. I anxiously asked if a young woman was waiting and was told no. I was going to wait in the lobby, but the desk manager suggested I go get showered and wait in the room – I must have looked a mess. As soon as I got out of the shower I got a call from the front desk saying Tess has arrived!!!!!

That night and the next morning we explored Venice and had fun walking around. Tess was funny because she really loves being “Italian,” Sure was have some Italian blood in us, but not enough to really claim it. Despite that Tess really felt she was from Florence and should stay her whole life in Italy. She spoke in Italian and did a great job of showing me around. After lunch on Saturday we made our way with all the luggage to the cruise ship. Tess carried my large bag up an down every bridge. I did not ask her too and kept trying to get it myself, Buy I eventually gave up – what is the point of having a little sister if you can’t make them do your work.

Once our board we settled in and explored the ship. We had a great room with plenty of space and a large window. Our room on the ship was better than our room in the hotel. We spent that first few hours doing things indoors as it was freezing outside. We made plans to buy coats the next day so we could survive the cold trip. Thankfully Venice was the coldest port and while on land we tended to do ok. At sea with the wind, it was still advisable to stay inside.

Our first stop was Dubrovnik. It is a beautiful city with an amazing wall that surrounds the old city. We walked the wall and explored the old city. For lunch we grabbed a pizza and ended up meeting an Irish guy who was traveling the Europe with his girlfriend. He offered to give us a ride on his motorbike. I was not a big fan, but Tess was excited to have another dream fulfilled---kind of. Tess really wanted to ride a Vespa in Florence with an Italian. She settled for a Peugeot, in Dubrovnik with an Irishman. In the end it is all the same, right? Also in Dubrovnik we purchased a neck tie for our dad. Did you know neck ties were invented in Dubrovnik? Fun fact of the day just for you.

Our next day brought us to Corfu… not exactly what I pictured a “Greek” town to be, but it was nice. We walked around and visited the old fort. I officially lost my privilege of giving directions everywhere, and Tess became the trip navigator. Overall the day was good. We saw some interesting things and has a relaxing day.

Our third day brought us to Athens. Megan (One of Tess’s business partners and one of the young women who lives at home with Tess and my dad) was in Athens visiting her boyfriend. Tess and I were able to meet up with her and grab coffee (diet coke for me) and baklava in a cute cafĂ© in the shopping area just under the acropolis. After a fun start to the day we visited the acropolis!!!!!! I finally got to visit a place I have been studying about for years! Even though I am partial to Roman history over Greek history, it was amazing to be able to visit the site and see the buildings and statues in person. We attempted to visit a few other sites, but were surprised to learn they close early – no worries we saw what was important. Thankfully the museum was still open and we were able to really enjoy the artifacts from the area. If you get the chance, visit the museum right next to the acropolis. It is built over the ancient town and it has glass floors so you can look down into it. It kind of cool to walk above a street that was used so long ago. They did a really great job of setting up the museum to make the most of he site and the content.

After leaving Athens we traveled to Kusidasi, Turkey. I loved this city. It was a low key town with an old fort on an island and a lot of street vendors and shopping. To save money we spend this day just in the port town and explored. In one shop we found this interesting jewelry made out of a shell and silver. It was different than other things I had seen, and it was very simple. Needless to say we bought one for each of us (and one for Sarah!). While this might not have been the best way to “save” money, it was so worth it!

Our last port was Crete. We arrived in the city and were immediately marked as tourists who would pay too much. We spent 35 Euro on a taxi to the Palace on Knonosos, when a bus would have cost 3. We should have done our homework ahead of time. I am not sure what Tess thought, but I loved it. I think when you have a classical studies degree just about anything old and in ruins is exciting. After exploring the palace we went back and explored the town. Greece is not what I expected, and I honestly do not feel and urge to go back. If I do go back I will plan in through a travel agent and say “I want to go to a city that looks like the movies.”

Each of our stops was unique in a different way and a lot of fun. The boat was a a lot of fun also. Tess and I had a great time playing Hand and Foot and attending some of the shows. We also had a great table for dinner. There were four couples that entertained us each night. One was a great couple in their mid thirties who love traveling and have gone (or will go) everywhere. Another couple was on their honeymoon and were a lot of fun. The third couple were and interesting pair that complemented each other well. The husband was crazy and a lot of fun, the wife was rational and did all the planning. The last couple brought humor to the table without trying. They are both research scientists in their late twenties and were on their 10th cruise together. Each night we were the last, or close to the last table to leave.

This vacation was wonderful!!!!!! It was a good break from work and a great chances to see Tess. Now less than an month until I see the rest of my family and meet Augie for the first time!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Hajj Terminal….

While traveling to meet Tess in Venice I had a 6 hour lay-over in Istanbul. I decided it would be best to just find my gate and start reading. Little did I know the book I brought was a quick read, and what was going on in the terminal was so much better. I was in one of the many international terminals; however, I would like to call it the Hajj Terminal.

This year the time for the Hajj falls during the end of November. Because of this it is difficult for anyone else to even gain permission to enter Saudi Arabia unless one is a pilgrim. Pilgrims are also at the top of the list for the H1N1 vaccine, followed by those at risk and health care workers. When I started noticing individuals that I assumed were traveling for the Hajj it did not surprise me. I first noticed a group of about 15 men in their late thirties all awkwardly dressed in white robes. These men looked a little uncomfortable, they did not carry the white garment with the same attitude and posture as the men I am used to seeing in thobes. Because of this difference I made an assumption that they might not wear this garment regularly. The garment worn by the first group of men I passed was not the Qatari Thobe, but the ihram (the traditional garment warn by those on the hajj) it is cross between the home-spun garment of Gandhi and a toga. It suited them well, but also made a dramatic statement against the more “western” dress of those around them. As I kept walking to my terminal I was thinking it would be really interesting to sit down and talk to them about their pilgrimage – but I wimped out and just kept walking.

When I got to my terminal I went through security and did not pay a lot of attention to the people around me. I was diligently looking for signs to point me to my gate and then went in search of an empty chair. It was not until several minutes had passed that I noticed most of the people around me were dressed alike. When I looked past my gate to other gates I noticed groups of 10-20 were clustered together all wearing the same clothing as their travel companions. There were several groups from Africa in similar outfits, but the patterns for each group were different variations of green, read and yellow. I then noticed another group from Europe where the women all wore a tan dress (not an hijab or abbiya) and a floral shaila and the men wore what I first thought were large towels wrapped around them. As they walked passed me and took seats near by I noticed that the fabric was similar to a towel, but thinner and closer to a very thick sheet. Lastly a group from either Pakistan or India (I am guessing) came with the men in the same tan, short thobe with pants underneath. These groups all had some type of advertisement on them related to the tour company that was organizing their Hajj. One of the African groups all had the same head coverings with the tour company written across the forehead. Another group from Africa had white shalls that had the tour company’s name and information written in large letters across the back. The group from Europe all had badges with numbered, colored stickers to help identify them as being in the same group.

I watched with a little bit of excitement and a little bit of awe as these various groups began interaction with each other. I have no reason to believe they knew each other; realistically there is not way they knew each other. Despite this as the hours passed and they waited for their flights the groups began to mingle and were looking at each others itineraries. I had been there about 3 hours when the first flight to Saudi Arabia boarded. The flight loaded with all of the groups I had been watching with interest. I did not see anyone else board that flight, but I would have loved to have been on it. I cannot imagine getting on a flight with a few hundred strangers knowing you are all going to do the exact same thing. The closest thing I can compare it to in my life is when I flew to the Ohio State National Championship game and the flight was full of Ohio State fans. Thankfully I am aware enough to recognize that my experience would not mirror the connection those on the flight would feel.

After the flight boarded and the terminal was much less crowded I settled in to read again. It was not long until the second wave of Hajj travelers arrived to take their turn in the waiting game. I was only able to spend about half an hour watching this group, as I had to board my flight, but I am sure they will make the same connections with the other groups of pilgrims that the previous flight was able to form.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Derby – Doha Style….

(This Camel licked me right before this picture was taken!)

It has been a while since I last updated but life has been slow (which is good sometimes, it means things are becoming normal).

A big event since my last post was the final class for Leaders in Residence. The class fluctuated in numbers, and eventually only four students attended every class and finished the final project. While I am a little disappointed in the numbers the experience was wonderful. One of my students who completed the course made a significant change in his thinking. At the beginning of the course be said Hitler was an example of an excellent leader because he recruited people to follow him and was successful in making progress towards his goals. At the end of the course he said Hitler was not a good leader because he did not work for the good of all people, did not have morals and ethics and did not work to inspire leadership in others. While I would not give this student a doctorate in Leadership Studies, his did make a lot of progress in his understanding of leadership in a few short weeks. Another student went from believing she could not be a leader until after she graduated to being able to articulate ways she leads on a daily basis. I will miss this class, but will enjoy having more flexibility with Sunday nights. I think if I am able to facilitate this class again I will make a few changes, but I loved the format we followed.

In addition to the last Leaders in Residence class we had a busy week in Doha. The Sony Ericson Women’s Tennis Championship and the Doha Tribeca Film Festival were taking place. You would think what an awesome week… not so much. I was on duty the whole week and was not able to go to any of the matches or films. Next year I will make sure I am off for at least part of the tournament.

This weekend was a good shift in energy. I found a church I really liked. It reminded me a little bit of Hope Chapel services. A lot of people I know also attend the church and seem to really feel at home there. I am excited to visit again and find a way to get involved. Following church I was able to go to brunch with a great group of people to celebrate Karen’s birthday! The highlight of the weekend came on Saturday. After proctoring the SATs I went to the Camel Races with Lindsay, Kathy, James and Natalie. It was amazing. We watched some along the track and one from inside a bus that followed the camels. The track is pretty big so you can really only see the start and finish of a race unless you go in the bus. The announcers get really into it and their excitement gets you into it, even though I have no idea what they are saying in Arabic. There was not a favorite or underdog (that I knew of) to root for, but it was fun nonetheless. The camels are ridden by little robots that are controlled by guys riding in Toyota Land Cruisers that drive along next to the track. The men use walkie-talkies to talk to the camel and use remote to control the robot jockey and whip the camel. This is a huge improvement from only a few years ago when the jockeys were children from Africa and Asia. I am so glad I was able to experience the races!

Getting ready to watch the race!

Lining them up for the start

And it is time to start!



He Won!

He didn't...

Waiting for thier turn to race

Friday, October 23, 2009

A Day at the Beach…

After a very busy, fun, and frustrating week I needed a break – and got one with a day at the beach.

This week started with an awesome Leaders in Residence class. This is a course I teach for residential students on understanding leadership on a personal level. This week we started with a case study examining the current situation in Honduras. The students were asked to analyze the major players (individuals, governments, and organizations) and identify leadership traits and styles that we have been studying. The second part of the activity involved them discussing what leadership style is needed in the situation, or what style they would bring. The conversation started rough as none of my students knew about the situation in Honduras – or where Honduras was located. After giving some brief history I gave them six news articles to read that looked at the situation from different perspective and explored different aspects of the conflict. The students ended up getting really into it and were able to draw a lot of connections to our class discussions and they actually learned something!

Added into the business of the week was a Bachelorette Party/Hen Night/Henna Night program for the other female RHD Timika. It was a great program that combined American, British and Middle Eastern/Asian pre-wedding traditions. Timika is an American marrying a Brit and most of our residents are Middle Eastern or Asian (Pakistani and Indian). The residents loved it! They all dressed up and came to have fun. We played a few PG “American” games and did traditional wedding henna. It was a long night, but so worth it!

Another fun part of the week was CDA training. I led a few team builders (toxic waste – a classic, and bouncing chickens… a new one for me). The bouncing chicken activity was a lot of fun to watch, but also led to some great discussions about how we approach our work with our residents and how we engage with each other. Following the team building we got to roast S’mores!

There ends the positive from the week; the rest of the week was full of frustration. I had a doctor’s appointment on Monday that created a downward spiral into full on homesickness. The doctor was very late for the appointment and then rushed my appointment into 10 minutes and did not even listen to what I came to discuss with him. He told me the tests he was going to order – which were not related to my previously diagnosed condition or related to adjusting my medications. I had to write down the tests I needed, and the tests I wanted so that I could find out if my meds were right. Later that day I got a call from the doctor telling me that I was right and he needed to run the tests I wrote down (duh…) and then said I had to come back right away to get them done (trip number two). The next morning I had to go back for fasting blood work and to get the doctor to sign a form – but the doctor did not come in that day. So the next morning consisted of a meeting with the doctor to get the form signed and to try and get a referral to another doctor (which he would not give). I was so frustrated that all I could do is cry. This at least got his attention and he started to listen to me. After I get all the blood work back I will adjust my meds and find a new doctor.

By the end of the week I was beyond frustrated, tired, overwhelmed and sad. I realized I have not really built any strong friendships yet and am not sure where to go to meet people. My solution to this was to join a group from work that was going clubbing. The only problem is that I forgot that I hate clubbing… not a good way to get over being homesick when you can’t dance, sweat too much, and have no one to dance with.

By Friday morning I needed a change. Luckily Karen had invited me to join a group who was going up north to a great beach. It was exactly what a good doctor would order. A group of about 10 piled into 4 SUVs and drove to a beach about an hour out from Doha. There was a little bit of off roading to get there, but that made it even better. Most everyone knows I don’t like water, so it will not surprise you to hear that I spent the day in my bathing suit away from the water, but enjoying the sand and the view. It was relaxing and I was able to get to know some people better. I am still working to build strong relationships in Doha and this trip really helped me feel like I am starting to connect with people. I hope I can spend every weekend like this!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Oktoberfest Doha style…

You might be thinking, “Oktoberfest – Doha… no way.” You would be wrong. One of the hotels put on a great event with an imported German band and all. The cost of the ticket got you into the event and access to a buffet of German food. Once in you were able to purchase German beer, at a high price, but it was good. To be honest, the German soft pretzels made the night!

A memorable moment from the night was when a member of the band played an amazing German song on a beer bong (for real, he just added a trumpet mouth piece). This song got everyone in the large tent watching in awe! It also inspired a man at a close table to show his talent of balancing 4 large liter glasses of beer on his head while walking!!!!!!!!! Crazy…

All in all it was a fun night out in Doha.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Meet my staff…

One of the best parts of my life in Doha is my amazing staff of CDAs (Community Development Advisors). Let me introduce you to them.

From left to right:

Amal is a strong willed, independent, mature leader. She is a senior at CMU and is considering going into student affairs. She typically has the same facial expression, so I have to ask her if she is happy – thankfully she almost always says yes! I am learning a lot from Amal and am so glad she is willing to teach me. She grew up in UAE, but is Omani. Her mother is Nigerian and her father is Omani. She has an amazing story.

Carla is a creative, free spirited, kind student. She is a junior at VCU with a talent for fashion design. She comes into every situation with a smile and empathetic eyes. She has a difficult building whose residents typically do not get involved. She does not let this frustrate her and she keeps planning great opportunities for her women. Carla grew up in Qatar but is originally from the Philippines.

Zahra is a soft spoken, but articulate, ambitious young woman. She is in her second year of pre-med and will begin medical school next year at Cornell. She is extremely intelligent, but she would never tell you that. She also has a difficult mix of residents who are mostly upper level medical students who just don’t have time to get involved. She had found a way to connect with residents personally and brings joy to her role as a CDA. Zahra is from Pakistan.

Dianna is a ball of energy that you feel enter the room before you even see her. She is always laughing and is truly happy with who she is and what she is doing. She is a second year students at Georgetown and is always excited to talk about what she is learning in class. She is younger than most of her residents, yet she has created an atmosphere were they trust, look up to her, and enjoy coming to her events. Dianna grew up in Saudi Arabia, but was born in the US to Chinese parents. She has this unique identity and seems to meld into all cultures at one time.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Good friends, good food, good fun...

Following the end of Ramadan there has been a lot of socializing! Amazingly, this has even included eating while the sun is out, in public – and – dare I say it… alcohol (shhh).

The first celebration was a great night cooking out with new friends and colleagues in Dave and Karen’s back yard. It is amazing that we felt like it was a “cool” night, but it was still in the mid 80’s past 9 PM. I cannot believe I have adjusted to the point where a day in the low 90’s is cool. I am missing fall back in the Midwest, but I am starting to enjoy fall in the Mid-East.

The next day 25 amazing people went to a wonderful brunch at the Marriott Hotel. Bottomless champagne and a buffet with amazing food choices was a perfect way to spend the day. We spend about 4 hours eating, drinking, and talking. My favorite part was the fact that the meal was a break from Arabic food. I love Arabic food (well – not lamb), but after Arabic food for every meal during my vacation, I needed a break. The buffet had good Japanese food, Mexican food and other choices that are rare in Doha. This was the first social event I have been too where I felt like one of the group, and not an invited guest. It is great to finally feeling like this is my home, and that I am starting to make friends.

Sadly one of the reasons I took this job has changed. Kevin, the main individual who recruited and hired me has taken an amazing opportunity and another institution. While I am sad I will not be able to work with him, his leaving has provided many opportunities to bid him farewell. Even this event meant to say goodbye brought fun and connections with amazing people.

While there are moments I feel homesick (especially when thinking about my nephew August), overall I have never been so confident and happy. I know this opportunity came at the right point in my life, and I know I am loving it! I can’t wait to get to know everyone better.

Aunt Annie!

A little over a week ago I became an Aunt! Sarah and Mike had a beautiful baby boy August Donovan Kuhnell, 6 pounds 13 ounces, 19 and ¾ inches. He is the cutest little baby ever – and I am not at all biased.

While I am beyond excited to be an Aunt, it is also making me a little homesick. I love getting the updates from family (and the pictures), but it reminds me what I am missing and what I gave up to have this amazing experience living abroad. Don’t get me wrong, if I didn’t get updates and pictures regularly it would be so much worse. I knew moving abroad would come with both positive and negative aspects. I am lucky that so far the positive has greatly out weighed the negative. Having a new nephew I have not seen in person is the one negative that no amount of positive can make up for. I know Augie will never know that I was not there for the first few months of his life, but I know I am missing some really amazing family moments.

The good news is Christmas is really close and I will meet him then!!! Until then PICTURES!