Sunday, August 30, 2009

Pictures of my life in Doha...

Here are some pictures to give you a better idea of my life in Doha

The building on the right is one of my Halls (not the shed at the very front, but behind that)

My office is in this building (I think - they all look the same)

This is the compound in which I live - ECCH

This is Doha - everything is under construction

These are 2 of the 3 boats we were on for the international student orientation Dhow Cruise.

You may remember a student jumped off my boat
... You can see me talking to this student (I am along the side of the boat toward the back in a pinkish/salmon shirt, the student does not have a shirt on)

Friday, August 28, 2009

Car shopping and cars in Doha,

There are several key things to note when considering cars in Doha:

  1. The Land Cruiser is by far the most popular car among Qatari families
  2. People make very bad car “decorating” decisions in this city
  3. Supposedly the best deals of the year on new cars are during Ramadan
  4. Car dealerships are only open after 8pm during Ramadan

To expand on 1 and 2 – I have never seen so many Land Cruisers until I moved here. These SUVs dominate the roads and are a status symbol. You know a Land Cruiser has power on the road, and the driver likely has power in life. Unfortunately the owners almost always decide to get racing stripes or designs down the sides. These decent vehicles suddenly become very ugly. Another awkward decorating choice of many in Doha is carpeting the dashboard and back shelf area with fake shaggy fur. I have been told this is to prevent the bleaching affect of the sun; however, it is the worst possible car interior choice one could make.

I have been attempting to car shop the last few days. Several weeks ago I began the process by just looking around, but I knew that until I got a license I would not be searching seriously. Now I have a license and am ready to buy. I lucked out because dealers usually have great sales during Ramadan. I did not luck out because the dealers are only open late at night. When I have gone in search of a dealership I have found a closed door. Tomorrow night I will try again. Wish me luck.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

This is not your typical work place…

Working in higher education in the US I became used to tight budgets and doing more with less. In my last job I started the year with no budget and begged, borrowed, and hoped for funding for various projects (the necessities got covered – but no frills). In my new role I am consciously aware of the fact that the budget was cut by 30%; however, I am still amazed that there is funding for wonderful projects. Each of my initiatives has a budget! (This is amazing to me) In addition, my CDAs have clear budget guidelines, and while they think it is a tight budget, it is comparable, if not higher than most RA budgets in the US (depending on the school).

Today I was reminded in a very tangible way that budgeting is much different in Qatar. While budgets have been cut to reflect the state of the economy, we were still given a Ramadan gift from the foundation. Every single QF employee received an ipod shuffle. I love my job! I have never owned an ipod, and I was just about to buy one. While part of me thinks of the budget items that were cut and what they could have saved by not purchasing these awesome gifts for about 5000 employees, the other part of me just wants to say “thank you” and run before they can change their mind. The good news is the ipod is engraved with Ramadan 2009 and the QF logo – so they cannot return them. They were also kind enough to have some stuff already uploaded for us. First there is an introduction to the meaning of Ramadan (I am hoping in English, because I want to listen to it). Next the entirety of the Quran is included in both English and Arabic.

The next time I see you I would be happy to show you my exciting gift.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Don’t drink the green liquid…

I attended my first Iftar today in the lobby of the Carnegie-Mellon building. It was wonderful. There were a few hundred people at different tables, with 10 at my table. They were all very friendly and in a good mood. The food was great, with lots of options. While I am growing more adventurous with my food selections, I was not able to gain enough courage to eat the meet from the carcass of a small animal with a full skull and teeth (I think it was a lamb, but I am not sure). I did try a butter curry chicken that was great; however, nothing in it tasted like butter.

The only bad part of the meal that was the green drink. At the table we had water, but through the meal I was thirsty and wanted to try something different. There was a table at the front of the room with a few choices. One was a thick white liquid that possibly was dairy – so I steered clear. Another container held a frothy deep purple liquid, and a third contained a bright green drink. I was not sure what to try but thought the green drink might taste like cool aid. I filled my cup half way and took a big gulp. I am so proud of myself for not spitting it out onto the strangers standing filling their cups. The green liquid was quite similar to mint mouthwash with a small sugar after taste. It in doubt, don’t drink the green liquid.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Humidity has arrived...

Humidity had come to Doha and set up residence. Everyone told me the humidity would come, but I did not think it would hit one day with full force. A few days ago I went to work and it was hot as usual. When I left work, the air was thick and wet and hot. The humidity there is worse than I have ever experienced in Ohio or Michigan. It is hard to breath and in when you leave a building in less than a second your sunglasses are fogged and your skin is damp and clammy (strange because you are still really hot). Thankfully I do not spend much time outside.

In addition to adapting to the humidity, I am mentally preparing for Ramadan. I know it will not be drastically different than the rest of the year, but I want to avoid as many cultural mistakes as possible. Beginning Friday the majority of my students and many of my colleagues in the larger Office of Faculty and Student Services will be fasting from sun up to sun down. During that time all others should not eat or drink in public or in front of those who are fasting. It will be interesting to see how Ramadan impacts the start of the school year and student issues. I have been told that students stay quiet during the day and life really starts when the sun goes down. I am really excited to experience all of this while in an Islamic culture. I have talked to others about Ramadan before and know people who fasted, but in the US Muslims adapt to the dominant culture and I was not forced to see it in detail. Here, Muslims are a part of the dominant culture and the holy month takes a completely different form. (meaning most Muslims in the US continue to work a full work day, while here the work day is shorter, and in the US they are surrounded by people eating and drinking in front of them with no regard for the fact that they are fasting, while here the rest of the community adapts to show respect for their fasting). I hope that after experiencing it this year, I will be able to understand Ramadan better.

Monday, August 17, 2009

I can drive...

I now have a valid drives license! If you would like to hear the whole long story, feel free to give me a call. I am glad this long process is over – although I did actually learn something from it. Now I can buy a car!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Lessons from my driving instructor...

Over the last 3 weeks I have been taking driving classes in order to get my Qatari drivers license. My instructor, Fasel, is a fascinating man from Pakistan. Over the course my lessons I heard is opinion on everything (really, everything). He only finished middle school, but has stayed current in world events and international politics. Today he was talking about how he wants to make life better for his children. He has been working in Qatar to support his parents, brothers, wife, and three children back home. At first I assumed his family was poor; however, I learned that from his work he was able to build a building where they can rent out space to businesses, and the family lives in flats on the 5 stories above the shops. He is proud of his accomplishments and commented on how this will allow his eldest son to get a complete education. He then went on to tell me why he valued education, but how he also felt you learned a lot from life.

He believes that if you come from one place in life (always poor, always rich) you have a limited view of the complexities of life. He also explained that you make decisions based on where you are today. He said, “Today I bring with me all my yesterdays, I can not base a decision on tomorrow. I don’t have that experience yet, but I will and I will use it to make my next decision.” He then talked about his education after he left school. He summed it up by saying, “Struggle was my education, but I hope it will not be my son’s.” While I struggled to understand his English at times, I am so grateful I was able to get to hear his story. I didn’t always agree with him, but I am impressed by his ability to educate himself in the way he could and his commitment to provide more for his children.

Friday, August 14, 2009

If a friend told you to jump off the top deck of a moving boat, would you do it?...

Students in Qatar are not that different from students in the US. Young men of 18 make the same bad decisions – just in a different place. While chaperoning an international orientation Dhow Boat cruise through the bay area of Doha I had the luck to be a first hand witness to bad decision making. While on the first floor of a large boat I heard a splash and saw shocked faces as student noticed a student fall overboard off the top deck. Another boat noticed and began blowing its horn and ringing its bell. The boat staff quickly got out the gear to help real the student in. While this is going on I heard cheering and laughter from the top deck. I quickly climbed the latter to make sure no one else followed in the last student’s wake. After ensuring students knew that under no circumstance were they to jump, I went down to meet the student as he was being pulled on board. He was very proud of himself and had a big smile from ear to ear. I took him aside to talk to him about what he had done – and to let him know how lucky he was. Not only did this student jump off a moving boat into an unsafe bay; but he also jumped off the section of the boat that has the engine and he was lucky he landed far enough behind it not to hit a blade or to get pulled into the whirl of water. In addition to not knowing the anatomy of the boat off of which he had just jumped, he also happened to jump into the path of a speedboat. Thankfully another boat on the water saw the student jump and motioned for the speed boat to turn – which it did with enough room to cause the clueless student no alarm, but to cause panic and anger in the onlookers from other boats (this was a busy time on the bay and several Dhow boats and speed boats were near). In addition this student had broken a law, which could have resulted in the student and the staff of our boat getting arrested. You may be wondering what this student’s response was when I asked him why he jumped. In his words; “I was challenged to, and I do not turn down a challenge.” Oh this one will go far in life.

Later on that night while eating dinner after the trip the student was complaining that his jeans were still wet. It may surprise you to learn that I had no sympathy for him and told him to tough it out. I tend to care a lot about students comfort and safety, but in this case I got a little satisfaction in knowing that this student had to deal with some consequences of his actions – thankfully it was only being cold and wet for a few hours and not serious injury, jail time, or death. (I hope not caring about the student being wet does not make me sound heartless – I am a good person, I promise) 

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Passing the story…

International Orientation has begun and my halls are filling quickly. There is no official “Hall Opening” like there would be in many Residence Life programs. I have had residents in my halls all summer, but the numbers have been relatively low. New international students have orientation this week, with all new students having orientation for their individual schools next week. Since the majority of on-campus residents are international our CDAs do their “hall opening” activities at the start of that orientation. My buildings have a large number of returning students making our first hall meeting small with only 12 people total.

The CDAs were very excited and had selected several ice breakers they wanted to use during the meeting. One of the ice breakers was “passing the story.” My most energetic CDA started it off my saying “Mika got a chimpanzee for her 18th birthday.” Each student then had to add a sentence to the story as it went around the circle. Most of the student were excited and looking forward to it. One student had not smiled the whole meeting and was very serious. She did seem like she was having a good time, but she was very serious about everything. As the story got passed the chimpanzee was given a name, taught tricks, and finally was taken to a family reunion. With about 8 people left to go in the story the serious student was up. She said in a somber voice, “And then the chimpanzee died.” Everyone in the room was laughing and telling her she could not kill the chimpanzee, he was the center of the story. All she said was, "No he is dead." Following that the story went from fun and upbeat to talking about  funeral and burial. 

This is why I wanted to work internationally…

The following nationalities are represented in my hall. It should be noted that while residents hold passports from these countries, many have also lived several other places for extended periods to time (like UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Algeria).

Bahrain, Canada, Egypt, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Mauritania, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, Phillipines, Qatar, Syria, Tanzania, and USA.

I am so excited to get to know them all and hear more of their stories.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

It is hot...

Today was the first day the heat got to me; thankfully, I spent most of the day inside in the AC. At one point today the temperature read 50 degrees Celsius (about 122 degrees Fahrenheit). When I walked outside it was like being blown with a hot hair dryer. I really noticed it this evening when I was taking my driving lesson. Women cannot take driving tests during Ramadan, so I am trying to get all my classes done in time for me to take my test on the 19th. This evening’s lesson consisted of me sitting in a car with all my windows down so I could hear my instructor yell instructions at me. I have no idea why we were both not sitting in the nice air-conditioned car with the windows closed so we did not feel the windy heat. The wind blew through the windows heating my face like a sauna.  With the heat blowing in I practiced the L test over and over again. Essentially I turned up an incline and then came down and turned out – similar to pulling out of a driveway. I am not really learning anything, but I am doing what is necessary to get my driving license, and that is all that matters.

I have been told that the humidity will hit soon. So when it is 122 and humid I will let you all know if I have survived. 

Friday, August 7, 2009

CDA training has started...

The first week of Community Development Advisor (CDA) training went great. I have a very interesting staff who are all from different parts of the world. They are each very unique, with different backgrounds, different religions, different majors and different approaches to the job.  Overall the CDA staff is made up of 18 wonderful students, of which I supervise 4. I am a little bit proud of myself because I know all of their names. I am horrible with names and was convinced it would take me all of training to learn all 18. I knew them all by the end of the second day!!!! (well, one students I kept mixing up two letters Sejari instead of Seraji – but now I have it).

Most new students will move in today and tomorrow, with the rest of the students moving back in over the next week or so. This week is international student orientation, followed by individual campus orientations, then classes!!!! The start of the year is the best part of the year. I am still trying to contemplate what hall activity and programming will look like during the first few weeks of classes, as it will be Ramadan.  I am used to a lot of activity and programs with food during the first few weeks. I have been told that during Ramadan things slow down a lot during the day and students have a lot to do at night, so programming will be challenging.   I think it will just take doing it before I really know what it is like. I am looking forward to it and hope there will be chances for me to interact with students during traditional Ramadan events.

On a completely different note, I need to buy a bathing suit. There has been a pool party every week since I moved here. People just get together for cookouts and hanging out in the pool. It is a great atmosphere and I really enjoy it. At night it is still in the 90s, but it is pleasant to be outside and a lot of fun to hang out with all the different people I am meeting. I decided to invest in a suit and started looking online ---- only to learn that bathing suit websites are blocked for religious reasons (not in the whole country, but in the complex I live in). I have only been able to visit websites that sell modest suits (like the kind the Duggers wear and full coverage Muslim suits).  There are a few I like, but I still want to look for a normal suit. Some people told me about a place in the mall, so I am going to look there probably next weekend.

Again changing topics: I had a comfort “home” moment while shopping today. I was walking up and down the aisles looking for random things and did a double take. There in the middle of the Asian sauce section was Kroger brand light soy sauce. I did not need soy sauce, but I bought it anyway. Who knew Kroger was a international leader in soy sauce? 

Sunday, August 2, 2009

I have an amazing supervisor…

I may have failed my driving test, but that was all made up for tonight when I spoke with my supervisor, Chris, and the other new RHD, Justin. After I failed, without me knowing, Chris went on an investigative journey. He spent a lot of his own time and energy learning as much as he could to help us in our transition to Qatar. He spoke with government officials, friends, and driving school instructors to find out exactly what we need to know to pass this driving test. He found out that the government officials are looking for a lot of really little things that are taught in the driving school. He also found out that if you fail the test twice you have to take a mandatory 40 day driving class before you can take the test again (that explains why both the women sitting next to me had taken a full class and were still nervous about the test). Since I have not learned enough Arabic to understand instructions, it would not surprise me at all if I failed a second time. Chris explored every option for us and laid them all out for us to consider. I could just try to take the test again, I could take the full class, a half class, a variation of the class, or we could rent a car and each practice until we were comfortable.  After hearing all he had to share, I know I do not want to just try and take the test again. While I am not excited about having to wait longer to be able to drive on my own, I am very happy to know that I am supported by the people I work with both at work and in my new life in Doha.

My next update will not be about driving – I promise. I am excited because student staff training started today and it is my favorite part of the year. Training and hall opening are full of energy and excitement. I am looking forward to getting to know my staff better and meeting all my new students!!! 

You never really know how it feels to be a failure until you fail at something you CAN do in someone else’s country…


So I failed my driving test. I am not exactly sure what I did wrong, but I think it was stopping halfway through a reverse turn.  So from the start… I woke up at 3:30 am (after not being able to fall asleep until midnight) to get ready for the day and leave for my test at 4:30. I arrived at the testing site around 4:45 and proceeded to take my signals test. I reviewed a pamphlet of about 50 various signs and signals and their meanings. For this test a government official pointed at the 10 most obscure signs (1 was not even in the pamphlet) and wanted an answer right away without hesitation. I definitely got one wrong, but think the rest were ok. The official never spoke to me, he only signed a paper and pointed to a counter. I did not know if I passed this or not, but went to the counter. My supervisor, Chris, came with me and told me I probably passed or he would not have signed it. At the counter I paid the fee and was told to sit and wait and Chris was told there were no men allowed and he would have to leave. I told Chris I would call him when I was done.

I found a chair next to a very nice woman and was soon joined on the other side by another woman. Both women had failed the test twice before, and both had been driving in their home countries for several years. The woman on my left was a doctor at the local hospital and has been in Doha for 7 months using a driver because she has not passed the test. She assured me I would do fine because I was American. I am how that would help me, but I was a little more confident. The officials then come to the front of the room and called forward from a list all the women who had failed before to go and start their test. They then arbitrarily began picking people from the crowed. I was picked second form the rest of the women to take my test. I walked out of the room and an official just pointed across the street to a car, but did not say anything. I got in the car and pulled forward only to find there was an extremely flat tire.  You take the test with your window down and the officials yell instructions through the window in Arabic. I tried to tell an official the tire was flat but he kept yelling and gesturing forward. Finally another man came and told me to get out of the car. I was then pointed toward another car that was manual. I told him I needed automatic but he just pointed to the car. Instead of trying to argue I just waited for another automatic car to arrive. I got in and waited for instructions. An offical said something to me in Arabic that I did not understand (I really need to learn this language – fast) I thought he meant stay as there were several other cars pulling out around me. When I did not move he looked angry and yelled again. This time I knew that what I was doing was wrong, so I obviously needed to pull forward. That is how the next part of my test went. If they yelled something at me I tried to guess what they wanted, if they yelled louder and with an angry face, then I did the opposite. When I was finally in line for the L hill test I felt more confident. The L hill test is not that hard, I just managed to mess up somehow. You drive forward and turn right up a hill. You then reverse down the hill and turn so you are facing the same way. There are cones and concrete barricades around you, but in general it is like backing out of a driveway. I did not know what the official was yelling so I just did what the person before me did. As I started to reverse a car drove behind me so I stopped. I believe this was my first mistake – stopping is bad. When the car was clear I kept reversing and very very slowly turned in reverse, as there are many cars and cones around. Looking back I think this was mistake two – going slow is bad. The official took my paper and said “halas, fail, halas.” I pulled forward and got out of the car because I did not know what to do. I watched another woman do the turn and from my perspective it looked great, but she also failed. I noticed that my official had about 10 fail papers in his hands when the other officials had none. I was then yelled at and an official pointed for me to get back in the car. I parked the car and went inside to get more information. None of the government officials were able to speak English well enough to answer my questions, and my Rosetta Stone Arabic is not getting me anywhere. I man who works at the driving school, but who was not a government official finally told me “fail, halas, leave” and pointed to the door. When I asked what I did next and when I could retake it he told me to come back another day to reschedule the driving test (so two more mornings of getting to the driving center very early). He then repeated several times “fail, halas, leave.”

As I walked outside I watched a few more drivers take the L hill test. Several did the same thing I did and passed. I am not sure exactly why I failed, although I am sure I have plenty of room to improve, but I did notice a commonality amongst those who failed. The women I watched fail who drove similarly to me were all Philipino, I was the only person who looked White or “western”. The other women who failed were of all backgrounds and ran over cones. The women who drove similar to me and passed were mostly conservatively dressed Muslims (with their head covered) or Arab.  I am not saying there is a double standard at all – I am just saying I noticed a commonality in those that failed.

I hope my next driving test update includes insight into the road test and the key phrase of “I passed.” I have gained a lot from this experience. I want to work to learn Arabic more than I did before and I have learned that driving test and policies have flaws everywhere. While I think the US system is better, I realize I am clearly biased because I passed the US system and failed the Qatar system. Maybe if it had been the other way around I would prefer the Qatar system.