Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Buy a car in Doha…

It feels like I have been car shopping forever. In late July I went car shopping for the first time. I thought by the end of August I would have a beautiful new car to call my very own. In the end I got my car at the end of September, and while I am not happy about how long it took me, I am thrilled with the end result.

During the car shopping experience I had two wonderful partners to experience it with me. Carolyn, a professor in her 60’s at VCU and Justin the other new Residence Hall Director, both arrived in Doha at the same time I did and needed cars. We began looking and comparing thoughts. At the start we were all on the same page and thought we might end up with the same car. In the end a much different story unfolded.

Carolyn and I spend several nights driving from one dealership to another trying to find the right car. We narrowed it down towards the middle of August and were ready to move forward; however, I did not have a drivers license and needed to wait until it was finalized. I received my license as Ramadan began. This timing coincidence helped me in the long run because dealerships roll out their big deals during Ramadan. At this point in the car shopping Justin joined Carolyn and I (he had been looking on his own, and we would compare notes). We all ended up at KIA, Nissan and Renault. We all liked the Sportage at KIA and scheduled a test drive. Dealerships do not keep drivable cars on sight; so you have to schedule a time to test drive a car a day in advance. Carolyn also test drove the X-Trail, and Justin and I test drove some Renault car with a really cool key. After all the test driving Justin ditched all three options and went back to an early favorite in the Mazda 6 and Carolyn and I both chose the KIA Sportage. We all went to apply for loans – and the fun began.

In the US you could theoretically walk into a dealership and walk out with a car. The Dealership will help you with the loan onsite and if you met the criteria you could buy the car. In Doha you negotiate a price with the dealership and they give you a binding letter that you then bring to the bank. The bank then has to approve you for the loan and confirm it with the dealership. You then take the letter garunteeing payment from the bank to the dealership and the dealership spends another few days processing the registration with the government. Then you own the car! The lynchpin in this whole scheme is the length of time it takes the bank to approve your loan.

When I brought my dealership letter to the bank I had 3 weeks before the Ramadan deals ended. I filled out all my forms and the service rep at the bank said it would take about 3 days. Three days later, still nothing except the arrival of the weekend. I Went in the next week and was told things were going slowly because of Ramadan time (offices are open for shorter hours and things just don’t seem to happen). Again I was told a few days. At the end of the second week I went back and was told anyday. I went back the next day and found out I had been denied because I had only received two months of pay and I needed three. I was really frustrated because it was Tuesday and all the Ramadan deals ended on Thursday – and I did not have time to find a new bank. I went back to my office and pulled up my bank account. Guess what – my next paycheck was deposited that day! I went back to the bank and asked them to rush the loan.

I waited – and waited, and on Thursday morning… the last possible morning to get this loan approved, I received a call. The service agent asked me to come in right away. I went in and she told me the loan was approved but my signature was wrong and I needed to resign the card. I resigned and she said “no that is not your signature”. It took me 50 tries before I got my signature (the funny thing is they all looked the same to me). Part of me thinks she did this just to get a laugh. All being said, I was willing to spend the rest of the day signing if it meant I could get my car. After turning in the right signature I waited. Later that day after the bank closed I got another call letting me know I could come get my paper.

With the magic paper in hand I went to the dealership. I gave them the long sought after paper and the power shifted to the dealership. The Eid holiday began on Friday and I was leaving for Jordan. It was agreed that they would get the registration right after Eid (Wednesday). That was perfect because I would be back in the country Wednesday night and could pick the car up Thursday. I enjoyed my trip (se previous blog post) and arrived home ready for my car. I called Thursday to set up the time to pick up the car and was told they forgot to get the registration and it was too late to do it now. They would have to wait until Saturday and hope that they could get in. I was not happy as this would mean a weekend without any car, and I had just heard “inshallah”.

For those of you who don’t know Inshallah (alternate spelling insha’Allah) means “God Willing.” It is used very very very often in conversation in Qatar. It can mean many things, but often means, “I hope”. I could mean, I really want this to happen and I will do my best to make it happen, and as long as God is on the same wavelength it will happen. It can also mean, if God wants it to happen I guess it will, but I am not doing anything to make it happen. It can mean, nope this in not going to happen but I don’t want to tell you that. There are SOOOOOOOO many more meanings to this phrase. When I heard this I was really hoping it meant he was going to do everything in his power to make it happen, but part of me thought he was saying it to pacify me and in reality he was not going to try very hard.

Saturday morning came around and I gave the dealership a call. They said they just sent a guy to the office (it was 10 AM and the government office opened at 8 AM and closes at noon) and would call me if he got back with the registration. Thankfully I got a call at 11:30 letting me know he got the registration and I could pick up the car at 4 PM. At 4 PM I was at the door of the dealership ready for my car. It was clean and ready. I inspected it and drove it around the block to make sure it was ok, then got in the car to leave.

That is when I noticed there were no floor mats in the car. I asked the dealer where they were and he said “oh, if you want same you can buy some at Carrefour.” I told him I did not want to buy some I wanted some that came with the car. I was then informed the “ran out” and it would be at least 20 days before I could get the ones for my car. So I drove away happy, but knowing I would be back to pick up the floor mats.

While my story had a happy ending, Justin and Carolyn had their own drama. Justin was in a similar boat to me and he had to reapply for a loan the same day I did. He waited and waited and waited, but he did not get his magic paper until we returned from Eid. In the end he was able to drive away with is handsome Mazda 6 the same evening I got my beautiful KIA Sportage. Poor Carolyn had a different ending. Qatar has some interesting policies. It is very difficult for people over 55 to get loans (and sometimes even jobs) because the government considers them too old. I guess there is just too high a risk that you will die and not pay back the loan. Carolyn was denied a loan from our bank and had to go out in search of another bank. As of the end of Ramadan she still did not have a bank that would approve her. I hope one of the banks will come through.

Life is great in my Sportage. It is easier to go around roundabouts because I can see past the big SUVs and I feel like I get more respect on the road. I still have to deal with the ridiculous drivers in this country, but at least I feel safer venturing out.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Travel gnome’s first journey: Jordan…

Eid Mubarak! With a week off work to celebrate the end of Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr, I decided to take Annie’s Adventures in Doha on the road to Jordan. As the two new comers Justin and I decided to travel together. Joining us was the gnome Sarah and Mike gave me to bring me luck on my journeys.

Like good travelers we arrived 2 hours early for out flight – more than enough time.

The first wonderful moment of the trip occurred on the plane when the Jordan promotional video was playing on every seat’s screen. The images showed for about 10 seconds each and were of random aspects of Jordan. My favorite was when for 10 seconds they showed a girl of about 10 swimming alone in a pool picking here weggie. I do not think anyone actually watched the clips before airing this thing. Other than that the fight was great and we arrived safely in Jordan.

Upon arrival we were introduced to out guide for the week, Wasim. This is how I will sum up Wasim – nice, smokes way too much, talks a lot about what he is “going to do” and he is always on his cell phone. By the middle of the trip I realized I was allergic to smoke.

After checking into the hotel, the Imperial Palace, Justin and I though we would find something fun to do for the night. I went down to the front desk to ask and found the lobby full on retired Swiss people. I asked the woman and the only suggestion she had was to go to the mall (the answer is NO), at that I decided to go back to the room. The line for the elevator was ridiculous as the lobby was still full of Swiss waiting to go up. I decided to take the stairs from the ground floor to the third floor – easy option, right? Upon reaching the 1st floor I realized this option was a failure. The stairwell was blocked by a large industrial vacuum (I prayed for no fire) and a tray of old food with bugs covering it. On top of that, there was a cat stuck in the lower level stairwell making a lot of noise. I took this as a sign to get out of the stairwell and cram my way into the next elevator. Justin and I ended up spending our first night exploring the part of the city and had out pictures taken with the King (a poster of the King, which are on almost every building). We walked up and down a main street and saw just about every embassy in Jordan.

The next day we visited Jerash and Ajlun. Jerash is an ancient Roman city that is amazing. Our guide was explaining to us that when he was growing up you could only see the tops of columns and it was a site used by kids to camp and play games. Since then it has been excavated and now is one of the best-preserved Roman cities. I found it really interesting that different countries were excavating different parts of the city. Another exciting thing is that most of the city is still underground! While most cannot be dug up, because people live on top of it, some of the city could still be uncovered.

After Jerash we visited Ajlun a crusaders castle. Just going off of the name I thought it was a castle built by crusaders; however, it was really built by the Muslim community to protect their cities and important cites. The castle was really interesting and a lot of fun to explore. We then went to lunch at a Lebanese restaurant, where Wasim informed us Lebanese food is the same as Jordanian food, but the Lebanese are better advertisers. The food was good, but the atmosphere was better.

That night Justin and I decided we didn’t want to just sit around in the room again. We went on line and found out that there was an Irish bar that was supposed to be fun, and it was walking distance. We walked there and met a Jordanian solider guarding the Egyptian embassy. He was very friendly and talked to us for a long time. During our conversation his machine gun was pointed at Justin (not intentionally). While talking to him an Irish guy came up to ask if the bar would be opening. Since it was the last night of Ramadan, the solider did not know if it would open. We kept talking and our luck turned. The owner of the bar and opened it just for the three of us (it was about 9pm and it was not supposed to open until 1am). Justin, Brian (the Irish guy) and I followed the owner the to entrance. He went inside and turned on the lights and we came inside. At this point Justin told me to watch where I stepped because I had just stepped on a roach. I quickly found a stool to sit on and get my feet off the floor. There were many, many roaches around the place – this bar would not pass any health standards in the US. The only thing Irish about the bar was the one leprechaun hanging from a rafter, hand cut construction paper shamrocks and one Irish flag. After staying for a drink (one for both Justin and I, and three for the Irish guy) we decided to call it a night and head back to the hotel.

The next day we visited a few places. We started at Mount Nebo where it is believed Moses is buried. The site was beautiful and had a great view across the Jordan River to the West Bank. We then visited Madaba a Byzantine Church with an amazing mosaic map of he world from the 3rd century AD (I think). Our last big stop for the day was Kerak Castle. This was another crusader’s castle, but much larger than Ajlun. It was a lot of fun to explore the site.

That night we stayed at Taybet Zaman. The hotel was an old 19th century Bedouin village that was converted into a hotel. It was amazing! If you are considering going to Petra, look to see if you can stay at this hotel. We stayed her for 2 nights. The first night I went to check out the pool but found two rather rowdy boys playing in it. I started playing solitaire instead and was joined latter by Justin. When it looked like it might be clear to swim without being attached by kids a European guy in a really bad Speedo started swimming and two French families with 8 kids arrived, one of the young girls did not have a top – I think it is a little too young to promote nude swimming – but they are French. At that point I gave up on the pool and we walked back to the room. We ended up watching an amazing sunset from the walkway right outside our door.

Our next day was Petra! If you do not have Petra on your list of places to visit – add it now. The site was amazing, but the trip was mixed with feeling sick, insults and awkwardness. Upon arrival to Petra we took a short horse ride further into the site (I would recommend taking the horse ride out of Petra not into the city). My “horse boy” (really a man in his thirties) was incredibly rude, and by the end of the very short journey I was fighting to keep by self esteem high. The horse boy told me I was too big for the horse (bull shit), he then said I would need to tip him more because he has to work hard to get the horse to carry me because I was so big (at that point I decided to tip him less). After getting off the horse we were met again by our tour guide. He asked up where we were from and we said the US. He asked us if we were from Utah, we said no, Ohio. He then asked us if Ohio is near Utah – we said no. He then said he really likes Utah because he loves polygamy and there is a lot of love in Utah. Yeah-awkward statement of the day. Later as Justin was taking pictures, insult number 2 came my way. Our guide asked me how old I was and I said 25. He then asked if I was married, I said no. He then made a sad face and wished me luck in life. Clearly I am too old to be good to anyone. The rest of the awkward comments came at the end of the day. I was walking back to the main gate alone and stopped in a shop to buy something. The salesman helped me find the item I was looking for then invited me back to his place for tea --- no. Right after leaving the shop a “horse boy” approached me to see if I wanted a ride back to the main gate. Through the course of trying to tell him I really did not want a ride he invited me to drinks later and said he really liked me and knew I was special. As I kept walking he rode up to me on his horse to ask me for drinks again. I realize I am a green card option; but seriously, if I say no, don’t ride up to me on a horse to ask again.

By the next morning I was feeling really sick and not looking forward to the Dead Sea. Anyone who knows me well knows I am afraid of water for two main reasons. First, I don’t like water that has anything living in it (fish primarily) – why would you want to go in water that is something else’s toilet? Also, I don’t like when water comes up to your chest and it gets harder to breath. For these two reasons, I avoid all natural water, and deep ends of pools. With this in mind, it was a huge accomplishment when I went into the Dead Sea. My rational was that it was the Dead Sea and nothing can live in it. Also, you float so you really can’t cover your chest. The water was warm and salty to the point where it was almost oily – I know that sounds weird, but it is what it is. After spending a few hours at the Dead Sea we drove back into Amman and the Imperial Palace.

By this point in the trip I was really sick. At first I thought it was allergies to smoke since I had been around more smoke on the trip than ever in my life, but as the trip went on I was feeling nauseous, had a headache, soar throat and was really congested. I felt bad for Justin because he had to share a room with me and I was up most of the night coughing. I did not make it through dinner that night, and then next day opted out of breakfast and the tour of Amman. I stayed in the hotel and when I had to check out, I sat in the lobby (for a long time with annoying children all around). The flight home was long with lots of kids – but I was glad to be heading home to my own bed!

The trip was amazing!

A fun last note: many many people wished us Merry Christmas. At first I was not sure how to take it, I thought the man might be insulting us, but after a while our guide explained it to us. Everyone knows the phrase Merry Christmas, but they don’t know the meaning. The people wishing us Merry Christmas thought they were translating Eid Mubarak. After that when people wished us Merry Christmas I responded with Eid Mubarak.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Students are more similar than not…

This past week I have been preparing to train the CDA staff in Suicide Prevention and Intervention as part of the formal Gatekeeper program. I was a little nervous to see how this would go with predominantly Muslim students and students who did not grow up in the US. I was unsure how the cultural differences would affect how students’ view suicide and how they would approach the situation. I was surprised to learn my students here have the same fears and anxieties of the students I worked with in the US. It is hard for anyone to ask, “Are you considering killing yourself?” While there was some resistance, in the end my students were receptive to the training and did a wonderful job with the group role-play. I really feel like I accomplished something today. I think my staff is more comfortable and more confident with mental health issues and suicide. I know they are more capable of recognizing warning signs and behavioral/emotional cures and they are more prepared to intervene and talk with a student. I love the work I do!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Fasting, Friends, and Residents…

To day was a wonderful day! I had made the decision prior to the start of Ramadan that I would fast for at least one day so I could have a better understanding of what my students feel as they fast. Today was that day. To be honest, it was not bad; however, I realize 30 days would be rough. I did not mind not eating, but I did notice the change from not drinking. I am thinking about doing again on Thursday, and possibly doing a full week next year. It does not hold the religious significance with me that it holds with my residents, but it does help me understand and connect with the culture more fully. After fasting all day I broke my fast at the Residence Life Iftar.

Timika and Chris planned a wonderful Iftar that had chicken Shwarma, crepes, Indian food, and Arabic food. I loved the shwarma – I might eat if every other day. It is essentially a chicken wrap, but better. There were about 150 students that attended and they all ate a lot of food! Students were lined up about 30 minutes before the start of the meal. As most had not eaten all day, they were ready for the sun to go down. The room was set up with majilis seating (as seen in the picture) which provided a more comfortable environment for students to sit and talk with each other.

During the meal I was able to get to know several of my residents better. One of my residents, a sophomore, was excited to tell me about her engagement. She told me about the whole process and how culturally things are much different than the US. She is in her 1st engagement, which is a non-binding first step. After she gets to know the fiancĂ© better, they will enter in a binding, religious, 2nd engagement, and then will get married. I really enjoyed hearing about how the process worked and how she came to make her decision. She started by telling me that when his family proposed to her family, her parents initially said no as they felt she was too young and still in school. The other family had only met her once, but the mother knew she was the one, and the son felt that she was perfect fit. When the family kept asking, her parents asked her what she thought. She told them know because she was young and wanted to finish school. Again her family told this message to the other family. Over the summer she was able to meet with the son a few times and get to know him better. She surprised her parents by agreeing to the marriage only after ensuring she could finish school at the campus of her choice. She really likes that the marriage has the family support and connection and she was the one who was able to make the choice. After hearing her talk about everything, it sounds like a good process to me. I think we get it wrong in the US – you start searching on your own, find the one, then convince you family and friends he is the right one. Why not start with family and friends and build a relationship on that?

After a great conversation with my residents I was able to talk with friends. I am so happy I work with amazing people. The young professionals in my office and at the other institutions all are supportive and motivated. I am looking forward to getting to know them all better! Last night I was able to get to know a few better at a different Iftar. It is amazing that we all come from such different backgrounds and have ended up in the same place. After hearing one person’s story of her experiences living through a civil war, I felt much more blessed to have grown up in a settled suburb of Columbus. I know I am going to learn a lot from my new friends and co-workers while living in Doha.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Names of Allah...

In the US it is very common for malls to get decorated for Christmas. It is the same here – but for Ramadan. These are a few pictures of a local mall decorated for Ramadan (courtesy of A&M Justin).

On one of the English radio stations, they have several hours of religious programming each day. I am often in the car when they read part of the Quran, or when they read historical excerpts from contemporaries of Mohammed. Today the religious program was a DJ reading the names of Allah with music playing in the background. While it was painful to listen to (not the entertainment you need when stuck in traffic with large semi-trucks and speeding SUVs), it did get me interested in seeing a list of all the names of Allah. It helps me understand names better, as many of the names for Allah are part of names of individuals I have met. Many individuals are Abdul (insert name for Allah here). Abdul means slave (or servant), so they are the servant of god.

Allah - The single, proper name for God in Islam

Ar-Rahman - The Compassionate, The Beneficent

Ar-Raheem - The Merciful

Al-Malik - The King, The Sovereign Lord

Al-Quddoos - The Holy

As-Salaam - The Source of Peace

Al-Mu'min - The Guardian of Faith

Al-Muhaimin - The Protector

Al-'Aziz - The Mighty, The Strong

Al-Jabbaar - The Compeller

Al-Mutakabbir - The Majestic

Al-Khaaliq - The Creator

Al-Bari' - The Evolver, The Maker

Al-Musawwir - The Fashioner

Al-Ghaffaar - The Great Forgiver

Al-Qahhaar - The Subduer, The Dominant

Al-Wahhaab - The Bestower

Al-Razzaaq - The Sustainer, The Provider

Al-Fattaah - The Opener, The Reliever

Al-'Aleem - The All-Knowing

Al-Qaabid - The Retainer

Al-Baasit - The Expander

Al-Khaafid - The Abaser

Al-Raafi' - The Exalter

Al-Mu'iz - The Honorer

Al-Muthil - The Humiliator

As-Samee' - The All-Hearing

Al-Baseer - The All-Seeing

Al-Hakam - The Judge

Al-'Adl - The Just

Al-Lateef - The Subtle One

Al-Khabeer - The Aware

Al-Haleem - The Forebearing

Al-'Azeem - The Great One

Al-Ghafoor - The All-Forgiving

Ash-Shakoor - The Grateful

Al-'Aliyy - The Most High

Al-Kabeer - The Great

Al-Hafeez - The Preserver

Al-Muqeet - The Maintainer

Al-Haseeb - The Reckoner

Al-Jaleel - The Sublime One

Al-Kareem - The Generous

Ar-Raqeeb - The Watcher

Al-Mujeeb - The Responsive

Al-Wasi' - The Vast

Al-Hakeem - The Wise

Al-Wadood - The Loving

Al-Majeed - The Glorious

Al-Ba'ith - The Resurrector

Ash-Shaheed - The Witness

Al-Haqq - The Truth

Al-Wakeel - The Trustee

Al-Qawiyy - The Strong

Al-Mateen - The Firm One

Al-Waliyy - The Supporter

Al-Hameed - The Praiseworthy

Al-Muhsee - The Counter

Al-Mubdi' - The Originator

Al-Mu'eed - The Reproducer

Al-Muhyi - The Restorer

Al-Mumeet - The Destroyer

Al-Hayy - The Alive

Al-Qayyoom - The Self-Subsisting

Al-Waajid - The Perceiver

Al-Waahid - The Unique

Al-Ahad - The One

As-Samad - The Eternal

Al-Qaadir - The Able

Al-Muqtadir - The Powerful

Al-Muqaddim - The Expediter

Al-Mu'akh-khir - The Delayer

Al-'Awwal - The First

Al-'Akhir - The Last

Az-Zaahir - The Manifest

Al-Baatin - The Hidden

Al-Walee - The Governor

Al-Muta'ali - The Most Exalted

Al-Barr - The Source of All Goodness

At-Tawwaab - The Acceptor of Repentance

Al-Muntaqim - The Avenger

Al-'Afuww - The Pardoner

Ar-Ra'uf - The Compassionate

Malik Al-Mulk - The King of Kings

Thul-Jalali wal-Ikram - The Lord of Majesty and Bounty

Al-Muqsit - The Equitable

Al-Jaami' - The Gatherer

Al-Ghaniyy - The Self-Sufficient

Al-Mughni - The Enricher

Al-Maani' - The Preventer

Ad-Daarr - The Distresser

An-Nafi' - The Propitious

An-Noor - The Light

Al-Haadi - The Guide

Al-Badi' - The Incomparable

Al-Baaqi - The Everlasting

Al-Waarith - The Inheritor

Ar-Rasheed - The Guide to the Right Path

As-Saboor - The Patient

Thursday, September 3, 2009

A blah week…

So there has been some positive stuff this week, but mainly this was a boring week. I did do a lot of car shopping. I looked at SUVs and cars and made the choice that I wanted to be up higher and get more perks for my money. In the end I decided on the KIA sportage. Several people I know drive them and love them. I am waiting on bank approval, if all goes well I will get approved next week. When I actually own it, I will post a picture!

This week I have felt run down and have noticed a few other problems. Some of the issues I dealt with last year were coming back, including clumps of hair falling out. I know that it is the medications I take (I think I am taking the wrong dosage), but I do not yet have a health card. I tried to get my card every day, but got nowhere. My boss’s boss even tried and did not get anything. Eventually I went to a clinic and the doctor told me she couldn’t do anything; she could only refer me to an endocrinologist. I then took this referral to my HR office and by the end of the day they assured me my card was being printed and I would have it on Sunday (the next work day). I also spent time calling hospitals to try and get an appointment with an endocrinologist. The doctor I met with recommended one hospital and said it was the best and the others were just ok (she told me not to go to the American hospital – that is nothing like an American hospital). I called the first hospital and when I asked for an appointment with an endocrinologist I was told “We kind of have one of those, but he is on vacation for a month.” I am not sure what “kind of” means, either you do or you don’t have an endocrinologist. I then called hospital number two. I am not even kidding you – she is on vacation for the next month. Hospital number three did not event have an endocrinology department. I finally called clinic number 4 (not a hospital) – they never answered the phone. I gave up and will try again on Sunday. I am sure once people get back from vacation I will find a great doctor.

The bottom line is that even though I did not “do” that much this week, I am more run down than I have been since I moved here. I am hoping sleeping all weekend will re-energize me.