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