Monday, January 21, 2008

back to school...

First off... here's the link to some photos I took. Most were from my car while trying to drive around the city. From here on out, all photos will be at...

Things are progressing nicely. I just got back from teaching my first real lab. It took twelve students about three hours to weigh fifteen different sets of samples. Can't wait until tomorrow when I have a class of 24...

I have some bad news though. Right before I went into class, I got an email that dropped my jaw to the floor. My friend and mentor at Texas A&M University, Dr. John Hogg, passed away yesterday. Although I never took a class from Dr. Hogg, he was one of the most influential people I ever had the pleasure of meeting. Besides being my undergraduate advisor, he was a good friend. Many hours were spent in his office bullshitting about staff and student alike. Every Friday he would come into Hastings where I worked to pick up the latest movies with good T&A... free of course with the coupons I used to slip him. Several times he gave me the riot act, quoting the rules of ethical guidelines for students and threatening me with expulsion for pulling a prank... afterwards asking me how I did it and tips for next time. After graduating, twice he invited me to be a guest lecturer in the Horizons in Chemistry course at TAMU. And... he was the guy who sent me the email, wondering if I'd be interested in teaching chemistry in Qatar.

I will forever be grateful to him... and will always miss him. Thank you, Dr. Hogg.

Last week I went walking around the Souq Waqif, one of the oldest open marketplaces in all of Arabia. Parts of it are several hundred years old. It's basically a huge flea market with just about everything you could imagine. Rows upon rows of little stores in a huge maze of narrow halls. Old men in thobes laze around on colored cushions people watching and swinging their prayer beads. I sat in an outdoor restaurant eating masgoof (grilled fish) and kofta rice. I tried to get the kofta camel, but they were out of camel... next time. I enjoyed a steaming hot mint tea made right in front of me. Afterwards, while smoking grape and apple shisha I was able to marvel at the sunset over the Arabian Gulf...

Not a bad way to spend a Wednesday evening.

I've put off my Arabic lessons for a little while, but am hoping to get back on the camel. Unfortunately... everyone here speaks English! And I mean everyone! With the enormous influx of foreign workers, I assumed there would be a giant frenzy of miscommunication. Instead, everyone decided that English would be the go-to vernacular. Most of my students speak perfect English; only a few have some problems, but most of their issues deal with chemical nomenclature.

On Thursday, I went to a basketball game... TAMUQ Aggies vs College of the North Atlantic somethings. My aggies played some mean defense, but they really struggled on the fast breaks. We came back in the fourth, but lost 64 to 58. Funny thing... the aggies did cheers in Arabic while the CNA students sang to someone beating a rhythm on an African drum.

I'm getting around the city OK, but it's still pretty easy to get lost... even though this entire city probably isn't as big as Galveston. There are NO street signs. The only way to navigate is by the roundabouts (called RBs) that pretend to be intersections. You go through one, then count how many until your turn. All directions are "go three, right, go two, left, go four on your right." What makes it more fun is that the roundabouts are installed all the time... on the 2007 map that I bought, it doesn't show any rbs going from work to home... even though I go through four. Best thing is that many of the roundabouts have official names, but no one (not even the Qataris) use them... everyone uses their unofficial names. There's the Oryx rb, Tilt rb (it's on a hill), TV rb (Al-Jazeera is next to it), and Burger King rb (guess). Hopefully in the next few weeks I'm going to get out of the city and head into the desert. I want to check out the giant sand dunes south of me, but you need a four-wheel drive to leave the city. No really... in some places the roads stop and you have to travel on sand until you reach the next road... how cool is that!

Next time I'm in the souqs I'll bring my camera. But for now, I've got to start grading some quizzes.


Sunday, January 13, 2008

araquis... dune... desert planet

I finally have enough time (and a computer) to update. I'm not sure where to start, so I guess I'll start from the beginning...

Jan 2nd... got on the plane. Mom and Dad were good enough to take me to the airport. If you've never flown business class on British Airways overseas... I highly recommend it. Warm towels, champaign, steak and shrimp... damn good food.

Jan 3rd... landed at Gatwick in England. Had a brief three hour layover. My next flight was on Emirates, and I was invited into their Club World Lounge. I had a fantastic breakfast (both arab classics and a true English breakfast). Emirates Airlines was really nice also... not at asthetically pleasing as BA, but the food and entertainment was top notch. Also... I swear they must hire their stewardesses from a Miss World pageant. I swear to God... these were some of the most beautiful women I have ever seen... or maybe it was just because I was stuck in a seat for 17 hours.

Next stop, Dubai. Unfortunately, I was only in Dubai for about one hour. Not enough time to really do anything but admire the airport... and realize for the first time that I was the minority that stood out from the crowd. Made one little mistake... I walked into the bathroom and into a stall... and was faced with the infamous "hole in the ground with squat pads and a garden hose to wash my ass." Needless to say, I came out of there trying to hide the fact that I had hosed down my ankles with the nozzle.

Final stop, Doha. Arrived at 10:30pm their time... more than 22 hours after leaving. A quick note -- due to security concerns, I'm not supposed to give out names of people I work with or specific places where I work or live... so I'll try not to be too vague. My coworker, we'll call him Tex, picked me up from the airport with a driver from the university. I didn't really see much of the city that night, just a long drive to my flat.

Doha. This is one interesting city. Qatar was a fairly poor country living under British rule until 1971, and only in the last thirty years did they get any wealth from their natural gas deposits. So instead of an old country filled with centuries old tradition rooted in Islamic faith... you get a city with extremely modern amenities with a backdrop of long-ago forgotten poverty.

I spent the first few days just adjusting to the time change... first sleeping 14 hours, then none for two days straight. I was taken out to lunch by Tex, his wife, and the other new lab tech, Alaska. Just calling her Alaska... duh. My first meal in Doha, Qatar... a Monte Cristo from Bennigan's. Turns out my coworkers like to treat themselves to American food from time to time.

I have a very nice two-bedroom flat in a new compound about five minutes from work. The compound is not finished yet... they're still building the pool, stores, and gym... but it'll work. My main window faces the construction site, and is right next to a mosque. Mosques here vary tremendously... some are huge, taller than skyscrapers and ornately constructed... glowing all night. But some are barely two stories tall and are almost crumbling. You cannot, honestly, throw a rock without hitting a mosque. When they announce the call to prayer five times a day, you always hear the one closest to you first... then you can hear them from all across the city... echoing in a beautiful rhythm. In this entire city, there is probably a few hundred mosques... but only ten gas stations!

By the way, it's the rainy season here! A cold front came through, bringing with it a massive sandstorm that darkened the sun one afternoon. After it blew through (and covered everything that was outside with about a half-an-inch of fine yellow dust) it got really cold here... down to the low 40s. But since these temperature are extremely rare, there's no heat in the buildings... so when it's cold... it's always cold. After three days of cold, the rain started. And no one has umbrellas here... and absolutely no one knows how to drive in the rain. It only rains for about one week, then it won't rain again until next January.

So much for moving to the hot, dry desert... it's been cold and wet all damn week!

I'm teaching my first class tomorrow night, and I think I'm as prepared as I'm going to get. I have to get home and eat... so I'll write more tomorrow morning. I haven't taken a ton a pictures yet, but I'll post what I have soon.


Wednesday, January 2, 2008

So long... and thanks for all the fish...

It's time... I'm off. I'm just about to leave for the airport with mom and dad. In about 24 hours, I'll hopefully arrive in Doha.

I'm not sure if anyone will be picking me up from the airport... or where I'll be staying... or when my job starts...

But I know I'll have some fun...

Take care, everyone... and have a Happy New Year!!