Saturday, February 27, 2010

A day at the races...

So this is a quick post about my experience seeing a camel race. Yes, a camel race. These races are a cherished aspect of the "Qatari Culture". When we arrived, as with any event that is arab, people are milling around, and there isn't any clear understanding of what is going on and what time things are starting. Eventually we figured out that the races were occurring on a different track a little further back from where we were. So we walked over to the track and hopped on a bus to follow the camels. The camel race is a 5 minute race around a huge track. The Qataris used to use little children to ride the camels and whip them to go faster.
Due to recent human-rights and safety laws (thank god) children can no longer be used. Instead they use little robots that have whips. What happens is that the Qatari men drive along side the camels with a remote control in order to control the robot's whipping. And the camel, has an ear piece in it's ear that the men in the land cruiser use to scream at them to go faster.... it's quite hilarious.

So as a spectator, because the track is so long, we hop onto a bus that drives along the other side of the camel track so you can see... sounds crazy, I know. It was a fun experience that I will never forget. For pictures click here!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Dubai and Abu Dhabi

So I just realized that I promised a post about my trip to Dubai and Abu Dhabi... so here it goes.
A couple of weeks ago Lindsay and I flew to Dubai using a really cheap, regional carrier called FlyDubai. We both got our round trip tickets for about $100. You can get cheaper tickets depending how early you book. The planes are really nice but they try to nickel & dime you for
everything. We paid $2 a person to pre-choose our seat, and paid $10 for each bag we checked in (only one, so not too bad). They also try to sell you food and drinks the entire time during the flight... outside of that, the service is great!

We arrived in Dubai late on a Tuesday night and took a cab to the hotel that we booked
through Orbitz. The hotel was VERY nice and very reasonably priced for being a 5-star. Thanks to the recent financial down-turn in Dubai, hotels are slashing prices to get people to come! The name of the hotel is Bonnington Hotel (never heard of it) but the room was very fancy and it had a huge shower with the rain-style shower head that came from the ceiling. The hotel pool and hot-tub were located on the 11th floor and and it was open air. The building itself was quite interesting because the 11th floor was open air while there were still a good 8 or 10 floors above it...

The first day Lindsay and I hopped a taxi (after figuring out that we were not walking distance from a working metro station (one of Dubai's claims of fame is their new metro system that is about 50% complete, but in traditional arab fashion, they opened it anyway). The taxi brought us to Mall of the Emirates which is known mostly for it's indoor skiing park. Yes, that's right, indoor skiing, only in Dubai! After we checked out the mall we grabbed lunch at popular chain here in the gulf called "Chili's" yeah they are here everywhere too. After lunch we hopped
another taxi to Dubai Mall, which claims to be the largest in the world. It was a huge mall and very nice. The area where Dubai Mall is located is where the new Burj Khalifa (tallest building in the world) resides.
We spent some time in the mall, we went shopping for some new shoes which turned out to be a great deal because of the shopping festival that was going on at that
time. I picked up three pairs of Steve Madden shoes for $125, which is great because I hardly buy shoes. After walking around for a bit we bought movie tickets to see "Up in the Air" with George Clooney. Great movie, little depressing but very good! This reminds me that I need to explain to you all how movie theaters work here in the gulf.

Move Theaters: Ok, so if there is one thing that the GCC (Gulf Coast Countries) do well, it is movie theaters. First off, the theaters are amazing, especially the one in Dubai Mall which is three stories high. When you buy a movie ticket you don't just "buy a ticket" you also choose a seat. So it is common to go earlier in the day and buy your tickets and choose your seats. This ensures that you can show up 1 min before the movie starts and your dead-center middle row seat will be waiting for you. And yes, 1 minute before it starts, because movies here start on
time. Lindsay and I got a good laugh out of a new service that we saw in Dubai, VIP movie tickets... everything in the GCC has a VIP option. Even Dubai's metro system has a "gold car" that you can pay more to ride in. Status is a big thing here in the GCC! Anyway, the VIP movie ticket comes with a butler-service, private viewing and food for about 3 times the cost of the regular movie ticket... we were tempted but didn't do it. After the movie we went back to the hotel to relax and get ready to dinner out at
On The Boarder Mexican Restaurant. Mexican food is a shared love between Lindsay and I and we take full advantage of eating Mexican food when it's near by. After dinner we hopped a cab back to the hotel and relaxed.

The next day we decided to see if we could get into Burj Khalifa but the tickets were $40 to go half way, so we said "no thanks". We ended up catching another movie "Law Abiding Citizen" with Jaimee Fox and Gerald Butler (I think). It was ok, a little bloody. After the movie we
walked around some more and then returned back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. That night we went to a very nice souk-mall for dinner (near Burj Khalifa) and went to a restaurant called "The Mango Tree" it served Thai food and to Lindsay's delight, lemon-berry martinis... she found a new favorite drink. I ordered grilled sea bass wrapped in a banana leaf and Lindsay got Pad Thai.

The next day we rented a car from Hertz and drove to Abu Dhabi, which was about 1 hour away. It was weird driving in Dubai because the roads are straight and long (similar to the US) but in Doha, I've become to quick stops and short accelerations. When we got to Abu Dhabi, we went to the huge Mosque and looked around. Lindsay had to cover, as all woman have to when
entering a mosque.
Lindsay HATES covering, but I LOVE poking fun at her. After the mosque, we drove to a mall in Abu Dhabi. The setting of Abu Dhabi is much different than Dubai and Qatar, it's very green, lots of trees and looks like a real city. However, Abu Dhabi is quite boring. Dubai is the vegas of the UAE (United Arab Emirates) and Abu Dhabi is the more responsible country, hence why Abu Dhabi just bailed out Dubai for 13 billion dollars).

We grabbed a quick bite at a restaurant in the mall then headed back to Dubai. When we got back we took a taxi to the old part of Dubai and saw the gold-souk and went on a quick boat ride
over to see the old souks of Dubai. That evening we went to another Mexican restaurant called El Chico's which was a lot better than On the Boarder...

The last day we grabbed a taxi to the closest metro station to try out the metro system. Little did we know it would take 45 min to get to the airport. We both got a little nervous because we were approaching the hour cut off point for our flight check-in and then we got really panicked when we got off at the only airport drop off point, "terminal two" to find out that our terminal "terminal 3" was a 15 minute cab ride... what the hell? We got a fast taxi driver and he got us there just in the knick of time!

The trip to Dubai was great, it's an interesting city in that it shows how fast a city can grow with vast amounts of wealth. At the same time, it shows how empty a city can become when the wealth and investments are only surface level. For more pictures, click here!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Busy times ahead... and behind


The past couple of weeks have been busy busy busy. Part of my job is to work with student housing assignments and applications for the next school year (2010-2011). This is always a fun job when students go to pick their residence hall and roommates. What made this year's process even more fun was the sub-par software program that we piloted this year. After countless emails, error messages and questions, I can safely say that we are heading towards the end of the tunnel, I can see the light! Working with a student population that has a mix of medical students from Cornell, engineering students from Texas A&M and even fashion design students from VCU always makes the job more interesting. Each student feels that his or her degree or program is "more important" or "harder" than the other, so many of the conversations with students about priority for selecting rooms revolves around this issue of "I'm more important". It doesn't help that each school here fosters this thinking with their own students.... this is one of the many challenges that arises from having 6 schools with very unique cultures coming together on one campus.

Education City has been busy this past month. We've had the Vienna Symphony Orchestra perform outside at Education City. I watched from the grassy area across the street because I didn't want to pay the $100+ ticket price. Also, Hillary Clinton visited Education City, during her visit to the middle-east to round up support for new sanctions against Iran. She spoke with students here at campus. I saw her motorcade drive by, which was quite big. Hillary's main message here in the gulf was that the US fears Iran is becoming a military dictatorship and it threatens the region. It will be interesting to see if her visit pays off.

Outside of work, things are going well. I started P90X work-out routine which is a video work-out program that takes 90 days. All I needed to buy was a pull-up bar, two dumbbells and a yoga mat. Right now I'm in what is called "Phase 1" that focuses on burning fat and building muscle. There is a very strict diet on this program but I'm just doing my own diet of eating healthier and less sugar (which is very very hard to do here in Doha). I don't believe in "diets" or "eating plans" because I want whatever I do to be a lifestyle change versus a "phase". My routine is pretty hard but I like it. Sundays are Chest and Back, Mondays are Plyometrics, which is a lot of jumping and squats, Tuesdays are Arms and Shoulders, Wednesdays are Yoga X (VERY HARD!), Thursdays are Legs and Back, Fridays are Kenpo X which is a lot of punching and kicking and Saturday is my rest day! Wish me luck!

Lindsay and I are having a great time. We've been together for a little short of 5 months and I've never been happier. We are busy planning our next two trips together which is looking like a summer trip to Malaysia and fall trip to either Thailand or Switzerland to see U2 her favorite band. Lindsay has been very busy at work too and she is leaving tomorrow to go to Indonesia with a group of students for an alternative spring break trip. The students from Education City will be going to Indonesia to teach high school students basic lessons in art, computer skills etc...

My future outlook is busy. I leave on March 17th to head to ACPA conference in Boston then I fly home for a week to visit my mom, dad, sister and grandparents. I haven't been home for 8 months! I can't wait. One of the first things I plan on doing, after hugging all my family, is to go to Wal-Mart and go CRAZY! I miss some American products and I need to stock up! I will get back into Doha on the 1st of April and the rest of the month will be packed with programs and events around EC. April 8th is a big RHC program called "Sports on the Spine" so I'm sure I'll be busy advising my RHC group as they get closer and closer to that date.

I recently found out that my summer will be quite busy. My good friend Jenna from Westminster College will be flying out on May 25th and will be in Doha with me until June 6th. I'm excited to have her come out and see my work and the country! Jenna departs on the 6th and I plan to follow a few days after to be home for my sister's graduation. I then will fly back to Doha to pick up some students that will be attending a conference with me in San Diego from June 20-24th. This conference is called NACURH which is a huge student organization that I was apart of in my undergraduate career. It means a lot to me to be bringing a group of students to this conference. NACURH was a big part of my life in undergrad and I hope they have a great experience too. From NACURH I will fly directly to Austin, TX for a conference called ACUHO-I (Association of College and University Housing Officers - International). I was selected to present at this conference in a session. I'm very nervous but excited! After I leave Texas, I will arrive back to Doha for a couple of days before heading out to Malaysia, inshallah (who remembers what this means? "God Willing").

So that's a break down of what I've been doing and what I will be doing in the coming months. I'll keep you posted on any changes and of course will do my best to keep posting!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

A new year and new adventures ahead!

So I fell behind with blogging yet again... go figure. A lot has happened since the last time I posted. Work remains busy and always challenging, social life is blossoming and my adjustment to Doha is as good as it will get.
Over the month of December and January work was busy even though students were mostly gone visiting family back in their respective countries. I found little projects along the way to occupy my time while staying in Doha over the Holidays. I worked with the facilities crew to get our offices painted,
worked on some planning items for Residence Hall Council (the group that I advise) and even re-painted one of Lindsay's walls in her apartment while she was home in Louisiana (I'm a handy guy apparently).

On December 14th, Qatar celebrated it's National Day which was marked by a huge military parade and fireworks. It was an interesting experience and I was happy to experience this day with some good friends Jon and Julie Chase. Julie's mom and dad were visiting from the states and we made a nice day out of the events. We attended the parade in the morning that included tanks, soldiers and even some very cool fly-bys with aircraft. After the parade we had a nice picnic on the corniche (the bay) of Doha. Towards the middle of the day it started to rain (which is weird because it rarely rains here in Doha) and I was driving home and I lost control of my car and hit a curb... $330 later I had a new tire and rim... Overall, the day was great! Pictures Here!

It was a bit of an adjustment staying overseas and not being with my family for Christmas (the first time ever) and it was also difficult being away from Lindsay for that long... time moved quickly and I was surrounded by some good people. Christmas eve was spent at Denis and Christy Busch's house where they prepared a wonderful dinner. I got to see a past colleague, Kevin and a friend whom I met when I first moved here in July, Mohammed Al Kuwari. Mohamed has been in Kansas working on his Masters degree in student affairs. He is the first Qatari to go to school in this area and we are all excited for him to graduate and start a new trend of Qatari student affairs professionals. He shared some stories with me over dinner about his experience in Kansas and how he bought another Ford Mustang (vintage this time). The evening was full of great conversation and company. I always enjoy seeing Mohammed and he continues to serve as a positive Qatari image to me as I adjust to the culture here in Qatar.

Christmas day was weird but ended quite well. It was a strange feeling waking up on Christmas day without having family around. I missed that feeling, but I also enjoyed not having the traditional Christmas day picture shoot (love you mom). Oh, and get this, I didn't even try to open my gifts until I video conferenced with my mom and sister around 4PM that day!! Look at that self restraint! My mom and sister had traveled to Macon, Georgia to spend the Christmas holiday with my auntie Berta and uncle Terry. Thanks to technology (mostly Apple) we were able to have a nice long video chat with each other and I got to talk to/see my cousins and aunt & uncle. I got a lot of neat little gifts from my mom and sister which I enjoyed a lot. My mom knows how to find the strangest, yet amazing, food items from TJMaxx. My sister got me a great work-out outfit and my dad got me some gift cards. Christmas day ended with a great dinner at my friend Timika's apartment. I was grateful that she and her husband, Rory, invited me over for great food, company and some Nintendo Wii!

I wasn't completely alone the entire Holiday season as I was watching one of my friend's cat, Shilo. She is a beautiful cat and quite sweet... however, she had some... um... unique habits that I could have lived with out... namely the ability to attack my hands in the middle of the night while I was sleeping, or her ability to drag my cloths from the laundry basket into my bed so that I would wake up to a nice nest of shirts, shorts and socks.

I also found out that I am quite allergic to cats... which is weird because my mom has two cats (the best in the world) and I have never had the symptoms that I experienced watching Shilo. After thinking about this for a while, I realized that my mom does a great job (some times too good of a job) keeping the house clean so the fur and dander are not as prevalent in our house at home.

The days following Christmas were not too exciting, just more working... however it was nice to see my colleagues and friends slowly return to their middle east home. Perhaps the person I was most excited to see was Lindsay. We waited until she got back to exchange Christmas gifts and I was so anxious to watch her open hers! We had set a price limit on gifts which was a good idea since I tend to go overboard, but I managed to get her some things that she really wanted. I gave her a gift card to one of her favorite stores but she got that before going home so she could actually use it. The next gift was Julia Child's cook book "Mastering the Art of French Cooking". Lindsay likes to cook and we both had watched "Julie & Julia" and liked the movie a lot. For those of you who haven't seen the movie, it focuses a lot on Julia Child writing the aforementioned cook book. Lindsay really enjoyed this gift because she said she almost bought it when she was in the states but decided not to because it was heavy to pack. The last gift I got her was a necklace that I had made for her by one of the many local gold shops in Doha. In Syria I had overheard her talking to our friend Natalie that she liked another friend's necklace that was a pendant which had her name in arabic in the form of a tear drop. My research started in Syria when I asked Natalie to find out where her friend got the necklace which lead to many emails between Natalie, her friend, and me. Finally, I brought another mutual friend, Karen, who is one of Lindsay's closest girlfriends here with me to the gold souk to get her expert (female) opinion on the design. We did some shopping around and finally decided on a place called "The Belgium Workshop" (nothing Belgium about it, I may add). I placed my order and then came back when it was done a week later. It looked great and she loved it! She wears it about every day. Lindsay got me some great gifts too! She remembered that I really wanted to find a copy of my favorite movie "Lucky Number Sleven" and got me the DVD, she also remembered me talking about getting a lens holder for my DSLR camera and surprised me with those. She got me more of my favorite cologne and the best gift of all, a new Citizen EcoDrive watch. It's such a nice watch and I wear it almost every day.

After Lindsay got back, work and life returned to the normal blistering pace. She had a lot of work to do for LeaderShape which is a leadership development program for students that her office is responsible for every year. She put a ton of time and effort into this program and it turned out great. I got to meet the lead facilitator who is the current Dean of Students at Florida State University, Jeanine. Lindsay and I brought her to the Exxon Mobile Men's Tennis Tournament after the program ended. I think that Jeanine really enjoyed her time in Doha and the tennis experience. Pictures Here!

Before I knew it I was head first into the Qatar Young Professionals Institute which included masters and doctoral students from University of Maryland College Park and the University of San Diego. The institute focused on developing dialogue and research for student affairs in the arabian gulf. The group I was assigned to focused on the commuter student population and how student affairs here in the gulf context can work to better serve this group of students. It was three days long and boy did it feel like a week! It was a great experience getting to meet the awesome students from UMCP and USD and I was super excited to meet Dr.Komives and Dr. Geitz in person (Student Affairs celebrities).

The week after YPI was spent getting ready for the RHC spring retreat which turned out well and this past week we as a department have been super busy with CDA interviews/selection. (CDA=Community Development Assistant, or as we like to call it in the US a RA). Interviews are always a great time and you can always bet there will be that one student who says the most ridiculous thing during an interview. This year my favorite quote was from the question of "Why did you apply for the CDA position" his answer, "for the money"... after trying to get anything else out of him for this question, I gave up and went on to the next question "what skills do you bring to this position if hired" his answer, "I'm good at Microsoft word".... I almost laughed.... poor guy. At least he tried.

Since YPI life has calmed down and I have had more time to spend with Lindsay which is great. We went out to dinner with Chris and Jill (friends/colleagues) twice and saw "Sherlock Holmes" with them and we went to see "Nine" with our other friends Rachel and Tristan. We were shocked to find out that "Nine" was not edited at all for content! Movies here in Doha are often edited to cut out kissing scenes and any other scene that has sexual implications. Last Thursday, Lindsay hosted a "Fiesta Night" at her apartment and I made enchiladas that were really good (I surprised myself) and we had a bunch of friends come over and bring different food dishes, it was a great time!

This week will be a short work week for me because Lindsay and I are leaving Tuesday night for Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Look for pictures soon!

Some recent developments that I hope to blog about soon are:

The 3rd grader that I just started tutoring;
My trip to Dubai and Abu Dhabi;
CDA selection for next year;