Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Doha - the Paris of the Middle East

Okay.  Maybe I'm overselling that title just a wee bit.  But a girl's gotta brag when she can purchase BACON for the first time in nearly six months.

Here is the first email that circulated at work yesterday.  The title was "TODAY":

I just spoke with QDC....pork sausage is being sold beginning 5PM today!!! Just need to bring your regular liquor permit with you!!!

To clarify, for months we've been waiting for the Qatar Distribution Center (QDC) to stock pork, a forbidden food for Muslims, the same way it does alcohol, a forbidden beverage for Muslims.  Please note the exclamation points (just for the record, I didn't write either of these emails).

This was followed by:

I have an eyewitness account that there is PORK for sale at QDC – frozen sausage and frozen bacon.

You'd think we were getting this excited about a sighting of the Loch Ness Monster or something.  But no.  Pig parts.  Big news here in Doha.

I'll be going by QDC after the 1st of the month to see what's available.

But that's not the only thing that is pointing to life in Qatar becoming more glam.  Over Eid, Oliver, Dudley and I moved here.  My lease was up at Samrya, and as much as I loved the community feel of the place and its closeness to work, I wanted to have the opportunity to live on the Gulf.

The Pearl is really, really lovely.  Here are some views off my balcony:

This is the view towards West Bay.

 This is the other side of the Crescent.  Note the construction.

Two ground level views of the Crescent, the wide promenade that runs along the marina.  The tower dead ahead in the second photo is mine.

For those who don't want to wade through pages of The Pearl's website, it's a new development created atop a manmade island in what is known as West Bay.  It's meant to echo what it's like along the French and Italian Rivieras--water, sun, food, shopping.  All very exclusive.  Among the stores here are:  Vera Wang, Lancel, Hermes, Stella McCartney, Cole Haan, Alexander McQueen.  As a friend from work said, "You can buy a Maserati there, but you can't buy a pint of milk."  

It's true, you can buy a Maserati here.  You can also buy a Rolls Royce, come to that.  The milk thing will actually be getting better very soon.  There are plans to put a Spinneys on The Pearl, though no one is holding their breath for that.  The space has been selected, but from what I've heard, no construction is actually taking place.  However, the Carrefour at Lagoona Mall, which is basically at the entrance to The Pearl, is scheduled to open on Thursday.  That will be very handy indeed.  The mall as a whole is supposed to have a kind of rolling opening, with a variety of stores and restaurants becoming available between now and February, including an Outback Steakhouse, Haagen Daz, Adidas, and Mango.

To be honest, I'm not exactly in the market for a Rolls Royce (or an Outback steak...).  I drive a Tiida (a Nissan Versa with another name).  It gets me around fine.  I moved out here primarily for the view and it's freakin' gorgeous.  I have a nice sized balcony with a comfy table and chairs and I'm out there all the time, the animals right along with me.  Now that the weather is terrific (as opposed to horrific), I spend a hell of a lot of time outside.  Oliver's daily walks are becoming more like 30-40 minutes in the morning and 45-60 minutes in the evening.  Right now, we're getting highs in the low 80's/upper 70's and evening lows in the 60's.  We had rain for the first time over Eid and are supposed to get some showers tonight and tomorrow.  We'll see.

There are wonderful walking paths here.  They run between the high rises and the villas (most of which are built on the water with private beaches--you can catch a glimpse of one in the pic facing West Bay [look for the private pool]).  Dogs aren't common here, but they're not uncommon either.  There are quite a few smaller pooches roaming around.  Oliver has made pals with Dolly, the yorkie; Lolo, the terrier mix; Polly, the other terrier mix; and a chihuahua, whose name escapes me and the yorkie mix he lives with.  The one negative to all these dogs is the disrespectful owners who let their dogs mess at will, yet don't pick up after themselves.  I don't understand that.  I truly don't.  Dogs as pets are almost exclusively a Western concept here, and I would have thought any Western pet owners would be familiar with the practice of picking up poo.  Apparently I was wrong.

But it's not just fancy digs and pork that are turning Doha into the place to be.  Guess who I'm going to go see perform Shakespeare?  Kevin Spacey!  He's coming here on the 16th and 17th of December to perform Richard III, directed by Sam Mendes.  The tickets were ridiculously reasonable by American standards (I paid QR200, which is a little less than $55USD.  Given that I spent over $300 for a Book of Mormon ticket, I'd call that a sweet deal), and I can only imagine Spacey will be brilliant in this role and I've been a fan of Sam Mendes since I saw a performance he directed at Donmar Warehouse in the 90's.  I'm so excited about this.  I can't even tell you.

So that's all that's new in Doha.  But I have this funny story about my dog.

Oliver has taken to high rise living pretty well.  He now comfortably rides in the elevator and he's getting better and better about having to weave between strange people (aka the doormen and concierge team) milling about in the lobby on our way outside.

On Saturday morning, we came back from our morning walk.  It was only about 7:30am and not many people were around.  One of the girls I see quite frequently was working the front desk.  I believe she may be from Thailand.  She's said hello to Oliver and me many times, and I know from our conversations she's scared of dogs (Oliver barked at her when we first moved in.  In fairness, we were coming down the hallway from the elevators just as she got up from her desk and crossed in front of us.  She startled Oliver and me, and Oliver startled her.).  This exchange took place.

Girl:  Is he a husky?  
Me:  Who?  Oliver?
Girl:  Yes.  Is he a husky?
Me (unable to help myself):  No, he's not a sled dog.

Well, of course, she'd wondered if perhaps he was a puppy who would grow into being a Siberian Husky.  I assured her that no, while Oliver was young, he was as big as he was going to get (in other words, five pounds of fluff).

She did not seem entirely convinced.  I don't blame her for being uneasy.  He is a little devil.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Compound Living (aka I Live with a Celebrity)

So I'm screening someone for a position with our Communications team (hi, Scott!), and he mentions, "You know, you really should update your blog."  And I realize:

a) how easy it is to find out information about people online;
b) and that I haven't written anything since Ramadan!  Man, and I had such good intentions too (and we all know where those lead).

Anyway, I'm back.  I hope you're all doing well.  We're fine here in Qatar.

The weather is beginning to mellow some.  We're getting highs in the low 90's instead of 100+, and if humidity cooperates, it's actually quite pleasant here.  That being said, when I walked the dog this morning, it was 82 degrees with 80% humidity (according to Weather.com).  Humidity, she is a capricious hussy.

But about that dog walking...

By and large, I'm not a fan of apartment complexes.  Living closely together with strangers whose homes are identical in layout (and in this case, furnishings) seems wrong to me somehow.  Too cookie cutter.  Soulless.  My family and friends know this about me.  When my sister had visited me in Baltimore, I'd told her how much I liked Mt. Washington, where I'd been renting at the time, and had pointed out a nice condo complex, saying, "If I were to stay here, I could probably afford to buy in that complex.  But I don't know if something like that is for me."  Her immediate response was, "Oh, no.  You couldn't do that.  You'd need to find another way."

You'd think we were talking about my planning to storm the beach at Normandy.

Samrya Gardens is a fair-sized compound, 150 units, all two to three bedrooms.  We have kids living there.  Lots and lots of kids.  We're two doors down from what is arguably the best English language school in Doha, The American School, and next door to Doha College, which is comparable to an American high school.  When you walk around, you bump into people--going to the pool or mini-mart, playing on the swing set, or doing their own turn around the place.  I imagine it has to be like what village living would be like.  But what does a big city girl know?

This is Oliver.

I walk him three times a day--before work, after work, and before bed.  He's litter box trained, so during the day, he simply stays inside.  I've learned that walking a dog introduces you to people.  Lots of people.  Some of these are fellow dog owners.  We have in our village/compound (off the top of my head): two dachshunds, a maltese, a couple terrier mixes, a shihtzu, a yorkie, and a larger dog named Jack, who belongs to my boss.

But some of the people I chat with don't have dogs.  They just like them.  It's an automatic conversation starter.  People seem to like coming by to say hello and to (try to) pet Oliver.  If you're an adult male, good luck with that.  He's afraid of men, which says something unflattering about my social life.  However, he does like women and children.

And children like him.

It's become habit for us to come past the compound playground and hear shouted, "Ah-li-vah!  Ah-li-vah!"

And then the stampede starts.

There is a core group of about eight to ten little children, nearly all girls (there's one little boy, who is there because of his sisters), who love Oliver with the same passionate intensity American tweens have for Justin Bieber.  It's adorable and, for Oliver, terrifying.

They rush up to him, shrieking with delight.  In particular, there is a little Asian girl of perhaps one or two, who walks the same way most toddlers do--like Frankenstein, her steps heavy and lurching, her arms held straight out in front of her for balance.  She is surprisingly speedy for all her unsteadiness and she has absolutely no fear of the dog.  Not so Oliver for her.

My poor little dog weighs five pounds with a full stomach.  He is nothing but fluff and bones.  He loves people, but he can also get overwhelmed by them.  So when he sees this wall of humanity heading his way, he doesn't realize he has a fan club.  His first instinct is, "Run away!  Run away!"

Which makes the little Asian girl chase him, shrieking at an ever higher and more frantic pitch.

Really, the kids are very sweet, and most of them know not to try to touch him all at once.  A couple of the girls, Jewel and Cara, are particularly fond of Oliver.  Jewel is ten, and a couple of nights ago, she was out on her own, and she and I sat down on one of the sidewalk curbs and let Oliver come to her.  That worked much better.  They got a little bonding time they both enjoyed.

Her baby sister, Cara, is only four, and she adores Oliver.  She's also afraid of him.  So she runs up to him with the rest, yet doesn't touch him (or didn't).  She hangs back and calls out, "Hello!  Hello, Oliver!  Hello!"  She also likes to ask, "Do you think Oliver knows my name?"  I assure her he does.

Everything changed though the night Jewel and I sat with Oliver.  After a time, Cara and her mom came outside to find her big sister.  Oliver was feeling very mellow after being petted by Jewel, who was very gentle with him.  So I picked him up and brought him over to Cara, who for the first time patted his side.  She was very pleased with herself afterwards.  Her mom tells me the girls have been after her to get them a dog.  I know I'm not to blame.

It's all Oliver's fault.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Long Overdue Ramadan Posting

Ramadan Kareem!

The Muslim holy month began on August 1st and will run until August 30th, when Eid al-Fitr is celebrated, a three day stretch celebrating the end of the fast.  Before coming to Qatar, I couldn't count any Muslims among my friends, so I really had only a limited idea what Ramadan is about.  Now that I've experienced it--in a Muslim country, no less--I'm really impressed by the depth of commitment I've seen from those of the Islamic faith.

For those in my former boat, this is what goes on--Muslims fast from sunup to sundown.  And when I say fast, I mean both food and water.  The idea is worshippers should practice discipline, that they should turn away from the everyday world and focus instead on their inner life, on trying to draw closer to God.  Because they'll be experiencing what it means to go without, they should be inspired to be more generous to those who live with need everyday.  Charity is encouraged, as is spending time with family.  There is much visiting and gifts are given to children.  Prayers are offered, as they are all year.  Though the intensity of the effort is greater still during this time.

Two meals are eaten each day, one just before sunrise (which in this part of the world takes place around 5:00am), Suhoor; the other after sundown (approximately 6:00pm), Iftar.  Because folks are dealing with such a restricted diet, the work day is shortened to six hours a day rather than eight (though GU is open normal hours--it's up to the individual how long they work).  With some rare exceptions, restaurants are closed until evening (mostly Western style hotels, catering to tourists and business people, remain open--but even those are shielded from general view).  It's illegal to eat or drink in public (that's including in your car).  Though the grocery stores are open.

Businesses and/or stores are open too, but they're typically open on a kind of split shift.  They tend to open a little early 7:00am or 7:30am, then close at midday (1:00ish).  They'll reopen after Iftar (8:00ish) and stay open rather late (2:00am is not unusual).

I'd figured (quite wrongly) that none of this would impact my life all that much.  At Georgetown, we'd been told our food service would remain open, but would be closed off to the rest of our central atrium.  That looks like this:

Inside looks like this:

It's a little cozier than we're used to, but it does the trick.

The first day of Ramadan, we were able to get our food to go, as we in HR normally do.

The second day, the head of catering told us that takeaway was no longer allowed.  My friend, David, and I pressed the point, and she allowed us to go sneaking up the back service elevator with our styrofoam containers of chicken and rice (our lunches are subsidized at GU-Q, so chicken and rice--which in one form or another is on the menu every day--runs me about $2.75 when I order it).

The third day, she said there was absolutely no more takeaway allowed at all, and that security had come and taken from her all her styrofoam containers.  We found this a bit much, particularly as the coffee shop that stands right next store to the cafeteria, is still open for business, and I'd just walked upstairs with my takeaway cup of latte that morning (unsubsidized, so it cost me the same $2.75 as lunch)--and they sell sandwiches to go.

Before Ramadan had started, we'd been told that as long as we were respectful (no eating or drinking during meetings with Muslim coworkers, no eating or drinking in the halls, etc.), there would be no problem and we could eat in our offices.  We couldn't figure out what was going on.

As it turns out, the problem wasn't a current coworker complaining.  The problem wasn't Westerners at all.  Apparently, last Ramadan there had been some Muslims who were ordering food to go, going out into the garage, and eating it in their cars.  Security had found out and reported them.  So to make sure that didn't happen again, they decided to eliminate takeout entirely.

Except for the coffee shop, which is still selling their entire menu in takeway form.  Sure, their sandwiches are $5.00 (for a sandwich alone--the horror!).  But I can eat it at my desk.  That makes life easier sometimes.

I hate that if people had been having problems with fasting, they felt they needed to resort to sneaking away to the garage to grab a bite.  I greatly admire the self-discipline I've seen my coworkers exercise.  But obviously that kind of thing comes easier for some people than others.  It's a shame the sacrifice Ramadan demands truly can be demanded rather than something given freely.

I'll report back on Suhoor and Iftar.  I've having the former on Friday (at a Western friendly time of 8:00pm--the hotels here do early meals for non-Muslims and later ones for those who are fasting) and the latter on Monday.  When I will attempt to fast beforehand.  Oy!

I know I can do the food, but going all day without drinking anything?  That's going to be danged hard.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Doctors & Hair Salons

So after sitting at home for three days, I decided I absolutely had to go into the office on Wednesday and get some work done.

I showed up, our Wellness Officer took one look at me, listened to me cough and said, "We're going to the clinic." She was concerned that what was settling in my chest was turning into pneumonia.

Seriously...pneumonia in summer in a desert climate? Leave it to me.

So we trundled off to the QF clinic. I saw a lovely doctor who took my temp (which was down, thankfully--it had spiked back up the night before when I fell to sleep, forgetting to take a dose of meds), listened to my chest and agreed that developing pneumonia was a possibility.

So she prescribed me meds. Lots and lots of meds.

I walked out of the pharmacy with: amoxicillin, cough medicine, Advil Cold and Flu, throat spray, and Claritin. And I didn't pay a cent.

You've got to give credit where credit is due--the medical powers-that-be certainly certainly aren't stingy with that kind of thing.

So I muddled through work on Wednesday and Thursday, coughing and rasping out to coworkers, "Don't come near me, I'm sick!"  Smart people that they are, they kept their distance. 

But Thursday night I had a hair appointment. I'd made it three weeks before and given the mess a certain other salon had made of my hair last month, I was more than ready to see a stylist.  I just couldn't cancel.

The salon I visited this time, Glow, is known for being western-style and expensive. I'd say that's fair. I liked them, though. My stylist was an American and very skilled, their products are high quality and the salon itself was clean and nicely laid out (though I agree with my stylist--they have miserable lighting!).

It's in a villa just off Salwa Rd, not far from my apartment. Salwa is a very busy, main drag that is six lanes wide in spots.  Traffic whizzes by and this close to the industrial area, many of the vehicles are large, vaguely threatening looking trucks. 

Like many businesses in Doha, Glow is tricky to find at first. Here are the directions, taken directly off their site:

Located just off of Salwa Road. After passing through Decoration Round-about, you will pass the Mercedes Benz dealership on your right hand side. You will then pass Za Boutique which is connected to the Mercedes dealership. Take the first right after the Mercedes and Za, between two new construction buildings. (The road is new and currently unpathed, so look for a rough dirt road.) Go straight and we are in Villa #10 on your left hand side. Look for the big “Glow” sign on the top of the building. We are near Dr. Sarah Dentistry, and next door to Curves.

Even with this, I got lost.  I didn't see Za, connected to the Mercedes dealership.  But I did see an unpaved road, so I took it.  It spit me out in back of the Mercedes dealership in the middle of a construction site (which, as I've mentioned before, is not uncommon in Doha).  The area was kind of like a loading dock with construction as a barrier instead of a fence.  After winding past concrete barricades, searching for Villa 10, I gave up and called the salon.  They were able to guide me the rest of the way.

The block of villas where Glow is located faces a large open field where more villas are being built.  It's been cleared, but there's not much construction activity yet.  There really aren't a lot of people out there except for the few getting their hair cut/teeth cleaned/hips slimmed.  To get from the street to the villa (And I should probably explain--when I say villa, I mean a free standing house with a high walled courtyard in front.  This is a very common kind of construction in Doha both for private homes and for businesses.), I had to walk across an unpaved, rocky/sandy stretch before crossing a narrow planked bridge, walking over some more sandy/rocky stuff and entering the courtyard.  Not so tough in the light (though your feet get dirty).

However, at 7:00pm, which is when my appointment ended, it's pitch dark in Doha.  I walked out of this very nice, modern building and into utter blackness.  To make matters worse, the humidity last night had to be 60% or more, so my glasses instantly fogged.  So I'm standing in the dark, blinded, while in the distance (not that far, really!), I can see the neon lights of Salwa Rd.  I muttered, "This should be interesting" and went oh-so-carefully on my way. 

Did I mention I was wearing heeled sandals?  Yeah.  I didn't want to make things too easy.

Tiptoeing along reminded me of camping when you're basically feeling your way to the outhouse at night.  Only then I would have had a flashlight.  Still, I made it, only twisting my ankle once.  I will say this though--the handrail on that bridge thingy wasn't the sturdiest thing ever.

My hair looks great.  I made my appointment for next month.  It's for 11:00am on a Friday. That should get me out of there while the sun still shines.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

In Sickness and in Health

For the third day in a row, I'm home sick.  I'm laid low with some kind of virus.  On the one hand, I was kind of glad to know something was actually wrong and I wasn't just a wuss.  I had plans last Friday that I had to cancel because I couldn't seem to stay awake.  Whatever the heck I have hit me Saturday evening.  It started out as a sore throat, then morphed into attack of the killer sinuses before settling in my chest.  Overall, yuck.  But I've learned something.

First off, in Doha, pharmacists come out from in back of the counter and prescribe (more or less).  After muddling through without any drugs the first day, I got dressed and headed over to the Boots at Villagio yesterday morning (another fun fact:  at 10:00--which is when the mall opens--the oh-so-scary Villagio parking lot is quite navigable).  After standing there a bit blank-eyed (I later learned I was running a fever of over 100--I think I deserve a little slack!), a very nice pharmacist came out to ask me if I needed help.  I assured her I did.

"If I was in the States, I'd know just what to buy.  But here...I haven't a clue."

"Are you running a fever?"

"I don't know.  One of the things I need to buy is a thermometer."

She handed me a box of cold-flu meds, a throat spray and a thermometer.  The meds were from Denmark; the throat spray was made by a Swiss company out of Cyprus (true!).  I thanked her and went home.  Or tried to.  I took a wrong turn on what should have been a ridiculously easy route back.

I told you.  I was running a fever.

My alternate route required that I navigate the ever-frightening Decoration Roundabout (Have you noticed that most of my fears these days seem to revolve around driving obstacles?).  After doing a 360 round the roundabout, I returned, took my meds and laid around, feeling sorry for myself.

When 5:00pm rolled around and my fever was climbing, not falling, I called our Wellness Officer, Mary.  She is a true superstar and had checked in with me earlier in the day to see how I was doing.  I asked her if she thought I needed to see someone, as the pharmacist had said that if I wound up having a fever and it didn't go down after a couple of doses of meds (and I'd taken two rounds by that point), I probably needed anti-virals.  Mary, a former nurse, made me read her the ingredients of my current meds.

"There isn't enough there to bring down your fever.  You need Panadol!"

And with that, she showed up at my door less than an hour later with three boxes of meds (day, night, sinus) and nasal spray (saline, because you can't anything else without a prescription).

A Wellness Officer who makes house calls!

Oliver, I don't think we're in Baltimore anymore.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Customer Service and Other Things

Clearly the whole "I've got to be better about posting" lesson didn't take. Hello again. I'm pleased to report driving is going well. I actually kind of like it. You can go pretty fast and as long as you don't get freaked out by someone coming up right behind you and sitting on your rear bumper, hoping you'll move over (I try to make them change lanes), you're golden. Except at roundabouts. Roundabouts are the main challenge of driving in Doha.  I still feel as if I need to gird my loins every time I approach one.

That being said, I was very sad to read that three employees of the hair salon at which I have an appointment in two weeks (Glow) were in a horrific accident on the 18th that left one of them dead and two of them still in the hospital.  So while I'm celebrating my new found automotive freedom (in a Nissan Tiida--it's the same car as a Versa), I'm well aware of the dangers.

It's really interesting living in a multicultural environment like Doha.  Up until now, the most diverse place I'd ever lived was Washington, DC, and while DC could be considered a melting pot by U.S. standards, it doesn't compare to here. 

By and large, people are very welcoming.  All the talk about women being a small minority here is true.  I think the stat I saw is something like 25-30% of the overall population is made up of women.  It doesn't seem quite that extreme in actual practice, though, because a lot of the men in question are laborers working on various construction sites and their visibility within Qatari society is really limited.  They're transported to their work site, put in a long day's labor, and then are transported back to the camp where they're staying.  It's my understanding that they're taken to a mall once a week for shopping needs, but that time there is very limited.  So a western, white collar worker like me doesn't really interact with them. 

 The treatment of laborers here is a huge hot-button issue.  They have few rights and conditions are harsh.  Yet I've spoken to several female workers from places like the Philippines and India, and they've always stressed how much opportunity they find here.  The woman who now works as our office assistant/tea service person left three children behind in her home country.  It's hard to believe the work she's doing could be that attractive.  But apparently, compared to her prospects back home, it is.

One of the things you learn quickly if you're an English speaking Westerner is just because someone assures you they understand what you want or need, the odds are 50-50 they don't.  They're often very eager to help, but at times just don't have the communication skills.

Yet at other times the communication is delightful.  I had to get fingerprinted (again--I had them done in the U.S. when I left).  After going through the Ladies Entrance at the facility and being shepherded into an all-female waiting room, I had to wait for my number to be called before going up to a row of kiosks, staffed by women in abayas, some fully veiled.  I assume these ladies were Qatari, but I don't know for certain.  They were chattering amongst themselves in Arabic but speaking to all who came to their workstation in English. 

When my number was called, I went up to one kiosk and waited while the girl tried to do what she needed to do.  I was standing virtually on top of the tech at the next kiosk (they were set up side by side, and the techs were seated on high stools/chairs while they worked).  This is the exchange that took place:

Other tech (with a smile):  I like your style.
Me:  Thank you!  That's really nice.
Other tech:  Do you have a mom or dad who is Russian?
Me:  Russian?  No.  English maybe.
Other tech:  Oh.  English.  I thought maybe Russian.  You have a different accident.
My tech:  Accent.
Other tech:  Accident?
My tech:  Accent.
Other tech:  Oh.  Accent.

Unfortunately, my tech couldn't get a full set of prints.  Apparently my hands are too smooth.  Who knew?!  (Mind you--I was fingerprinted in the States before I left, using a similar system, and that tech didn't have any problems.)  So I was told to sit down and wait for the tech who thought I was Russian to try.  I'm assuming she was more experienced.  After awhile, she calls me up.  But she has similar problems.  That led to this:

Tech:  This would be good for you though if you committed murder.
Me:  I wasn't actually planning on that.

Without exaggeration, combined, the techs must have tried 100 times to get clean impressions of my prints, all to no avail.  In the end, the second tech took all my information in the back.  I waited for about 10 minutes.  Then she came out and said, "You go to Immigration today."  I asked, "Am I done?"  She replied, "Yes.  You're done." 

I got my resident’s permit two days later.

I don't know what she did exactly, but I guess she put in a good word for me.

Maybe she has a soft spot in her heart for would-be Russians.

Friday, June 24, 2011

I'm Still Alive

I need to get better about updating. I've kind of jumped in with both feet here. That, coupled with blowing up my computer (sad but true) the first time I plugged it in has limited my personal time online. Never believe someone when they say, "Computers can switch back and forth between the voltages. You don't have to do anything except find an adapter that fits the outlet. Just plug it in."

I not only fried my desktop's power source, but flipped the breaker and took out the refrigerator and microwave as well. It sounded like a gunshot. Luckily, all it took was another flip of a breaker to turn both back on. Would that the computer was as easy a fix. Luckily the guys at work are going to help me out. They're putting in a good word for me with the local Dell rep.

Aside from that minor glitch, life here in Qatar is going really well. The people at Georgetown are so kind and welcoming. There's a ready-made community here that isn't at all difficult to be given entry to. So far I've been to a BBQ, a brunch, a movie, multiple trips to the mall, and dinner at the souk. When the weather turns a little milder, I'm going to take golf lessons with one coworker and go horseback riding with another. There's a fair amount to do here. You just need to know where to find it.

Work is keeping me busy (though I'm still learning the lay of the land). The new GU building at Education City is really stunning. It's a pleasure to go to work in such an environment. What I'm doing is interesting too. For example, I'm going to Dubai the day after tomorrow (just for the day) to meet with recruitment firms. There's so much to learn.

I'll be leasing a car starting next week. I've been traveling via the kindness of others and by sharing a driver with my friend and coworker, Charmagne. It's been good these last few weeks to be able to get familiar with the roads here. But I'd be lying if I told you I knew my way around.

I'm someone who is very comfortable with written instructions, a map or even landmarks. Here, none of that works. It's nearly impossible for someone to give you detailed written instructions because many, if not most, roads are unnamed. Add to that roundabouts with multiple roads converging, roads shut down without notice for repairs or expansion, and you can imagine how tough it might be for someone to tell you exactly how to get somewhere.

Maps exist, but they're tough too. Again, you see lines indicating roads, but they're not labeled and with all the growth, maps aren't always current.

Destinations don't have addresses. My address is Al Samrya Gardens, near Decoration Roundabout. That seems to be enough for people to find me. But that's so foreign (no pun intended) to my way of thinking, that I don't know I could find me if I didn't know where I was.

You know what I mean.

Landmarks also only work in places. To be honest, away from downtown, a lot of Doha can look much the same. Just the other morning, I was talking to Charmagne about the drive to work (since I've been taking care to memorize the route) and found myself saying, "Okay, so I want to take a left at the second roundabout with the vacant lots on the corners, not the first roundabout with the vacant lots on the corners."

Should be interesting next week. If I were you, I'd stay off the Doha roads till I get acclimated behind the wheel.

Things that are different here from the U.S.:

-Egg yolks are pumpkin colored rather than golden.
-When you go to the movie, you choose your seat and ushers walk you to it.
-It gets light here about 4:30am and dark around 6:30pm.
-Some banks have one ATM for deposits and one for withdrawals.
-At Carrefour, you buy butter in the frozen food section.
-Movies on satellite are uncut, but movies in theatres can be missing entire scenes (Hangover II, I'm looking at you).
-Phone numbers have eight digits, not seven.
-You can't buy vanilla extract (at Carrefour, anyway), but instead vanilla flavoring. I'm guessing it's because vanilla extract has alcohol in it.
-You can drive pretty much over anything here. As long as you don't mind your car bumping over some awfully uneven ground, you can call almost anything a shortcut and go.
-Looking in my kitchen cupboards, my flour is from Kuwait, my grapefruit soda (which I'm addicted to) is from Lebanon, my aluminum foil is from Saudi Arabia, my butter is from Denmark, my frozen pizza is from France, and crackers are from South Korea, my cinnamon is from India, and my chocolate is from England.

For some, multiculturalism starts in the supermarket.