The Canadian formal event of the year took place in Doha on Thursday night March 26. (Remember that Thursday is the beginning of the weekend and our first day of work is Sunday). Planned for months, a huge volunteer committee (the Canadians in Qatar team) was accompanied by the staff of the Canadian Embassy, and it was great fun Canadian style. Prizes, Poutine, Nanaimo Bars and a great DJ. At one end of the Ballroom at the Raddison Blu Doha was a guy with the best photo software ever. He had a ‘green’ screen, a ton of props on a side table and a count down timer that gave you 10 seconds between shots to grab your stuff and get ready. It was so much fun we went up time and time again. All I can do is show you pictures! Of course, we had the official photographer there too. Each one of the pictures in this post has my crazy coworkers in them. The night ended around 2 am……
I was fortunate this year at work to go to Abu Dhabi (capital city of the UAE) for a library conference on March 16-20. This was the annual conference of the Arabian Gulf Chapter (AGC) of SLA. For non-library types thats the Special Libraries Association – consisting of government, legal, corporate and highly specialized academic libraries. However, this conference was almost 90% academic librarians, so in my mind, it should have been the AGC of ACRL, the Association of College and Research Libraries. But, SLA it was.
From the perspective of a western librarian, there were a few things unique about this conference. First, the preponderance of men. Not just the vendors – men as conference delegates. And they weren’t spring chickens, either. Most as it turned out did not have any professional qualifications, yet were in charge of various national and non-expat staffed libraries. The majority of the sessions were in Arabic. Those that were plenary or keynote sessions had translators, so we listened on headsets. However, because many of our ‘professional conversations’ are loaded with jargon and unique phrases, a translator who does not speak librarian-ese would have trouble. And trouble he had. And sadly, the sessions were not at the calibre we expect in N.A.
Ah well – it was a fantastic week nonetheless. I reconnected with some of the vendors I new and met some inspiring speakers that I hope to work with in the future. I’ve brought back to my colleagues lots of news and new ideas to consider. I stayed the weekend (that being Friday and Saturday for me) and was glad I did.
The conference venue was a Fairmont hotel and it did not disappoint. I had a stunning view of a ‘creek’ that separated the island downtown of Abu Dhabi from the mainland.
Across this saltwater creek was the beautiful Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque. The largest in the UAE, certainly, and quite possibly the largest Mosque in the Gulf. It’s stunning architecturally. Workmanship and materials came from Italy, the UK, Germany and of course the UAE. The massive chandeliers were made of Swarovski crystals. The stained glass windows came from Murano, Italy. The stainless steel from Germany. The clocks were from Switzerland. The marble also came from Italy. The hand noted carpet inside is the largest in the world and had to be completed inside the mosque. The dance of light through the windows and against the chandeliers was beautiful. The structural columns with palm tree tops are gold leafed. The pools of water were tiled in various shades of blue to allow changing hues of water during the passing of the morning light until the evening. The 4 minarets are so tall that they have blinking lights to warn airplanes on the top of them. The Iman who crafts the ‘sermon’/lesson delivers the transcript to all the mosques in the UAE so that every Friday during prayers, the population here the same message. The call to prayer, which is sung live (it’s recorded in other places) it broadcast simultaneously to all the mosques in the UAE so everyone is called to prayer at the exact same time, 5 times a day. Totally balanced and completely symmetrical.
Women had to wear abayas with hooded head covers to enter. Some of the men – those wearing shorts on the 33C day – were told to get thobes. To get these garments, we got a peek at some of the inner workings at the mosque and discovered that the gardens surrounding the mosque were overtop of a huge underground parking garage with a high tech directional system to guide each car to the next available empty spot. The mosque was also serviced by the hop-on-hop-off bus and taxis.
As stunning as the mosque was, the shopping was even better for those of us from Qatar. There was a greater selection of groceries. I even found an organic health food store. There were small liqour stores on the corners in funky neighbourhoods. The shopping malls were marvelous, with shops like Asics and Adidas having just as much fitness gear for men as for women. I even found a Birkenstocks store. We don’t even have one in Doha despite the fact that we can wear sandals 99% of the year….The Starbucks coffee tasted like Starbucks coffee. The drinks weren’t watered down. And, you could have a glass of wine just about anywhere.
The employees in the service industry that I dealt with (hotel staff, taxi-drivers, store clerks, etc.) were much more engaged with their work and seemed genuinely happy. They actually wanted to ‘help’ make things go better for you.
The roads were open and not congested. For the most part, people followed ‘the rules.’ No crazy honking or disfunctional roundabouts. Next time, I’m probably going to rent a car to get around with.
I’m definitely going back to the UAE. We have a cheap airline here called ‘Fly Dubai’ that does the one hour flight from Doha to Abu Dhabi for around $200 Cdn return. Sounds do-able to me!
So, we have a nice little ‘tradition’ in our library at work called ‘Cupcake Thursday.’ Thursday of course, is the last day of our working week, so this can be thought of as ‘Cupcake Friday’ for those of you in the western world. About 10:30 every Thursday we all take a nice long morning coffee break together. Sometimes we even combine it with news to share/staff meetings. It’s morphed from cupcakes to cakes, desserts, squares, pies, homemade juices, etc. etc. Just about anything sweet.
Not long after I arrived in the fall semester, my ‘turn’ came up. It was definitely a challenge as I wanted to make Nanaimo Bars. With most of my Canadian co-workers from central and eastern Canada – I needed a typical western Canadian treat. It took me months to source all the ingredients. Some could be found in one grocery store, some in others. I even had to make my vanilla from scratch and that took 8 weeks alone. So, by going through this exercise, I eventually started filling my cupboards, with slightly granular icing sugar, not as sweet graham crackers, a nut chopper, a 9×9 glass pan, measuring spoons, a hand blender, and so on.
We’ve had amazing desserts and cakes and one of my favourite local specialties is a Honey Cake.
One day a few weeks ago, a couple of us Canadians confessed we knew nothing about all the different dates that we see in the grocery store, only that they were all good. We have fresh and packaged and chocolate covered dates from the Emirates, from the Kingdom of S.A. from Jordan and so on. I mused out loud that it would be so easy to make some date squares and my Egyptian co-worker Shehab, a man with a definite sweet tooth, commented to me that he had never heard of these things. A smile crossed my face…..
I had everything in my kitchen I needed. I had even recently acquired an oven thermometer to help me monitor my hot oven’s temperature.
So, I bought a few extra dates last weekend and on Wednesday night, I made the date squares / Matrimonial cake. I had no time to taste test them and instead crossed my fingers and went in to work with the date squares on Thursday.
They are the best date squares I have made….. EVER! The only difference between my ingredients in Canada and my ingredients here were the dates. The dates here are so tasty and so fresh and so readily available that the squares were absolute melt in your mouth. The entire 9×9 pan (16 servings) was consumed in about 10 minutes flat! The taste was almost sinful.
I’m taking orders now for my return to Canada in July….
BEST DATES EVER!
I love having 7 weeks vacation. I love being so close to such amazing parts of the world. Just imagine being able to say ‘I went to Turkey this weekend.’ Or ‘I’m going to Sri Lanka for a weekend in May.’ Or, ‘I must really go to Goa for the weekend one day soon.’ The proximity makes up for almost everything else. (Like the combo washer/dryer I have in my apartment that seems to ‘bake’ my clothes instead of drying them….!)
So – I went to Turkey last weekend! Cappadocia, specifically. Me and 7 other girls from the college took advantage of a ‘banking holiday’ and took off after we finished work on Thursday. The weekend starts Thursday night, remember?
One of us had a travel agent in Istanbul who coordinated the whole thing. I’d highly recommend her – Ozge is one of the agents that works at Wanderlust Travel (www.wanderlustturkey.com) and she put together a fantastic itinerary for us. All we had t do was get from doha to Istanbul and she took it from there.
We used Gulf Air – ‘the official airline of the Kingdom of Bahrain,’ to fly Thursday night from Doha to Bahrain (30 mins) and then Bahrain to Istanbul (4 hours). Problem was, we arrived at midnight and had 6 hours to burn before our flight from Istanbul to Kayseri (the airport servicing Cappadocia). Our plan was to find one of those premium lunges and buy passes to get in. We we found one alright, and were so lucky to have an unattended desk and wine on deck. We parked ourselves there, enjoyed the quiet, the snacks and the wine. We were so lucky – we paid nothing!
We were picked up at the Kayseri airport and drove the hour to Goreme in the state of Cappadocia. Without decent sleep and a skimpy breakfast we went headfirst into our first full day on tour. The place was amazing – I’ve attached pictures, but it’s so hard to describe. Either way – it felt like a fairytale landscape. Something like Hobbit-town or a place for Smurfs or Munchkins to live. Homes carved into the soft rock that dominates the area. An underground city going 8 floors down – created by early Christians protecting themselves from invaders. Entire churches carved into hillsides with beautiful depictions of St. George and the Dragon, the Last Supper, etc. Crypts, baptismal fonts, all were there.
The unique rock (called tuff) is also fundamental in the making of beautiful ceramics including one of the earliest wine decanters. We then moved on to a carpet factory which was, in fact, a cooperative. All the workers were owners and those weaving or tying the carpets worked at the looms no more than 4 hours a day. We were shown beautiful wool and silk rugs, given an explanation of the spinning, dyeing and creation. The patterns on the rugs were traditional, many named after the area they originated in. In fact the carpets were so breathtaking, that I’m going to need to measure up the space in my home and return to the cooperative to buy a rug one day. Just knowing that the wool and and silk were both from Turkey, that there was no child labour and that they would ship for FREE to any location in the world (knowing of course that’s built into the price!) makes this a perfect trip for my final vacation on the way home. We were not allowed to take pictures of the finished rugs out of respect for the weavers and the months and months of time it took them to create each unique rug. The manager stated that a snapshot taken in the blink of an eye could not reflect the work it took to create the rug.
We hiked up to an incredible outlook one day and went underground the next. We hiked through a canyon where in days past thousands upon thousands of pigeons roosted. It was here that many homing pigeons were raised. The pigeon ‘poop’ was harvested as a fertilizer. With so much rock and such little soil, the area needed the fertilization. They grow apricots here and between apricots stewed for dessert, dried for breakfast and used to make their local Turkish Delight, I’d never tasted such wonderful apricots in my life! We stayed in a hotel that was carved into a hillside. The last night of our weekend together, the 8 of us went to a local hamam, stripped down and wrapped in a cotton peshtemal, were scrubbed down, soaped up and massaged in the steamy warmth.
Our only disappointment came on Saturday morning, when the 30km breeze resulted in cancelling our hot air balloon ride. The upside was that we had a fantastic leisurely breakfast at our cave hotel (www.mysticcavehouse.com) on the enclosed terrace overlooking the community of Goreme that morning. It was then that we decided a return trip was an absolute must. We had a rushed glimpse of one of Mother Natures masterpieces and needed to return. As soon as we could. and this time, a direct flight to Istanbul – no transfers.
I’ve included the links to our hotel and travel agent. Here also is the link to the knowledgeable, connected and accommodating tour company who treated us so well – www.insidertravelturkey.com. All were fantastic. We will be using them again!
And for all my library buddies out there – in a couple weeks I’m going to Abu Dhabi for the SLA Gulf Chapter annual conference. Not surprisingly, I’m spending the weekend there too!