You know it’s hot when…..

You avoid walking outside for more than 1 block

You wish you had brought an umbrella with you to the dessert

You don’t have any cold water to brush your teeth

You’ve turned off your water heater

The faucet is turned all the way to cold and the water is coming out warm

All four air conditioners are now turned on 24/7

You’ve stopped wearing (suit) jackets to work

You have to turn on the space heater at work because the building’s air conditioning is turned up too high

You ‘feel’ your cotton shirts to determine thickness and then put them back in the closet because they’re too heavy

Your lightweight almost sheer blouses, despite being breezy, are totally inappropriate because you need to wear a non-translucent T-shirt underneath it

You’re doing laundry 2-3 times a week not because your clothes are dirty, but because you’ve sweated through everything…

You’ve taking taxis everywhere – especially anything more than a few blocks away

Today it’s 43C and it’s still ‘spring’…..

The three uses of a bidet….

Us North Americans seem to be constantly confounded by bidets and seem to have little use for them. Well, in one of those goofy conversations at work today, in a matter of a few moments we came up with these three uses. I hope you find them ‘enlightening!’

  1. They’re great for washing your feet. I walk around in sandals about 300 of the 365 days in the year. It’s hot here and it’s dusty. Doha is a desert after all. And, that means your feet get dirty. So, why make things uncomfortable? There’s no need to get your feet up and into the bathroom sink or to sit on the edge of the bathtub when you can easily use the bidet. Just grab a chair or a stool and you’ll find the bidet to be the perfect height for tender tootsies.
  2. They’re great for hand washing laundry. After all, bidets are nice smooth porcelain bowls with an easy supply of water. No need to clear out your kitchen sink to wash delicate clothes when the bidet is ready for you.
  3. And, for the most inventive use of all –a sound amplifier for your iPhone or iPad! Ever put your iPhone in an empty coffee cup to get more volume out of it? Well – just think what a bidet does for an iPad! You can enjoy your morning shower and hear the latest CBC podcast as clear as if you were standing beside it.

Enjoy your bidet everyone!

More of the weird and wonderful

It occurred to me that I hadn’t updated this blog for some time, and I’m wondering if I’m finally getting ‘used’ to things around here. What I am used to is things not making sense, never knowing when someone will spontaneously close their shop doors for the day, the crazy aggressive drivers that drive on sidewalks and on the wrong sides of the roads, etc. etc.

The temperature and humidity are rapidly rising (it was 40C today on April 24) and soon walking outside for more than 5 minutes will be unbearable. But, today, in a friend’s car, we drove past something I saw months ago and it gave my head a shake. I didn’t have my camera then, but I did today.

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What you’re looking at is a row of drive through ATMs from every bank in the country. In the middle is the drive through payment kiosk for paying internet and cell phone bills. The ATMs and banking situation is fascinating – I can use any ATM anywhere in Doha and never incur any banking fees. Something about Shari’a banking laws and banks not allowed to charge fees. So, you can lineup all the ATMs and use which ever one you want. And you can line those ATMs up at a gas station (where someone pumps your gas), with a strip mall behind it.

And then there’s that payment kiosk for our internet services. In Canada, we’ve been getting bills for our utilities by email for a few years now. Still, many people continue to get their utility bills in the mail. And in Canada we can get our bills in the mail because we have house addresses. No such thing exists here. Nor do zip codes or postal codes. My apartment building has a name, and nothing more. All I can do is use landmarks and intersections to give taxi-drivers directions. I get absolutely no mail, and nor does anyone else. This city of 2.6 million has more central post office and that’s it.

So – yesterday I got a text message from Ooredoo – the state internet provider – reminding me that my monthly payment was do. I now need to either go to a kiosk and make a cash deposit or go to their online site and do a bank transfer. Because I’ll never get a bill in the mail!

Doing good at Work!

Information Literacy.

Sorry for the shameless self promotion – but when the Centre for Teaching and Learning highlights what I do as part of my regular in the library and for the library, I just can’t help but share it.  They think my colleague and I are great – I just think I’m doing my job.  Click on the ‘Information Literacy’ link above to read all about it.

Sand storm in Doha- April 2, 2015

Incredible sand storm.  People saying they’ve seen nothing like it in 10 years.  The silt is so fine, it has got in everywhere.  And, in a country where you don’t need to seal out the cold, there’s a lot of places for sand to get in.  The Supreme Education Council closed all schools, colleges and universities (ours included) at 6:15 am this morning.  There’s almost no traffic on the streets – the visibility is terrible.  It took me the better part of 4 hours to dust, the wash the floors, and dust all the furniture.  I tackled the walls and cupboard doors in my kitchen, but gave up with the rest of the walls in the apartment.  I’ll have to get my cleaning lady to do some extra work when she comes in next.  (Yes, I can’t keep up with the dust and sand and have given in …)  The windows are the sliding type and don’t even pose a challenge to all the dust that constantly is swirling in the air.  Even my bedroom window, which has a heavy light-blocking curtain, sheers and a decorative heavy fabric curtain, had silt on the window sill, the baseboard and the floor below.  My bedside tables were covered with a fine layer of silt.  I took down just one of the sheers to wash it and the dust was just flying in the air. There are 7 more sheers to go.  Here are some pictures of what we all encountered this morning.

http://wgoqatar.com/wgoqnews-m/qatar/item/463-sandstorm-in-doha

http://www.iloveqatar.net/news/content/sandstorm-envelops-qatar

http://www.qatarday.com/news/local/photos-and-videos-a-massive-sandstorm-swept-through/16813

Washing the wall
The floor
The silt on a colleague’s balcony
Inside Villagio Mall
Movie goers ordered out of Villagio Mall – this was the INSIDE!
furniture
Oh, to live in our apartments….
And the sand arrives
Isn’t this a pretty picture??!! (not!!)
Our lobby
The lobby floor in our building at 5:30 am April 2nd
On the roads
Worse than driving in snow, possibly?

The Great Canadian Snow Ball 2015

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……

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The four Canadian librarians at the party – there’s about a dozen Canadian librarians in Doha all together.
Cathleen and Alex
Cathleen and Alex
Cdn Ambassador and CNAQ President
The Canadian Ambassador (left) and our college President (right)
Me, Bev, Erin and Romany
Me, Bev Quinton, Erin and Romany. Bev, Erin and I were all hired at the same time.
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Bev (Communications Instructor), Erin (Archivist), Me, Jay Branch (Head of marketing and PR) and George Sutton (Petroleum Instructor)

Coworkers 4 Coworkers 6 Coworkers 7 Coworkers 8 Coworkers 9 Coworkers1 Coworkers2 Coworkers3 coworkers5 Coworkers10 Erin and I Jacquie and Donna My hairdresser Peter and Beaver Peter Nikki Jay Aileen Shida and Arman

Abu Dhabi – Library Conference

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. 

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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. 

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The hand-knotted carpet was made inside the mosque and is ‘the largest’ of its type in the world.
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Swiss clock showing the times for the call to prayer
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All the different blue tiles create different effects depending on the time of day / angle of the sun. The mosque is surrounded by these pools meant to encourage quiet contemplation.
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One of three Swarovski Crystal chandeliers.
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Murano (Venetian) glass windows…and windows and windows
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The view as you approach the front of the mosque

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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!

BEST DATE SQUARES EVER!!!!

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!

Weekend travel – to Turkey!

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!

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Do you see the five wine decanters? A perfect ring, symbolizing the continuity of life and the perfect circle of the sun.
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Rhonda, Pauline, Aileen, Sandee, Robin, Nikki and Melanie!

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Wednesday night February 18

Every once in a while, something happens to this Caucasian North American somewhat Christian woman that just cannot be explained.  It is so outside of my realm of experience that words would fail.  As you know, in traditional Islamic countries, there is no separation of church and state.  We live with Shari’a law here. But, there is separation of men and women.  All through their lives as girls and boys – children go to separate schools. Restaurants have a men’s section and a family section.  There are separate waiting rooms in medical clinics (as I noted in a prior post).  There is a separate lounge area for women at the ultra modern brand new high tech over-the-top Hamad International airport.  The glass is frosted so no one can see inside.  The spas and beauty salons are all ‘women only.’  Men not allowed and either solid doors or frosted doors and windows prevent anyone from seeing inside.  Our library (along with every other building on campus) has prayer rooms and ablution areas.  One for men, one for women.  We have male and female cafeterias. (But our classes are mixed.)

Well, one of those ‘female only’ events occurred on campus Wednesday night that was organized by the students association to which all female faculty and mothers were invited.  Labelled as a ‘Traditional Wanasa Night,’ formal attire was required, but cameras were forbidden, as were children.  I was told by my colleagues who had attended in the past that it wouldn’t matter what I wore, I would be upstaged by our students.  And I was.  Again, and again and again.  I was not allowed to take pictures as the girls were without their abayas, niqabs and shaylas.  But there they were in plunging necklines, diamonds and crystals, glittering makeup, tiaras and highly suggestive clothing.  The purpose of the event was to attract the eyes of some of the mothers there, who might select you as a possible wife for their son.

I can’t say anymore.  I can’t share pictures.  I can’t describe what happened.  Frankly, I was in culture shock at so many levels, it is impossible to describe.  You – yes you who is reading this – can’t even imagine what I saw.  I’m still shocked.  If I say any more than this – the decency/morality squad – the ones who can fine me, punish me and deport me, will have my figurative neck.