Saturday, September 29, 2007

Since Day 3: Back to Work

My first post ended at day three...lots has happened since. I was here for two weeks before classes started on Sunday, August 26. Yes, that is right - the work week here is Sunday - Thursday; Friday is the muslim holy day and their Saturday is like our Saturday.

During the first two weeks, I didn't think the orientation sessions (all were informative and most were interesting) and immigration processes would ever end, so I wasn't able to get my course materials together until the weekend before classes started and I had several late nights as a result.

I'm teaching three courses: two sections of senior studio and one section of sophomore manual drafting. The senior studios meet Sun/Tues 2:40-6:00 pm and Mon/Wed 2:40-6:00 pm. The sophomore manual drafting class meets Mon/Wed 8:00-10:25 am. In other words, I have two early morning classes, late afternoons classes four days a week, and no classes on Thursday.

My seniors (12 total - 6 per section) are mostly Qatari who always wear abayas (long black gowns that fully cover them) and, most of the time, shaylas (head scarves). Two also wear the niqab, a face covering that only shows their eyes. Fortunately one wears glasses, so I can tell the two of them apart, although one has a lower voice and I'd have learned to recognize her that way. The project we are working on is an Immigration Processing Center, a visionary project that I devised in response to the immigration processing that I went through with other colleagues who are new to Qatar.

My sophomores, 10 in all, are more of a mixed group. Half are Qatari - all of whom wear abayas and shaylas. The other five are from other middle eastern countries: Lebanon, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia. They all dress like American college students - jeans and tops. Two of the non-Qatari students have been wearing abayas since Ramadan began on September 13th, but I expect they will remove those when it ends in mid-October. The drafting course content is somewhat like I had been teaching at La Roche, although we haven't taught ink-on-mylar drafting for years - that took some getting used to, but I found that I remember how to put ink in a Rapidograph pen.

From occasional glimpes of clothing under the abayas, it seems that most have designer jeans and tops on underneath. Other predictable parts of their wardrobes are BIG designer handbags, LARGE sunglasses, and pretty sandals - some high heeled and some not.

All of my students have very good English skills. Several have lived in the United States. One, for example, spent 7 years in the US while her father, who is an orthopedic surgeon, was in school at the University of Chicago. All are also women - VCU just started admitting men to their program this year - so those that are here now are freshmen.

In many ways they are much like our American students - they consider a C to be failing, rather than average, as I do. Some keep up with their work, and some do not. Some are serious minded and focused, and some are not.

Monday, September 24, 2007


Letters from the US to Doha require 90 cents postage - that's air mail - and it takes 7-10 days to arrive. I got my first Doha mail from my great niece, Katie Brown in Arizona, last week - thanks, Katie! I'll post her picture so you can see what a cutie she is.

In case you want to write me, my mailing address is:
Virginia Commonwealth University
School of the Arts in Qatar
P.O. Box 8095
Doha, Qatar

Note: there is no house-to-house mail delivery here. That's understandable since it can be pretty hard to find street signs around here - and there is so much building going on that maps become out-of-date quickly.

Al Shallal

Comments on my villa: I'm now living in Villa #26 at Al Shallal. This place is huge - about 2x the square feet of my house on Hastings Street. I have a large living room/dining room combination, study, very gracious winding stairway, three bedrooms with tons of storage in them, three full bathrooms, a half-bath on the first floor, large kitchen with enough room for four barstools at the counter, PLUS a maid's room and bathroom with a shower! That's a lot of room for Popcorn and me.

The ceilings are high - about 9 foot with big crown molding. All of the floors are tile. And the drapery, which I commented on with the photos in my first posting, are really heavy brocade - fully lined, plus sheers and black-out drapery underneath in the bedrooms, PLUS tie-backs and heavy brass rods!!! Very baroque - way too fancy for me, so I ignore them.

Lots of VCUQ faculty live here too, so that's pretty handy - especially during the first week when I didn't have a car. The campus is about a 15 minute drive north of Al Shallal, so I had to rely on the kindness of others for transportation until I got my rental car. I'll take pictures of the outside tomorrow and post those soon.

The only negative thing about my villa: I don't have any artwork, so lots of bare walls! My colleagues, however, who have settled in have done lots of wonderful decorating of their spaces with paint, local and imported crafts, and terrific art...most travel a lot and have collected some beautiful pieces.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Greetings from Doha

I've now been here a bit over a month and promised to start a blog, but rather than start with today, I'm going to back-track a bit to the beginning. This is an accounting of my flight and first days in Doha.

My flights (Aug 12-13): both portions (O'Hare to Heathrow and then on to Doha) were fine although the supposed flat bed approach of British Air wasn't very comfortable for my back, so I didn't really sleep on the first flight at all. The only thing that kept me awake on the layover at Heathrow was some duty-free shopping. I spent the rest of my time in London trying to confirm that Popcorn was OK. Seems they've changed procedures and she wasn't showing up on their list. I finally fell asleep on the connecting flight to Doha from sheer exhaustion...that was good. During a brief layover in Dubai, a BA attendant went to the cargo hold and tried to get a picture of Popcorn on his cell phone - it was pretty fuzzy but I could see her.

My arrival (Aug 13): I met a professor of chemical engineering with Texas A&M as we de-planed and followed him through customs. The airport is undergoing massive remodeling so it had changed since I was here before. Ruth, my new dept chair, and Bill, head of HR, met my flight, which arrived about 8:00 PM. My luggage arrived fine, and so did Popcorn, although Muhammad Ali, VCUQ's all-around logistics man, wasn't able to spring her from BA cargo until about 11:30 PM after having to give them an additional $100. She arrived in OK shape - altho she was very happy to get out of her kennel.

My first night in Doha: After everyone left, I stayed up cleaning the kitchen - it was a pit - because I was wide awake. I finally crashed about 3:00 AM

My first day in Doha (Aug 14): I got up at 7:45 Tues AM to meet Muhammed Ali (and other new faculty) who took us for our health inspection and photographs for our residency permit. Interesting that at the clinic, there were separate entrances and clinics for men and women. The health inspection consisted of chest x-rays (TB screening), blood testing & typing (they say I'm A neg although I've always been told I'm B neg). The worst however was the photography - I cannot believe I agreed to have my picture taken the day after arriving - I look really terrible and that picture is now on everything at the university and with the Qatar government!

The new faculty who were with me: one is in ID...her name is Maja (pronounced Maya) from Sweden - she's here with her husband Marcus - very nice young couple. Also Law and Levi who are new in Graphic Design - both are from Oregon.

We went back to campus for a couple of short meetings/orientations to advising, etc kind of stuff. Then I met River, the registrar, who lives in the villa next to me. She and her son, Joaquin, moved here from CA last January. She took me shopping Tues evening for some groceries. The villa had already been stocked with some stuff like white bread, Nescafe, powdered creamer, 2 1/2 doz eggs, 5 kinds of cream cheese, etc) but I still needed to pick up a few more things. Tues night I crashed early.

My second day in Doha (Aug 15, Wed): no apointments at the college that day so I finished cleaning the kitchen - took me until mid-afternoon . Then I started on the other parts of the house - rearranged furniture, made lists of things that needed to be fixed, and started unpacking. I began dragging from jet lag about 7:30 and became increasingly ineffective so I went to bed at 9:00 PM.

My third day in Doha (Aug 16, Thurs): I got up at 5:00 AM again so I could give myself a manicure (I was glad I hadn't spent $ on one in CA - the cleaning I had to do wrecked my nails) and wash my hair. I was in meetings from 9:00 to 3:00. I met another faculty member - Kevin Wooley from Utah...very nice guy. He took me shopping after the meetings for linens and lots of kitchen miscellany. He also introduced me to Moden, the manager of the villas, who fixed a bunch of things for me.