Saturday, June 30, 2012

Waiting on Baby Giraffe

WARNING!  This post includes photos of a giraffe giving birth.

"The zoo will open in 10 minutes," the keeper said.  "Or maybe one hour."

This way of accounting for time is pretty typical around here.

While we waited, we thought we'd check out the giraffes, visible from outside the zoo.  Imagine our surprise to see this:

No zookeepers.  No spectators. No one around at all, in fact.   Just Bob and Cindi and this little family.

Mama stood.  Mama stared.  Mama paced.  But Mama didn't seem to be in distress.   At one point, she disappeared into the giraffe's barn.  When she came out, the baby's head and shoulder were visible.  And the line of spectators had grown.

(nothing happens in the video, but you can hear lots of Arabic!)

Still only the tiniest movements from Baby and not a sound from Mama.  The human side of the fence considered the possibility that we were recording a Very Sad Event.  When Mama lifted her tail, and the (comparatively) little guy slid 8 feet to the ground only to lay there unmoving - we were sure of it.  One by one, the line of spectators disappeared…until again, it was just Bob and Cindi.

About 30 minutes after this inauspicious arrival, the little calf (female, according to a zookeeper a couple of hours later) lifted her head and smiled.

Throughout the next couple of hours, Bob and Cindi saw zebras and Oryx, bullfrogs, snakes, a crazy ostrich, black cheetah, hungry Bengal tiger, chittering monkeys, talking African grey parrot (Paulie?) and an amazing white tiger.  It was cool.

Beautiful Oryx - symbol and National Animal of Qatar

But what about our baby giraffe?

Awwww.  Ain't she pretty?

Stuff we learned later:

A pregnant giraffe weighs as much as 2,000 pounds. Giraffes deliver standing up - if mother lays down, she might crush the baby!  Her pregnancy lasts 15 months.  Baby stands around 6 feet tall and can weigh up to 150 pounds at birth!  (Just like us humans), it takes hours for baby to arrive.  At delivery, calves drop 6-8 feet - thud sploosh - to the ground.  The fall breaks the umbilical cord, impels baby to breathe and is an important, natural biological event.  Even so, not all calves survive the fall.  Calves lay unmoving after delivery.  This is when babies are most at risk for predator attack.  Mother licks her calf while circling to protect it.  It is most unwise to approach a pregnant and/or new mother giraffe!  Mother giraffes are nurturers and protectors and can take out a predator (or stranger) with one swift kick.  Baby stands and nurses within 1-2 hours post arrival.  Newborn calves are indistinguishable from 1 week old calves - they're both still learning to walk.  In the wild, giraffe calves hide for a while after delivery.  At the Doha zoo, keepers close the area until they can entice mother and baby into the barn, where they'll stay until all the nosy foreign gawkers leave.

Want to know more?

Friday, June 29, 2012

Pass the passport: Cindi's Residency 2

His palm is loose, limp, damp - more of a hand-sliding than a hand-shaking.  A polite response to a Western woman's unintentionally rude, unthinking gesture.

"I'm sorry," he says in English.

"I'm sorry," I say in Arabic.  Asifa.  Asifa.

Men and women should not shake hands.  Men and women should not touch.

My instructions were:  go to the Ladies Area at the Medical Clinic.  Call this number.  Wait.

Two male guards ushered me through double glass doors.  Inside - women.  Western, Eastern, European, Arab, Other.  Chatting. Sitting. Waiting. An abaya clad woman nurses a baby - fully exposed, without a hint of embarrassment.  The action is familiar, cross cultural and makes me feel included.

It's just us ladies here.

I am summoned by phone to return outside to meet my male guide. I offer my hand. It is rude.

Abdul is kind, but still wipes his palm on his dishdasha-but-not-a-dishdasha-like robe, looks around.  Mister Bob?

Mister Bob ya'aml.  He is working.

Mashallah.  Whatever God Wills.

Abdul gives me a typewritten document, a credit card - and my passport, surrendered to the process some time before.  Since then, the passport has shown up intermittently in emails, offices, conversation, instructions and now in a stranger's hands.

Abdul points me back through the double glass doors.

Female guards move me through the building. Sit here, go there, take this, give that.  Make a fist, remove your jacket, wear this robe, stand here, lean forward, lean back, move, hold still.  What's your name? Where are you from? Passport, please.

A lady in niqab wants to know:  where do you learn Arabic?  Will you become Muslimah?

I hesitate, not wanting to offend.  I consider saying My Husband Won't Let Me, but instead offer an apologetic smile.  No. Lakin aheb a-loogah al-arabeya.

The skin around her eyes rounds then creases.  A smile?  And the Arabic language loves you, she replies.

Blood work. X-ray.  I drive myself - following Abdul's car - a short distance and a long drive through Doha traffic.

Another building, another reception desk, money changes hands and my passport moves from Abdul to me to clerk to me to Abdul.

A technician squeezes three drops of my freshly drawn blood onto a glass rectangle.  She drips a single spot of chemical something into each red smear.  Waggles the glass forward and back, peeks at the mixture, tosses the slide into the trash.

Khallas.  Done.

Next up in Pass the Passport, Cindi's Residency: Cindi is fingerprinted.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Al Khor and 7-Up

Al Khor: the heart of Qatar's pearling industry.  Before Japanese cultured pearls - and the discovery of oil and gas, great wealth and shared profits superseded difficult, dangerous, life threatening labor...and flushed the Gulf right out of the market.

A few minutes north of busy downtown Doha, there is water, desert, a tiny Corniche museum (closed), and dhows. Lots of dhows - in the harbor, at intersections and seaside playgrounds (empty). But otherwise not much to enlighten the hopeful writer about pearling: gwais (divers), nahhams (singers), tabbabs (youthful helpers), tawwash (pearl buyers). How did they live? What did they eat? Personal histories?


What we did see: charming, architecturally interesting homes

beside ever encroaching modern development

Concrete Easter-type basket planter in front of home under construction.  Huh?

a series of restored watch towers (plus dhow):

public library (closed).
The highlight of our hot (110F) tour was a crumbling, seaside, maybe heritage site (unmarked)


And a hummus and ta'ameya meal at a little Turkish restaurant where the upstairs bathroom was separated from the dining area by a screen and the male server spoke only to Bob - even as Cindi attempted to engage the server in Arabic with shokrans, itfaddils and min fadlaks (thank yous and if you pleases).
The only woman we saw - the entire day - was the restaurant's Filipina hostess.
The rest of the week went like this:
the usual one or two site plan packets demanding attention yesterday
in Egypt we called it "gyppy tummy" - in Q it's a mojo-killing, energy-sucking, life-draining, queasy-producing...sideliner

But more about that…when it can be funny. :)

Friday, June 15, 2012

Walkabout - Books, Books, Books...

It was 110F blazing degrees in the Arabian Gulf, but I wasn't feeling the heat.  Because after two days of searching I'd finally found


The Qatar National Library is housed in an wonderfully Qatari-like old building near Dar Al Kutub Roundabout ("kutub" means "books"), close to the massive Qatar National Museum (under construction).

Up wide steps, through double glass doors - and heaven:  that dusty-sweet "old bookstore" smell and shelves, shelves, shelves of ancient tomes. The space is shaped like half an I-beam - Arabic volumes on one side, tables, glass display cases and exhibits along the straightaway and good stuff to read in English at the other end.  Plus rows and rows of actual card catalogue drawers - which I rummaged through as an exercise since virtually none of my catalogue selections were anywhere to be found.

Behind a circular shaped, strangely modern appearing reception desk, the male libarian wore a yellow suit, yellow satin tie and shiny gold rings.  Speaking Arabic, he indicated that some borrowed books just don't make it home.

Pretty windows

Three hours slipped out from under me.  I collected Arabic folk tales, ancient guidebooks, Caliph stories, histories of Qatar and nearby countries…

Lights flickered off, then on again. 

From approximately 1-4p every day, Doha shuts down for lunch, family, nap-through-the-hottest-part-of-the-day time. Blankets are thrown over merchandise, shutters cover windows. Some shopkeepers just walk away, but most people lock up before they leave.

The librarian?  A lock-it-up kinda guy.  He pointed toward the door.

Leave books on table.  Come back tonight.  But not tomorrow. No library tomorrow.

He handed me a piece of paper.  To become an official Qatar National Library card holder you must complete a form in Arabic and get it stamped by your employer.

Got it: finish the residency process, find a job, get a card.

Until then, I understand there are free newspapers downstairs.  And that anyone can wander in and read.

Old Gulf Guidebook

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Pass the Passport - Cindi's Residency - 1

Bob was summoned to Immigration this morning, 7am.  Something about sponsoring his wife for residency.  He should bring all his "papers" (check), arrive early (check) and "call this number" upon arrival (um, check).  No need to bring Cindi.

Here's what it's like to go through the residency process:
  • Get certified copy of marriage certificate, drop it off at BMD office (while still in KC)
  • Fly to Doha - eat a lot of chocolate enroute
  • Go to pool
  • Receive email from Bob with status update
  • Go to pool
  • Wave goodbye as Bob heads for an early meeting at Immigration and 8-10 hours toiling over building plans
  • Go to pool
It's not all sunshine and chocolate, of course…I also make coffee, pick up/drop off shirts, do the laundry, grocery and money thing, drink coffee, drive around, pinch myself and giggle a lot.

Oh, and I go to the beach too.

Without a car today, I'll squeeze in study time for tomorrow's Big Arabic Test, jog at the gym, write, read - and study some more.

Then later, meet up with Bob for a wog around the Pearl, dinner, good conversation, a movie.

Ahhhhhhhh, expat life.  It's a struggle, but - somehow - I'm making it work. :)

Friday, June 8, 2012

Bob and Cindi, 27 Years in Doha

A comedian compared marriage to buying a car: "owning this car is going to be really hard.  It'll either run perfectly forever - or leave you stranded without bus fare. It will need more time and attention than you have and maintenance will be expensive!  The transmission will go out, bumpers will rust, paint will chip and it will run rough, even as it promises not to.  Sometimes it will refuse to start. The only guarantee is…owning this car is going to be really hard."

Of course odds of success go up with research, careful planning, reputable factories, compatible features, a history of performance…

…and a sense of humor helps too.

Our twenty-seven year celebration began with a last party at Curtis and Mary's…a good-bye to coworkers who head back to the states soon - or move into different Doha digs.
Curtis and Mary's beautiful, ambitious, 23 year old son pointed to his parents and said, "aren't they GREAT?"  We think so too. :)
Esther sings "The Doha Song" ("I can see clearly now, the sand is gone...")
Tracy and Mike insist on taking their kids back to Missouri, USA with them.  How selfish.  :)

Topped off with alone time at Doha's Al Mourjan Restaurant ("A Touch of Art, A Taste of Perfection; One of the World's Best Restaurants!") overlooking West Bay waters.

We toured the pyramid shaped Sheraton hotel - Doha's first hotel - and later, watched "The King's Speech" on DVD.

Sure, marriage is hard - there's no combination or how to manual and when things don't work out it's about as painful as it gets.  Still, most people I know give committed relationships a shot.

Because…when you get it right?  It's the best thing ever.
(What to do when a couple can't agree on which photo to post.)

Monday, June 4, 2012

Inside Day

Bit o' sand in the air…

December 2011
June 2012

I'm behind the camera in pic #2, wearing long pants, long sleeves, head band and glasses, wishing I had a scarf.  It's an arctic 97 degrees F, so I'm not hot.  Truth: the locals have it right.  Surely even a black abaya is more comfortable than jeans in this weather…

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Saddest Day in Doha

Maybe I should write about the heat, how the sun rises early - at 4:30am - and bakes the air until molecules are full and thick and heavy.

Or about the food.  How everything's imported: apples from France, pears from New Zealand, cucumbers from Saudi Arabia.  Or how Australian hamburger from grass-fed (as opposed to U.S. grain-fed) cows tastes like…grass.

Or about the residency process, which I've begun.

Not something familiar, that crosses cultures and penetrates language barriers. Not something like grief.

All I can think about are the babies.

No warning, no quick evacuation: children sat eating in the food court inside Doha's popular, patterned-after-Vegas Villagio Mall.  Skaters skated on the ice rink, families gathered in the indoor amusement park - and smoke slid up the walls and massed along the sky-painted ceiling.

First person accounts say the alarm sounded like a doorbell…one shopper asked a guard about the buzzing noise and the guard shrugged. It's nothing.

One video shows black smoke billowing uncontained for long minutes before the first siren wailed. Notorious Doha traffic had to be rerouted to allow emergency vehicles through.

Reportedly, sprinkler systems malfunctioned.  Rescue attempts were hampered by a lack of blueprints.  Firefighters were on site for 30 minutes before they even knew there was a daycare facility inside.  By then, access to the nursery was cut off by fire and thick, black smoke.  Stairs had collapsed.  One blogger described the nursery's location as "in the interior of the mall…a virtual rabbit warren of corridors..."

A hole cut in the roof.  A frantic, heroic rescue attempt.  Two firefighters died. But it was too late.

Trapped in the nursery, four teachers and thirteen babies drowned in smoke.  The children included 2-year old triplets from Australia, and three children under age 5 from one Spanish family.

The fire started either in the Nike store or in the nursery, depending on your news source.  Ours is Doha based Al-Jazeera - arguably the CNN of the Middle East…right here in Doha.  The day of the fire, Al Jazeera gave the horror about a minute and a half.

I drove by the mall yesterday.  Except for the empty parking lots, barriers and guards, there was no sign that a disaster happened here.  No blackened walls, nothing caved in.

Steel, concrete and tile - on the outside, anyway - don't burn.

All victims were from somewhere else - ie, not Qatari. But according to, the nursery's owner is Imran al-Kuwari, daughter of Qatar's Minister of Culture, and (presumably) Qatari.  She was arrested, along with the Villagio's owner and director of security.

Her father described her as "the saddest person on earth."

Grief, like love, is a language everyone understands.