Friday, January 25, 2008

Traditional Arabic Dinner

EMS’ Assistant Director of Support Services is leaving. He is going to work for the Government. In Arab culture, when you get a promotion or move on…you throw a party and people come see you, not vice versa. So, Dr. Faleh had a traditional Arabic dinner at his home for the leaders of EMS and it was quite an experience. Unlike in the states when you show up for dinner and then hang out for a while afterwards, it is the opposite here. You show up a few hours before dinner, chat, smoke, drink tea. Then you eat dinner and leave.
So I showed up and some of the guys I have never seen in thobes (the white outfits) were wearing them and I was basically the most underdressed there. Anyway, you take off your shoes when you go in the house to the reception room. This a huge room with many couches and chairs lining all of the walls. Basically you just go in and talk. You are served Arabic Tea which is a semi-nasty tasting stuff in small cups (like shot glass size). If you don’t twiddle your cup, they will continue to keep filling it up.

At a certain time, the doors to the rest of the house are opened. You are instructed to wash your hands and then head to another room where the food is on a huge platter in the middle of the floor. You are also given water, food, salad, and eating utensils…but no one really uses them. You just reach in and grab. Place some meat and rice in your hand, ball it up and eat it. Eat only with your right hand, as your left is for bathroom use and is considered unclean.
The Arab guys eat and immediately go to the dessert room. The westerners finished the meal and followed. There they had a selection of deserts, cakes, even a chocolate fountain. You get that and also some more Arabic tea.

This is followed by Mint Tea. Once that is done. They bring around an incense burner and you waft it in your face and clothes when they put it in front of you. They go around the room 3 times. About 5- 10 minutes after that…everyone gets up and leaves. It was a very interesting and informative night. That is for sure. Then you get pictures like this:


The reception room. This furniture was all the way around the room. Left to right you have Omar, our new head of Doha Operations; Chaker, who is now the Head of Northern Operations (and he has a awesome new station up north that is a good cleaning and turning on the power, internet, and phones away from moving into). Malcom who is the Assistant Executive Director of Operations, Shaun Assistant Executive Director of Training and Education, and Khalid our Public Relations guy.

Me getting my incense on. I had to plan this just right with the guy next to me, so he could get my picture as they were going around with it. This boy is Dr. Faleh's son, Omar.


Me enjoying the Majaliss style eating on the floor.


A closer version of what the dinner actually looks like.


Then you get pictures like this with Dr. Faleh (the host) on the left, myself, Abdul Rahman who is our Head of Communications, and Dr. Marc who is our Medical Director. Did you ever think you would see me on a couch with 2 guys in thobes?

DOOBUY!

I know the title is bad, but I was trying to be funny!

Vegas of the Middle East. That is about sums it up. Dubai was an amazingly awesome time. It was so great, that if this job were there…I would probably consider staying until the end of the project. I could probably stand the heat in that city. Here is a little taste of my trip last weekend.


So we used basically the same itinerary that we did for Bahrain, Carol (best travel partner ever!) and I headed to the Airport around 5:30am. Hussein was early to the compound and he was honking the horn outside my door at 5:20. I called Carol and told her he was here and she headed down the street and we were on our way. The flight was easy, another 36 minutes except this time instead of north it was almost due east. (Blew my mind too…check the map). After arriving at airport, which if you ever go through Dubai, spend some time in the airport before/after your flight. Pretty cool experience. Nice airport, big mall…kind of like Pittsburgh. We headed to the hotel via a cab, which we came to find out over the weekend…are everywhere. We never had to wait more than a couple of minutes ANYWHERE in the city to find a cab that was going by us with no fares. We were staying at the Sheraton Four Points in the Bur Dubai area of town, which is kind of like the old downtown area. There are streets and sidewalks, stores as you walk by, etc. The hotel was a little old, but had a bar and a few restaurants. Probably the only problem was that I was unlucky and got the room facing the construction site right beside the hotel. Her room was facing the back pool. So at 7:00 both mornings I heard them fire up the cranes and I think at least 60 Indian/Nepalese/etc men were banging on the rebar with hammers, for what appeared to be no purpose other than to get me out of bed. Anyway, our rooms were not ready, so we stored our stuff, grabbed a backpack and headed to the Mall of the Emirates.


Since the mall is a bit away from town, our cab driver suggested we make a short detour and stop by the Burj Al Arab hotel (The Sail, 7 Star hotel you all see on TV). It was only about 1 KM out of the way, so it was actually a good idea. We got out and got some pictures. However you have to have reservations at the hotel or restaurants to get across the bridge to actually get into the hotel. It was quite an amazing site.


Now, I know some of you are thinking…Feet? At the Mall? Voluntarily? But you have to look a little deeper in this scenario. You see, Ski Dubai is at the Mall of the Emirates. Which was awesome considering that it was a ski slope with a supposed black diamond, indoor, in the middle east. It was just about a 400 meter, L shaped slope with difficulty varying on which side of the slope you were on. They even had a ‘lodge’ halfway up to get drinks and warm up…are you kidding me? It was -3Celcius and I did not wear gloves or a hat. I was comfortable. It was nice to know I haven’t lost all of my cold weather skills. You can get an all day lift ticket, but trust me…the 2 hour deal is plenty. They give you everything you would need…skis, boots, poles, jacket, pants, socks, just not hat or gloves. After staying on that small of a slope for such a short time, 2 hours is enough time. I got my fix and it was awesome. Carol has not skied in many years so she opted out. However, they do have a snow park and snow tubing as well. She got access to the snow park and was able to get close enough to the slopes to throw snowballs at me. After changing back to normal clothes we grabbed lunch at a Lebanese restaurant and I ordered something that I cannot describe. The best way to put it is it was kind of like a Lebanese version of a cheese Quesada, except with different cheese and spices. It was actually not too bad. After lunch we did a quick walk around to see what all was there, which in this size mall took a few hours. Wow. Was it big. You could probably spend all day or more here and not see all that you wanted.


In the effort of efficiency and since we were on this side of town, the Hard Rock cafĂ© was not that far away from the mall. Now, that is true in some respects, but traffic is so bad here that it takes forever to get anywhere. So we grabbed a taxi from the mall and headed out into traffic. It took us a bit, but we finally landed at the Hard Rock, which thankfully was not too busy yet and we were able to get a table. Probably the only downfall was that there were 2 separate tables of either kids parties or all the parents just put the kids together while they ate. They were not too loud, but we did have some running by the table and screaming a few times. We ate and drank for a while, and the way traffic looked outside we stayed for a few more drinks after dinner because we were not ready to fight that mess. After picking up the requisite souvenirs, we headed back to the hotel. This was another exercise in patience because it took us probably over an hour to get back. By the time we hit the hotel, it was probably closer to 11:00pm. We were both pretty tired, especially getting up so early that we retired to our rooms and didn’t stop at the hotel bar.


The next morning I got a call about 8:30ish and she asked about breakfast. We decided to head out in about 30 minutes and this time unlike Bahrain, I was ready for her. When she knocked I was ready to go. Still getting used to a woman that gets cleaned up and ready to go as fast or faster than I do. We tried to find a restaurant that served a ‘pork’ breakfast but to no avail. We did find a restaurant that had outside seating, right next to the street and the weather was so nice we ate outside. (Still no pork) It was called “The Dome” and was actually a pretty good breakfast for Turkey Bacon. We got on the most touristy of things, the double-decker sightseeing tour bus. It was open on top, and it was such a nice day we had to. Plus, it was hop-on hop-off all day long, and it hit many of the sights. So for the price, it was worth it. We made a trip around town and got off at the souqs. They were not fully open yet, but there were a good amount of shops and people already there. They are a little pushier than they are in Doha, and they will really try to push their wares on you. We got back on the bus and headed toward the Museum, however when we got there it was closed. It was Friday and would not open for a few more hours. So we stayed on the bus until we got to the docks. Included in our bus fare was a Dhow (boat) cruise down the Dubai Creek. It was a nice relaxing day and so smooth and comfortable, I could have fell asleep on the boat. Plus, they offered us beer, so of course we had to have one while on the cruise.


After getting back to port, since there were no bathrooms on there we headed to the Radisson hotel which was across the street. We ran in to the bathroom and since we were there decided to have a cool drink. Afterwards we got back on the bus and headed towards the rest of the tour. We saw all the stops and then went to the JW Marriott Hotel for dinner. They have a Hofbrauhaus there and I wanted to check it out…you know I love my German Beer and Food. We showed up at 4:30-4:45 ish and the manager came and told us that due to Dubai Liquor laws they cannot sell beer between 4 and 6 pm…(what is that?) He told us that we should consider coming back at 6:00 pm because they were having a special that night. 3 restaurants in the hotel were having huge buffets and we can go to any of them, all you can eat. It was also all you could drink from 6pm till Midnight. Can you tell what we did? It was like $70…but well worth it. We went and grabbed some Gloria Jene’s coffee while we were waiting and then headed back to the restaurant at 6:00. Probably the funniest thing was when we first got the buffet they had not put everything out yet and we were picking through the cold table. About that time, Carol stopped and said “OH MY GOD…THAT IS HAM!” We both stocked up and headed back to the table. Later on she found some really thick pork chops and brought me one back to the table. It is amazing how much you crave certain things just cause you can’t have them. (I’m thinking Yann dogs, myself.)


The best part of this is about to come. So, in order to not get totally sick. We spaced out our meal over the course of the night. The other restaurants had a variety food from all over the world, it was crazy. In our restaurant, they had German Music, in another they had beach music, in the third they had a little Filipino band. As I was heading towards the restaurant, I thought I heard some familiar words…and I did! They were singing COUNTRY ROADS! I ran in and started to sing along with them really loud (the other diners thought I was crazy…), then I ran out to get my camera so you could hear them sing. Well, by the time I got back the song was about over… I was mad. What a wasted opportunity…I turned and started to put my camera away and the very next song was this:

video

SWEET HOME ALABAMA! Are you kidding me? 2 of my all time favorites back to back in Dubai? Wow! We stayed until they stopped serving the free stuff and headed home. What a cool night.


The next morning we got up and headed to a very close Starbucks for coffee. We also grabbed a quick bit to eat and then headed to the Dubai Museum. It was only about $1 to get in, and actually it was not too bad to be only $1. We were there for a little over an hour and then headed to the Harley Shop. We did our shopping and then headed to the Hotel to grab our luggage and head to the airport. Since we were early, we stopped in the pub at the hotel and had a drink and some appetizers. It was after 12:00 – FYI. We left for the airport soon after and headed back to Doha on the 4:00 flight.
Great weekend in a cool city. I might actually go back sometime before I leave because there is so much to do, you cannot fit it in 2 days. Unlike Doha, where you can get most of it in an afternoon!


The pictures are below! Later!

Dubai Pictures

View from the creek at some interesting Dubai Architechture.

Our Dhow. It was a Majalis Dhow, so you sit on the floor with small tables on the roof of the boat. Really cool.


Dubai Museum. It is located in the Mid-1700's fort that was the beginning of the city.


Hofbrauhaus.


Water Taxis (Abras) ferry people across the creek. There are 100's of these things. It costs 1 AED to ride across the creek (About 28 cents). They put about 20-25 people on these things.


Carol and I at the Burj Al Arab.



This is as close as we got to the Burj Al Arab. Notice the "Right of Admission Reserved" sign...and the secret service style security guards.

In Ski Dubai they had a snack bar built out of ice. I thought this was a great way to showcase the candy bars they had for sale. They were encased in a block of ice...how cool is that?


This is from the top of the slope. When it doglegs right, it is about the same distance from me to the lodge than it is from the lodge to the bottom of the slope.

The Souqs on a "Quiet" friday morning.

Friday, January 11, 2008

BREAKING NEWS!

So, when I woke up this morning and turned on my mobile phone...I had a few missed calls and some text messages. Major happenings here in the Middle East. Earth Shattering! Crazy! Unexpected! So, what crazy event, what incident or happening could have this much impact that friends from all over the city are calling and texting me to inform me of the early morning news?




IT'S RAINING IN DOHA!!!!




Of course, I ran out side and got an unsuspecting neighbor to take a picture of me in the rain. (He was laughing the whole time). Not to mention the guys in the guard box (down the road to my right) were wondering why the heck I was out standing in the rain...I didn't hear them, but they were probably laughing as well. Slight FYI...all of this concrete, marble, and granite is slippery as heck since it never rains here. Be careful walking around...I have almost fell a few times.




So, there you go folks. I have been in this country since July 2, 2007. Over 6 months later I see my first precipitation. Isn't that crazy? It was a light/medium drizzle, but the drainage is so bad here you would think it rained 3 inches. My back yard is flooded.

I think I am going to pull my car out and let the rain rinse it off....

Cheers!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Short Update

Sorry guys, not too much going on. I am kicking these guys and pushing them pretty hard, but we are making changes. I found a weekly poker game that I have done REALLY well at. I am planning on hitting Dubai next weekend and doing some skiing. When something exciting, different happens...I will keep you updated....Cheers