Tuesday, February 19, 2019

State 'Celebrity' Sighting

Forgive me....I forgot to mention something exciting that happened in Doha mid-January (in the middle of that whole gov't shutdown fun). Richard's boss of bosses - Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in the Middle East visiting countries. Given, Qatar is in the Middle East; Pompeo visited Doha. We had the opportunity to meet him (this was actually our first chance to meet a Secretary of State - John Kerry visited Tbilisi a week or so after we had departed post, Suva wasn't much on the radar for big visits, so here we were third post - first visit). Note: if it doesn't have a watermark, the picture was shared from the Embassy.

Needing to hit the ground running, they were not all scrunched up in economy seats like us little folks fly.

Sec. Pompeo was greeted by a local Qatari representative.

Off he headed for some meetings.

Sec. Pompeo's wife, Susan Pompeo had come along for the trip. She wanted to speak to EFMs (eligible family members) about life here at post. We had about an hour to chat, she asked a lot of questions, everyone had a chance to talk, and we all got a group photo after our talk.

We then went to another meeting room where our other halfs/other employees were gathering. After a few minutes, Sec. Pompeo and Susan entered the room and were introduced by the ChargĂ© D’Affaires, William Grant (until an Ambassador is assigned to the Embassy, Grant is filling in).

Sec. Pompeo made a few remarks, but then asked the group questions.

What did he say/ask? Here's a little video from his twitter page of him talking to us!

We then all posed for the obligatory group photo....can you find Richard and me? Mason & Clarissa did not come as it was a last minute change to invite kids and I would of had to run to school to grabbed them out of class early and Richard needed the car to do some work stuff with the airplane crew....so logistically it didn't work out.

Afterwards, there was the chance for pictures/selfies. That part was a little crazy....but I did get these photos!

Sec. Pompeo was a really jolly/friendly guy.

A friend and I opted to ask Susan for a photo (as we had just had a relatively intimate chat with her).

So we survived our first, VIP visit. If you go the Embassy's webpage, you can even see where Sec. Pompeo met Qatar's Emir!

Friday, February 8, 2019

AWA Kayaking Trip

So as I did with Georgia and Fiji postings, I've joined one of the local expat woman's associations (Here is it American Woman's Association (AWA) Qatar). They do the usual monthly meetings, LOT of awesome excursions and activities, and some charity work. A week ago, I was helping make fleece blankets for military personal being med-evaced to stay warm with on cold cargo planes. The day before that, I went on the kayaking trip!! We met up and the tour group coordinated our transportation via bus up to the Al Khor area. It was about an hour drive (we live in Doha and we kayaked at the blue dot).

When we were driving the last bit (our bus drive meet the kayaking crew and followed them). A lot of us where starting to wonder where the water was. We finally turned at an orange construction cone on the side of the road and were off roading through a sandy/hill landscape with some car tracks going through it (this is the view back once we made it to the water - the power lines are the road we turned off of).

We then turned at a second orange cone which took us directly to the water! At last we had arrived!

We all got fitted with our life jackets and paddles. The kayaking crew did a demo on how to hold the paddle and how to get the best results for moving/turning/stopping. We then headed down to the row of kayaks waiting for us.

We got directions on where to paddle across the channel to a mangrove island in the estuary. The tour guide folks got this shot of our mass dash across the water. I'm the goober wearing a buff (I hate dealing with the knots in my hair) and the Go-Pro on my head.

We had a little time once we reached the island to walk around. We did the group picture of course.

Our guide confirmed what my kayak buddy and I thought were flamingos. Sadly, this would be as close as we were getting to them (good the flamingos, sad for us). I had brought my 300mm lens and have since cropped in further with editing software. Here are my best two (focus is off as it was far away the camera didn't know what I was taking); one shows some with the pink coloration (they were very pale/almost white) and the other shows one with the distinct neck/profile.

Real live flamingos in the wild!!! Of course, the mangroves were the real destination.

Reminds of Florida mangroves.....but yet I'm here in the desert!

There was a Great Egret (Andre alba) that was much closer to photograph. After resting in the mangroves a bit,

it took flight and I captured the graceful bird. I can't decide which I like better - with the mangrove background or plain sky background.

We also happened upon a mangrove with perfectly spaced/symmetrical radial aerial roots (pneumatophores). The guide spoke about the use of these roots (aeration during high tide when a portion of the plant is submerged).

We got back in the kayaks and paddled around through the mangroves (with one spot so shallow we had run aground and had to get out and pull the kayak).

When we were nearly back in open water there was some mangroves with a flock of Western Reef Herons (Egretta gularis) as well as more Great Egrets.

I had finally figured out the GoPro settings (I was trying to take a photo every 30 seconds, would set it up, but then when the camera went off it returned to the default single photo). Not a whole lot to look at while heading back across the channel - though I did get a nice series of paddling photos.

Sadly, we were not at the head of the pack here....lol. Quite the opposite. We had paddled great all morning but suddenly there was a current that kept turning us to the right (these were probably one of our 360 turns as we'd just get tired of battling the current). We finally reached a shallow enough area and just pulled the kayak back the rest of the way. One of the kayak crew guys met us and took it the last little bit (my camera was still shooting away!).

We then walk back to the makeshift camp they had set up. You see our huge bus we came from Doha in and of course the port-a-potty (literally portable)!

There was a tent set up with Arabic coffee and cakes to snack one. A lot of us had brought our lunches so we ate them then (by now it was after 13:00).

After eating my PB&J, I got artsy with the beautiful Arabic coffee pot!

It was a super fun day (but in my doing reconnaissance on the trip...I think the current might make it bit too tricky to take Clarissa out there. She doesn't paddle much and that would be a lot of work for Richard......lol). Though I would like to come again, possibly earlier in the flamingo migration season when hopefully more birds would be present, with Richard.....it would be a fun date day!

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani Museums

So Richard was one of the lucky few during the shutdown that was considered essential and need to continue coming into work. So other than the pay fiasco/stress, it was somewhat 'business as usual' in regards to our daily routines. So for MLK day, Richard had a day off work and the kids had school. Once they were off to school, we got in the car and headed out of town to the Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani Museums. No that is not a typo, it is museums. While all housed within in the same "castle" there were multiple halls each with a theme and tons of historical pieces associated with that theme.

That is just a portion of the "castle" museum. Once past the security gate, we watched our speed as lots of animals are on the grounds (we heard rumors of a jaguar also, but did not come across any other info). We did in fact see the emus, but no crossing peacocks.

The castle/fort is owned by Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani and is his personally curated collection. Who is Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani? Faisal is a distant relative of the Emir, HH Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani (note both have the last name Al Thani). Faisal is one of the richest men in Qatar and has gained said wealth as a businessman. He owns multiple businesses, mostly luxury hotels and commercial real estate (you can learn more here). He has a passion for collecting art and artefacts. His personal collection began to get too large and in 1988 the non-profit museum was founded in order to share his collection with visitors. Once we arrived, we paid our admission. We could not bring in any bags (I had a small crossbody purse I had to leave in the car). We were allowed to bring in cameras, though we could not use the flash. I had figured it would be flash free photography and had brought our fixed lens with a large aperture to maximize the lighting. For the most part that did a pretty good job (but a few photos are not as focused as I would like). So here are some of the highlights of what we saw (which is a mere fraction of items to see).

The first hall we enter is what I would call the 'war museum'. Lots of tools from warriors. The first two that caught our eye looked like Fijian warrior tools (though the sign says they are from India....but since the British brought indentured slaves from India to Fiji, it is entirely possible they brought some South Pacific weapons, which were then later crafted with an Indian twist). These look Fijian iUla (throwing club) and Bulutoko (cannibal fork) (check out the Fiji Museums weapons or come visit us to see our copies of Fijian weapons).

There was a massive display of English and Scottish arrows that had been used in the crusades war!

This sword inlaid with copper is from Yemen.

This knife from the Caucus region caught our eye (our old stomping grounds of the Republic of Georgia).

There was a lot of beautiful pottery on display. We have seen replicates of the Moroccan blue flowers on blue background pottery available in markets. We may try to get something for ourselves before leaving Qatar that uses that pattern. This pattern, used in Morocco during the 17th century, was based on Middle Eastern geometric model, but also includes influences from China, Turkey, and India.

Notice how there is no glass glare on these pottery photos! Yep, they are sitting on open shelves with 'do not touch signs'. So very neat to get that up close to pieces (have no fear, guards were watching us too).

There were a number of intricately carved doorways around the museum.

And the rugs, so many rugs on display just covering the tile floors (extra special rugs were displayed differently).

Here are two of the extra special wall hung (behind glass) rugs. The one on the left is a Polonaise rug from Iran made with silver and gold (as in the metals not the color) threads in the 17th century. (according to the googles, Polonaise = from Poland...likely meaning the pattern is Polish). The other rug appears to be a map is the country of Qatar (we think). No sign so it would only be speculation as to what the different colors/boundaries signify.

There was a hall of clothing showing the different styles over the year. Including things such as this wood stamp for textile designs from India.

As well as, fancy footwear from the past. (Those the equivalent of high heel shoes, but it wasn't just the heel...the whole shoe was on stilts).

The next hall we entered (aka nearly an entire new museum of itself) had a lot of everyday household items ranging from tables, chairs, wardrobes,

to water pitchers with a dolphins and dhow boats pattern, lots of plates/bowls, etc;

to an entire Syrian courtyard HOME! Yes, you read that right. There was a sign telling us that this house was dismantled in Damascus, Syria and brought to the museum brick-by-brick using a sophisticated numbering system in order to reassemble it the exact same way!! This was 3 room house with one room to the left of the courtyard and two connected rooms to the right of the courtyard. The courtyard itself was huge (probably bigger than my little starter home back in the states) and had a covered sitting area which could be considered a room in itself. The home was adapted to the hot/cold climate in Syria and maximized the flow of wind and thick stones to keep it cool. This is consider to be a modest exterior!!

Above is a beautiful fountain in the courtyard. There was a doorway into the courtyard and here's part of the arch covered 'outdoor room' as I call it. Very impressive that it was moved and reassembled!

Fun little Mesopotamian telegraph (reminded me of my high school history teacher). There was a hall full of Qarans, ranging from small pocket versions to huge mosque-sized versions.

I guess this little guard was a statue/replica or very tiny human's armor! They also had some scary larger than life armor.

There was a small hall of family photos of current Emir, Father Emir (last ruler and current Emir's father), and other family members doing things/meeting important people. There was even family tree.

The museum is the process of building a dedicated car museum for Faisal's 600+ car collection. Most cars have been personally driven by Faisal over the years. They are all in working order and have permits to drive out on the road today. Some have been taken to car shows (and won...saw some with award plaques). In this part of museum, I thought of my car loving cousin (he rebuilds old classics) and how he would probably spend days in this part of the museum! So here's a few photos for him!!

Any guess as to what this for?

Here is a hint.....

Prior to the 1940s/oil boom, the pearl diving was the major industry of Qatar. These metal trays were used to separate the different sized pearls easier (as shown in this photo of a photo)!

There was a big display on the pearl industry, including multiple dhow boats set up for different uses (Pearl diving, transport of people/luggage, commercial food trading, etc). There was also a display of different shells collected/uses for pearl shells (tea anyone?).

There was small hospital exhibit with a primitive (bicycle pulled) ambulance, there was a collection of household artifacts from the Al Thani family (old toys, clothing, radios, cameras, etc....you name it was there). Then quite possibly my personal favorite was the natural history artefacts collection. Complete with a dolphin skeleton, the sign was in all Arabic, but it appears the dolphin stranded in 2004.

Lots of beautiful goniatites and orthocere "group polished". These are marine fossils estimated to be 280 million years old that were found in the Sahara.

The sign says this is the head and neck of a Plesiosaurus dinosaur, estimated to be 120 million years old, also found in the Sahara. No glass....just a do not touch sign!

Lots of cool trilobite fossils....trilobites were the first marine animals and these are estimated to be 400 million years old!

There were a number of fossilized turtle heads (some bigger than this, but my arms were too short to hold the camera higher to get it all in the frame). These are said to be 200 million years old and were found in the Khouribga in a phosphate deposit in Morocco.

Lots of neat fish fossil specimens.

What personal collection would be complete without a Mosasaur's jaw/teeth?!? Mosasaurs were marine reptiles that live 120 million years ago. This fossil was also found in Morocco.

A ginourmous natural amonite from 250 million years ago found in the Moroccan Desert.

I found these lizard/salamander fossils to be adorable (didn't see a sign for age/where found).

There was a display of some shiny rocks/gems sitting out (I was good and did not touch as requested).

Also laying out to the side where a number of ancient human wall drawings!

By the time we had seen all this we had been in the museums about 2 hours. As mentioned with the cars they are expanding the car and the carpets into separate dedicated museums of their own with in the fort/castle. We were over by the cafe and they had a map to mark where you were from. There were pin holes all over, so given it was January and just a few pins in the map our guess is they "reset" the map every year. So our St. Louis and Charleston pins really are noticeable.

It was a very interesting morning (and Richard and both commented we would need to bring his museum loving Dad here when they visit). We then headed to the Mall of Qatar for a lunch date and made it home about 10 minutes before the kids got home from school!