Friday, April 3, 2020

Purple Island

So overseas, several troops of Girl Scouts makes up a committee (they are called service units stateside). The committee here in Doha is decent size (about 120 girls), covering nearly every level from first year daisies to first year seniors, and we (in addition to being a troop leader I also volunteered to be a committee member) try to put on a couple committee wide events every year. This gives older and younger girls a chance to interact, leaders a chance to talk with other leaders, and have the girls work together on a big project. One of the leaders of a junior troop organized a day trip out to Purple Island (also known as Al Khor Island or Jazirat bin Ghanim) at the beginning of March.

Purple Island is about an hour drive from our house. The leader had worked out a location with bathrooms and some tents that was also within walking distance of the island for us to use during the day (always a good thing with lots of girls). In the morning, we headed over across a pedestrian bridge to Purple Island for a trash clean up. I can't remember the final committee number but I think it was about 20 bags, some tires, a big metal bar, and a gasoline can. Clarissa was super excited to find a cooking pot with a soda can inside!

Any way, the event was girl-led and the girls were picking up the trash. I was pulling a wagon with water bottles. So I may or may not have gotten distracted by the scenery and just took pictures while they were cleaning up!

This yellow beauty is the desert hyacinth (Cistanche tubulosa). It is a parasitic plant. The desert hyacinth doesn't have any chlorophyll and steals water and nutrients from other plants. In the top picture, it is parasitizing the green glasswort (Arthrocnemum macrostachyum).

Beautiful purple sea lavender (Limonium axillare) blooming. Contrary to what you be thinking, Purple Island did not get its name from the sea lavender. The name comes from the Kassite period on the island (1400 to 1100 BC) when a purple shellfish dye was obtained from the Murex snail. What color purple? Think of the Qatari flag....that color!

A friendly little Talon crab, also called a mottled lightfoot crab, (Grapsus albolineatus) scurried across the hot sand. The girls stopped picking up trash for a bit to check it out. We were working on our Marine Life Badge after all.

An unusual rock formation on the island. As I mentioned with the purple dye, the island has be inhabited off and on. Archeological digs have found evidence of some possible Neolithic inhabitants used the island as a campsite (around 4500 BC). Some pottery suggests suggests the island was also inhabited by a Bahrain-based civilization (2000 to 1750 BC).

Back at the property we were staying at, there were some other neat plants. Near the restroom, I found the flowers of a date palm tree (Phoenix dactylifera). I'm 97% sure these are male flowers. Had I realized there were male and female date palm trees with different flowers, I would have looked closer when I saw them and not tried to distinguish just from a photo.

These are some fruits (Kanar) ripening on a Sidra tree (Ziziphus spina-christi). The Sidra tree is a very symbolic tree in Qatar (there is a hospital named after it, they designed their convention center after it).

After we returned to the property, we had lunch, finished up some badge work, we let the girls have some downtime as we did some celestial badge work (only one person can look through the telescope at a time), they did SWAPs, we built fires and learned to put them out, we ate dinner (which was not soon enough apparently), and of course made S'mores. I think they all had a great day, I know I enjoyed the day in the sun.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

What the ?!? 2020

The beginning of 2020 had been going along pretty uneventful. Just the regular busyness of school, work, girl scouts, hanging out with friends (whether it was the teen doing teen things, hosting Bunco, or having some neighbors over for a Fat Tuesday pancake supper), grocery shopping, orthodontist & dentist appointments, etc. Just over all normal busy....and being around others.....

Then on February 29 (it had to be a leap year), COVID-19 hit Qatar with it's first case. We struggled with the decision of cancelling our spring break trip to Jordan at the end of the March (which we we did). On March 9th, we got word from the the kids school the Ministry announced closure of schools and they were moving to virtual schooling (the school had been prepping since February and having the kids practice submitting assignments in class). We have since survived two and half weeks of virtual schooling at home and one week of spring break. I have confirmed I am an introvert and the teen is definitely an extrovert. Virtual schooling starts back up again on Sunday...we shall see how this goes.

More and more places have been closed down by the government, places are eerily empty (note this photo was taken early one morning last year...I'm not going out when I shouldn't be). For the most part, these measures are working. The numbers are still increasing here (but there are also a lot of recoveries and very few deaths), but according to the Ministry of Public Health a lot of the new cases are associated with individuals returning from out of the country or those that had close contact with already infected individuals. I only go out for groceries less than once a week. Richard has to work, some days via telework and other days by going into the office. We are trying to eat dinners on our back porch, toss a ball around, and do other things in a yard (there have been a few confirmed cases in our compound). Pretty much....we are acting more like this camel now and wearing a face mask and practicing social distancing.

(BTW - we totally made the right call on cancelling the spring break trip. We wouldn't have been able to return back into the country if we had gone, days before the trip Jordan announced mandatory 14 day quarantines, so we wouldn't have see anything but a hotel room, and now they are on a complete shut down). 

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Holiday 2019 Visitors - The Festivities

So as I mentioned in my last big post, the in-laws had arrived, had a good two weeks to get over jet lag, I'd taken Jim birding, and the kids were now on holiday break. So the real fun began. The break began with two meetings of Santa's helpers. One for the Girl Scouts/Cub Scouts with Santa arriving via a fire truck!

The other was the Embassy holiday party with Santa arriving on a motorcycle (I didn't get the arrival but did snap a photo of the kids with Santa).

Yes, Clarissa is wearing tights with Santa cats on them! You'd be surprised what you can randomly find in the stores here!! I had been waiting for the kids to get out of school to take Ann and Jim to Baladna Farms. I have been once before and it was definitely on the 'you have to see this desert marvel' list!!

We timed it so we arrived in time to eat lunch at their cafe (lots of cheese/dairy dishes), took our obligatory 'in the sign' photo (can you find everyone), checked out the art cows, and then head over for milking time.

What? I'm not supposed to milk the fake cow?

The milking parlor with its giant rotary milking system was impressive as usual.

Next we walked over to Baladna Park, this was the highlight for Clarissa. She may or may not have been asking to head over here the entire time!! For only 10QR (so less than $3), we got a bag of bits of greens and vegetables to feed the animals in the petting zoo. There were overly friendly camels.

What did they call this on Seinfeld? Close talker?

There was a sleepy llama (so adorable!) and well as some white ostriches behind it.

There were some miniature donkeys (which totally sounded like 'Donkey' from Shrek in my head) and miniature ponies. The donkey didn't want its photo taken but the pony gave us some goggly eyed look.

The zebra showed off all its teeth when eating the leafy greens.

Clarissa loved the baby bunnies and I think she fed them half our bag of food. They were pretty adorable.

The teen took the time to entice one of the tortoises over to fence to feed it. Tortoises really need to learn better manners and chew with their mouths shut!!

We then took a ride on multi-person bike. The 6-seaters were all gone so we split into two groups (which later changed after this photo was taken).

Taking the race serious.

Some of us were working hard and others were hardly working.....

That evening we got cleaned up to go out to dinner. We had another set of visitors from the States to meet up with!! Richard's cousin/Ann & Jim's niece and her family were flying to Africa on Qatar Airways via Doha. QA has a deal where you can stay overnight at a number of local hotels for a discount. It adds some tourism dollars to the economy, helps travelers with jet lag, and in our case - let us catch up! We met up a Damasca One Restaurant in Souq Waqif for dinner. 

We enjoyed a yummy and entertaining dinner (we had no idea there was live music and a dancer!). He had on a lighted-skirt like thing that he took off and was spinning over his head (and our heads) while dancing and walking around the restaurant. His vest lit up also. I think Clarissa really liked that flashy style.

After dinner, we set up a time to meet back up the NYC cousins before their flight the following evening (did you recognize the kids from the NYC post! They sure have grown a lot). We obviously met back up at Souq Waqif since that is were they were staying and the best place to sightsee! Sparkly objects everywhere....even Ann and Jim couldn't resist a peek.

Of course we headed over to falcon souq because where else can you see beautiful falcons for sale?

We checked out a couple falcon shops and this beautiful falcon that had likely just had or was waiting for a check up at the falcon hospital.

From a class field trip, Clarissa knew a secret entrance into the horse stables. So we took the walkway less travelled.

Jim met a friendly horse.

We also witnessed a camel fight (None of us had ever seen one of those). The video wasn't very good (just like kids, they stopped the ankle bitting when you hit record), but I got a couple photos where you can tell it's not everyday happy camel happenings.

We headed to the playground a bit and then over to the corniche (walkway along the water). Clarissa and I opted to chill by the pearl fountain while the rest of the gang walked out to the very end of the docks to check out the view of downtown.

Afterwards, the weary cousins headed back for a nap before the flight for that evening and we headed home to get ready for Santa's arrival. For a number of evenings we were playing holiday pictionary-type game. We did Christmas songs, movies, foods, objects, etc. I think the funniest picture that nobody could guess was Clarissa's drawing of a manager waving bye aka 'Away in a Manger'. I have apparently failed as a

Christmas came and went in a flash....some flashes had a bit more energy early in the morning and were unable to stay still enough for a photo., while other flashes could barely open their

If you remember, over the summer, Clarissa and I had picked up fabric and pattern. As you saw, I squeezed in the time to make everyone matching Christmas PJs!

We had the usual chores of grocery shopping for things like cabbages twice as big as your head (luckily we were able to request 1/4 of it), while Ann and Jim were in town (and Jim kindly took care to make sure all our leftovers/goodies got finished off).

We were able to fit in a few more sights and adventures before Ann and Jim's trip ended. One day Richard, Ann and I headed out to Al Zubarah Fort - Qatar's UNESCO heritage site. Jim had tweaked his back on the bike at Baladna and the kids had no interest in old stuff, so they stayed at home. It took us about an hour and half drive to get there.

Al Zubarah Fort and the archeological site at the city nearby is the only UNESCO site in the country. The fort was originally built in 1938 as a Qatari Coast Guard station. 

The fort was built with limestone, coral rock, and mud. It was used for protection and has two floors of soldiers quarters. There was also a deep fresh water well within the fort.

The nearby village (which is what really helps earn the UNESCO designation) has been undergoing archaeological excavation. Al Zubarah (which translates to mean 'sand mounds') has had documentation/history of villages since 1627. This was one of the areas used for pearl diving. So Ann learned all about the country's pearl diving (one exhibits was in the fort and some more in a little trailer). We were told we could walk/drive down to the village and then walk through, but the gate was shut that day. Here's a view of the water from the fort, you can see bits of the city remains poking up.

All in all, it was a great morning. We passed camels, Arabian Oryx and all kinds of interesting scenery on our way.

By this time, we only had a couple days left and our visitors were getting their luggage packed up. There was only thing on their Doha bucket list they hadn't checked off. Due to all the rain, we hadn't gone dune bashing which includes a stop to ride camels. Now Ann wasn't all the interested in bashing dunes, but did want to ride on a camel. I have to admit, I had a great idea! I suggested it to Richard, he agreed it was a great off he and Ann went (since Jim's back was still not 100% he passed again). They drove out to Sealine - where the SUVs head off-road but have to stop and deflate their tires. So while the drivers deflate their tires there are restrooms, Arabic coffee to drink, falcons to hold, and of course...camels to ride.

Ann loved her camel ride! Mission Accomplished! I am in the process of clearing off a spot on the shelf for my favorite person of the day camel

Just like that, our visitors had spent a month taking in the sites, tastes, and sounds of Qatar. I think we did a pretty good job of showing them most of Qatar! I put together this little map that showed them where all they explored. 

A few hours after they left, Ms. Isa Lei started demanding to know where her snack dealer was....apparently even the grandkitty got spoiled!