Sunday, June 21, 2009

In Doha

This is a guest post by Ryan.
Apologies for the delay in posting; jet lag, sampling and exploring have taken all our time lately. I've finally found some time to write this post---at 3AM!
First things first, we've now collected nearly two dozen dog samples in Qatar, with more sampling arranged for Monday and Tuesday. Sampling your first few dogs is a very nice feeling; at least we know the trip will be at least a partial success! The street dogs here generally look and act much like salukis, an ancient desert-dwelling breed whose spindly body fits the climate here (humid, 115 degrees F and sunny every day with lows somewhere in the 90s during the summer). It will be interesting to compare these dogs to other Middle Eastern street dogs and to American salukis. We will write much more about the dog project and the science behind it as time goes on, but for the moment I think I'll use my time to talk a bit more about the travel.

The trip over here was a gruelling 24-hour (32 with the time differnece) affair during which we saw the sun set twice from plane seats high above two different continents. To make a long story short, a clerical error forced us to fly this leg on less-convenient and much less comfortable American carriers (Gulf carriers know how to treat their passengers). The lack of free alcohol, the poor entertainment system and the uncomfortable seats limited my sleep, though it arguably increased my productivity. I started out trying to watch Coraline but for some reason it was not working on that flight so I tried the next-best Bride Wars next (sad but true). After twenty minutes I couldn't take it anymore and got to completing a review for a journal that was due within a couple days. It was one of those papers that clearly involved a lot of long-term data but was plagued by problems in its theoretical development and data interpretation. It's the kind of paper that is all too often written, and all too often published, in primatology. Hopefully my review can help produce a stronger, more meaningful contribution.

On the flight from Frankfurt to Doha via Riyadh we were on Lufthansa which meant free drinks and more entertainment options---Meerkat Manor and Discovery Channel specials all the way!
Instead of giving a play-by-play for our trip to Doha, I think I'll just list some of the highlights so I can get to bed soon.

  • The first morning we walked at 7am for an hour and wound up drenched in sweat even at that hour.
  • Doha is nice in a bustling-but-not-overly-so, rapidly-expanding-but-with-some-forethought way. The city is clearly alive (but not overwhelmingly so, like Cairo) and is incredibly multicultural: more than half of the people in Qatar are not local Qataris (this results in some amazing ethnic food being available). People dressed in traditional robes freely mingle with Westerners, Indians and other Muslims from around the world. While conservative dress is expected and the sexes are frequently segregated (e.g. many restaurants will not serve women, or will only serve them in special “Family” rooms), it usually doesn't feel oppressive. Women can and do hold jobs, drive (since 1995) and there is a vibrant free press (it is, for example, the headquarters of Al Jazeera). It's also a fully welfare state with very high per capita income and decent income distribution parity.
  • Our first rental car's air conditioning died, so we had to use windows and frequent rehydration for one day before we could trade the car for a new one.
  • Shortly after getting our second rental car, on our way to sample dogs, we were involved in an accident. Another car left its lane in the middle of traffic circle and hit directly into us (we were in its blind spot and the driver never looked). On the bright side it was a fairly minor accident; we both drove away to the traffic police, spent an hour filling out paperwork, swiped our credit card to pay a processing fee and we were back on our way, albeit having lost half of our sampling time because the shelter is only open from 4-6pm.
  • We drove all the way to the tip of the Qatari peninsula---nearly an hour's drive! One can cross the whole country north-south in about 1.5-2 hours and east-west in about 45 minutes. The scenery doesn't change much though; a lot of beige with the scattered small tree every now and then. It did give us a chance to take our 4x4 off-road on the beach and see our first Qatari wildlife, a recently deceased large lizard.
  • All the bulidings here are the same shade of sand beige (except one very pink house we saw).
  • If you should ever want to adopt a dog (or cat, donkey, chicken, guinea fowl or just about any kind of animal imaginable) in Qatar, QAWS is the place to do it. They have a very nice volunteer staff and do wonders to help unwanted and maltreated animals here. In general, Qatar has very few dogs as most Muslims do not like to keep dogs.
  • The Islamic Art Museum in Doha is awesome and free. They even give you a golf cart ride from your car to the entrance and back. The architecture (like many buildings in Doha, including Cornell's medical school) is interesting and, in this case, gorgeous. The museum is very under-utilized resulting in a very pleasant, unrushed experience. The art is amazing; intricately designed vessels, rugs, Qarans and other artifacts from across the Muslim world, stretching from Spain and Morocco to India and spanning 1400 years.

Well, there's much I could say, but I think I should go to sleep now. Just one more thing: go USA! We've miraculously made it to the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup---we watched the last game versus Egypt in a sheesha restaurant here.

Cumulative stats:

6 flights

6 time zones

36 traveling hours

10,469 miles

4 countries (counting all landings and time spent on the ground at all)

2 countries (counting only those countries we left the airport)


bnjammin said...

Is or is not Darwin with you?

Ryan B said...

Nope, he's with Grandma in Virginia Beach. And Origin of Species and Descent of Man are in storage in CA, though we carry his ideals with us :)