Sunday, May 15, 2011

Hot Enough For Ya?

Before moving to Doha, we knew it was going to be hot.  How bad can it be? I thought.  After all, I had lived through Canadian summers across three provinces and one territory with temperatures sometimes approaching 40C.  I thought it would be refreshing to have consistent temperatures.  I thought it would be manageable.  Actually, I thought it would be kind of nice.

I thought wrong.

Admittedly, the winter here was quite pleasant, and temperatures stayed in the high 20's and low 30's through March and April.  Mercifully, we've so far been spared the 87% humidity that greeted us when we got off the plane in August and stayed with us until November.  But in the last couple of weeks, with the mercury hitting 45C, I thought it was time to give a brief presentation on the basics of heat endurance.  Here is Surviving a Qatar Summer:  A Primer:

If 170F is the temperature at which to safely keep cooked meat to prevent food poisoning, then it’s a safe bet you can put those cooked burgers in your parked car while waiting for your dinner guests to arrive.  But, if you’ve simply parked at the mall for an hour and are hoping to head home, you need to follow a few basic steps.  If you’ve parked in the shade, place one butt cheek gingerly on the driver’s seat, reach around the steering wheel and turn the key in the ignition.  You’ll need to leave the door open for a few minutes while the air conditioning brings the internal temperature down to roughly 60C, at which point you’ll be able to touch the steering wheel with one finger to navigate home.  If, on the other hand, you’ve parked in full sun…may Allah have mercy on your soul.

Walking Outside
You’ve decided to walk to the compound clubhouse, let’s say to buy milk, or to go to the gym.  One block in and you’re committed, so you continue on to the clubhouse with its promise of shade and air-conditioning.  This is the point when you need to ask yourself one question:  Do I continue to walk slowly to conserve energy, but run the risk of my hair spontaneously combusting, OR do I break into a sprint in order to get there faster, but run the risk of all my bodily fluids evaporating before I reach my destination, leaving nothing but the shriveled husk of my former self as carrion for the circling vultures?  Answer carefully.

Never before has shopping for groceries been such an adventure, and a lesson in thermodynamics all rolled into one.  If you’re planning to buy milk, it’s always a good idea to bring a cooler, otherwise that purchase of sour cream was redundant.  If ice cream is on your list, you can also buy frozen butter to help keep it cold, and pack them together in your cooler and hope that it survives the trip.  On second thought, it’s probably safer to pack five spoons and the whole family and just eat it in line at the check-out.

Tap Water
Most villas have water tanks on the roof, which is great for water pressure, but brutal for water temperature.  From about November through March, you can count on lukewarm water coming out of the cold tap.  The rest of the time, the two taps are distinguished by their new temperatures:  hot and scalding.  Laundry at this time of year becomes a challenge, with all loads now being washed in hot water.  So long, black bikini underwear.  Hello, grayish thong.

Picture a sunny clime and one immediately thinks of sundresses, tank tops and shorts.  Not so here.  Out of respect for local culture and religion, women should cover their shoulders and knees.  So, depending on what I'm wearing around the compound, I'll change before going out, often into something more, well, more.  Which usually translates into warmer.  But yeah, I totally get it.  These middle-aged knees of mine can be quite beguiling in a certain light.  However, there is something to be said for wearing a cardigan when it's 47 degrees C outside and entering a mall where the air-conditioning hovers just above freezing.  Maybe they're onto something.

And there you have it, a little advice and some insight into climate in the Gulf.  We're just going to hang out here and wait for this dry spell to pass.  After all, it's not the heat that'll get's the humidity.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Playing It in the Key of Eh

My house is never quiet.  Looking back, I can point the finger of blame squarely at Avril Lavigne.

It was the summer of 2003 and Dan and I had just purchased Lavigne's first album, by then about a year old.  We packed Avril up along with our collection of preschoolers and toddlers and drove them across the Prairies to visit the grandparents.  We heard a lot from Avril on that drive as we had only taken about 15 CDs for the 38-hour round-trip.  By the time we got to Swift Current on the way back, we were desperately trying to find a radio station that would fill the silence.  The CD player in our van had declared an embargo on anything it had played more than 17 times in the previous two weeks.

Later that year, I heard Ben plunking around on the little battery-operated piano he had received for Christmas.  I said, "Hey, that tune sounds familiar - what is it?"

"Avril Lavigne," he said.  "Number four on her CD."

Alrighty then.

Thus began our career with Ben on the Party Circuit.  "OK, now Ben, play that Chantal Kreviazuk song for the nice lady!"  You might think we were getting carried away, but we were only reacting to our shock at this family development.  Any musical talent our kids might have is surreptitious, or at least curious in its origin - Dan and I both have a healthy smattering of very talented relatives in that regard, but neither of us share their company on that list.

Let me be clear:  we weren't the kind of parents to ensure that our children listened to classical music in utero, nor did we thrust "Baby Mozart" CDs at them in the hopes of developing them musically.  Rather, our kids were fed a steady diet of what some might call musical junk-food:  lots of pop, alternative and rock...basically what we listened to.  (Cue the collective cringe of music teachers the world over.)  I recall vividly when, at the tender age of four, Ben earnestly told Dan's aunt that he liked to listen to Sting's Ten Summoner's Tales, and that his favourite song on that CD was "the one where Sting loses his face".*

At the time of Ben's Eureka moment, I may have harboured notions of concert halls for my three-year-old.  But I resisted the urge to become the Mrs. Lindros of the piano world and decided instead to start asking around about music lessons.  After a couple of years of Orff Music for Ben, I enrolled him and Nicholas in piano lessons, and did the same for Jacob a few years later.

The boys brought what they learned and we brought our piano from Canada, and they continue to take lessons here.  In the last week, both Nick and Ben performed in talent shows at the Middle School and the Upper Elementary School, respectively.  Nick played "Surf Board" by N & R Faber, and Ben played his own arrangement of the theme from the movie Inception.  Click on the links below to see the video clips of their performances:

Nick - ASD's Got Talent 2011

Ben - Upper Elementary Talent Show 2011

Thanks, Avril.  I owe you one.

*If I Ever Lose My Faith in You, Sting, 1993