Thursday, December 29, 2011

I'm Blue (toothin')

My macbook is going to be too heavy for the Caribbean adventure. I will be packing up all of my camera gear and a few pair of clothes in one bag. The airport layovers, ship to shore moving and town wandering I will undoubtedly do pretty much only allows for one bag. I will pack lite so we may go fast. I have agonized over the lightness of a tab (like Ipad or Galaxy Tab). Most of my computing involves writing (like this,) internet browsing and email. However a tab won't let me edit the photos that I take on my trips-a necessity for long term travel. At times like this, a rather short trip it is not worth bringing my laptop. Therefore for Christmas I picked up a wireless keyboard, and can use my phone as a storage device-relying on bluetooth technology. I am currently typing this post on the keyboard and phone combo and am ready to be able to blog from where the water is warm and free. (I will have to backdate everything, akin to this time last year when I did not have an internet connection due to the Egyptian Government throwing their country into the stone age)

Caveat: Ian, why don't you just hand write it?

My handwriting is atrocious, and I have an extra battery, so this will work fine without having to retype it all out. Plus I am significantly faster on a keyboard (even this new folding one) than I am with a pen and paper.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Fins Up!

*Crack* Clank (of bottle cap)*Fizz*…”Fin’s up!”

The Landshark Lager kisses my lips in what is probably my favorite post to tell you about (without being shot at.) In honor of my fascination with Jimmy Buffett, sailing, travel, and rum, I looked into a way to change my latitudes and attitude this winter. My father and are will be heading for a week to the Grenadines (look it up) southeast of disorder (southern Caribbean.)

This will be the farthest south I have ever been, and if my astronomical calculations are correct, should allow me to see the Southern Cross (a Crosby Stills Nash and Young song, with a wonderful cover, by the mayor of Margarittaville himself.) I have never gotten to fully appreciate the Southern Caribbean. I had the opportunity to for my last graduation present, but the needs to the State Department outweigh family time on a cruise ship. Therefore I am stoked to head down there.

I will be learning to sail. By learning I mean I will be in an intensive class which will result in certification to charter a boat (Captain Weller, at your service.) So far the island has been getting hit with 20knot winds (Christmas Winds) which means I will learn a lot very quickly. The classroom will be a step up from my Hobie Cats on Gray’s Lake; a 40+ foot sailboat.

This will allow me to live out most of my fantasy’s as a pirate. The outfit we are going through is called Barefoot Sailing School. I will have more on the trip as I prep in the upcoming week. Till then,

Fins up!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Dec 7th...

Two years ago today I walked into an office. I saw a photograph of the USS Arizona Memorial hanging on the wall. Next to it was the USS Missouri…

She only talked about it once. I wish I would have asked more. She passed away when I was in grade school. She told us a story about how she was mad at the Navy for running a drill on a Sunday morning. As she wheeled her hurt charges out onto the patio, she could hear the planes come low over the pass. They were so low, she could see the pilots, who tipped their wings as they waved. Then they saw the red meatball, and shortly after heard the sounds and sirens from the harbor below…

I walked into the Navy office two years ago on December 7th 2009 to start the process of becoming a Naval Officer. On December 17th 2010, I took my oath. That was the same day as my grandmother’s, who served at Pearl, birthday. My grandmother passed away when I was in 5thgrade, in 2001. It is in part of her memory and the memory of the date which will live in infamy, to which I will take my commission as a Naval officer.



Monday, December 5, 2011

Puttin' on the Ritz

This last week has been a whirlwind of fraternity experiences, culminating in my initiation and the chartering of the chapter. This has taken us more than two years and it was positively a highlight of my Drake experience. I have learned many things along the way, which did not cease, even as I prepared for our banquet. One of our founders, Andrew Alexander Kroeg, Jr. is sporting a bowtie in the iconic photograph associated with the fraternity’s founding. In true respect to our founders and roots of the South, many of our men decided to sport the same. I distinctly remember two other times having to wear a bowtie (both proms.) I remember asking my dad about tying them and he said just get a clip on. I also remember reading a James Bond book, in which Ian Fleming distinctly stated “Bond never wore a clip on.” Therefore I would not wear one.

I really like wearing one. I was not worried about having to check the length of my tie, nor was I getting it stuck in food. I also did not have to tuck it in or throw it over my shoulder. Bowties are still at the stage of penetration at Drake that people notice when one is styling it and bring compliment to the wearer. They have definitely taken off with the pervasiveness of Greek culture websites dominating 34th street, and are continuing to spread.

I learned to tie my bowties from the following website:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJv4Qh7zR3E

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

One

I just finished the hardest essay I have done in school. It was supposed to be thorough (i.e. 20ish pages) for a class regarding the Israel Palestinian conflict. We were given the choice of topics (and having a last name like Weller, meant I got last pick) and then the professor picked what side we would take. The topic I was writing on was who was more to blame for the failure of the Syrian and Israeli peace talks. The side I was assigned was one I did not agree with, which is what made the paper so hard but quite interesting to try to argue. I had to use, to quote my favorite play Inherit the Wind an “agile mind.” We were given constraints and that has made all the difference…

Drake offered a photography class during my fall junior semester. During that class we watched a video, and then I bought the book it was based on. A photographer was allowed to take one photograph a day. The work he put in for the constraints he was given was amazing.

That photographer is referenced in a post I found reading through one of my favorite photography blogs http://www.alesserphotographer.com/post/11433113456/chased-by-constraints

Try constraining yourself in your creative process and see what unfolds.

These are a few of my favorite things

I mention a distaste for the acquiring of stuff. Nothing will reveal this more when one has to move all their stuff into a dorm room, as I did my freshman year to Morehouse Hall. The only other time I have had to pair down to the essentials was to put everything in one suitcase for international living. I distinctly remember laying it all out in my living room and trying to take stuff out that wasn’t posivetly essential or couldn’t hold up. When I was thinking about those times, as well as the Black Friday issues, I started to come up with the things I have held onto which have lasted me to a point that I am happy with their performance. These aren’t in any particular order:

Macbook pro (2008): I bought the computer on which I have written almost every single post on this site during my senior year of high school. It has travelled all over the world with me, from the pyramids, the wonders of Amman, castles in Prague, to sand dunes in Muscat, to conferences all over the US. I still have the same battery (which does get warm) and the same power chargers. It has held up and I can count the number of times I have had to restart it on one hand. Owning this computer has made me a mac fan for life. (It is bulky and heavy by current standards, so will become a regaled to a desk upon my first deployment when I will grab something smaller, more lightweight and new.

Pacsafe computer bag (2008): “I’m heading to the Middle East, and need a computer bag, what do you have” I asked the salesman. He gave me a funny look, and we walked away from the bags emblazoned with Badger logos. This pack is slash proof, and can be locked to anything. The strap is knife proof, and only broke this year. However I still use a handhold, and do so almost every day. When I went home for thanksgiving, I packed my computer in the pocket, my notes in another, two books and a charger along with a change of clothes in the rest. One bag travel, but with a laptop bag. I should probably get the strap fixed one of these days.

Orange Northface Jacket (2006): “we will be in a rainforest, you and your brother need rain jackets.” I was puzzled about our Alaska adventure. I knew there was precipitation up there, but I assumed it was the snow kind. However there were times we experienced heavy rain, and high winds. The, in my opinion rather stylish jacket, kept me warm. I also had it in Jordan the first time, and it kept me warm in a cold desert camp. It continues to keep me dry and warm to this day, and I have used it all through college. I also felt extra cool as I bought it the summer before North Face fleeces became super popular in high school. Trendsetter.

Bose Computer Speakers (2005): I remember answering the “what did you get for Christmas” question to a quizzical look. “You got speakers?” Nice speakers. The Aston Martin of speakers. I am a huge audiophile and almost always have Pandora, spotify, itunes, or youtube stations playing. Though my band never hit it big, I have always taken great joy and use out of my speakers. They have come to every domestic living quarters I have had.

Fender Bass Guitar (2002): Speaking of my band, I have had the same guitar since 7th grade. The strings definitely haven’t lasted but it is has been put through heavy use. At one point I had guitar lessons, Jazz band practice, jazz combo practice, rock band stuff, worship band practice and performance, and church band, all in the same week. I don’t play nearly as much in college but living out of the dorms has given me room to keep it and pick it up from time to time. I also haven’t travelled with it as much (World Tour anyone?) as the other things but I intend to keep using it for a long time.

What has served you for a long period of time?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Happiness is...

“Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from the store. Maybe Christmas means a little bit more.”

“26 Billion was spent today…” Local news, immediately followed by stories of shootings and a lady pepper spraying people at a walmart or deals.

I got up around 8 and started cleaning on Black Friday, convinced to try to make my own Friday holiday. I ended up donating 3 bags of clothes and shoes. Don’t get me wrong I liked looking at the ads the night before. I still appreciate the concept of designing some of these really cool and useful new things (side note: I am stoked to get through a skymall magazine tomorrow as I fly back to DSM, and was excited for my brother to get what looks to a wonderful new phone)

The night before, as people were starting to line up at the stores I was in my bed. I laughed my girlfriend on the phone. I read a little bit. I worked on homework. I cleaned. I tried to do as many things as possible that either got rid of junk or did not produce it. We listened to Christmas music as a family and went out to eat.

My mom and brother went out early black Friday to do some errands (like getting glasses fixed while home from college) and shopping. (They got me a watch, which I am thankful for.) They said it wasn’t terribly hectic at 6am, probably because people had stayed up. We debated what would be the effects? Will stores stay open, forcing workers to leave their families on the holiday, and then maybe close at 2am next year? Will workers continue to rebel as target employees did? What burden are we willing to put on others for minimum wage so we can save some money on a tv?

What happens to all the other stuff, the old tvs, the not as new phones? (google 60minutes e-waste if you want to see.)

I don’t know if true happiness comes from stuff. I am truly happy thankful for my family, my friends, my experiences with them. Drake means the world to me, not because of what I have learned from a book, but because of the people I have met, the places I have been, and the professors who have honestly taken me under wing, hell-bent on teaching me useful things and new ways to wrestle with issues. These are things we can’t wake up to shop for, these are things which can’t come from a store.

Monday, November 21, 2011

GO RUCK (Challenge) Yourself

Finals week is fast approaching. For my cohorts of IR/Poli Sci majors, that means papers. Big papers. 10, 15, 20 page papers. It really is not that long as we have had all semester to do it (and for once I am on top of my game, having laid out much of what I intend to do on large sheets of butcher paper in my room. The topics I am writing on get a few concerned looks from my housemates who saw the underlined titles of “Piracy” “Syria and Israel (Israel’s fault)” and “Killing.” The first is for globalization, the 2nd was assigned by the prof for Arab Israeli Conflict, and the final is for my psychology of aggression class and focuses on the research of Lt. Col Grossman in the book On Killing.

This marathon of double spaced, cited, edited, torn apart, reassembled and title paged academia I am producing allows for some free time of internet wandering (25 mins productive, 5 min break. Rinse. Repeat.) One of the more interesting things I found from the Minimal Mac blog I read was a marathon (ish) of Special Operations awesomeness. It is called the GORUCK Challenge. A ruck (or Rucksack) is the backpack used in the military. It allows one to carry what they need in combat. This event, it is not really a race, but a test-your-limits-for-10-hours-suckfest ditches the ammo magazines in favor of bricks…and push ups…and dead weight carry… and buddy carry, all while perusing through a city. Des Moines is in March. I am tempted as I know this would be a great way to get my training in gear for OCS.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

It's my job

Drake has given me plenty of opportunities to support my social spending habits. Since day one I have done this job (blogger) interspersed with a few others. I was a front desk worker at Crawford for a year while I was a Resident Assistant there. My junior year I asked my counselor Ryan if he knew of anyone who was hiring. Within a day I had a job at the admissions office doing data entry. I am finishing up that job after being there a year and half to conduct another for my final semester.

Drake is adding a J-term. I am now employed to help build a program which streamlines professors abilities to conduct a jterm international experience. These will not just be courses, but full fledged experiences. In theory if a pharmacy professor gets an idea to take students to learn about flora and fauna of Antigua, she comes to us and we have the whole process slick and packaged. The goal is to get as many students abroad as possible. Drake students will taste the international flavor, they will feel the waves beneath their feet, surrounded by their friendships and professors in ways that only Drake can provide.

The part I am most excited for: in conjunction with the above, I am helping to plan an actual experience…on leadership…at sea…in the Bahamas. I got this job under the guiding hand of Dr. Westbrook. I am supporting his vision of putting Bulldog students on a twin-masted clipper (think pirates of the Caribbean or Master and Commander movies) for a week of leadership and sail training. I will be on a slightly larger vessel at the time (Go Navy!) and thus will not be able to participate, but it is becoming a very exciting time to be at Drake.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Veteran's day

Normally I take offense when people do not uncover indoors, doubly so at the dinner table (“Ian, Garrett hats off!” “Yes Mom.”) However this was different. They all had worn other hats, and had followed the strict rules which went along with those hats. On Friday they were wearing baseball caps. These caps said different things: Khe Sanh, Korea Vet, Vietnam Vet, Navy, Army, Marines, Air Force, OIF, 34th ID, WWII VET. Sweatshirts also adorned the seated with the same logos. A PFC came in with and immediately saluted two captains, all in ACUs as they waited for their names to be called. As I walked from the back end of Texas Roadhouse, one of the many restaurants in the Des Moines area honoring veterans with a free meal on Veterans Day, I swelled with pride. The stories these men and women could share. The sacrifice they had made, and the thanks a restaurant was showing them…was an amazing experience.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Zoot suit riot

I had dinner with a friend last night. She remarked that in the time we were hanging out, she could have ran a half marathon (Thank you Drake’s all-you-can-eat dining experience. Food should be social!) We talked about everything and anything, including one of my more cocky moments…

When I was in 9th grade I needed a suit for a career class job shadow. I was going to be shadowing a State Senator, and thus found myself needing a suit. I remember my father and the salesman telling me about which button options I had and a whole slew of other French sounding terms. I picked a three piece. After I picked it my dad looked at me and said “sometimes, always, never.” This was the way to button my options, to maintain the look of professionalism.

When I got slightly older, I became a big fan of two button blazers. There is something about the fit that just brings out confidence in me. The rule with these buttons was “Always, Never.” One never buttons the bottom on a two buttoned blazer, it just looks wrong.

I had a very young professor a few weeks back demonstrate how to give our final presentations. He had come in wearing a new suit. He mentioned that he got the suit for his job interviews coming up at a big state university in Ohio. He is just an adjunct here, and was picked up as the original professor took very sick right before the semester started. I like him, and think he will do great. There is limited chance he will go fulltime at Drake, and his dream school is in Ohio.

He made a big deal about making sure we look professional in our presentations. His suit was pressed and sharp. He stood up to give the presentation and immediately buttoned both of the buttons on his two button jacket. I cringed. I do not consider myself a slave to fashion at all (in fact I complain about people wearing topsiders who have never been topside.) However this was a sin against basic male dressing, something I felt might damage his chances of getting the job.

After class got out I waited around to pack up. We walked down to the main floor where there is a large glass entryway. The glass was immaculately clean, and reflective. I asked if I could speak to him in private and motioned to the glass. He said absolutely with a concerned look on his face, asking me if everything was okay. (I am the only non-major in this specific class and struggle with some of the material.)

I said I was fine, but I wanted to show him something. I asked him to put on his jacket and button it as he did in the class. Then I requested him to point, as if he was repeating something he had said in the presentation. He did, and I said “you see how that looks really awkward?” He wholeheartedly agreed, and so I told him how to fix it by only having one of his buttons used. That immediately made the suit fit better and he looked more relaxed.

My dinner date and I go back in forth about whether it is appropriate to tell a professor they are dressed wrong. Normally I do not care how professors dress (and almost all of mine have tenure.) This professor was just starting out, and was about to have one of the most important interviews of his life. I am a senior, full of way too much confidence, and therefore saw no qualms with pulling him aside privately. Had I done it in the middle of the class, in front of my peers, the results would have been horrific for saving face (and possibly my grade.)

This is the culture we have at Drake. We help each other out. Generally it is the professors helping us out, but every once in awhile, after developing a large amount of confidence through the Drake experience, we students look out for ours profs.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

crying

I was talking to one of my professors a few days ago their summer travel. Drake sends a lot of students abroad with Drake professors during the summer. That professor mentioned a student whom I was familiar with. With great pride, they let it slip that upon informing the group that he would be taking the spring semester off to spend much time outside of the country working on research, the gal cried. I take great pride in the relationships we have with our professors. It was amazing to hear that this gal thought so highly of the prof they were upset that she wouldn’t be able to talk or learn from him in the classroom setting.

My love of a small school was increased yet again yesterday. There are a few military types in one of my classes and we were talking about the art of shooting. The professor overheard this, and said they had never fired a weapon before. We immediately set up a chance to take him to the gun range. I can’t imagine this happening at many of the larger universities many f my high school friends attend.

In other news I registered yesterday, for the last time of my undergraduate career. I only have class on Monday and Wednesday, from noon on. Meaning I will have plenty of time to study Navy stuff, get in shape, and maybe pick up some more hours or another job.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A pirate's look at 22

“I need to go to the hospital. I broke my nose.”

“Ok, I am on my way.”

A vastly different way than I thought I would spend my 22nd birthday. I spent the better part of the actual morning celebrating my birth in the hospital with my best friend. Fittingly he celebrated the festivities of Halloween as the game Operation. The doctors loved him. However we spent a lot of time in the emergency room (2am to 6am) which allowed for some reflection on the last year.

This time last year, I was setting up for one thing; my semester abroad in Egypt. I knew from my French teachers in grade school that I would study abroad for a semester in college. The parts of my life I consider most interesting (Jordan 1 and post) were all training to do the full semester in a place as different as Egypt. I had done two summer long stints in Jordan in 2007, and 2008, and had gotten the short trip dance taken care of with numerous conferences and a three week study session travelling around Egypt. However there would be a big punctuation before I would leave for the Arab world. This exclamation point would take the form of an anchor. I was offered a position with the United States Navy on the last day of the Fall semester, sending my life down a very different path from what I went into my previous year with. I was then ready to take the plunge, to fully immerse myself in Alexandria, Egypt and fall in love with the sea. My last post before I left was from a Jimmy Buffett (whom I have become borderline infatuated with in the past year) song:

“Reading departures signs in some big airport reminds me of the places I’ve been…Visions of good times that brought so much pleasure make me want to go back again!”

So I will.

See you in the Sandbox!

And I went. And had a wonderful time. The first night I was there I walked to the Nile. I watched the sun set over the old city, as hookah smoke tangoed above my head and below the Arabian stars. However things would not be as they seemed. The country I intended to fall in love with as on it’s own course. The Arab Spring would become a defining moment in my life, and has provided me great insight.

And like that first crack from the authorities gun, I was off like a pinball for a quick stay in Prague, where I yet again learned the power of patience and an easy going attitude. I found myself in a country where I once again had to look up exactly where it was. Oman was different. I never thought I would end up there, and can’t say it was all fun and games. But I learned there. I learned Arabic, I learned photography, I learned solo travel, I learned that faces are so much more interesting than trees, sunsets, and buildings. Above all I learned to understand myself. I learned to not long for consumption, to travel light and look for the best in situations.

The tumultuous semester eventually found me walking off a plane to those I love. It was an absolute thrill to see my parents after undoubtedly putting them through a rather stressful semester. It was just as pleasing to see friends and a gal whose company I have enjoyed for the better part of my Drake career.

Taking my love of beaches and at this point life’s soundtrack of Jimmy to heart, I took a job living in Des Moines sailing. This was the first time I had ever lived in the US without being in school or with my parents. I finished off a basement with the help of my fraternity brothers and had a wonderfully fun summer. I read, hung out, got into trouble and then got out of it. It was a positively wonderful way to spend my last summer of civilian life.

I learned and then taught sailing. I had friends out on a Hobie Cat almost every week. I spent countless hours before and after work tacking and jibing up and down Gray’s Lake. I watched sunset after sunset from a dock and reaffirmed my love for Iowa.

I witnessed my brother graduating and head for college in Minnesota. I got to relive some of the entering freshman angst through him, fondly reminiscing.

I spent one of the top three nights of my life with a beautiful woman seeing the man in concert who along with Steve Job’s ipod, kept my spirits up and wanderlust flowing.

And now I am a senior. 22 years old. By this time next year I will have a degree, and be an Ensign in the United States Navy. I may be underway back to the Middle East. Before the next birthday I will have undergone one of the most challenging and grueling experiences I will face: Officer Candidate School. A lot can and will still happen before then, and it is always good to have a crew. I will continue writing this as long as I have interesting things happening. Come along, and welcome aboard.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The funny man

“Ian, do you want to listen to the funny man?”

A very prepubescent response “sure Dad.”

There were many Saturday evenings that went like that when my father would turn on the radio. We were generally driving back from dinner or a movie, and then I would hear that voice…

It was a voice that taught me many of my foundational things: republicans were bad, the church was good, and life was a little slower on the lake. After the news was finished with the line “all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average” I would be transported to a dark mystery of Guy Noir. There was something rhythmic and soothing about the voice, which made me laugh at some of the same jokes my father laughed at, thus making me feel smart and connected.

I had no idea what that voice looked like for a long time. I filled in the character. In Sunday school we would hear stories about God talking, I assumed God sounded like the voice I heard from “the funny man.”

Years later when the movie A Prairie Home Companion was released I saw what that voice actually looked like. Yesterday, I got to shake that voices hand.

Drake hosted Garrison Keillor yesterday for the Bucksbaum Lecture, a time every semester when we play host to some of the most influential people of the day. Maya Angelou, Ambassador Pickering, Ken Burns, Bill Bryson have all graced the Blue stage. Keillor is hilarious, in a kind of comedy that is unmatched. He started out singing and then went into poetry, and finished off as he does so well with telling stories.

I like his stories. I like stories. I take a great deal of joy from being able to tell stories, and one of the tenants, the foundations of my life is to have good stories. Upon leaving Oman I made a list I keep on my mobile for when I am bored or when people ask, of stories that I was a part of in Oman. Drake allowed me the chance to create story after story for myself, and yesterday gave me the chance to meet and listen to the master.

Monday, October 17, 2011

OccupyDSM (This Land is Your Land...)

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings:
This land is your land, this land is my land
From California, well, to the New York Island
From the redwood forest, to the gulf stream waters
I tell you, This land was made for you and me

As I went walking down that ribbon of highway
I saw above me that endless skyway
Now I saw below me that golden valley
And I said: This land was made for you and me.



As I was walking, they try to stop me,
They put up a sign that said, it said "Private Property."
Well, on the back side, you know it said nothing!
So, it must be that side was made for you and me.

One bright sunny morning, well, in the shadow of a steeple;
Down by the welfare office, I saw my people.
You know, they stood hungry; I stood wondering,
I was wondering if this land made was for you and me?


This land is your land, this land is my land
From Riverside, California, to the Staten Island
Well, oh, down to Modesto, Georgia, don't forget to say Philadelphia, oh
we moving on down to Mississippi, Houston, Texas, ah LA,
you know,This land is your land, this land is my land.
This land is your land
You've got to believe, This my land
This land was made for you and me








Thursday, October 13, 2011

Steve

My relationship with Steve Jobs started like most good relationships: introduced by a pretty girl. I had an mp3 played (called an Iriver-no affiliation to ipod) which was more or less an AA battery holder and a headphone jack. Long strands of grass stood no chance between me, my mower and my music. However one time I went driving with a gal who had an ipod. This was the size of a large cell phone, black and white text, but contained countless songs. I was fascinated. I then went home and went in on one with my father for our road trips (no more mixing tapes or trying to burn CDs from .wav files for us!) I think we might still have that ipod wired into his car.
One of the collections my father has is CDs. He has multiple shelves, full of floor to ceiling CDs with almost every artist and genre one could think of. (This created interesting conversations when we saw what it took to make a CD as he has, and I was all for Napstering/Kazaa/Limewire-stealing of music) When we bought the Ipod, we had to set up our itunes account. Which meant while working on homework on one computer, I was uploading every CD he had (insert, rip, eject. Rinse, repeat. ) over and over and over. Nowadays, Jobs has created jobs for companies who will do that process for you. My father had a high school kid with a lack of desire to complete math homework.
I got a little older, and met an even prettier gal. This meant long trips driving, and I had a need to set the mood from time to time. Thank you Steve Jobs for enabling to do so, with my own ipod (which just died this weekend-more on that later)
We spent so much time listening to music that for one of the obligatory gift giving holidays I saw it fit to get her an ipod (she did not have one) engraved with her name on it. My line of thinking was that every time she listened to music I would cross her mind. We don’t talk much anymore, but the ipod still works. I remember the gift being a huge deal, and feeling great pride for having worked the extra hours to enhance someone’s joy of music.
On every big race I have ever run, I have had my trusty ipod helping me keep smiling and keeping time. I always felt excellent when Living on a Prayer” was timed just right in my playlist to hit at the “halfway there” mark. I also am notorious for singing that song in (hopefully) the middle. It also made me smile during the doldrums (the 60 to 87% of the race.) I remember distinctly listening to the Army Strong song as I finished Des Moines Marathon last year, shortly before passing out.
I had a real sweet place list for chicagos marathon last Sunday. At least I thought I did. I got through a few miles only to figure out that my playlist had not uploaded correctly. No biggie though, I was still using my DSM one. Then just after the halfway point (bonjovi has passed me, as I was much slower) silence. Fittingly matching the creator, my ipod just stopped working. I tried to fix it (no small feat while running a marathon, trying not to run anyone over) much like the doctors probably did. Then I said forget about and proceeded to look for the two people I knew in the race (to no luck.) I sang songs in my head, lots ot songs, I took in the sights, and smiled at the cheer squads. I ran free and true, just as I imagine Steve Jobs is doing now in Apple Heaven.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

School Days

Yesterday was the first last day of my undergraduate education. Many of my friends are PMACs (first year mentors) who guided groups of less than 20 around campus for the welcome weekend activities. I was a little envious of their position, knowing they have four years left here. I only have until the beginning of summer before my career starts.
There is a vibrancy around campus with the new first year class. Much discussion can be overheard about Greek Life (Rush Pi Kapp!) dorm life, classes and from the guys, the rather enjoyable and higher percentage of ladies than in previous years. New faces grace campus, along with some old ones I haven’t seen for a long time. There were a few folks who went abroad the semester before I did, and therefore I haven’t seen some of them for over a year. Drake students tend to be a very open bunch, so from halfway across the commons or down a hallway someone will scream “Hey, your alive! What’s it like to not be getting shot at?” This generally causes mass confusion in whatever group (they still are in groups) of first years that are in between me and my greeter.
I have my first politics class today, which I am excited for. The politics and IR department profs kept a close eye on me and my travels so I have been looking forward to seeing them. On Friday I have my favorite professor, who is from Egypt. In the class is also my travel companion Amina. I imagine the jokes the professor makes will be pretty good.
I adjusted well this summer. I spent much time, including my last evening before the sun went down on my free summers, sailing around Gray’s Lake. I am ready to take on the year, and then the fleet.
-A Future “Bulldog at Sea”

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Impacts

A fair amount has happened since returning to the US. My brother graduated from high school. I have caught up with many of my friends including many opportunities to experience the 21+ libations Oman failed to include. I haven’t done the whole reverse culture “it’s so much better over there” feeling that my colleagues sometimes express upon returning from Norway, France and Spain. It is not better in Oman, and many times is downright frustrating, but it is different.
That difference, and my knowledge of has probably been the hardest part. The other evening I met up with one of my friends from the trip at a place which boasted a large selection of beer. He is the foremost expert on the Dhofari insurgency, and I think I am pretty well versed in most of the country. This woman still proceeded to judge us and imply we lacked culture because of the particular beer we chose. We both have a massive wealth of information about a subject which I don’t want to say is useless, but rather dormant right now. However I have gotten to use it briefly at lunches and graduation parties when I feel fully confident giving an opinion on the Arab Spring. It is an odd feeling though, going from full immersion in a society to almost entirely turning it off.

Most of my blog posts were still saved in a folder called Egypt blogs (even when I was in Oman.) All things must change, and having been stateside for 3 weeks now (Had I stayed in Egypt, I would have returned this past weekend, and still would probably be jet lagged.) Now I get to start a direction for this blog.

Today is the first day I start work, without a car...

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Last day in Oman

I am writing this looking at my backyard. It is green. This morning I went to breakfast with my father. We ran into our preacher and other church friends. I had to wear a jacket because it was cold. On the last day in Oman, is was 102…
I got up early to say goodbye to folks. I went one last time to my barbers, who on a weekly basis had a razor to my neck. They also continually gave me the best shaves of my life. The little things like that keep us sane.
I wandered over to the beach, and put my feet in until the rolling tide was up to my shorts. 20 minutes in the salt water listening to Iz-Over the rainbow, Eagles-Take it to the limit, and Jimmy Buffett’s Take Another Road. On my way back I stopped at my Baskin Robin’s and had a long chat with the man who works there. I had seen him every week for my indulgence in Americana and he was genuinely sad to hear I was leaving.
I ended up with our friends from Salalah, Amina, and our director Issam at a shisha café on the beach. I was able to watch the sun drop into the Arabian Gulf and say my final goodbyes to friends and leaders who I will treasure forever.

Which begs the question now what?

There were women at the café this morning. It wasn’t rude that I did not wish peace upon all of the breakfast goers when I entered. I had a beer for dinner last night, I told stories and talked of politics. I started laundry and packing for my next excursion (a lovely French sounding city called Des Moines.)

Sunday, May 8, 2011

I miss you

There are always the basics I am excited to see when I return: friends, family, the important things.
However I have given some thought to what else I am excited for which in turn is things I appreciate about where I hail from:
The ability to drive. I have not driven a car since January 18th, 2011. This in turn means my mobility is limited to the kindness of others, or the mood I am in to negotiate with taxi drivers. (Driving is also insane here, and no one has the insurance to back me.)
Being in shape. I know traveling abroad is not an excuse to get out of shape, and I haven’t gained a lot of weight. However I had completed a marathon shortly before I left, and had been in pretty solid condition. Here it is either annoying difficult to run while conservatively covered in the heat, dangerous to do it at night lacking running trails. At Drake I also have a gym, which is easy to get to. In my area there isn’t a ton of possibilities, and I have been doing pushups but it will be nice to get my heart rate up again.
Food. Specifically knowing I am going to get what I ordered. The food is good here, though the variety lacks unless you are willing to pay big bucks and most importantly ordering is the equivalent of Russian roulette. I am ordering off of an Arabic menu, to a hindi waiter who may be talking to a Malaysian cook.
Alcohol. Okay maybe not specific tastes but the ability to have a beer at night is nice, and now that I put in my 21 years of time, I can do it, whenever I want in many states. It is a nice social setting, and one that you can have here only in a hotel (expensive,) but most of the places are rather shady and contain women (not the kind I mention below) of ill repute.
Sleep. My sleep is generally interrupted by a sun that bakes the flat roof above my head. This is fine when the average day includes a nap (I don’t generally get to take) and then restarts and goes till 2 am. My bed and I will undoubtedly have a great reunion.
The other gender. Are there women here? I think so. I mean there are these creatures in black that wear really nice smelling perfume and pretty colors on their heads. I see them interact with each other, but they are off limits to me. I imagine the first time I see a woman back home that I can interact with I will be at a loss for words and probably just stare. Greg and I were living in Salalah and took great joy that a fully covered woman asked us how we were (kaifick?) That has been the extent of my female communication with women I am not living or studying with.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Life's a Beach

I have never walked to school before. It was about 5 and half miles. I knew that it was possible, and today didn’t have to be at school for a few hours. I took the road down to the beach, popped in my ipod earbuds, strapped my sandals to my pack and headed to school. The Shamal wind was blowing, so what should have been a hot day, became breezy, and the waves at my feet kept me cool. It was wonderful. 4 miles through the rolling waves of the beach as Iz, the Eagles and Jimmy Buffett serenaded me. Add this to the “my life is awesome” moments. (one of my friends, responding to this on facebooksaid it best: I guess you could say it was "upchill" both ways **puts on sunglass** YYYYEEEEEAAAAAHHHH.)
We have had seen little fallout from the Osama death. I was in a taxi yesterday and a Pakistani man got in behind me. He asked (in Arabic) what the Omani driver thought of all of it. The driver shrugged. The Pakistani then asked what the American or Englishman thought. The driver responded with the same shrug. I coolly replied “I’m Canadian.” That seemed to shut up him.
I have a weekly ritual of 31 flavors combining like an angelic chorus for my peanut butter and chocolate shakes. The proprietor of said establishment and I have become acquainted over these many weeks. He is Indian and was jubilant about killing Osama. He was quick to point how much we were giving the Pakistanis, who he alleged were using all that gear and money to fight the Indians. I said I wasn’t entirely sure. He quickly changed the conversation to give very strong warning that I not go into the villages, that I say I am German, and not wander around at night. I was pleased with how much he cared for my safety.
I am safe. Every time I have been outside of the US, I run a risk of something happening. However if I stayed behind, I wouldn’t be half as effective in my career, nor happy with my life. I still stand a much higher chance of dying in a car accident (both domestically and internationally) than I do from anything evil. However I am maintaining vigilance and staying in Muscat.
We roll in 8 days and I will be home in under 10!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Osama and Me

I was in the hotel room on Monday at 8:30am, when I was woken up from one of my friends saying “Bin Ladens dead.”
“What?” I groggily replied.
The news report had paraphrased the President’s speech stating the details. I checked my phone and had a message from a close friend telling me the same.
I remember, still laying down, looking up at the ceiling and saying “now what?”
We checked to make sure nothing had happened to Israel, then we checked other sources without getting much detail. The Embassy was put on alert over here and issued a cautionary message. As I drove in a bus across the city, I could feel my American flag pin digging into my shoulder from my pack. For security reasons, I had to hide it, but it was comforting to know it was there. I felt great pride in my country, and in the men and women I know who were over there.
My father asked me what I thought of all of it. I am still not sure. My relationship with Osama started like many others: on that fateful September Tuesday sitting in a 6th grade classroom watching my world change. A few years later I was part of a team in Jordan, learning Arabic to be of use someday to make sure the atrocities didn’t happen again. I found myself leading a team the following summer in Jordan again, before pursuing a degree in international relations. (I originally had wanted to be a lawyer, but my time abroad changed that.) I went to Drake University, knowing they were picking up a new Middle Eastern studies professor, and had a good Arabic program. I ended up with that professor in Egypt last summer, and then headed back for the semester. There I witnessed more significant change, and ended up in an obscure country called Oman where I sit planning my trip back to the US.
It’s weird knowing the first domino of what I call life came because of someone I never would meet. On the first day of Mrs. Brey’s Modern Global Studies class, she asked us who was the one person either living or passed that we would want to talk to. The Deadhead in the class said Jimmy Page. Lincoln was a popular choice, along with Mandela and Gandhi. I said Bin Laden, when she gave me a quizzical look, I replied “to simply ask why?”
Now that the why cannot be answered, it is still just as important. I am eternally thankful he is gone, and rejoiced with the news. An Englishman in the hotel greeted me with “did you hear the news, it’s nice that there is one less baddie in the world.” I agree, wholeheartedly. We need to make sure this kind of stuff doesn’t happen again. Our foreign policy, and domestic policies need to continue to ensure our safety. I honestly believe that if we hadn’t botched the Afghanistan cleanup against the Soviets, Bin Laden would not have had a home. Something made him tick, and something made enough people agree to follow such twisted distortions of a very beautiful religion. We need to make sure that sort of stuff doesn’t happen again.
Most of the “cool/interesting” stuff in my life came down because of one evil man . I am a forged part of my nations response. After school I will continue the work with a commission in the United States Navy. I don’t know what will come up in the next few years. I do know that we will be ready with whatever diplomacy to prevent and whatever force is necessary to avenge.

‎"I've never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure."
-Mark Twain

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Down By the Bay

I am down in Mutrah, which is on the other side of the city, has a wonderful souk, and a cool corniche (walking area by the sea.) The days are limited and I am already planning my assimilation back into society via a Brewers home game with my father. I am not excited for two 9 hour flights home I have to take. (Long ago, in a land far away called high school, I took a 9 hour to Alaska, and thought that was the longest transportation I would ever take. Now I take 8 hour flights to Europe just to get started on the long hauls down here. Or even better, 12 hour bus rides from Salalah to Muscat.) This morning I thought I lost a major part of my presentation, so took the buses back in the morning, found what I needed and then came back.
I decided all of my frantic running around deserved some time to sit and ponder. I walked to a French restaurant right outside the port. Shell shocked from the high prices I walked back down the corniche to the Indian fastfood shops, where the entire selection is the equivalent of a dollar menu. It is getting really humid here, but the breeze off the Gulf helped. I ate and watched tourists come and go. Everywhere else in the country is shutdown at this time of day, as everyone is napping or enjoying air-conditioning. However some Italians insisted on shopping during the worst part of the day. The one Omani man out at this time exchanged looks with me when their 5 star hotel shuttle bus came to pick them up. He looked at me as if to say “aren’t you going with them?” I stated that no I live here (in arabic) and then went back to my large bottle of water, and book about large bottles of other Caribbean drinks.
Last night Janey and I strolled down the corniche to take pictures (see I am still working, haven’t checked out quite yet :) We found a bunch of couples sitting by a rock formation with some form of Bellagio Vegas inspired water fountains. I set my tripod up, and hope the couples stayed still long enough to get a shot off. I ended up getting a cool sequence, and filled up another page in the book!
Many of the students are heading to other countries after this. Turkey is the most popular. All the charm of the Middle East, with western dress and flowing alcohol. East meets West. I would love to keep moving, but I am just ready to head back. (Its weird, at one point a few months ago, I was almost certain I would be back in Iowa watching snow from a Drake desk. Now I am excited to go and see everyone, tell stories, and just enjoy American life.) I have enough airplane points that I will have a ticket coming my way soon to somewhere in Europe. The last time I intentionally spent time in Europe was sophomore year of high school. Prague was gorgeous so I may want to head back there (spring break 2012?) but have also heard marvelous things about Spain (no speako spanisho) and Portugal. England has also been a draw as I have flown into London countless times, only to wash up, grab a bite and jump on another plane and have never actually left the airport.
When I came back to Muscat yesterday I stopped in to see some folks. These were people I hadn’t been with for awhile, and I tried telling jokes. My voice was slow, and I stumbled through them. I remember this happening after Jordan the first time. I enjoy fast wit immensely and so will be quite excited to catch up on that.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Outposts+Goats

I found myself in the mountains far from the town of Salalah. I was there with an Omani friend, his father, and his father’s friend. We were there to meet a jabali (person of the mountain) The man was 95 years old and still running up and down mountains. He was a little late when we came in because he was out feeding the camels. It was interesting to see him sit with his grandsons and talk. (The language was Jabali, actually pretty close to Aramaic which I found out later that night-at church) I was there to take pictures of him and his sons, which was also good fun. What struck me the most is how happy he was in this little outpost in the middle of nowhere, with his camels, and family. He also offered to slaughter a goat for us (me) for dinner. I had to refuse as I had someone else to be.
“Do you think we will make it to church on time?”
“Insha Allah”
I cracked up laughing, and then marveled that my friend was asking Allah to get me to church to celebrate Easter. We had spent a fair amount of time the night before telling the Christian version and the Islamic version of Easter and debating on whether it was the same God. (The answer is yes, and not that I think all religious disputes and 2,00 years of fighting should be summed up on this blog, but the difference lies within the interpretation of Jesus and the trinity/and the Prophet, not with the almighty himself.) They also told an interesting version of the death of Jesus I had not heard, and am really disappointed with all the Islamic teachings I have had (generally from Christian American educators) that in Islam Judas was made to look like Jesus and he was killed. I didn’t have time to ask what happened to Jesus, but it was interesting.
When I got to the church I was greeted, while walking in the backdoor of the courtyard “Hi, can I help you?”
“Uh sure is this the church?”
“Yes this is a protestant evangelical English service”
“Perfect” (with the only church within a 12 hours busride, I didn’t have the opportunity to be picky. I also wondered at why the pickiness mattered considering the location.)
I walked into the sanctuary, and was greeted with plastic chairs, and a pastor from Virginia. There were a few other Americans, a British family and a Canadian couple. The large majority though (60ish) were Indian or South East Asian, which made “Come, Now is the Time to Worship” and “Christ the Lord has Risen Today” sound very international. The kids all received Easter baskets. The pastor, who I found out was only a week or two fresh at the church, used American idioms I had missed in my normal conversations (“Christ rising was a game changer!”)
Much like my Jibali friend who lived in an outpost in the mountains, this was a religious outpost. (Imagine how Muslim communities must feel in the States?) The Christians also invited me to break bread with them (score for the communion, although wine is a little hard to attain in this country) and join the potluck after the service. I wondered if they were slaughtering goats?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

When the Saints go marching in...

Salalah, Oman April 22-Yesterday we heard there would be protests. In the shower that morning I could hear a loudspeaker projecting someone who was getting very animated. We followed that noise (after I put on clothes-not straight from the shower) and ended up on a corner, watching the protestors rally. We cased the backside of the movement as we were white kids with big cameras…we stuck out jut a tad. As we moved in closer, the protestors started to march. A man advised us it was best we leave. He advised us in flawless English and without a heavy Arab accent. We had heard Oman’s internal security forces keep an eye on the protests in Sohar, and that one had spent some time stateside. With that information we moved away from him quickly.
Then I took off down a back alley to get ahead of the marchers and once again asked a guy to come use his balcony (sound familiar?) to take photos. I counted about 300 to 500 protestors. Contrary to the Al Jazeera article http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2011/04/201142215140646886.html We did not see the troops or the 3,000 protestors Reuters spotted.
We also, and more importantly, didn’t see flags. This is a huge contrast from the Egyptian revolution, where flags were prominent. So far these protests aren’t about basic human rights. Some talk about bribery and removing some of the leadership (not the Sultan, they love him.) However many of the protests across the country have been about cushy jobs. There are jobs here, they just require one to get a little dirty.
It was strange yesterday to have the same feelings I had from times in Egypt. I vividly recall racing ahead of a protest group to try to get to an elevated position. This is what I got:


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Three.

Yesterday marked my three months out. This is the longest time I have been outside of the US. It was also three weeks and three days until I return.
I am getting pretty good at the transitioning aspect of all of this. I will be at my home for a few days, before packing again, and moving to spend the summer the in Des Moines.
I have already done some brief packing (mostly souvenirs.) It’s an odd feeling being able to pack up ones life in a backpack and suitcase. However it is exhilarating, knowing if need be I could stop in any city along the way and live for another few months (I won’t; I miss the people, and cheeseburgers, but Rome, Prauge, Paris, Madrid all look tempting.) There is a scene from George Clooney’s Up in the Air when he talks about putting all of your possessions in a backpack. I did, and some of it is probably still holed up in a 7th floor apartment in Kfr Abdu, Alexandria.
I have done some great ISP work. I put my first draft of the photobook (my final project) came together yesterday. It was cool to imagine seeing my name on a book cover. Thanks to the wonders of Iphoto Books and services like lulu.com this is quickly becoming a hardcover reality.
My final morning in Ibri sent me back to the souk. I walked down the street with an 80 year old man named Hamid. He was 5 feet tall and in a bright yellow dishdasha. We made quite a sight walking to the goat auction. I liked Ibri a lot. I could take pictures of everyone at the goat auction (men walk around a circle of potential buyers screaming prices while the goats are pulled along on a leash.) The hotel was getting far too expensive, and I had most of the photowork done (but going back in a week for one shot.) I was going to head to Nizwa, but my friend is recovering in a cast from a surgery. Therefore with a week to kill and knowing I wanted to be in a town with a church for Easter Sunday, I made my way back to Salalah. (I have now spent an entire day of my life on a bus in Oman.) It is getting humid down here, but its great to be reunited with my friends. Amina and I saw each other every day for those three months, and it was odd being away from that normalcy for two weeks. Its also great to be with my Omani friends again.
I am excited for Easter, as I have never been to a service while over here. It should be interesting, and I will keep you posted!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

I want to ride my bicycle

Adding to the list of stuff I am looking forward to upon stepping foot on American soil:
Knowing exactly what you are going to get when you order. Omani ordering is done in Arabic to an Indian off a menu, translated to a version of Hindi, thrown for a loop around the farthest reaches of the solar system, then put on a grille, and some variation of what you think you might have ordered appears on your plate 15 minutes later.

I was really mad at the Ibri (current town I am in) hotel situation. The one cheap place that has been there forever is closed. Therefore I have two choices, each double the maximum of what I intended to pay. Therefore, what I thought was going to be a week bumming around a very traditional town may be cut short due to finances. The whole reason I came out here was the Thursday market, and now it’s going to be expensive to stay and make it worth it. A picture is worth 1,000 words, but how many Omani rials? In good news the hotel I picked does have free internet which is nice.
I got some great stuff today, and walked 6 miles to do it. I refuse to pay for taxis when I have no place to be (like today) so I walked and was glad I did. I got some of my best stuff. I wandered to the castle, (which was closed-back tomorrow morning) found a burned a out van (protests?) and then found an old structure which was fun to crawl around and shoot. I can’t tell if anything older than 20 years is 2,000 years old or just really horrible made. I also walked up on three shots that made my day: man fixing bike, kid jumping on bike, huge smile on child’s face. Chalk up another page for my project (final link will be published when I am done.)
In other made-me-feel-great news: I sent an email yesterday to one of the higher ups in Drake’s admin about an idea and the feasibility of it before I rattle the swords with senate. She liked the idea, responded on the weekend, and then mentioned actions she would take with the president’s cabinet. Then I got an email from the president himself providing input and expressing interest. Students can have an impact!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Homecoming

I just finished “The Last True Story I Will Ever Tell” by John Crawford. It was a great book about a Florida National Guardsman who was sent to Iraq (got the call on his honeymoon) just two credits shy of graduation, and almost out of the Army. He was there for much, much longer than he was told he would be. Much of the book talked about homecomings. I know mine will be much different than a combat one, and would never lump them in the same basket. It did make me think though about what it will be like for me.
There is all this talk about “re-entry shock” and hating everything in America. I am excited to have a cheeseburger and a beer. The reverse stuff seems to come true if someone goes to a place they fit in better than America. I enjoy the Middle East, but don’t feel or identify as Arab. My home doesn’t lie in the Middle East, it is in the Midwest. I don’t think “re-entry shock” will be an issue for me.
There are definitely things I think more about now. I think democracy is great, and am fully ready and willing to die for my democracy. However the Omani’s could not get done what they have with everyone voting on everything. (When our own government almost shuts down, it may be time to reevaluate whether the elected have America in their hearts or if partisan bickering is more the flavor of the day.) This is one place where a benevolent dictator works. (Egypt didn’t, Jordan it kind of does.)
I think I will be less worked up over things. My biggest pet peeve is people blowing up on each other or little things. Want something to blow up on? Work for 16 hours building a tower in Dubai for 60 cents a day, go home to live in a one bedroom shack with 10 other Indians. (And this is a step up from staying home.) Oh and you will never, ever be able to afford to even set foot in the tower you are building.
Imagine being a woman and only studying or gossiping. You aren’t free to go out and sit in coffee shops or have male contact outside of academic institution.
Stuff like that makes yelling at the guy in traffic or yelling about some clothing placed in the wrong room of a house not worth it. It could always be worse.
I am worried about reintegrating with my friends. I have talked to a fair amount and with things like facebook I am not as out of touch as I thought I would be. However I don’t have a clue what is popular in movies or music (and probably won’t like it.) We lived very different lives for the last few months. I am excited to take it easy this summer, but can’t manage to find a 8-5 outdoor one allowing me to do so (if you know any in DSM shoot me an email (i.weller@mac.com)
It is going to be interesting having a summer to adjust but also be on my own in DSM, and one that I am looking forward to.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Through the Desert on a horse with no name

I am in Salalah. We finished our trip to the Emirates. Now we are in ISP time. ISP stands for Independent Study Project. I am doing a non-traditional photo essay of Oman. This means I travel all over Oman and take pictures. I am starting down in Salalah to work my way north. The title will be Oman: Face, Space, and Place. The main goal in Salalah was the night sky. My first night down here we got out onto the beach to shoot the Milky Way, and the next night we went to the Empty Quarter. This is the desert part of Arabia. We found some interesting things along the way which contradicts the notion of “empty.” It lead to some of my better photos, and the feeling that this month of photography has started off exceptionally strong. We ended up at a camp-it was free- so the night sky shots aren’t as I would have liked as the Milky Way was right over a village 9 kilometers away. However, we found a camel-slaughtering cement slab that was being utilized for it’s gory purpose, a grass farm, and a John Deere tractor. When we got home we ended up at the market taking pictures of the fish, vegetables, and most importantly the vendors. The purpose of this project is to try to get as many pictures of people as possible, which is hard to do when I can only talk to half of the population. We also noticed that when we (Steve-a photography friend who lives in Salalah who is graciously putting me up for my time here) ask people to take their picture we get a 50% confirmation rate. It is also interesting that the people who say no are very adamant about it, and the people who say yes say so with the same feeling. It is almost as if to say “why would you ask such a stupid question, of course you can take my picture.”

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Teach your children well

I am in Doha, drinking more tea (pretty soon this blog will become “Bulldogs who Drink Tea in places other than Iowa.)
Doha is simply wonderful. Everything Muscat lacks Doha has. (To be fair Doha has 150,000 Qataris, with 850,000 Expats who do things to serve them such as house work, construction, and education.)
Doha believes in education so much that it started something called Education City. We went there yesterday for lectures. I cannot convey how impressed I was. The notion of taking a bunch of your wealth, targeting specific universities for their specialties, and then saying “come, and we will build you a massive state-of-the-art world-renown campus. For Free. Bring some of your teachers and the classes they teach. We will send our kids, and anyone else who wants to go. Oh yea, and if your students stay in Qatar for 5 years working after they graduate, the whole education is free. Carneigie Melon does business, Northwestern journalism, Georgetown has their School for the Foreign Service, and someone else has medical and and humanities. Imagine how that Board of Trustees meeting went: So Qatar wants us to set up another branch campus. How much do you think it will cost to do that? 18 billion? Cool, here is the blank check they gave us, we just have to send some professors over there. All of this is paid for by the Qatar Foundation-the brain child of the Emir’s (countries leadership) second wife. The amount of spending here puts American grandiosity to shame. I was impressed. Really impressed. I was so impressed that I am kicking myself for not having known about this when I applying. (Technically I did found out about it at Orientation weekend, from a gentleman who I met up with again yesterday. He was the Dean of Georgetown Doha, dropping his son off at Drake. That shows you how good Drake is.) My father pointed out once when I was contemplating an international education (American University Cairo or Beirut) that so many students are trying to come to the US for education, I might as well get in my home country. He was right and I am glad I did. It was still marvelous to see and gave me thoughts of what our school system would look like if we (had and) put that kind of money towards education.
My other Drake highlight of the evening: after all the fun of being out at Education City listening to lectures on American policy and Arab revolutions, one gets tired. Therefore I found myself unwrapping one of the Cuban cigars (thank you Duty and Embargo-free Muscat Airport) and wandering down to the smoking area of our hotel (bar.) We were given strict orders not to drink by our AD, so I smiled at Jack, Morgan, and Johnny Walker and proceeded to ask the man sitting at the bar if he had a light. He tossed me a box of matches, and asked what I was drinking. I said a coke, he sent one my way and we got to talking. He was Scottish and had served time in the RAF in Oman, as well as Northern Ireland. We talked about the Troubles for a good half hour. A big thank you to Prof Kelly Shaw for teaching us a whole unit on the issues of Northern Ireland. I survived and had a wonderful conversation with the Scotsman. I was eventually joined by my other colleagues (one was another Bulldog) and we talked the night away. It was marvelous. Rarely do I find a practical use for what I was taught in high school. However, the things I am taught in this line of education at Drake are almost always put to use. Being able to have an enjoyable conversation and not sound like an idiot made my day. Pharmacists and actuaries have their work stations. Ours can be embassies, war rooms, or hotel bars. Diplomacy comes down to practicing something really simple: engaging people. Hearts and minds over Cubans and Coca-cola ? Perhaps. Thanks Drake!
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