Monday, 22 February 2010

Still in Doha

Been a long time since I wrote due to the fact that I have a full-time teaching job in an International School now. Pretty busy, but still gives me the opportunity to teach ukulele one day a week after school. We are following James Hill's teaching ukulele in the classroom book which is brilliant by the way. I am using ukes that I bring in from NZ via teachers who come here to teach Qatari teachers. They carry in a box of 6 from Auckland every now and then - so we are gradually filling Doha with small, colourful ukuleles! At present my new little team can read the notes of the four strings and play from the score to varied rhythmical patterns. They are loving this - and at the same time have managed to play C F and G7.
In the meantime I continue with my adult group out of my home. We meet every three weeks and I have some very keen players amongst them. We play and sing and eat and drink lemon grass tea. Living in Qatar is not all that bad really!

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Teaching Ukulele in Doha

My fun job is to teach ukulele to both adults and children in Doha. At present I am starting a new class of children ,ranging from Grade 1 to 3. I manage to carry ukuleles in to the country via several means, one of which is to coerce people into bringing a few in their luggage when they come. My most reliable source at the moment is via New Zealand of all things. There is an educational consulting company here who come in regularly and who are around the corner from a music shop in Auckland, New Zealand. These latest ukes are all kinds of bright colours with a dolphin holding the strings- so great appeal to kids of all ages. I set up a series of lessons and sell the package which includes a uke and several lessons. I find that the minute I carry ukuleles through my local school I am virtually mobbed by children wanting to buy one. Since you can't find them here in Doha yet I am very careful to sell only to people who are willing to put in the time to learn to play. My first lesson was last week. I love to see a group of kids sitting in a semi-circle with ukes on their laps and smiles on their faces!! I am using a combination of New Zealand uke lessons, songs from the Santa Cruz Ukulele club and James Hill's wonderful book about classroom ukulele teaching.
The most intriguing thing for me about my ukulele classes here in Doha is that I have young members of the royal family (Al Thani) flocking for lessons, including little boys. The Qatari men play an instrument shaped like an Oud, so I suppose that this is a kind of baby oud in some ways to them.
More later as my classes progress. So far I have only managed to run through tuning methods, listening to sounds and very basic strums.
My adult class happens once a month in my home with an enthusiastic group of players/singers. Again I use the Santa Cruz song books because they are full of songs we love that are very playable. There is nothing like sitting around together singing and playing after a hard week's work. I love it.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Teaching in Doha contd

The first practical thing we did was to lock the windows so that the boys would not climb in and out whenever they felt like it. Then the next thing to do was to set a consistent routine- daily schedule on the board each morning. This helped a lot. Then it was simply a game of wait- each day picking away at the classroom rules, English conversation, short, interesting lessons - some of which went down very well and most of which ended up being abandoned by me. I would always prepare several options with a fall back option of drawing in their DEAD book (drop everything and draw) - got this idea from an excellent teacher friend in Australia. In some lessons I would have to just sit and wait while the shouting in Arabic subsided. I would pick up where I had left off - with a count down to 1 for the boy who continually started the Arabic dialogue in his loudest and most annoying voice. Luckily my principal was only a phone call away to come and help in the most difficult situations. I certainly wouldn't have been able to survive without his help and the help of my ukuleles which I used mercilessly as a reward at the end of a lesson. So, I would say, I am expecting this , then this , then that and then when you are done you may choose which colour you would like to play at the end of the lesson. (I had a lovely set of coloured ukuleles with me). Of course, there was no question of actual music teaching going on- rather a hands on experience using rhythm, interesting strums, experimental chords and just a lot of noise really.
Gradually over the period of 3 to 4 weeks, things started to feel a lot more pleasant in the classroom. The boys would arrive early to chat, play me some favourite CD music and ask what we were doing today. They would also ask personal questions like, "when do you pray?" "Why is your hair short- are you a man?"
Eventually I managed to form reading groups, spelling groups and maths groups which worked best when I had some help from others. Because there were no graded readers in the school and no curriculum, we teachers were managing to download reading booklets from the A to Z website, along with Maths lessons. I also had the indispensible help of the Smart Board in my classroom and the Copacabana Public School (Australia) website with links to some excellent lessons at my fingertips (when the internet was working that is).
We plugged along and as the year grew to a close we managed to even have an exam week and write reports. Unfortunately there were other problems connected to this school to do with the owner. We knew it would not continue beyond June so we packed up the little photocopied books, the bits of maths games that had survived, the wonderful Art program and charts and took all of the posters off the walls. How sad for the children - I am not sure where they all are today but I am sure that they think of us often and wish we were all back there together.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Where Have I Been?

It has been over a year since I wrote on my blog. During that time I worked in a small school in Doha teaching Grades 3 and 4 to Bedouin boys. What fun that was! When I met them they were climbing out the windows and running back into the classroom through the door. They had an attention span of about 4 minutes, then they would start yelling over me in Arabic and would not stop. I managed to tame them over a period of 5 months, taking small steps each day and with the help of a Canadian team of teachers who were flown in to help this little school get through to the end of the year (June). These children had met 11 teachers in the year they had attended our little school. Each teacher had left due to poor living conditions, no written curriculum, limited supplies, inability to effectively teach and probably reasons I do not know. So the challenge was in front of us to get these boys through, to give them a positive experience and to all survive!

I had a smart board in my little classroom, some reading books, a set of excellent art manuals, a vast array of maths games- some useful, some not, and many with pieces missing - gone home up the sleeves of little boys!

I decided that I would start with art- so I set up a side room (I was in an old villa) as an art room to excite the boys and to offer a reward for finishing the smallest task first! This worked wonderfully and away we went painting portraits, (the first attempt had the boys picture themselves with cigarettes , bazookas, swords, scars, blood dripping---) , landscapes, people, patterns etc. I found that copying another artist's work was far more successful than having them create their own in the beginning. This showed me that they had had very little or no experience with artistic creative expression. None of them had ever mixed paints to create colours- they loved that lesson!

As we painted they talked- always in Arabic but eventually in English. I had decided that this would be my way in to their hearts and minds.

Eventually they learned to trust me- I was not going to go away like all of the other teachers. I turned up each morning with a smile on my face and off we went. My principal, Robert, was also consistently there at the gate waiting for them with a firm hand and a kind heart. He helped in time out procedures, speaking to parents and settling these boys down. We even had a uniform on everyone in the first few weeks. Before that these guys would be turning up in their thobes (long dresses) and long underpants trying to kick a ball around the concrete playground. - bit of a disaster!

More later!!

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

More Qatar Contrasts

Now that the weather is much more bearable- you can stand outside without melting- we are beginning again to explore our surroundings. Last week we were taken down the THE PEARL, a fully manmade island off the coast of Doha which is shaped like a pearl shell with an inland harbour. There will eventually be thousands of people living here in high rise apartments and villas and houses with an elegant shopping/coffee strip and extravagant places to moor boats all around the inland perimeter. This island has been designed in architectural sections- the first part finished is supposed to resemble Venice. They have been selling off these apartments over the past 2 years to anyone who has 10% deposit to put down. We have several friends who have invested in this project and who hope to cover their repayments when the time comes by renting their apartments out for a very high rent. It will be the place to live for those who like to be in a community where all facilities are at your fingertips and everything looks sparkling new with no expense spared when it comes to quality fittings. The best way to demonstrate this part of town is to attach photos for your perusal. I believe that the cost of apartments is rising quite quickly, so if  you are thinking of an investment in the Middle East, perhaps this is the one!
The next day we drove with a convoy of 4WD vehicles into the desert heading for the inland sea. Of course the first thing you do is to let much of the air out of your tyres. The second thing you do is head on up a large sand hill until you are at the top, ready to descend an equally steep drop on the other side. At this point I leapt out of the car and walked down the hill to take photographs (well, that was my excuse). I had read many times in our local papers that there have been many bad accidents in this part of the world, so I was not willing to take chances. Steve loved it of course. As we wound our way further along the coast for an hour, I really enjoyed being amongst white sand dunes again and when we stopped at the edge of the inland sea to have lunch and a swim it felt wonderful to be there. Across the inland sea you can see Saudi, behind a huge nest of Osprey perched on a little island. On our way home our 15 year old took the wheel and really enjoyed himself as he drove across the sand on the way home. Quite weird to be finally driven by your son! The thing that intrigued me out there were the tents perched in seaside places all along the coastline. I found out that Qataris can pay a yearly fee of 500QR (about $180) to 'rent' the space where their tent permanently sits. This means that they have a beachside home for very little for as long as they like. What a wonderful idea- I don't think we expats are allowed to do this but we will enquire.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

From Curry to Grits to Orchestras to tennis in Doha

Just to prove that this is a city that is offering everything, I will tell you about our last couple of days here in Doha. We decided to eat out on Thursday night (beginning of the weekend ) and took some friends to a restaurant we had heard was good. Sure enough, we had the most wonderful Indian meal in a gorgeous setting nearby. Cost? $15 each and we were well fed with delicious curries and biryani and such. The following morning we were invited to Riks for breakfast, just to set the weekend into relaxing mode. We finally found this little place in the back of a dusty car park in a part of town we do not know very well. It was like stepping into Mary's Restaurant in Hibbing, where the menu is the same as Riks- you can eat grits, hot cakes and gravy, omelette and eggs easy over, hash browns of a sort and even a kind of bacon made from something other than pork of course. Sitting at our table were two Harley riders who had just been for their regular morning spin around Qatar- leaving at 5.30 a.m. to avoid heat and dangerous driving! I had to pinch myself to remember where I really was. 
That evening we dressed up in our fancy clothes and ventured out to the National Theatre where the new Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra were to perform their first ever concert. This orchestra has been collected from all around the world in the past year, with musicians from 30 different countries; many parts of Europe, Asia, Russia, Uk and America. Unfortunately I couldn't find one Australian or New Zealander, but never mind. They were predominantly young people who were obviously incredibly talented. 101 of them play traditional orchestral instruments and this group played Beethoven and Ravel in the first half. From the moment they began there was the most delicious balance of instruments and we were just transported into another world. In the second half we heard the World Premiere of the Arabian Concerto, composed by Marcel Khalife , who is a world famous oud player (has toured Australia). He was asked to compose this piece for the orchestra and it became a wonderful blend of the traditional orchestral sounds and those of 5 incredible musicians playing Tabla, Bouzouq, Ney, Qanoun and Oud. The music was truly wonderful, understandably coming out of the mind of such a man-  what a treat to be at this concert, with the composer quietly sitting behind us in the audience. I read on my program that he has been named the music director and the resident composer of this newly founded orchestra. What other treats might we be in store for?? I loved the Arabic feel of this rolling, majestic piece of music. He must have been bursting with pride listening to his beautiful orchestra last night.
So what next? Tomorrow brings the start of the tennis tournament nearby. The Sony Ericson Championships where we get to see such greats as; S Williams, Ivanovic, Dementieva, Safina and Jankovic. My seat cost $2.50 so I think I will be getting my money's worth!! 

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Reaching out

As part of the Ramadan experience and also part of the community service projects students at Qatar Academy have to complete, last week we took three truckloads of food to a very impoverished area of Doha that you tend to not see unless you know they are there. This compound was wedged in between larger buildings and new construction and was sitting  behind a fence in a dusty yard. The houses were home made of what looked like mud bricks, each had a very dusty old air conditioner perched in the wall and each also had a steel door with a softer covering of carpet or old cloth draped across it. We arrived there in three large buses, followed by the trucks, directed by 3 Qatari men who were in charge of this particular charity operation. In Muslim countries it is required by religious law to donate a percentage of your wealth to a charity of your choosing. These men seemed to be in charge of distributing our donations to this particular area. 
As we pulled up I noticed a broken down yellow bus with what seemed like no-one on it. As soon as we stopped out tumbled an assortment of young men, climbing out the windows, the windscreen, the roof and the door. They were part of a larger group of children who all ran towards us to find out what we were doing there. The students unloaded our boxes and proceeded to knock on doors to give their gifts. It was an unbearably hot day but a very rewarding one. We were told that the average income here is around 1000 QR per month ($300) and it was apparent that there were families with many mouths to feed peeking out at us as we toured this village. I noticed that there were many Pakistani or Indian families, all dressed in their sparkly dresses, for this week has been a very important Hindu festival (I believe we call it Diwali or the festival of lights). I am sure that many of our somewhat rich students were humbled by what they saw during this exercise. Steve suggested a game of soccer for next visit but we were told that this would not be a safe thing to do because these boys do not go to school- not sure why.
Steve has also befriended some Phillipino workers from our school (who also earn around this amount each month) and an Egyptian builder who he met on the Corniche one night. He now spends his time taking them to the beach for night picnics, which he and they love. The men sit on the beach until the wee hours of the morning. Around 2 a.m. it is usual for them all to strip off to their underwear and go in for a swim together. Women have all gone home by then. Often families come for a picnic at around 10 p.m. and the beach is the most crowded place in town. Making connections across the whole community we find ourselves in is very important to both of us. We need to be reminded of the realities of life outside this bubble of wealth in the Middle East.