Sunday, April 25, 2010

Okay, here it is.

I promised, therefore I must deliver. DRIVING IN QATAR. Sigh. Big, big, big sigh. I am devoting this entry entirely to the "drivers" of Qatar. If any Qatari's happen to stumble upon my little blog, please forgive me if my words sound harsh, but while you are thinking about forgiving me, please get your Mont Blanc pens out and take some notes - I have a few gentle suggestions for you.

I have had sufficient time to examine these people and their racing striped, plastic covered seats (no matter the vehicle age), and faux- fur covered dash board automobiles. I am not exaggerating when I say that driving in this city has taken years off my life. It is the only huge stressor in my current existence. Yes, I know I can be a bit dramatic at times, but I am neither exaggerating or embellishing here. It does not matter where I sit in the car - driving, passenge-ing, even in the back seat - my stomach still lurches at big roundabouts, and I say my Hail Mary's silently when I glance out the window at a smushed-up abandoned SUV left on the side of the road like a tin can, after what could only be a major accident.

I am currently working on perfecting my mind reading skills. It is a tall order. One has to be more than a mind reader when driving here. I will glare into the eyes of a Qatari woman pulled up next to me at a roundabout or red light - often that is the only part of her I can see at all... sometimes I am forced to glare into the black space where I think her eyes might be, as her face is completely covered - and try to decide if she looks like she may tramp on the gas and cut into my lane, or if she plans on sticking it out in her own lane for a while longer. A fleeting thought enters my head- I wonder if she can even see me at all. What is a gal's peripheral vision like with a cloth over her eyes and Louis Vuitton sunglasses over that cloth? I can only guess. Shudder.

The men are the worst by far - so very unpredictable. So much so in fact that when a Qatari man slows and gestures to me to go ahead and enter his lane (a nice thing to do for another driver), I begin to doubt his sincerity. Shame on me.

The Indian drivers are in a class of their own, and may take the prize for being the best Wolves-in-Sheep's-Clothing. If there is a speed camera within 10 miles, they are the picture of safety and precision. Hands at ten and two. Eyes straight ahead. But when no one is looking, they will sneak up on you and create their very own lanes (the shoulder of the road or straight up the middle of two lanes will do just fine), and can squeeze the largest SUV into the smallest of spaces. Impressive really, if it weren't so frightening. They love being snuggled right up to your bumper or side mirrors. No room to breath the hot desert air at all.

In our short three months here (yes, it has been that long) we have seen many fender benders and far too many close calls. I know the other drivers must look at my car and think to themselves, "Strange. That woman's car blinks". You can spot an expat a mile away (literally) when you see their vehicle switch on a signal light. No one else seems to know what a turn indicator is for. Certainly not to signal your intention to move your vehicle in the direction of the blinking light. Really though. Blinkers in Doha are for the weak. It is far more heart racing and adrenaline pumping to have to guess who is going to go in what direction at any given moment. My spidey senses are tingling constantly.

A note about Colin... My gentle, patient husband (who is never ever seen 'losing it'... unlike his wife!) has, on occasion, been transformed into a complete stranger before my very eyes when caught up in the craziness of the Doha roads. He sighs. He grunts. He shakes his head and makes clicking sounds with his tongue. He occasionally SWEARS. He blows his horn. He does not, however, make any hand gestures of any kind (we could get in some serious trouble for this one). The colourful phrases he has muttered while saving us from getting side-swiped or rear-ended would make a sailor blush. His stress (so rarely seen) amplifies my stress. Oh, it is bad. Real bad. I feel like I am on a ride at the fair that flings you every which direction and when you get off, your stomach is fluttering and your head is swirling. It makes me need to take a nap.

I should clarify here that it is not always like this. Sometimes the roads are just fine to travel on. Often, I get to and fro without any issues whatsoever. These trips are glorious. I feel accomplished and energized. Yes, we made it! Friday mornings are the best for driving, but a cruel irony... the stores are all shut. I must say that some Doha drivers are very conscientious , law abiding citizens. I should not paint everyone with the same brush, I know. Please forgive me, but I do speak of the majority. I am hopeful this will change.

We really just have to be careful anytime before or after lunch time, supper time, Thursday nights, Friday nights, Saturday nights, driving near a wedding tent, a mosque, the Corniche, the souqs... you get my point. Trying to park could give you a stroke if you aren't careful.
I realize that in the whole grand scheme of things that the Qatari's are actually doing wonderfully considering that Doha has risen up out of the sand as a vibrant and booming city virtually overnight. It wasn't that long ago that you would be hard pressed to find a car amongst the camels. They are doing very well, considering.
I have been given the hand gesture for 'patience' more times than I can count. Strange, it is always when I am yielding (at a yield sign) and a Qatari honks, flashes his lights, and then, as he pulls out and speeds ahead of me into the rush of oncoming traffic, he looks back and calmly gestures... "patience". I could choke on my tongue when this happens. Makes no sense! You, my dear sirs, YOU need the patience.
I was recently purchasing something in a store owned by a Qatari man. We were making small talk and he was asking how I am enjoying living in Doha. My reply was a positive one, but I mentioned the driving was mad. He laughs. He agrees. I ask him about the hand gesture I have been recieving. Indeed, it does means 'patience'. Why then, I ask, are they giving it to me, when I am clearly being 'patient'? He answers: "The Arabs... they are crazy." Then he chuckles. Enough said.
We will be okay, Inshallah. ( Hopefully, we will navigate through all the craziness and stay happy and healthy during our time here. Blog readers, say a prayer or two to your guardian angels for us. We need them all.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

We're Booked

We are officially booked for our first trip home. What a completely complicated ordeal! It actually took two days of phone calls to get it all straightened out. Whew! Glad it's done.

We couldn't seem to get all the flights we needed directly from any one airline carrier (our trip has multi-city destinations), so we finally decided to try a travel site. We've had family members have trouble using these sites, but the flight selection was decent and so was the price. I won't directly mention the site, in case some of you are fans...let's just call it Such a nightmare. Long story short, we booked and paid for our tickets only to find out the booking omitted Ella in the end. Outside of North America, an infant has to be booked as a separate passenger (not attached to a parents ticket). wouldn't acknowledge her as a travelling passenger. The folks at turned out to be completely useless (offering to cancel and rebook our flights again - they had Ella on another flight - but oops... the flights went up $5000+ in price overnight!). We had to make a trip to the airport to physically visit Qatar Airways... still no luck correcting the problem. Three long and pleading phone calls to Air Canada later, we finally have it sorted... we think.
So - drum roll, please - we are coming home! We leave Qatar June 16 to fly to Calgary for Dave and Kirsten's wedding on June 19. We leave Calgary on June 20 for ten days in Nova Scotia, returning to Doha on the 30th.
Although I had hoped for a stop in Texas, we couldn't do it this time around. I am still hoping to get there later this year though.
Tips on travelling on long haul flights with an almost-eight-month-old very welcome!

PS - Construction on our brick patio extension has suddenly halted. The LBM have been called away on a very important 'tiling' project in villa #12, preparing it for new people. Damn them. When I asked when they could get back there and finish, I am met with blank stares and then a "yes ma'am". I think we have negotiated that work will resume in 'two days' (I know this from the fingers the head LBM kept holding up?). Gone are the days of efficiency and deadlines... welcome to Doha! I'll keep you posted if and when it's ever finished...


Yesterday, when we were driving home from the airport, I got a sudden urge for some salty McDonald's french fries. It seems we've noticed many McDonald's restaurants in our travels around Doha, so I thought scooting through a drive thru would be no big deal. I quickly punch "McDonald's" into the GPS. Great - there is one about a two miles from here.

Not saying anything about what a pain in the ass I am, Colin turns us around and finds the spot. Not sure how old the satellite map is, but our 'destination' is nothing but a sand lot. What? Now I want fries more than ever.

The next McDonald's on the GPS locator is 4 miles away and looks to be in a mall, so I skip that one. I am searching for a drive thru - my mind is made up. Third time is a charm, right?

Number three is a success - it has a 24 hour drive thru! Yay! But guess what? The drive thru is a man standing in the back of the building. No menu. He IS the menu. I get my fries and a McChicken (from memory) and Colin orders something called a "Mctasty". The man tallies up our bill in his mind (38QR), then runs ahead to the drive thru window (yes, they have one!), leans inside with his body, makes change, and runs back to our car. Side note - it was 38 degrees yesterday.

Good thing we don't crave fast food too often - this place was a bit out of the way. Anyhow, my meal tasted like any McDonald's I've ever had, but Colin's surprise "McTasty" was very "McNasty". He didn't eat it. Oops!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Another busy week has passed! A few thoughts to share...

The Ma'amSir Phenomenon - It seems that where ever we go, Colin & I are now addressed collectively. We are now one being, known to all customer service workers in malls, hotels, restaurants, etc, as "Ma'amsir". It sounds more like mumser when they say it.
"Hello Ma'amsir. Table for two and baby, Ma'amsir?"
I quite enjoy it. And when mom was with us, we became "Hello Ma'amsirma'am" or, even funnier, "Hello Ma'amMa'amSir" (mummumser). I can't help but make faces at Colin when someone says it. Silly, I know.

Racing Stripes Everywhere - I know I said I would dedicate a whole entry to the Qatari driving, and I will... soon.
Today I do have to make mention of the very popular, specific 'style' of vehicle you see everywhere. Hands down, the Toyota Land Cruiser seems to me to be the vehicle of choice on the road... but whatever it is the locals choose to drive, the majority of cars seem to have one thing in common: the whacked-out 1980's flashy gold, silver and red racing stripes. They adorn both sides of the vehicle, and stretch from headlight to bumper. I told Colin I refused to buy a bedazzled SUV for myself, but it was a difficult task to accomplish. The fancy paint jobs are everywhere! I have noticed that many of our neighbours drive them, and I hope this is a trend that doesn't catch on. Perhaps in two years, I will be longing for such a paint job on my own car. If you come for a visit while we are here, and we pick you up from the airport in such a psycadellic ride, just bite your tongue. We may just think it's stylish.

Midnight Swims - As I write this, my mom is on a plane somewhere on her way back to Nova Scotia. She had a great trip, and we were on the go every single day - poor Ella! An important discovery for me though: the compound pool. Of course I have been to the pool already, but mom & I started venturing down for a swim before bed most nights... somewhere between 10pm and midnight. It turns out the pool is open 24 hours a day, so why not? Anyhow, the water at this time is a perfect temperature, there isn't a soul around, and I could think of worse ways to end a day. Someone else hurry and visit us so I can have a swimming partner while Colin and Ella snooze!

Construction began in our backyard this morning. We are having our brick patio extended to accommodate a covered sitting area (the next phase of construction). I just brought the LBM some refreshments as it is hot out there anyhow, but the blue coveralls must make it just about unbearable! Anyhow, so excited for this new space. This is part of my continued effort to make our backyard a place you really want to be in. I hope we get to use it before the crazy heat arrives... fingers crossed!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

April has Arrived

It makes for dull conversation that when I open my eyes every morning, the sun is shining and there is not a cloud in the sky. I mean, come on, I am a Maritimer, for Pete's Sake! We live and breath to comment on and complain about the weather. But no, I can't do either this week. Its been beautiful. Hot and sunny - not too hot - with a great breeze. (I have thrown in a few groans about blowing sand and having to wear goopy sunscreen just for good measure while conversing with neighbours, etc. It's been difficult.)

Big news in my backyard - the few meters of 'sandbox' that I dug up and filled with soil and planted with seeds, in attempts to start a little garden, have started to sprout!! This was my "trial" patch to see if anything would/could grow back there, and so far, I can check yes for both carrots and cucumbers (three rows of each). I am quite impressed with my 2.5 inch little sprouts, and am praying that they continue to thrive. Who knows, perhaps I'll rip up all of the sad little patches of grass back there and go crazy with a big ol' Texas sized garden. Probably not, but its a nice thought.

My mom's visit is going swimmingly. She's having a blast and it's amazing what an extra set of hands is worth with a five month old baby. I love it. Suddenly I can do things without one-arming it. Quite nifty.

I must stop here to say to all my friends who moved to be closer to their parents when they decided to start families... I now get it. Ella is quite taken with this new wild-haired lady that immediately presents herself at Ella's slightest coo. I actually can leave them alone together and get stuff done! Wow. I know Colin is enjoying it too. Side note here - Colin's mom & sister both booked their tickets to come visit next month. Yay for visitors!

I must mention the highlights of our week. First one was our trip to the Museum of Islamic Art. What a place! I do enjoy museums but this one was extra special. Their current Pearl exhibit (which they are soon sending on tour around the world) was absolutely breathtaking. I highly recommend spending an afternoon if it turns up near any of you. I immediately told Colin that I now must have some new pearls of my own. He just smiled - I'll take that as a yes?

Our other highlight this weekend - we went camel riding! Oh, how fun! We actually got to drive out to the more desert-y area of Qatar, which was a sight to behold in itself. Nothing but sand and a few sad little roads. I can now say I have stood in the desert... the actual desert. I got sand in every crevice you could imagine, and I think I am still tasting it tonight.

But, getting back to the camels... is it weird to say that I think they are beautiful? In a gnarly-toothed, smelly kind of way, but I thought they were very impressive animals. Strangely graceful. Their fur (is that what you call it?) was pretty soft too. I don't know... maybe the sand is clogging my clear judgement. Anyone agree with me? Mom had a blast and we all laughed lots. This was a day that was filled with the real 'good' stuff.

Happy Easter, everyone!