Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Achin' for Bacon

Two things happened today that have made it a memorable day. A truly remarkable one, really.

First... it RAINED. Not hard, and not for long, but it was important as I wasn't in Qatar the two other days it rained this year. I think a sprinkle of rain once in a while is good for the soul. As soon as the clouds started rolling in, I knew it was going to be a good day. Bye bye sunshine (even for a very brief period), and hello rain shower!

But, today wasn't just extra special because it rained.
No, there is another reason why this one will go down in the history books.
Seriously - it will.
Today, Qatar sells P O R K.
Never before has this happened. Ever.
I was a bit slow to learn about the big news. But as they say, news travels pretty fast, so I am only a day late hearing about it...
My day began like any other. E & I get up, get ready, make a little breaky, and I sneak a peak on facebook while she counts her Cheerios out loud, slipping a few to the dog.
My friend Desert Mama's status update pops up on my newsfeed. It says something about bacon...
My heart flutters. This can't be. I immediately reach for my phone and text her. Does she have this on good authority? I need the details!
Turns out the QDC (Qatar Distribution Center, aka, the one-and-only-liquor-store-in-the-entire-country) began selling pork yesterday.
Really? Is this news accurate? A quick internet check and I see there has been some babble about it on local sites. No need to tell me twice.

Hurry up with those Cheerios, kiddo, we have some pork to buy!

It must be said that venturing to QDC is no small feat. It is clear on the other side of town, with heinous traffic and mind-blowing construction detours. I often want to poke my eyes out after a trip to that part of town. But it must be done. The Chisholm girls were on a mission. And yes, you are reading correctly - I didn't even hesitate about dragging my little girl through a liquor store at 10am in the morning (opening time) in search of pork. Don't judge.
We get there, find a space in the parking lot (which is strangely busy for a Tuesday morning), flash my official Liquor Permit (generously granted to me by the State of Qatar with permission from my dear husband) and roll in with my stroller. 
My eyes glance over the Merlots and Cabernets while I do a quick scan of the room in search of my true target. Half expecting to find a single freezer with a homemade "Pork" sign taped to its front, I don't immediately notice the entire room now devoted to the formerly forbidden food. The once Cold Beer room is now the Pork Products room. Name etched in glass and everything. Like it's here to stay. For real.
I get a thrill in my stomach like I am about to commit a crime and get away with it. 
I enter the room.
It's jammered.
Four long freezer bins line each wall, all filled with pork. 
Doha's first pork products
QDC employees are dumping boxes of frozen bacon into the freezers and shoppers are scooping them up like mad. I stare, disbelieving, into a bin of frozen pork sausages, a bit giddy.
The feeling in the room is contagious - festive even.  Everyone is smiling. Who knows how many months or years these other expats in this cold little room have gone without their favorite BLT, Easter Ham or BBQ'd chops.

What to buy? I have a little red basket in my arms (that feels remarkably insufficient) and I start loading. I get a few of every kind they have.
 I get... smoked bacon, unsmoked bacon, back bacon, streaky bacon (what the hell is streaky bacon?) and I throw in a few bags of pork sausages for good measure. In total, I roll out with eight packages of bacon and four bags of sausages. Ready for a pork-fest.
Maybe I went a bit overboard?
On my way out, a QDC employee tells me merrily that there is a new shipment coming with ham and Italian salami next week. I happily carry the bag to the car, telling Ella she will be tasting real bacon with her eggs this weekend. She smiles like she is actually looking forward to it.
No more achin' for bacon. Thanks QDC.
Shopping Success

Friday, October 21, 2011

Happy Birthday, Ella

Today is a big day. My little girl turns two today.

Two whole years have flown by.
Whoosh. Just like that.

I still call you my baby, but am seeing an exceptional
little girl appear more and more each day.

Every single morning when you wake up and I get to be the first one to greet you, my heart swells.
How lucky am I?

From the moment you came into our lives, you have made every day shine brighter.
Every moment matter more.

Your smile lights up any room.

You are beautiful, sensitive, spirited, and loving.

You love holding hands, dancing to just about any song, and give the best hugs ever.
The. Best. Ever.

I wouldn't change one thing about you. Not one.

Happy Birthday, sweet girl. We couldn't love you more.

Friday, September 30, 2011

20 Signs You Have Crossed The Line

So, as many of you know, I have been slugging it out in Doha by myself this month.
Taking one for the team.
Single-parenting for thirty-some-odd action packed days in the desert. (Read that again and insert lots of sarcasm around the words ‘action packed’).

C has left us here -sniff sniff- while he is away for work in Texas (if I hear of one more Mexican dish passing his lips, I may go blind with jealousy), and although I have sat down to update my blog on a few occasions over the last 2.5 weeks, I just haven't been able to transform my musings into typed words.
But, here I am now, and as I have had extra time this month to ponder my thoughts internally - due to current lack of spousal-banter available to me - I have decided to compile a list of some of the oddities that have become little pieces of our daily existence here in Qatar.
It seems you can always pick out those folks who are new to Doha - I was there myself not so long ago (almost two years already), and there is a very clear line between those that are still adjusting to life in the Middle East (this can be a long process), and those expats who have become accustomed to the many quirks of Doha and manage to blend in to everyday life here - essentially, 'crossing the line'.
For all you seasoned Doha 'line-crossers',  I hope you extract a few laughs from the list below. For those still on the other side... come back to this post in six months or a year and see how you fare then.

20 Signs You have Crossed The Line
1. You start to feel chilly when the temperature dips into the 20C's. Sweater weather!
2. You begin planning your next holiday the day after you get back from your last one.

3. You not only feed the stray cats on your compound, you name them & greet them when you see one another.

4. You no longer require a watch -- the  Call to Prayer and position of the sun tell you all you need to know about the time.

5. You become a defensive driving  force to be reckoned with on the road, and don't think twice about taking a short cut over a curb or through the sand to get where you are going. Occasionally, you even bust out the ‘patience sign’ at other drivers.

6. You catch yourself saying 'shukran', 'yella' and 'inshallah' while conversing with others.

7. When speaking to people from India, you find yourself wobbling your head to and fro for no apparent reason, but you can't seem to stop yourself.

8. You haven't changed the sheets on your own bed in a very long time, yet they are always clean and fresh.
9. It no longer bothers you when, in the MILLISECOND it takes a light to change from red to green, someone is already ferociously blowing their horn at you.

10. You no longer feel the urge to take pictures when a truck load of sheep or camels stops next to you at a red light.

11. You search through the moving sales of other expats like a miner digging for gold, and find yourself buying things you don’t at all need ("OMG, they have a _____ for sale. We MUST snatch this up before someone else does!")

12. You stock pile alcohol in a spare room in your home 'just in case'.

13. You think it’s completely normal to set up a picnic (complete with lawn chairs, tables and blankets) for the whole family at 11 o'clock at night.
14. You pace back and forth outside your neighbour’s villa when you pick up the unmistakable scent of smuggled bacon wafting through the windows.

15. You start to ponder the punishment if caught with your own suitcase full of pork... how bad could it really be?

16. You have a closet full of custom tailored suits, tuxedos, dresses, skirts, and any number of shirts/pants that fit you to a 'T' because you had them made just for you at one of the 5000 tailor shops around town.

17. You no longer fear a left hand turn in a roundabout, but embrace it wholeheartedly. Hesitation is for the weak.

18. You know that if a restaurant will cook it for you, they will also deliver it to you at home -- 'no problem'.

19. You get up early Friday morning and have nothing to do, but just can't wait to go for a drive and enjoy the empty roads.

20. You never get your weekend days confused anymore. Thursday night is the best night of the week and Saturday night is a drag - end of story.

I don’t quite have all of these covered yet, but am creeping my way through the list at a very steady pace.
What about you?
...Crossed the Line Yet?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Day in Kuwait

This week we had to make a trip to Kuwait.
Kuwait City had never made it on my 'places to go in my lifetime' list, but this trip was necessary.
When we were in Nova Scotia this summer, we found a great summer cottage that we are in the process of buying. I'll talk more on that later, but in order to get everything ready to close on our house deal, we had to get some papers notarized.
Sounds easy enough, but who knew that there is no such thing as a Notary Public (a person who can witness and certify legal documents) in Qatar.
We tried everything to get help here... and since there is no Canadian Embassy in Qatar, the process turned out to be quite difficult.
We tried lawyers, judges, and both the UK and USA Embassies. We tried to find an active member of the Canadian Military. Sought help from coworkers, friends and neighbours. Sent out emails, visited government offices and made countless phone calls. We had both our financial advisor and lawyer trying to help from Nova Scotia. We really tried every legal angle that we could to get our papers notarized, but no luck.

The embassy that serves Canadians living in Qatar is based in Kuwait City.
So, on Sunday night, after exhausting all possibilities of finding a legal notary here, we booked three last minute tickets for a day trip to Kuwait. There and back in one day. This should be interesting!

The Kuwait Towers - one of the
country's famous landmarks

I think it would have been a different trip if we had to navigate it on our own, but luck was on our side this week. It turns out that C has a colleague at work that is Kuwaiti. This friend (God bless him) has some serious connections in his hometown.
Turns out he & his family are... let's just say... "important" local folks. The night before we leave, he calls C and says "leave the details to me. I will take care of your visit". An intriguing statement, right?

Well, we had a great day! The flight was just over an hour, and as soon as we step off the plane, a very official looking man was there to greet us. He zipped us right through customs and the visa process. There were literally over 100 people waiting for visas. Easily saved us an hour or two... can you say awesome?

Ealr morning Kuwait, taken
 from the airplane on our way in

Then we roll outside with this guy to find a very cushy ride waiting for us with our own driver for the day. WHAT?
Yep. Away we go.
We are taken right to the Canadian Embassy, where we get everything done without any trouble. Sigh of relief. Even though it was a pain to have to travel to get there, seeing and talking to other Canadians is always such a pleasure when you live far away from home.
We carried on friendly banter about the weather, hockey, our shared experiences living in the middle east, and our visits "back home" with several of the embassy workers while attending to our business. Our driver waited the whole time! I could get used to this.
After business was complete, off we went for a tour of the city.
I am surprised at what I see. It's a busy, bustling city that spans along the north-east coast of the Arabian Peninsula. In fact, the word 'kuwait' is derived from the Arabic word 'akwat' meaning 'fortress built near water'. The city appears to me to be much greener, more developed, and a bit less humid than Qatar. Many similarities, but lots of differences too. 

a downtown mosque

Driving through the city, you could almost feel it's history - crumbled buildings on the outskirts of town that probably once stood proudly before the Gulf War. We got to see the Dasman Palace, where the Emir of Kuwait lived, and where the Battle of Dasman took place when Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait.
A busy and bustling, and 'visually Americanized' downtown core drew our attention and we (I) just had to stop and visit one of the malls. What a place to break out the visa! I wished we had more time to shop. C is happy we didn't.

The guy making fresh pasta at the
spot we had lunch

We were taken to an exceptional Italian restaurant for lunch, where all three of us over-indulged on fresh bread and homemade pasta. Yum.

Our day in Kuwait ended with more assistance at the airport. We were 'checked in' by our driver as we waited in the VIP lounge. Seriously.
Ella snoozed in her stroller, I sipped on lemonade and read the local paper, and C watched the evening news.

If I had known what a great trip was in store for us this Tuesday, I would have pressured C to spend the night and see more of the city.

Our flight back was smooth, and Ella got to sleep in her own bed last night. We were all ready for a good sleep after a long day.

A busy and successful trip overall.

Thanks Kuwait, for treating us so well. Special thanks to C's friend who tried to show us why he loves his city so much. He gave us a day to remember in his favorite place.

And hey... Canadian government - if any of you read this - you promised us an embassy almost two years ago. Come on already! We are not patiently waiting...
Sightseeing in Kuwait City, Sept 2011

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Flight Part Two: FRO

Not a whole lot to say about it, really. Compared to my last air adventure, this was a walk in the park.
We were sad to be leaving, but happy to be going back to our own space with our own things once again.

Major difference this time around: I had my husband with me. Four hands. Three seats.  So I had a husband and a stroller in London this time - not sure which I was more thankful for.
E still refused sleep for the most part, but we did manage to stretch her out between us a few times for some power naps. Much better situation over all. It's amazing how much better flying is with two parents and one child. E was out numbered (and happy to have both of us with her, I suspect). My sincere applause to all those reading this that have travelled with more than one child for long distances. It is a tall order with just one. A very tall order.

The only really interesting occurance on the return trip: The Qatari Seat Stealer.

We board our LHR-to-DOH flight in London. Once again a full plane... busting at its seams. We have three seats in the middle. Not too terrible.
A young family with four little boys boards and we see them searching for their seats just in front of us to the right. They were headed to Kenya via Doha. It looks like the mom was supposed to have two boys with her in a row of three, and the dad would have the other two in a row of three with him. Good way to sit for a family of six.
But it seems that someone (actually, two someone's) have sat in two of the dad's three seats. We watch him politely tell the lady that he believes she is sitting in his seat.
We watch her completely ignore him. He looks around nervously and tries again. The woman waves a dismissive hand at him. We see him look at his wife and verify out loud the seat numbers on his tickets. He says a third time "I believe you are sitting in two of our seats".
She says "no" and waves her hand at him again.
So the seatless man signals to a flight attendant, who then strides over and inspects his tickets, looks for his three seats, and yup, two Qatari ladies are sitting in 2/3rd's of them.
She politely explains to the lady in the aisle seat that she and her friend have sat in the wrong seats and asks to see their boarding passes. It looks like their seats should be across the aisle in the the middle area.  She asks the ladies to move to their correct seats and is met with a simple "no" once more. Their faces are covered by their burqas, but their eyes are not meeting the flight attendants. They talk back and forth to each other, but aren't acknowledging the flight attendant. Basically ignoring her.
Now, this puts the flight attendant in an awkward spot. What to do?
She goes and gets her boss - the head hancho flight attendant. This lady looks like she means business. She asks to see everybodys boarding passes. She confirms they are in the wrong seats. She politely asks them to move so the father with two young boys can sit. She is met with a simple "no".
By now, they are drawing attention. Everyone in the plane has been seated and safety announcements have been completed. We are ready to leave.
The person behind me, an Arab man, voluteers to translate for them, thinking possibly that the ladies aren't understanding what is being asked of them. So he gets up and translates everything in Arabic. The two ladies sitting in the wrong seats relpy in Arabic. He translates back to the flight staff.
"She says she likes these seats better and they will not be moving. She says he can have their two seats if he wants them".
The flight attendants clutch onto this possibility - it would be much easier to ask the man and kids to move rather than stand there and fight with these stubborn ladies. But, immediate problem. The man's two sons are maybe two and three years old. One of them would have to sit alone next to the Qatari ladies (a window seat). That isn't going over well with the Kenyan man.
He is starting to get agitated (I would be in a blind rage by this point. Just watching this go down is getting me all boiled up).
More flight attendants seem to gather around, and the Qatari lady has begun snapping Arabic phrases in a high pitched voice at the Kenyan man's wife through the seat opening (the wife and other two kids are seated directly behind them). Who knows what she's saying, but it sounds angry.
The wife starts repeating "Please don't speak to me" to the seat stealer.
By now, the entire economy class section is watching. The head flight attendant speaks with the captain, who was paused on the runway, and she comes back and asks the Arab guy behind me to translate a message: "If they do not move, we will turn the aircraft around and have the police escort them off the plane".
Seat Stealer #1 listens (her side kick is saying nothing), and replies in Arabic. He translates.
"She says she is not moving and that is that. He can have their seats. She asks that you not bother her anymore".
She is calling their bluff. And they do appear to be bluffing. The plane has stopped but you could see by the faces of the airline staff the last thing any of them want to do is to be the one to have this Qatari national escorted from the aircraft. This would surely mean a loss of someone's job in the end.
Meanwhile, I am getting pretty hot around the collar. Ella has started to grumble, and its been half an hour of this sh*t.
The Arab family behind us are talking to each other, saying how ridiculous it all is. You got that right. It's people like these two that give the whole place a bad name.
We stand still on the runway for a few more minutes, then the plane starts to slowly turn around. The Kenyan man is adamant that he only wants the seats he's paid for. I agree.
Then something magical happens. People start to speak up.
Everyone around us starts to shout at these two.
The guy across from us yells "Tell her in Arabic that I am sueing her and her family for missing my next flight".
The British lady up front says "Move your silly ass*s to your own seats".
Somebody with a crying baby shouts "Get on with it, have her arrested then."
A few Arabic phrases were offered up as well. Everyone was ticked.

The whole plane had to get involved to finally get a reaction out of these two. They get up and move to their own (and in my opinion, equally crappy) seats.
The entire place starts to applaud. The Kenyan man just looks disgusted. Fourty five minutes later, the two women move the few across the aisle to correct seats.
Who knows why she wanted those two seats. Better view of the toilets? their legs got tired a few steps short of their own seats? A few inches more space in the overhead bins? First dibs on the snank mix? One can only guess.

I tell Colin (who has been threatening me not to get involved this whole time) that I am going to write a letter to the airline. Oh, if he had a nickle for every time I wanted to write a complaint letter.
I begin composing it in my mind. These two fools have added an hour to my flight. It's already been a long day.
Of course, I haven't written my letter. But I am venting to you, well, because it makes for a good read if nothing else.
I believe that any other airline would probably have acted with less patience and more determination. Qatar is a funny place that way. Bending to the 'wants' of its people is commonplace here, and very unlike what we are accustomed to in North America.
There was something strangely refreshing about the whole plane rallying together to get those two ladies iin their own seats. Certainly gives new meaning to the term 'in-flight entertainment'.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Flights Part One: TO

My flight alone with our 20 month old, from Qatar to Nova Scotia...

July 10, 11pm - Finally finish packing and double checking all bags. Positive I have everything I may need in my carry on, and think I have adequately packed us for the 'weather' back home. Satisfied. Good to go.

July 10, 11:45pm - Finally get to bed after failing to check us in online (C tried all day). Some goofy website error message over and over again.

July 11, 1:15am - Had to fight for those last 15 mins (C wanted me up at 1). Wake up, get ready to head to airport. Thinking how stupid I was to stay up so late.

July 11, 1:30am - On way to airport. Amazed how perky E is after finding herself  in her car seat in the middle of the night.

July 11, 2am - C helps get us checked in and whatnot. We have a teary goodbye (I am not used to being the one going away anymore, sad to say). Flight is overbooked and our seats have been changed, but check-in-lady assures me we have two good seats together.

July 11, 2:30am - Make it through security and find gate. Feeling excited to be heading home.

July 11, 2:45am - Get into heated debate with check in staff over my umbrella stroller. I was told repeatedly (phone call to airline and at check in desk just down stairs from where I was standing) that I could gate check said stroller (which is why I brought the crappy small one along). Apparently not. I could feel panic welling up inside me as I tried to reason with the wretched woman trying to take my stroller away. It basically came down to 'if you want to get on the plane, you have to check the stroller and retrieve it at your final destination'. So we carried on without our wheels. 32lb pajama-clad child on hip with two bags on arm. Grrr.

July 11, 3:15am - Standing up, holding overhead strap on shuttle bus while glaring at the 11 men and three women (I counted) sitting in all the bus seats. None look to be pregnant, travelling with children, disabled or geriatric to me. E starting to feel a tad heavy now. Nothing I can't handle though.

July 11, 3:30am - Horrified to learn that our "good seats" are the middle two in a row of four. This can't be happening? Please let us have good seat-mates.

July 11, 3:35am - Two big older men take their seats on either side of E and I. First big old man presses his button for the flight attendant.

July 11, 3:36am - Big Old Man says to flight attendant "Can you find me a seat that is not next to a baby?". He actually said that. He must have been part pyschic as he could obviously see what was about to unfold. I still didn't see it coming. Flight attendant tells Big Old Man that flight is overbooked and he will be staying put.
Side note: She also secretly jostles our overhead bags around, as later, when I need a diaper, I eventually find my bag over seat 28D... I was in 32E. Randomly checking all of the overhead bins in the middle of the night wasn't a pain in the a** at all (while carrying my 32 pounder).

July 11, 4am - Start down the run way, into the night sky, just as my sweet E starts to wail repeatedly that she wants "out" of her seat belt "now".

July 11, 4:01am to 9amUK - A mixture of stories, hushes, songs and soothing words all night as I tried to make E happy and comfortable. Who knew that when the person in front of you reclines their seat, your 20 month old is then at the exact perfect kicking length if she simply straightens her legs. Boy, was this a thrill for her to discover.  Why oh why, Lord, won't she sleep?

July 11 - some time after 9amUK - Land at Heathrow Airport to an overcast, drizzly day. Try to gather us up. Not one minute of sleep has passed between us. Ella refused to eat her tray of food (therefore I didn't eat mine either), but somehow managed to spill lots of both trays on her jammies and my pants. I am guessing we look a bit frazzled.

Still after 9am (who knows how much time has passed) - Find out we need to switch terminals via bus again. Walk what seems to be 10 miles carrying E, who despite not eating anything, feels suddenly 10 lbs heavier. Stop several times to shift her to other hip. This is getting ridiculous.

Ella, answering her banana,
four hours into our second flight
 Probably around 10am - Take another bus ride to our new terminal. I must be on some comedy show involving a hidden camera. Again, no seat on bus. Desperately hanging on to overhead rope-y thing as English bus driver proceeds full tilt on what I deem to be the 'wrong' side of the road. Where did all of these people come from? Bus is jammed. E is whining. I can smell poop. Great time for a poop, E.

10ish am - Make it to terminal. Gate hasn't been announced. Sign says gate will be announced @ 11:30am. Find bathroom, clean E & I up, call C and sob that I have made a terrible mistake. Where the f*ck is my stroller.

10:30am - Find pub that sells breakfast for obscene airport prices. Yes they have child seats. But E has had enough. Over-over-tired and hungry, she pitches a fit with a temper she could have only gotten from me.  Good thing is that we appear to have cleared out our section of the restaurant with all the noise. We nibble on our food in silence (why do Brits eat beans and fried tomatoes for breakfast??).

11:15am - Find a seat in a crowded common area by the big flight announcement sign. Arms too weak to carry E anywhere. Must sit and wait the last 15mins till gate is announced. I can't believe how heavy she seems.

11:30am -  Sign says that gate will now be announced at 11:45am.

11:45am - Sign says that gate will now be announced at 12pm. Mother of God, I give up. E is flipping her lid and I have had two hours sleep in the last 24. E is trying to run away from me. Not even looking back. I try to bribe her back to our seats. This is torture.

12:00pm - YOU HAVE GOT TO BE JOKING. Sign says gate will be announced at 12:15. I am living my life in 15 minute increments of pure hell.  E makes another escape attempt (almost succeeds).

12:13pm or so (still July 11) - I must make note of this occurence as it was a first in our mother-daughter relationship. E had had it. She was done with waiting. She didn't want cheerios or juice or any toy in my bags. She didn't want an iPod loaded with Mickey or Dora, and she didn't want anymore of this waiting. I had a pony tail in my hair. Without warning, E looked right in my eyes, pulls her face close to mine (I thought for a kiss, perhaps?), swiftly takes her hands, one on either side of my head, and grabs fistfuls of my hair, yanking it out of my pony tail and holding it in her hands as tight as she could. We just stared at each other, locked in place. She didn't have the words to vent her frustration, but she let me know. Enough of this sh*t, Mom. Get us out of here.  Everyone around us stared as I gathered my hair, my bags, my daughter, and my dignity, just as the sign flicked: LONDON TO HALIFAX - GATE 43.

12:25pm - E is falling all over the place when she tries to walk. Thats no sleep for ya, kiddo. I have to carry her. Where the hell are those little golf carts? Can't somebody see that my arms are about to come loose from my shoulders and fall on the floor. I have never lifted anything heavier in my life. E now feels like a full grown, soaking wet, water buffalo in my arms. I am at Gate 12 and I want to give up.
I develop a pattern: walk ten or twelve feet. Stop. Set water buffalo on metal hand rail that lines the wall.  Rest. Repeat. Thank God for that hand rail. We were a sight.

Some time around 1pm, but really, who gives a sh*t what time it is at this point - Finally made it to our gate. Arms shaking and eyes blurry. We wait some more.

2pm-ish - We board. A new airline. Air Canada. Now, in the past I have critized this airline. But not today. I take it all back today. No, today the two seats (window and aisle) waiting for us were a thing of beauty. The French and English passenger announcements were sweet music to my ears. Every person walking by our seats to find their own looked familiar. A neighbour or an old teacher, or someone I once worked with, perhaps? My ears were picking up accents I knew. E seemed to suddenly get a second wind. Thank you Jesus, Thank you.

The rest of our flight - E slept, but only for an hour. Poor little thing just couldn't get comfortable. But, we made friends. The lady in front of us was from Gander, Newfoundland, and was travelling with her two teenaged kids. The lady behind us was Lebanese-Canadian, travelling with her daughter back to their home in Halifax. They were wonderful people. Changed my day around. The young girls played with E over the seats and my new Newfie friend helped us right till the end. Her son carried our bags till we parted ways in Halifax. I forget their names now, but I will never forget how great they were. I love Canadians.

When we got to the customs line, I realized I had to clean us up a bit to see C's mom on the other side. So into the bathroom we went to change. When we came out, half of Southeast Asia had arrived at Customs. There were now at least 200 people in line... ten minutes ago there were 40. Sh*t.
My last hour without a stroller (and without my NL friends) proved to be the breaking point for us. E kept running away, under the security pully gate things. It is damn near impossible to catch a wild, sleep deprived child who has run under the maze of those things, determined to escape her mother. She weaved like a pro through a sea of Asian tourists. She screamed when I made her stay in line. I screamed inwardly as my left arm threatened once again to fall off and abandon my body once and for all.

But, we made it. The Canadian Customs Officer was more than sympathetic and said: "I heard her crying in the line this whole time, and you are all by yourself? Next time that happens, go over to the Airline Staff Only line and we'll get you right through". Ha ha! Next time? Not me, my friend, not me.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Rare Birds... I Mean, Ghutra's

It has taken me a while to notice them and their subtle differences, but now that I have, they are all I see everywhere I go. My eyes just can't help it.

I'll see one coming toward me in the mall and I will steal a glance - careful not to appear like I am staring.  That would be highly inappropriate.
I have become quite serious about recognizing the different styles. A secret pastime while out and about. Laugh if you want - you would do it too if you were here.
Especially in the heat of the summer when everyone you know is gone already and it is too hot for the pool, the beach, or any public park. You need to make your own fun in these parts. No judgements please.

What am I yammering on about this time? Not the latest sunglass fashions or hair styles... not bird watching or spotting a new Porsche Cayenne in a parking lot. No, I am stealing glances at ghutras. What men wear on their heads here. For real. Not a joke.
Let me back up a bit and give you the basics.
Qatari national dress for men (much like other GCC countries) includes wearing a thobe, which is basically a long white shirt that goes to the ankles, over loose white pants/shorts. They also wear a loose fabric headdress, called a ghutra, in white or red-and-white patterned cloth, held on with a black rope or chord with tassles, known as an agal.
Qatari national dress for women consists basically of covering their heads with a black headdress called a shayla, and their bodies with a long black dress called an abayha. Some women also cover their faces with a black bourga; sometimes the eyes are left uncovered; it really varies.
English spelling of these clothing names can differ, depending on translation. 

All this black and white drifting through the malls and restaurants is quite eye catching to a foreigner.
I never grow tired of noticing the subtle differences in appearances... for both men and women, the accessories are everything. Cuff links, sunglasses, stylish pens, handbags, and shoes. Shiny and expensive. Small bits of bling everywhere.
I noticed right away that the ghutra is to young Qatari men what long flowing locks of hair are to any teenage girl. They toss the long bits over their shoulders, fussing with them constantly, they stop in store front windows to view their reflections and fix their ghutra and agals 'just so'. It is a great source of pride, indeed.

Imagine my surprise at lunch with a friend a few weeks ago, when she notices a young Qatari walking by and she says "look, he's wearing a cobra ghutra". What? I ask her what she means...
It turns out that there are many ways to manipulate the ghutra just right on your head. A huge fashion statement to some. Amazing. She forwards me an email later that day to demonstrate such styles. I am copying the pictures to show you:

Modesty Style

A simple and popular look with the older fellas.  Just throw one end of the ghutra over the opposite shoulder and you are ready to rock and roll. Looks like it would be good to protect your face on a sandy day too - always handy.

The Eagle

This is similar to the Modesty Style, only this time you take the other end of the cloth and flip it over the opposite shoulder. I haven't seen this one around yet but I have allll summer, don't I?

Mr. X

You can see from the picture why it is called 'Mr. X'. Just toss both ends of the ghutra over opposite shoulders. Apparently from what I have read, this is good for desert trips and cold winter months. Its important to stay bundled up with it drops down to 22C in January. Brrr.

This is the one you will often see worn by government officials and ministers, and at formal events like weddings. Just let your ghutra hang low, maybe adding some funky little folds on both sides of the mirzam (which is the area of the ghutra in the middle of the forehead).

The Teacher
This one is quick and easy and seen everywhere in Doha. Again, let the ghutra hang down, only this time tuck the ends behind your back. It's a cinch to create and great if you are moving around constantly, hence the name "The Teacher".

The Schoolboy

This one is popular at the universities around town - modern with a traditional touch. You bring one end of the ghutra from behind and put it in front of the opposite shoulder, while the other end remains down the back. This one is a personal fave.

The Abu Rashed
This one is named after Mr. Khaled Abu Rashed, who happened to be the lawyer of the infamous drifter Abu Kab. He allegedly mastered this style. All you have to do is throw one end of the ghutra above your head while leaving the other hang down.  Colin and I call this bad boy the "Gretzky"... true hockey fans will know why.

The Balanced Style
Given it's name, you can see that this one looks like a balanced scale from the front. You toss both ends above the head with a slight angle on each, while leaving space to form what resembles scale pans. This one might be tricky to keep if it is windy outside. This screams high maintenance to me! 

The Cobra Snake
This one was a huge hit in the 90's, and got its name from its resemblance to the venomous snake. You need a large amount of starch and a hot iron to stabilize this puppy, and one needs to practice caution when moving their head too fast to keep this delicate piece intact. This is still very popular around Qatar.

The Butterfly

Unlike the stiffness of the Cobra, which limits the ability to move freely for fear of collapsing the design, this one allows freer movement. Easy to create and wear, it's great in the summer time and very popular this year.  Think flower child of the desert.

The Bint al-Bakr Style
There wasn't any details on the history of this one online, and I haven't spotted one of these around town yet either. A very rare bird, perhaps? Looks complicated and a bit delicate, but impressive nonetheless.  I'll keep on the lookout.

So there you have it. Who needs to bird watch, coin collect or scrap book. Just head to your local mall or supermarket when its 125 degrees outside and watch the Ghutra styles bob on by in all their Arabic glory.
I think I need a drink.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Back At It

I am back - honest!  I know it appears that I fell completely off the blogging grid for a while... well, I did do just that... but I am back now.
I can't exactly put my finger on what I have been so busy with, but I have been... busy.
Not lots of time to sit uninterrupted and gather my thoughts. Either that, or the heat has just melted my brain into a mushy porridge and I am using 'busy' as my excuse. Good Lord, it's been hot here lately.

The heat, a travelling husband, saying goodbye to expat friends as they move away or leave for the summer, and keeping E entertained each day has left little alone time for me lately.

Hope you missed me, dear friends! I know you must have been staring at your computer screens waiting with bated breath for my next blog. Wink wink.
I promise to take time this week to catch you up on my life and catch up on all your great blogs that I have been missing.
I have some reading and writing to do!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Flying Solo?

Since our daughter was born, we have been doing a lot of flying. She has travelled to seven countries in her short little life of almost nineteen months. We have puddle jumped half way around this world and back again several times. I think this is the reason I must dye my hair every four weeks. Flying, although amazing, takes on a whole new meaning with a wee one in toe.

At first, flying with an infant was a breeze. She ate, she slept, she smiled at passers-by, she pooped, she ate some more, then she would sleep more too. Never a cry out of her most times.
On our flight over to Qatar for the first time, the flight attendants kept saying how sweet she was, and before we deboarded the plane in Doha, the pilot asked to see her & we got to take pictures of E sitting in his lap in the cock pit. It made our move here that much easier... she must have sensed her mama was nervous and decided to be on her best behavior.
It seemed after we hit the big Numero Uno, our flight experiences shifted. E no longer wanted to sit in my lap and peek at the people sitting behind us through the crack in our seats. She wasn't content to snuggle in with her mama and play with a toy quietly. Nope. She wanted to run free. She longed to feel the recirculated cabin air on her face as she tried to scoot down the aisle at her most wobbly top speed. She just needed to touch every button within eyesight - tv remote control, on-flight phone, seat recliner, Daddy's Kindle...the 'call' light button for the attendant was her absolute favorite. Sigh. She kept us all hopping.

Our last flight in April - a piddly four hours and twenty minutes - was tough. E had her own seat (even though she isn't two yet), but really didn't care to sit in it. She gave up sleeping on planes months ago and fights sleep with everything she's got (and she's got lots).
This time around, E wanted to explore, and talk (very loudly) to all the other passengers. Talk, Talk, Talk. She wanted to sit on my lap, then daddy's lap, then back to mine. Sit, Stand, Sit, Squirm, Down, Up, Down again.  
It's not that she was misbehaving because she really wasn't. She just isn't used to sitting still for that long. We own one very busy bee and we are asking a lot of her every time we fly.
I packed a whole bag of tricks to keep her occupied - her favorite snacks, most loved books, new toys all wrapped up to open and play with. We made it through the flight okay, but flying with her isn't what it once was suddenly. Let it be said that she doesn't mind flying - no sickness or ear issues. She loves looking out the window and "discussing" all she sees with us.

All you parents of more than one child who are frequent flyers, get your laughs in now. I have a deep and lasting respect for this very challenging undertaking, and am seeking your wisdom and guidance. Especially if you are the long-haul flight kind of family.
You see, flying with E has been okay with four hands to 'handle' her. C likes to sneak his snoozes and an odd movie or two in (had to say it), but he is always there to help feed, walk, or hold E whenever I need him. Teamwork rocks. We've been lucky to have travelled together so often!

So, here's the thing - I think E & I may fly home a bit early this summer. (Home = Nova Scotia, Canada). This will give the grandparents more time with E, and also give us time to get over some jet lag and have a better visit. There are no words for how hot a Doha summer can be, so escaping it a tad early would free us of that heat for a while longer. C plans to follow us later. 
My question: What am I in for?
We are looking at 18 to 22 hours in total. Good God. I shudder at the thought of it.
Juggling an independent-sleep-refusing toddler, luggage and lay overs. Trying to rest/eat/keep quiet during a long haul flight. Trying to PEE whilst holding E in my arms at the same time (TMI, I know, but it is a serious consideration!). I feel a headache coming on just picturing it all in my mind.
Bonus for me: all the flights out of Doha to my neck of the world seem to leave at very stupid times... 3:50am is a popular one. Just perfect for E to get her cranky you-dare-to-wake-me-in-the-middle-of-the-night-and-haul-me-to-the-airport-where-there-are-fluorescent-lights-beaming-down-upon-me-from-the-ceiling-begging-me-to-be-super-awake-and-on-high-alert-for-the-flights-ahead. Why oh why are airports not calm, dimly lit spaces with soft smells of lavender wafting around, and faint 'beach wave' nature sounds playing in the background? A girl can dream, I guess.  
Let the advice pour in. I am currently searching the internet obsessively for the best flight combinations to get us there in the shortest amount of time. This still isn't a done deal. I may chicken out. If I do chicken out, grandparents, bite your tongues, as I have/had good intentions.  We will see what happens. I have about nine weeks to plan a smooth flight. Tickets need to be purchased soon. I think I can, I think I can! I can, right?

You haven't seen a tree until you've seen its shadow from the sky.
~Amelia Earhart