Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Al Zubarah Fort and Fishing Village

I have to say it - Fridays are just downright boring these days. For a long time they weren't. 
We would wake up early and look forward to exploring some new nook of the city. It seemed we always had something to do.
We enjoyed the relative peacefulness of the roads and it reminded us of Sundays growing up... no stores or shops open and that was just fine here. A family day with not too much of anything to do.  
But almost three years in and Fridays have become a thing of dread. I wait all week for Thursday night to arrive so we can casually slip in to the long-awaited weekend, but darn... Friday morning has become a big, soggy let down as of late. 
Get up...get ready...let's eat, and...umm (insert: thumb twiddle here) what? We need to get out of the house and go do something... anything. Anybody have an idea that we haven't done 100 times already?  And... Silence. 
We've just never quite established a routine for this one day of the week.... and yet, we have all the others covered so nicely!
But, alas, there is hope. We have discovered that a case of the Friday-boredom-blues can be turned around with some solid advance planning. Give it a bit of thought through the week, and stash away a few ideas for the weekend.
If we wake up with a game plan in mind,  things are more than okay again. 
Last Friday, we had a plan of attack.

Fort Zubarah
Get up (surprise ~ sun is shining!), quick breakie and dog walk, then off to explore Al Zubarah Fort.
First we had to find Al Zubarah Fort, which turned out to be pretty easy. There were some helpful directions online -- basically, you follow Highway 1 north for a long time (Al Shamal Road), turn off when you see the Zubarah sign, and continue west for approximately 40-ish kms, until you see the fort in the distance.
The drive took about an hour from our house. Not lots to see, but honestly, sometimes looking out at the Qatar desert nothingness as we drive along together (with some eclectic CD playing in the truck), reminds me of the Texas weekend drives we used to take, with no particular destination in mind. 
Al Zubarah Fort Entrance
 There is a long stretch on the way to San Antonio from Houston that must be a cousin to the drive to Zubarah. Nice memories. Lots of flat land to gaze out at and appreciate it for the wide open space that it is. I bet it's really nice at dusk.
 The Zubarah town itself  is said to date back to the early 1760's when pearl diving and trading were a booming business. The fort exists on the edge of where the town once stood. It is noted as an official Qatar Heritage Attraction that houses various artifacts, pottery and cultural displays, and encourages self guided tours through the property. It was built in 1938 on the ruins of an old castle, during the reign of Sheikh Abdullah Bin Qassim Al Thani. The fort was used by both the coast guard and military through the years,  until the mid-1980's when it was converted into a regional museum. There is no cost for entry and it is open to the general public.

Exploring an empty Al Zubarah Fort
 When we arrive at the fort, we are the only ones visiting, and we quickly figure out why. The security guard (who was mighty happy to see us... and, FYI, we read online before we went that it is nice to tip him before you leave) was speedy to inform us that the entire "artifact museum and display" had been removed from the fort a few months back while it was undergoing some restoration. (We hadn't seen anything about this online when planning the trip, unfortunately.)
So the entire place was empty. Not a table, not a picture, not a single piece of pottery or artifact. Nothing... but some dust and a few lonely birds on the rafters.
We were still able to take a nice walk around and have a look at all the rooms in the fort. The security guard didn't know when the historical pieces would be returning, so I guess we'll have to revisit some weekend down the road (a good excuse to go back). 
Ruins inside the fishing village
Since we had time to kill and it was a beautiful day, we headed eastward to check things out, and after a few minutes of meandering down the highway, we stumbled upon our real find for the day.
An old abandoned fishing village (we'd read about it online) was tucked along the shoreline not too far from the road. I recommend an SUV if you are going to venture down to check it out, as some of the sand it pretty loose.

external wall in the fishing village,
leading to the water
We quite enjoyed exploring the old buildings and ruins. Great setting and you got that feeling like it must have an interesting history. 

The one really disappointing thing was the state of the beach at the village... completely full of litter and garbage. 
There was also lots of graffiti on the building walls within the village itself.
I do hope that this fabulous little spot is restored and preserved before too much of it is lost due to neglect or vandalism... it would be a great attraction for both the residents and tourists in Qatar.

A room inside the fishing village
I would say that if you are planning a trip to visit the fort anytime soon (call first and make sure it's gotten the displays back!), also try to find this small village and take a few minutes to walk through its ruins - it is a worthwhile pit stop.  

E and the cannon at Al Zubarah Fort

Old Fishing Village (view from the highway)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

My Get Up And Go Has Got Up And Gone

I am back. Been back for over a week now. Forgive me for not writing sooner... I was so caught up in living a different kind of life than the one I live here that I had no time to write. It had been a year and I had forgotten. Canada was ahhhh-some.

E and I arrived in Nova Scotia the first week of July. No big issues on the planes home at all. Hooray! We were both pooped, but feeling good. We had purchased a summer cottage the year before (just as we were leaving to head back to Qatar), so this was our first time to be in our new place and enjoy it. I couldn't wait.

We always love our time home. I am pretty sure I have mentioned that before. Being back with familiar faces, familiar paces and such a different way of living is just what we need to fill those internal enthusiasm tanks that can get a bit low after too much time spent abroad. A good dose of where-you-come-from can fix most things, really.

When we became parents, we found that living out of suitcases, ferrying ourselves between grandparents houses, and living on other peoples schedules was great for the first week or two, but when the time came to fly back to Doha, we always felt secretly ready. Ready to be back in our own space with our own things. That's such a nice part of coming back. That first night when you get back from a long day or two of travel, and are finally able to get a nice hot shower and collapse into the cool sheets of your own bed -- that feeling is priceless.
But this time... this time coming back was hard. So freaking hard. I can't put my finger on just one reason, as they're all muddled together in my mind still.
Our summer place brought so much J O Y.
As soon as C joined us, it felt like a happy little home... our home. In Canada. Now there's a thought. When did we become such expats, anyhow?

We spent the summer starting to make the house "ours". We mowed grass, painted walls, cut trees, built decks, planted flowers, organized rooms, and purchased... everything. We worked, but, we played too. We filled the rooms with laughter and love. Our friends and family came to visit us this time. For the first time, we got to stay put for a while. Our time seemed longer - and our days fuller. Having our own home base sure was nice.

To say E loved country living would be an understatement. Each day she'd burst out the door, wanting to explore everything around her. This little girl from Qatar got to be a Canadian kid for a summer.

So, hence my blog title. I am back. But I am still dragging. I'm coming back around to desert life slower than usual this time. I miss the cool Nova Scotia nights and the crystal clear skies.
I miss my girlfriends and my parents. I long for a proper grocery store again. I crave the calmness on the roads. I dream about having Kenny's Pizza and Fuzzy's fries just one more time.

Qatar seems to have lots of new faces lately, but sadly (for me), lots of faces that have become near and dear to my heart are moving on to new assignments very soon. Some goodbyes to be said in coming weeks.

So forgive me friends for my delay in writing and responding. I am coming around again. I promise. My batteries have been recharged, but my ON switch is a little stuck a the moment.

It was bound to happen after such a fantastic summer.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Little Girl From Another Planet

Making this place our home wasn't her choice. She may have had something to say about our move here if she'd had a voice back then. She was just a wee little thing when she arrived on this planet, after all, and it was so very different from the one she was born on.
But, she didn't complain. The world, as she knows it, is here.
She has learned to crawl, then talk and walk on this planet. She believes this is her home.
She sat on her first camel when she was 10 months old. She can identify what hummus, tabouli, fattoush and halloumi are without blinking an eye. She has come to know the distant droning of the daily calls to prayer as an expected and normal occurrence.
She knows that on her 'planet', if she runs out her back door without shoes on anytime after breakfast and before dinner to play, that the patio bricks will be so hot they'll burn the bottoms of her little feet.
Remember - shoes first.
She has sat in awe of many a sunset so huge and brilliant that she felt she could just reach out and touch them - and, she keeps trying without success, to her dismay.
Her sunglasses are not a young girl's fashion accessory for silly pictures at the pool, but a daily must-have element that, if accidentally forgotten at home, she gets very upset about. Squinting is really no fun after the first few minutes.
She doesn't really know trees, except for the palm variety. She sees pictures in her story books of all sorts of trees, big and small, green and lush, and traces their branches with her little fingers. I wonder if she wonders where all these special trees are hiding.
On her planet, there is virtually no rain. She talks about rain and umbrellas and mud puddles with an excitement only a child can muster about these sorts of things. Every day when she looks out her bedroom window hoping for a change in the weather, there sits the sun, smiling back at her. Always shining. Her constant friend.
Our physical home is surrounded by nine foot cement walls, and when inside our compound, it's much like living in a little bubble. A cement bubble, of sorts. She greets our compound security guards here like you would a postman. She sees them every single day. 'Hi, Guys.'
Her family unit is very small on this planet. Mommy, Daddy, Mercy and her Puppies. We talk about grandparents, auntie, friends and family like we talk about the rain, birthdays and Christmas time. Special things that are a bit farther away than we'd like them to be.
Her friends here are an eclectic group of little people from many other planets (and a few from this one). Planets called Canada, USA, Holland, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Egypt, Lebanon and Spain. They have different shades of skin and some can even speak other languages. These friends from other planets all play the same though. Playing looks to be a universal thing, thank goodness.
On this planet, she somehow learned very early how to recognize kindness in a strangers eyes. Even the youngest of people from this planet know when two eyes are smiling at them. One doesn't need to see the rest of a face for that. Smiling eyes are very common here.
When a lady wrapped in black cloth quickly bends down to kiss her check or touch her hair and whispers "jameela" or "hallwa habibi", she always smiles back at them.
On this planet, her blond hair and blue eyes are a crowd-pleaser. Big people from planets named India, The Philippines, and China stop us and ask if they can take a picture with her. She has come to expect special treatment at restaurants and cafes, where the staff treat her with extra special attention.
So many things this little girl has seen and done here. Her home.
You can then imagine her confusion when I recently started talking about how we are going "home" soon.
Home to Canada for the summer. It might as well be an actual planet to her, it's such a far off concept. Too big for such a little girl.
E has proudly quipped 'Home is Doha. We live in Doha.' in response to my enthusiastic comments about our upcoming trip.
I have told her how she and I get to go on an airplane to Canada to visit everyone there. Her brows start to crease and she quickly corrects me: "And Daddy, and Mercy and my Puppies too. We all go to Cadan-a."
"No, hunny, just you and I. Daddy will come later and Mercy will stay home with the dogs."
This news hasn't been well received. Not yet.
But, I know she will love it.
This trip is going to be a special one for her. She is not a baby in my arms this year, but a little girl, wanting to touch and feel and explore everything her little world has to offer.
B e  s t i l l  m y  b e a t i n g  h e a r t.
This new planet - her home for this summer -  the planet of my childhood - is filled with things she has never seen or done. Things she doesn't yet understand. Things that will excite and amaze her.
She will get to breath in cool fresh air.  To sleep with her bedroom window open. To walk in the morning dew on the grass. To see ACTUAL grass... fields and hills of it just waiting for her to run and play. She'll get to spot local wildlife. And the trees... just wait until she sees all the trees.
She'll get to walk through as many mud puddles as we can find, and turn her sweet face toward the sky so that she can feel the rain on her cheeks. Because you can bet it will rain there. She'll feel strangely cold some mornings because she only knows warm. Cold will be such a new sensation. There will be no air conditioning needed.
She will sit by a bonfire this summer and listen to songs and stories. She'll see the night sky without a haze of sand clouding the stars. She will swim in the ocean. She will go for evening drives with her grandparents who will spoil her with ice cream treats. She will get bitten by mosquitoes. She will scrape her knees while playing with her new little friends from Cadan-a. She will laugh and dance and build sand castles with the children of our childhood friends. This may be the summer that their friendships are solidified for life. She will be 'just an ordinary kid' like every other child in the restaurants we dine in. Wow.
This new planet is filled with people that love her more than she can imagine. People who will not only smile with their eyes, but their whole bodies when they get to see her again. People she will love so much more by the end of this summer.
I can't wait to take her there. I wish we could all go together. It's been a year since I have been home, to my 'planet'.  A year is too long to stay away. Two more weeks to go. It will drag on, and then strangely, I know our summer will seem to fly by.
Hopefully, this will be the only summer we won't all go together. Maybe our planets won't be so far apart next year.

 Two more weeks!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

To Rome and Beyond

Our second trip to Italy in one month. I am not complaining one bit.

The canal just outside our hotel in Rome

First stop was Rome for a few days. Fell in love with all things Roman.
Wish we'd had so much more time in the city.

Met up with our good friends who travelled to meet us from Calgary, Alberta.
We toured Ancient Rome together, enjoyed the rain and explored some of the city.

The Spanish Steps - rain couldn't keep us away!
The stone where Antony stood to
give Caesar's Funeral Speech

The next part of our adventure required a special ride...

Our "Scudo". It didn't let us down once.
We drove to the town of San Gimignano, in the heart of the Tuscan hills. Breathtaking scenery and lots of little windy roads. Our GPS only led us astray once or twice. All part of the fun!

Old Friends

wine barrel balance

Pit stop on the way to town of Volterra
From San Gimignano, we made day trips to Sienna, Florence, Poggibonsi, Volterra and Pisa. So much to take in!
Our days were filled with historic sightseeing, exploring local shops, wine tasting, vineyard and olive farm tours, and delicious food.
Squeeze a few naps in there for good measure.
Lots of rain too, but we did get a few sunny days.
(And hey, I will never complain about rain after my years in Qatar.)

deliciousness everywhere

Can one ever eat too much pasta? Yes, one can indeed. I believe we proved it by weeks end for sure.

I enjoyed the view ; )
E, with our hotel in
San Gimignano Chapel

An excellent family holiday.
So great to catch up with special friends. Italy is full of awesomeness. We'll go back for sure.
weary travellers 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Mystery of the Holey Shirts

I'm not sure how long after our arrival here that I started noticing this problem, but it wasn't long. Maybe a couple of months... weeks even.
I was only slightly annoyed at first. I would discover a tiny hole in a shirt and ponder for a moment how it may have gotten there. Then I would chalk it up to catching the material on something or a faulty stitch, and move on.
But eventually I started to notice that it wasn't just an old college t-shirt of C's (one of many that I have taken ownership of over the years) or a long standing work out shirt. I started seeing little holes appear in more and more shirts as time passed. My favorite silk blend blouse, my black short sleeve goes-perfect-with-anything top... the list kept growing.
After many months, I decide one night to mention this strange phenomenon to C. He wrinkles his brow at me. He hasn't noticed any holes in his shirts. So I dig in my closet and show him. Evidence. He takes a hard look and we discuss the possible causes. Moths? Our washing machine? Thin materials? Are there even moths in the desert? And how in the world does a moth find its way into your home/drawers/closets and selectively munch on your favorite shirts? (Clearly this was only a tiny possibility).
More research was needed. This took time and more observation was necessary.
The facts were slowly gathered:
  1. The tiny little holes were all in the exact same location on every one of my shirts. All in the front, slightly below the bellybutton area.
  2. C and E did not have any holes in any of their clothes. Not even one.
  3. None of my shirts that got holes in them shared the same fabric type nor were they purchased from the same store.
So I turned into a bit of a conspiracy theorist. I became a tad obsessed with this whole hole thing. I needed to get to the bottom of it before I went nuts. Someone or something was out to drive me crazy. And this is just the kind of thing that could drive a person to the edge, right?
I meticulously examined the insides of both our washer and dryer. I looked for any rough edge or jagged bit. C just shook his head when he walked in our laundry room and caught me with my melon inside the barrel of our washing machine, softly muttering expletives. No, the machines couldn't be the problem. Easy conclusion - how on earth could the material of only my shirts (not pants, socks, undies, etc) get caught up and torn? Had to move on from that one.
Perhaps it was the way the stores here tagged their clothes for sale? Maybe my shirts had all been victims of some pricing gun or security tag that had been placed in the same spot in each store? Maybe a national standard?  A cruel joke played on innocent female shoppers? I knew this was probably unlikely, but no stone was to be left unturned.
Next, I went to my vehicle. After thoroughly checking the lining of all seat belts in my truck, I had ruled out that I could have acquired it while driving buckled up...  sigh.
WHY was this happening?
But wait - BINGO. I had it.
(Or so I thought).
It was me! All this time and it was ME .
The light went off one morning when I was getting dressed.
I was doing this to myself. Must be it.
Self-inflicting this critical loss of clothing. Seemed unlikely, but it had to be. There was no other way.
'Thank goodness I figured this one out', I thought to myself, as I was starting to replace shirts at an alarming rate.
How had I never noticed such a thing? What kind of fool zips herself into her pants when getting dressed? A huge fool, that's who. Shame. Pure shame.
So effective immediately, my dressing habits dramatically changed.
I took great and elaborate care when dressing. No longer did I put my shirt on first (I don't know what all of you do, but I start from the top after the undies are in place). Now I was a dedicated
pants-first-putter-on-er. If *gasp*  by chance, I forgot to go pants first, I would gently roll up and tuck my shirt under my chin while I pulled up and zipped/fastened/buckled/clasped my bottoms.
My husband thought I was losing my mind. He would just stand and stare at me (and not in a sexy way) while I made my moves. He just didn't understand, as he wasn't the one being plagued by this holey demon. I was going to do what I had to do to save my precious shirts.
But, it wouldn't be a worthwhile blog post to say that was that and be done with it.
Noooo.... you know whats coming next.
The holes continued.
Mocking me with every new discovery. This was eating me alive, starting with my shirts first. What the h*ll was happening?
Then one date night, as we were both in our room getting ready, I pulled on a shirt from my closet and looked in the mirror.
Two tiny little holes with white stomach skin peeking through them like two miniature eyes staring back at me in the mirror.
Taunting me. Laughing at me.
I had had it. I stripped the shirt off me like it was on fire. I proceeded to our office in bra and skirt, ranting about the holes. There was nothing else to do, so I Googled it. Some other poor soul out there somewhere must have been tormented by this same freakish moth that only munched holes in their shirts in one certain area. I needed to find that person and get the remedy.
What lit up my screen in the following seconds made me sing with joy. There were dozens of sites about this phenomenon. Hundreds of comments. Normal people with mysterious holes. People being driven mad just like me. A wave of relief washed over me. I wasn't crazy after all. I hadn't been having geriatric episodes of zippering myself into my own pants and not remembering doing it.
I read and read and read. Several bloggers also dedicated posts to this problem... it is just THAT important.
Guess what it was?
The counters in my kitchen. (Those *&#@#er  #&^$er's.) I am basically the only cook in our family these days, and since moving here I have spent the last couple of years really embracing cooking most of our meals.  Heaps of time in our kitchen.
Everyone online had said the same thing in their comments -- they spent lots of time at a counter or table made from a material (marble, wood, or granite like ours) with a rough or unfinished underside. The contact with whatever shirt I wore with the edge of the counter must have been enough friction to cause small pulls in my shirts, which in time, became little holes.
I fly down our stairs (still half dressed) to confirm. E X A C T L Y the height of the holes in my clothes.  The underside of our counter was rough and unfinished. Wowsers. Mystery solved.

The fix, you ask?  ... An apron (which I used to forget to put on when cooking) and a conscious effort not to lean against our counters when working. I have also found that cooking with heels on (as a few sites suggested) was perfect too, except I am not the kind of girl to cook in heels, really.
Apron it is. Fixed! Eureka! This fool is a holey fool no more.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

We Came, We Saw, We Ate

We recently went on a whirlwind trip to Milan, Italy. If you remember my ramblings from last year, you will recall how I grumbled a bit from time to time about being left here in Qatar while my husband globe trotted here and there for business. It's not that I mind being alone - I really don't - I was just a little green around the gills at the places he was getting to visit that I was 'missing out on'.
(wine was not hers...
her father thought it would be a 'funny' shot)
Around our house we call that FOMO Syndrome... Fear Of Missing Out... and I get it bad sometimes.
Spring was in the air
So, when my darling C announced that he would be on a conference in Milan this March, well, you know I wasn't missing that ship when it sailed.
I promised myself that this year I would start flying with Ella again. Last year's devastating solo trip to Canada left me feeling like I wasn't going to do that again any time soon (soon = ever again). But my FOMO on Milan was greater than my air-travel-with-a-toddler fears, so we booked us some tickets. 
pizza with 'bow' was for E from the chef

C was good about it... I know he probably secretly looks forward to a couple of sleep ins, room service, and drinks after work with friends, but he was open to us tagging along, so along we tagged.

Milan was in full spring bloom when we arrived, and the weather couldn't have been more beautiful. For five days, E and I walked the streets, visited tourist attractions, shopped a little... but mostly... mostly, we ATE.

As they say, what is in the cat is in the kitten... my deep love for Italian food must have seeped into my little kitten's body sometime before birth. Everything we ate was fresh, flavorful, and delicious.
best lunch spot ever
We didn't talk much during our breakfasts and lunches together... we just sat in happy silence as we munched on scrumptious food and sloshed fresh juice.
Pure happiness served three times a day.
Dinners were better as C was with us. There were also a few friends from Doha in town, so we all had evening meals together a few times - great friends to add to the great food. Viva Milano!

And here comes Italy, Round 2 later this week. Family vacation time! I can already taste it.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Two Years In

I promised two years.
"I will go for two years and not a day more" is pretty much how I phrased it at the time.
I was eight months pregnant and C had just come home from work, sporting a sheepish smile as he asked me to sit down and 'talk' with him.
I knew something was up right away.
He blurts out something about a fantastic opportunity... a new adventure... Doha... Qatar.

I couldn't say too much right away as so many thoughts were racing around in my head I thought I might explode.

I was thinking of the perfect little nursery I had just created in our home. Imagining slowly turning it into a proper 'big' girl room as she grew.  Visualizing a little diapered bum working her way up the staircase as she learned to master the steps. Our walks to the neighbourhood park holding hands, just like I saw other moms do.  The long weekend trips home to Canada. All the friends I didn't want to say goodbye to. And the house - the house I loved from the first moment I saw it.
I had just settled here. It finally felt, after four and a half years, that this was home.
Why do we have to go now? I am comfortable here.
I moaned and cried a lot. I called my mother. I even threatened to change my mind and not go.
But time has a funny way of carrying you with it whether you like it or not, and before I knew it, our little Texan was born, we sold our house after only a few days on the market, said goodbye to our cars and most everything else, packed up our lives and prepared to begin a new chapter.
After all, C is my family. I vowed to stand by his side no matter where the spot next to him may be, geographically speaking, any given year.
He has an annoying habit of seeing the best in everything and everybody. He thought it would be great. I thought it would stink.
"Imagine the things we will get to see and do"
"So many unique experiences for E"
"Just think of the new friends you will meet"
He was the picture of optimism and some nights leading up to our move, I pondered why I hadn't married a school teacher. How was my life about to change? Change isn't fun for me unless I suggest it.
Then we got here. I was in a new-breastfeeding-mom-sleep-deprived haze. The sand blowing around me as I reluctantly explored Doha matched my mood quite well. I had a constant foggy feeling, unable to see too far in front of me. I just couldn't figure out how this new house, and this new city, were going to work for me.

But, soon enough the doorbell started ringing. Ladies who didn't wait for an invitation walked in, took E from my tired arms, and handed me lists of important phone numbers and gifts for my empty kitchen. Not the stereotypical expat wives I had imagined. Women who had been standing where I was once before. Maybe with four kids instead of one. Or maybe no kids at all. Big hearts of different ages and nationalities who remembered what it was like to start fresh, whether it's for the first time or the fifth.

So many little tasks that quickly turn in to huge ordeals in a new country, accomplished because of the kindness of strangers that were soon to be my friends. I was shown the good grocery stores, the easiest malls to drive to, and where to find decent dog food. Someone helped me subscribe to the local morning paper and someone else helped me find swimming lessons for E. I learned where to get the car oil changed and how to say thank you in Arabic. I found a good pediatrician and an okay hair salon. I was 'set up' by neighbours who invited me and other new moms to coffee dates, hoping I would meet new friends.
And, guess what? I did. The figurative sand eventually stopped swirling around my head, and I slowly began to open up to our new home. I found a routine. I became familiar.
I welcomed the smell of spices and shisha in the cobblestone alleys of the souq as I would walk around with E and find eclectic whatnots for our villa. The fine dining and the awesome hospitality. The winds from the gulf that carry heaps of dust into our house every other day. The unmerciful heat and its heaviest blanket called summer. The complicated traditions. The miles of beige. The crazy driving. Our quiet Fridays. Our Mercy. Our vacations. Our family time.

I still grumble a bit. I still get lonely for home and miss the way things used to be. I still fall into a sad place for a few days when we have had to swallow hard and miss weddings, birthdays, graduations and funerals because we just can't make it this time. I often wish our parents could see what an awesome little person E is. Like, really see her. Maybe feel her warmth as she snuggles in for a story or witness her triumph as she scrambles to the top of the monkey bars.
I guess sometimes living far away is... well, it's far away.

But like I said, C is my home. And, I hate to say it once more, but he was right, this has been quite the adventure so far.
This boxy villa is the only true home Ella has ever known. She can proudly find it all on her own as we drive up a street where every villa looks the same - she always exclaims "We're home guys!".
Yes hunny, we are.
Earlier this month, we marked two whole years here. In that time we have travelled to seven different countries on family vacations together. We have had family and friends travel from the other side of the world to visit us in this place. It has indeed been a busy two years... busy making memories.
A few downs, but lots of ups.

So, I didn't run to the airport and buy the first ticket out of here when I heard the two year buzzer ringing in my head. I'm not in much of a hurry anymore.
Soon enough, it will be time to go again.
C will come home from work one day and want to have another chat, and I will know before he says the words.
Doha has grown on me. We got off to a shaky start but we have come to understand each other more with time. We 'get' each other a bit more now.

We toasted our two year 'anniversary' at home with some good friends last week - a couple we had met in Texas on our last assignment (and are now living in Prague) who travelled to visit us for a week, and a neighbour who was my first 'real' friend in Doha (and who happened to be with us last year on the night we celebrated our 'one year' mark).
A great way to celebrate our little milestone.
C joked that night that getting me to leave Doha may be like how it was getting me to leave Texas. Digging my heels in all the way.
I'm not quite there yet, but you just never know.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Gold Plated

We are almost at the two year mark!  730 whole days and nights in Qatar. And, in the two years I've just about spent here, a significant part of that time has been taken up driving in my vehicle. Driving almost every single day.
First it was learning to drive here. Mastering the roundabouts and the other drivers.
Then it was finding my way. Getting lost over and over again. Eventually finding routes I liked and familiar landmarks. Navigating parking lots and desert detours.
Next, it was working on my patience while being honked at, passed, flashed with high beams, and cut off regularly. Recognizing good drivers from bad a mile away (literally), and carrying on with my errand(s) safely and calmly.
I am guessing I spend an hour a day in my car. Sometimes more. Minus some vacation days and whatnot and we're still talking hundreds of clocked hours behind the wheel.
Plenty of time to notice the numbers.
License Plate Numbers.
The digits on the State of Qatar license plates carry with them status that the plain old plates back home could only dream of. These babies earn a few ooohs and ahhhs as they adorn the backs of their rides. They are nothing special to look at - just rectangular metal plates painted black and white (the new ones have the inverted State flag too), with numbers recorded in both English and Arabic.
I shall explain...

'average' plate number
When we first arrived in our new home, C's company had arranged for a greeting service to come collect E and I and show us around a bit. The lady who ferried us to and fro for a few days was the first one to point out licence plates here and explain a bit about them. She had said that the numbers, much like in other countries, were randomly generated and assigned, but the smaller the number, the more valuable the plate, and thus highly sought after.
For example, if your vehicle is sporting a 245 as its plate number, it would be worth loads of cash compared to a lowly 365498 (close to my own plate), which would be worth a big fat 0.
I have heard a few different stories about the meaning behind certain plate numbers.
My (now former) neighbour had insisted that the small numbers were reserved for those who were direct relatives of the Emir. I pondered this for a while, because you never see a Ford Pinto bombing around with a 36 on it's tail. Rather, it is the super luxury vehicles that sport the smallest numerals. And who can buy the best of the best in automobiles? The very rich and the odd lottery winner... but since gambling is prohibited here,  we're left with just the wealthy ones.
pretty special
Eventually, I mustered up the courage to ask a few Qatari acquaintances (thank you to Mohamed, Abdulla and Ahmed) about the license numbers so I could gather some cold hard facts.
Was that really a royal Sheikha in Jimmy Choos, driving '4477', that just helped herself to my parking spot in this mall lot? Couldn't be. Could it?

How one arrives at the exact value of a certain plate isn't perfectly clear to me, but it all boils down to good ol' supply and demand, and a whole lot of extra dough.
Basically, the plate numbers are randomly generated and assigned by the appropriate government ministry. At some point along the way, people started wanting smaller numbers (those closer to the digit '1'), and so they began to offer to pay for them. Plates here are legally registered to an owner seperate from the vehicle, and can be sold and registered to a new owner (and that new owners vehicle) pretty easily.
Plate number value depends on a few things.
First, the smaller the number, the higher the price. But if the number sequence is a cool one, or better yet, one with some significance, the price shoots up.
  • C recently saw a '974' plate while in traffic. This happens to be the country code for Qatar. Cool factor is way high here. Price would be way high too.
  • If the number is repetitive or in a neat sequence, it renders a fair price... like 262626. Even though it's 6 digits long, it's different... and errr...nice to look at? Numbers like 777 or 4321 would also drive the price up. Waay up.
  • Three digit plate numbers can start around 300,000QAR and go up to 1,000,000QAR (82,00USD - 275,000USD), depending on how 'special' they are. So, 333 would be much more than 825.
Check out this site for some current Qatar plates for sale, and to get an idea of what the asking prices start at:

very impressive
I joked while chatting with a local aquaintance who said he aims to purchase a three digit plate for his truck, that he may have to upgrade his truck to be worthy of such a plate. His answer went something like this:
"Well if I have a Land Cruiser worth 250000QAR, and I purchase a three or four digit plate at, 1,500,000QAR, then my car is now worth a total of 1,750,000QAR (almost 500,000USD). The whole package is impressive now. It's kind of like investing your money. The value of the vehicle may go down with time, but the plate will only get more valuable."
Hmm? I then argued that maybe folks in these parts may lose interest in spending loads of loot on a small piece of hammered tin. Then what? He replied that families here that can afford these types of plates do look at it like a sort of investment. They can keep those numbers in the family and pass them on. The value grows.

stop and stare
I brazenly questioned the 'show off' factor to all this. I mean, come on. I can think of a hundred ways to spend wads of cash. Buying a funky license plate number so the guy stuck behind me on his way to work can see it, isn't one of them. Each time I mentioned this component to my local informants, I was met with smiles. Of course. It's always nice to be noticed.

Things are different here. Status and prestige are big things. Really big things for some. A local man last year reportedly spent almost $4,000,000 USD on a coveted plate number. Four. Million. Dollars.
The plate he purchased was "55555". Five 5's. Wowsers.

Just like my little obsession with Ghutra styles, I now watch for 'good' plate numbers where ever we go. We have spotted some impressive ones. It's a solid distraction when the tension of Thursday night traffic starts creeping in to our car.
What do you think? If you had money to burn, would this be how you would burn it?

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Christmas #2 in Doha

This year, for the second year in a row, we decided to stay in Doha for Christmas.
Last year, it was an easy call to stay put, as we had visitors, and visitors make all the difference during the holidays. They bring the festive with them when they arrive.
This year though, it was just us. Most of our neighbours cleared out to spend the holidays at home with their family and friends. Some went on vacation in search of snowy mountains or boozy beaches. We were one of the few families staying here.
Happily saddled with neighbourly tasks of watering plants and feeding cats. A staycation for us that we were actually really looking forward to. It seemed ages since we had family time where we weren't frantically stuffing our suitcases and heading to the airport on some long haul flight.
So I did the usual things - decorated house, put tree up, sought out a decent Butterball, blah blah... everything was in place to have a great little time here with C and E.
But those old feelings started creeping over me early in December...

Longing to be home.
Wishing for snow and non-stop Christmas music on the radio.
Wanting to hug my parents and clink glasses with old friends.
Missing our old family decorations that I foolishly forgot to include in our shipment when we moved here.
Yearning for pink cheeks, and snow crunching under my boots, and recognizing just about everyone at midnight mass on Christmas Eve. Hugs and smiles everywhere.
Dying for that contented bundled-up-by-the-fireplace-with-a-blanket-and-a-good-book kind of feeling.
You get my drift.

So boo hoo hoo. I was away from home over the holidays and started feeling a little sorry for myself.
I trudged through the malls (that were void of any holiday cheer and decoration), never finding quite what I was looking for, growling about the driving, the line ups and the complete lack of holiday spirit.

This lasted a few long days (long and painful days, if you ask C).

Then I stopped my silliness. I gave myself a very strong figurative kick in the a**, and told myself to smarten up.
I am here in this place by choice. I live a very blessed life. One that allows me to stay home every day with my daughter. One that brings sunshine through my window every single morning when I wake up.  One that has given us a very special and eclectic group of friends from all over the world. This IS our home.  What matters most is that we do what we can here to make our holiday special.
So I got out a pen and paper and I made a list. What would make us feel better about being here over the holidays? The bigger picture.

This is what I came up with:

- Every day, do one thing to make a difference to someone else.

And that is what we did. No huge 'change the world' gestures, but several small, really nice ones. And boy, did it feel good.
What Christmas should feel like on the inside. 'Tis the Season, after all.

The Highlights: The week leading up to Christmas, I became a baking machine. My oven only shut off when I went to bed at night. No joke.  Chocolate swirl banana loaf,  a multitude of shortbread and sugar cookies, fudge brownies and peanut brittle. I bought cookie tins and cake boxes and made each package festive. No matter the religion of my recipients. I was sweating it out in the kitchen to get a few smiles (albeit some toothless ones) from the people who work very hard to make our compound a home. Each gardener, carpenter, electrician, painter and security guard that we have come to know in our almost two years here got a baked gift. I handed them out my kitchen window as the workers walked by or I called them each to the house if I knew which shift they were working. C came home twice to different Kenyan security guards having a glass of milk and some cookies in our kitchen while we waited for a fresh batch to come out of the oven. We both smiled as we scrolled through pictures of  wives and kids on their mobile phones. The people they missed. What mattered to them.

After I shut the oven off, we moved on to another little project. We were going to buy some Christmas Eve lunch for some people who might enjoy a free treat. A kind gesture on a special day for us.
First stop was a local fast food chain, where we loaded up over a dozen meals into bags. Second stop - the underground parking lot of a local mall. The parking lots here are often filled with workers in bright orange coveralls, stationed every fifty feet or so, asking to wash your car while you shop, for about 10qar (under 3 bucks). What I have noticed about these guys (as I do tend to park in these lots often) is that they never seem very happy, and, they are all pretty skinny. Today lunch is on us, boys.
It took us all of five minutes to hand out the meals. We even got a few mumbles of "Thank you, Merry Christmas".  Just a small treat on what is probably a long day for them, but I swear even Ella was smiling as we drove away. We were really getting in to the spirit of things now.
That same day, we gave three big bags of E's gently used toys to a waiter in our favorite lunch spot. We knew he had three kids, and we also knew that Ella had more toys than she could ever play with. He was very happy to have them and she hasn't even noticed them gone. Worked out well for both parties.
C, loving on some puppies from QAWS
We paused from our little mission to give Ella a great Christmas Day. And we did have a great day.
We played, we laughed, we ate, we Skyped, we napped. Santa indeed found us!

Our last planned make-a-difference-this-Christmas activity came yesterday. This one holds a special place in my heart.
We arrived at a local animal shelter, which basically consisted of some makeshift kennel trailers strung together on a large piece of farm land on the outskirts of town, headed up by some volunteers with super huge hearts and heaps of dedication. They have over 100 animals they have to feed, walk, and care for every day.
We spent the afternoon walking different dogs and puppies out around the farm land. Talk about rewarding. We stayed till the sun went down. Ella cried half way home asking to "go walk more puppies". C wants to go back too. We may make it a regular family activity in 2012.

All in all, a really great Christmas.
No huge resolutions for me this new year... just going to try and stay focused on what matters most. It was nice to be reminded that the easiest way to make yourself happy is to do something nice for someone else. I highly recommend it - it worked like a charm for us.
Happy 2012, everyone!