Saturday, September 13, 2014

Aaaaaaand... We're Back

"How many stars can you see in the sky?"
"I see one over there. Oh, there's another..... and there's one more."
Three. We counted three stars in the hazy, light-polluted night sky.
"Okay, girls. Your cheeks are flushing too much. We're going to have to get out of the pool soon. We'll be able to swim longer in a few weeks, when the temperatures start cooling down."

We had been back in Qatar for just a few days. Less than a week earlier, we had been staying at my sister's in Canada, where each night we would sit outside in front of a campfire, leaning back, craning our necks to see hundreds, thousands of stars, even shooting stars. And the pool? It had been a cool summer, and the pool was far too cold for wimps like me. Instead of flushed cheeks, we had been watching for goose-bumpy skin and blue lips. "Time to get out... you need to get yourself warmed up."

The contrasts between our two homes never fail to amaze me.

And yet, for the first time, I don't feel the lump in my throat and the pit in my stomach as we return to our lives here in Qatar. Year 4. Yes, we had another fantastic, fun-filled summer back in Canada, but for the first time, a part of me felt eager to get back to home. Home's a funny concept when you're an expat. Where are you from? Where do you live? Where are you headed? This summer I longed for home, unsure exactly of where that was. But for now it's here, and yes, strangely, I am very glad to be back.

We are full of optimism this year. Gone is the awkward stage of settling in. Our systems are in place. Kaiya is in her third year at Compass, Izzy is taken care of by our nanny. We know our way around town, the places to avoid during high times of traffic, the places of escape when we need to escape. We have cars, a home full of homey-ness, friends to call on when we're in need.

Gone too is the long, ugly stage of culture shock we endured. A stage that was made trickier with the addition of post-partum and heavy back-to-work blues last year. Anxiety here was far too high for far too long.

We feel relaxed, clear, focused on our goals. Incredibly thankful for the friends we have made here; friends who help make life feel so full. It's been so great to reconnect.

Year 4. I don't consider myself a "long-timer," especially when compared to folks I know from the college who have been working here far, far longer than I, but often now when I meet fresh-faced newbies, they grow wide-eyed when I tell them it's year 4. "Wow... you've been here so long...." I promise you folks, all of you dealing with the many headaches, frustrations, and anxieties that come with living abroad, and that particularly come with living here... it does get better. Meet good people, be honest in the struggle, keep your goals in mind, and get regular breaks. At some point you too will "cross that line" and it will somehow, magically become better.

But if it doesn't.... be honest in the struggle and know when to cut and run! It ain't for everyone. And while I may sound like a super-chilled Pollyanna, let's just say that it's much easier to be in Year 4 of a five-year plan than it was to be in Year 3. Somethin' about that hump year....

And so here we go! I am hoping to write a little more often again, but I'm a full-time working momma... who is also planning on taking an online course this year. The intentions are good, but the actual results may be a bit wanting. :p

Here's to a good year!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Thank you.

In another hour, we'll be off. Jeff is sealing up the last bag, baby is napping, elder sister is watching the first of many hours of TV. Soon we'll be embarking on our 24-or-so hours of travel. Thankfully, we all slept well last night. Here's hoping we all catch a few zzzs on the plane, too.

It was a different summer this time around. Many of our conversations revolved around next steps, even if those steps might yet be two years away. I found it harder to settle in this summer and found myself a little more anxious and a little less excited. Tired of the transient nature of our lives.

And yet, it was still another fabulous summer full of good conversation, lots of loving, and gorgeous expanses of sweet nature. And any remaining angst I may have been carrying slipped away during our last two weeks spent here:



Days spent jumping on the trampoline, walking through the green, green grass, and lounging under the trees while the kids sat in the swing and sandbox. And evenings spent in the hot tub and around the fire, talking about everything and nothing with those we love. We return to Qatar with clothes smelling like smokey campfire... one of my favourite summer smells!

Thank you to family and friends who made the summer memorable. It's never long enough, is it? But I think we made it good. We'll see you in ten months.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Souq Waqif through Photos

I haven't got a lot in me tonight. For various reasons, I've come a bit to the end of myself, and I'm looking very much forward to a week of lessened work, followed by a week off. A week in which a good friend from Canada will be visiting, and we'll be spoiled with treats and love from home.

This past week, in celebration of Jeff's week off and my last day of winter term classes, we took a night to ourselves at the souq. So while I may be short on words tonight, I'll more than make up for it with Jeff's beautiful photos.
Food being sold near the carpark

Always so many bright and colourful dresses and fabrics

A hamali carting away someone's goods

Shopkeepers

Policemen on their horses

A glimpse of the main drag

A construction working renovating one of the main restaurants

We meandered around, looking for the Italian restaurant.

Inside the Souq Waqif Art Center

By far my favourite photo of the night

An artist working just outside the Souq Waqif Art Center

A woman applying traditional henna

A man repairing watches

Women selling all manner of goods

And finally, a tip: if you want a taste of amazing, authentic Italian food, head straight over to La Dolce Vita. It's run by an Italian family, and we had the pleasure of meeting the mom and pop who run the place this visit. You'll have to look for it, as it's tucked in behind the Souq Waqif Art Gallery. It's more than worth it. Make sure you save room for some gelato for dessert. We tried the chocolate and sour cherry, and they were both amazing.

That's all for tonight. Good night and good weekend to you all!

Monday, March 31, 2014

The Singing Sand Dunes ... Al Kharrara

A couple of weeks ago, when we were at the QF clubhouse, a woman from New Zealand approached me and excitedly told me she had found our blog while looking into moving to Qatar about a year and a half ago. She even had a favourite post. And she even had passed on our blog to a friend of hers, who was also now living in Qatar. For 5 minutes I felt like a rock star. And I told myself I would write more often, because -YAY - there are people (other than my family) out there reading, and I might actually be making a difference, or informing them... or something.

And then I just went on with my week.

Because life's been like that for the past few months. We've just had our heads down. We've just been working. And what precious little energy we have had left has been going into our girls, and the occasional email home. Because work and children are a lot more do-able when you go to bed every night at 9. Not very exciting or glamorous, no, but definitely less headache-inducing.

But there comes a time to get out of the rut and - most definitely - to get out of Doha. So this weekend, we found ourselves going back to a favourite place... the Singing Sand Dunes.


Each time we go, we are offered a new experience. This time our friend Liz came along with us (and took many of these wonderful pictures). At first, we were disappointed to find our usual spot strewn with litter. So we decided to check out the dune "next door"... much higher than our usual spot. It ended up being a good choice. While us girls started the steep climb up, Jeff decided to check out the sand down below, deciding whether he would dare to drive up part way.


We watched as he tested the sand with the Pathfinder, circling on and then off, on and then off again. I started to think he wasn't going to do it when I noticed this Landcruiser on the dune above us. It looked as though father and son were watching Jeff, and we waited, wondering what they might do. Sure enough, after a few minutes they drove down to Jeff, hopping out of their vehicle to speak with him, thumping their fists on his tires to guess at their pressure. "Twenty, good. Thirty, okay." He knelt down to release some pressure from the back tires. And then, with hand gestures indicating that Jeff should follow, father and son hopped back into the Landcruiser, and gunned it up the dune, with Jeff close behind. At the top, the father hopped back out, indicating to Jeff that he should park facing down the dune, to avoid getting stuck later.

Our first dune-bashing lesson, Qatari-style. Love it.



The family got out of their Landcruiser and we all said "Salaam," with the children handing us bags of chips and drinks. Without knowing it, this family was guiding me through my latest bout of culture shock, helping me remember the kindness and desert hospitality of the Qatari people.

We picnicked in the shade of our truck. And we hiked up the rest of the dune, huffing and puffing, and yes, sliding all the way down just to walk back up. We watched our desert "hosts" as they too enjoyed the dune, driving up and down, and getting out to admire the view and run down, too.


Baby Izzy was not fond of the sand and was happiest either on daddy's shoulders...


... or sitting on the mat playing and eating.


Kaiya, however, was once again fully in her element. One giant sandbox, I tell you. And she loved showing off the dunes to our guest, Simon, her class' teddy bear.


Funny enough, at one point, our hosts got their own Landcruiser stuck, giving us another chance to see desert culture in action. Within a few minutes, three men from another party far off at another dune had joined Jeff to help the family extract their vehicle. They used the wood we had planned to use for our fire to dig out all four wheels. And then they all pushed and lifted, till the vehicle was free. The picture below is Jeff in the aftermath. You could say he was a little tired. Liz likes to call this picture "Jeff of Arabia."


We stayed till sunset, enjoying the gorgeous views, and the way the sand gained a pinkish glow in the setting sun. Then, realizing we were the last ones left, we gunned it back down the dune, all of us nervously praying we wouldn't get stuck while Izzy squealed and flapped her arms in joy.

I'm still carrying the happiness of that desert encounter with me today. Truly, to know this country and its people, you really do have to get the heck out of Doha and head for the dunes. I'm glad we did.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Today ... and more geocaching

It's Thursday.

While Jeff took Kaiya to her Playfit class, Izzy and I blasted Ed Sheeran, spinning and whirling, turning our Thursday afternoon into an impromptu dance session.

Later, as we finished our dinner, the tapping and ringing of my wine glass prompted Jeff to pull out the singing bowl he bought me in Nepal, and as he got it whirring, Kaiya and I sang and hummed along, the air resonating with that one perfect note.

Then, thunder - glorious thunder! - cracked outside and we all rushed out to big, fat raindrops pouring out of the sky. Such a welcome release after a hot, hazy day of blowing sand and dust. There we stood in the dark, chatting with neighbours while kids crowded out of villas, running onto the street, screaming and singing and zig-zagging their way up and down, chanting, "It's raining, it's pouring, the old man is snoring..." Our neighbour from New Zealand smiled and muttered. "We all come out for the rain. What a crazy country."

And five minutes later it was done.

***

I have realized this year that the hardest part of this expat life -for me- is having my heart firmly stuck in two separate places. I always know what time it is, both here and there. I cheer Izzy on as she practices standing, and then wish everyone back home were here to see it. I listen to a friend from home as she shares her struggles, and wish I were there to hug her and share a cup of tea. I walk with Kaiya through both the joys and struggles of school, and long for her to be surrounded by the support of the people who have known and loved her since her birth. I learn about a new food co-op that has the potential for such positive impact on my old community, and my heart is there, alongside the amazing people putting it together, hoping for its success.

While part of me enjoys the complexity and the tension of this expat life, another part of me is ready to chuck it - and social media - out the window. I'm tired of connecting through Facebook. I want to be in your living room. Got it?

But right now, here we are. And two and a half years into this gig, we are finding our groove. Even in the midst of this transient world, we have found our community. Neighbours, from all around the world, who have become friends to us, as day after day we watch our kids play together in the street. It all may change so quickly. Someone may suddenly decide it's time to move to another post, or back home. But for now, it is our community.

***

And for now, while snow continues to blast our other home, we enjoy the sun and warmth that our Qatari home brings.

We went geocaching again last weekend, to two different sites. And while we only found one of the caches, we made many other sweet discoveries. Camel bones, a beach palace, and the amazing peace and quiet of a deserted beach.

She just won't keep hats on! Time for a velcro strap.

The first site, in Simaisma. We didn't find it, but we DID find...

Camel bones! For real! Jeff and Kaiya snuck home a toe-bone without telling me. :)

Look at those teeth!

Our second cache was by this crazy palace.

The tide was waaaaay out. Oh, glorious silence.

Good night, friends, both near and far. I hope you all have a good weekend.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Friday Outing: 2nd Chance Rescue

So far, 2014 has been lovely. I've taken to using that word a lot. I don't know if it's the influence of all the British English around me here, but I find it's a pretty fitting adjective these days. The winter weather has been cool, often rainy, and unexpectedly long. And after a difficult fall that had us regularly questioning our proposed 5-year timeline, I am thankful for the simplicity life has taken on. I can't explain it, but I know it all came together January 1st. Suddenly, I stopped thinking about the fact that we are living life in Qatar, and I gently eased into the enjoyment of simply living life. Jeff and I don't work at schools in Qatar; we just work at schools. Schools that have their ups and downs and that carry the same stresses of schools around the world. Kaiya no longer attends an international school in Qatar; she just goes to school like any other six-year old, zestfully enjoying the friendships and activities school life brings. I guess the buck (riyal?) stops with Izzy though. She most definitely was born in Qatar. And that fact will follow her and her passport for the rest of her life, good or bad.

I remember in the fall when I was out with a group of women, and someone told us, "You might be thinking about the pros and cons of raising your child here, but for your child, this is it. This is the childhood they are enjoying, the childhood they will fondly remember." And it's true. I may have my North American ideals of children playing in *green* nature, surrounded by trees, grass, rivers, and fields. But all over the world, children play and imagine and create in varying landscapes, in deserts, yes, even amongst piles of rock and rubble. And when I look at life here through Kaiya's eyes, it is nothing short of amazing, exciting, and fun. This is her childhood, and she is loving it.

***

Last Friday, we tried a new adventure. A friend had told me about a Qatari farm that hosts the dogs and cats of 2nd Chance Rescue. Every Friday, from 2:30pm, the public is welcome to come help walk the dogs while enjoying the beauty and nature of a Qatari farm. Can it get any better? A perfect combination of nature, dogs, walking... and free.

Gorgeous tree-lined path

We walked two dogs in our time there, but I have heard of people walking twenty or more dogs in one afternoon. It is completely up to you. Dog walking was a bit tricky with a very excited 6-year old who wanted the dogs to sit, fetch, and come... all at the same time. But we managed alright. Baby Izzy hung out with photog dad in the backpack, kicking her legs and flapping her arms most of the time.

The second dog we walked

While we see a dog in our future, we don't believe it will happen during our time in Qatar. We travel a lot, and life is very busy with both Jeff and I working.

One of the horses on the farm

The farm is a beautiful place to walk. We saw horses, goats, pigeons, sheep, and of course, a whole lot of dogs. But for me, the trees were the best part. Lovely (there's that word again) green trees.

Fantastic views

2nd Chance Rescue is "open" for dog walking Sundays through Thursdays, 8-11am and Fridays from 2:30. They aim to provide forever homes for their rescue dogs. If you would like more information, including a map to the farm, you can go to their Facebook page 2ndchancerescueqatar.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Welcoming the Weekend ... Katara

It's the end of a good week. Jeff has been home, enjoying a two-week holiday, getting caught up on work, and with him home, I've been enjoying having a little more space to breathe. And so, today was a good day to get out in the afternoon and enjoy the warming weather. This week we've noticed a definite shift in temps. The space heaters have been put away again, and the afternoon sun has been soothing and warm. I was craving a few hours out instead of being cooped up in our darkening villa.

We hadn't been to Katara for a long time, so we headed down, through all the road construction, thankfully easily finding our way. And Katara did not disappoint! It was hopping with people and action, since it happened to be the first day of the Leshtah festival. To be honest, I'm not entirely sure what the Leshtah festival is about, or what makes it different than the other festivals. When I dropped "leshtah" into Google translate, it gave me "for their health." Hm. No matter. It was a good excuse to get outside and welcome the weekend.


Kids can draw a picture and enter the colouring contest. Kaiya chose to draw a rainbow with a pot of gold at the end.


Katara has a lot of fantastic restaurants, but today we opted to just go to L'wzaar's fish and chip stand, and eat it on the steps of the amphitheater.


Kaiya ran to the guy with the falcon, but then completely shied away from touching it. She told me later she was too nervous. Still a cool experience though!


There were people working on and displaying different handicrafts. One man was weaving together these beautiful baskets.


And here, another man is constructing these miniature dhows.


And here, a man is carving intricate patterns into gypsum. Many of these handicrafts are sold at Souq Waqif. We have our own carved piece sitting on a shelf in our home.

Our weekend plans include yet another birthday party (our main form of socializing these days!) and hopefully more outdoor time. Hope everyone has a nice weekend!