Monday, December 13, 2010

Deck the Halls with Boughs of Locusts

For the last 16 years, we have been in possession of an artificial Christmas tree.  The first year we were married, we lived in an apartment in downtown Calgary.  Fire regulations dictated that real trees were not allowed, and so we purchased an artificial one from the Hudson's Bay Company, along with a complete set of decorations.  This tree served us well in our next home, too, as we moved to Norman Wells, NWT, and trees at that latitude were about 100 years old and four feet tall, and probably illegal to cut down.

A few years ago, we started buying real trees for our home in Calgary, and I swore we would never go back.  We always set up the old artificial in the basement for the kids to decorate, but there was nothing better than the smell of a Balsam fir in the house.

So now, here we are in Doha, and the need for an artificial tree has never been greater.  We noticed an online ad recently, selling real trees here - with only 44 available!  Thankfully, we had thought ahead and had our artificial sent with our sea shipment.

Our trusty tree has been in a Rubbermaid container in our tent-shed for the last two months.  On Saturday morning, I decided it was time to at least set it up.  I took out its three large parts and set them on our living room floor.

A couple of hours later, I thought I would assemble it.  Upon lifting one base of branches up, I noticed something scurry out from under it.  I dropped the branches to the floor, and suddenly several other creatures tore across the tile.  The scene quickly became reminiscent of the ant scene from Indiana Jones and The Crystal Skull, only instead of ants, the bugs were amber coloured beetle-type things, measuring about half an inch long with antennae growing out of their ugly, vile heads.  Naturally, I handled it with grace.  I stood, paralyzed, waiting for the hordes to carry me off to their sandy lair.  Then I snapped out of it, screamed like a girl and ran into the kitchen.  Ever the gentleman, Dan bee-lined for the living room and swatted as many as he could with his sandal.  Too grossed out to stick around, I ran out the front door to await Dan's control over the situation.

Dan brought the tree, in pieces, outside, where it could undergo some pest control.  This consisted of us lifting up the branches and then squashing each little weaselly disgusting creature that ran from its hiding place.

Three days later, the tree is now up and fully decorated.  This is no small feat considering I had to first get my nerve up, and second, stand outside and check every box in every bin of decorations for evidence of more vermin.  After much anticipation, the kids decorated the tree after school today.  I only hope they checked their stockings for geckos.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow, for Pete's sake

It's a beautiful sunny day in Doha, with a temperature of 26 degrees Celsius.  I'm sitting outside in capris and sandals.  It is November 29.

Rumour has it that Christmas is approaching, but I have barely any reason to suspect it.  If it wasn't for the Seasonal section at Carrefour with its abundance of artificial Christmas trees and coloured balls, I'd swear that either someone with the store was a little too eager, or it was still August.

Forty-plus years on Canadian soil have conditioned me to have an almost Pavlovian response to the seasons and the weather associated with them.  Let's review:

Early Spring:  Snow begins to melt, and crocuses pop up.  This is my cue to register the kids for soccer, buy bedding plants, and dig out the flip-flops.  Those among us who are organized get their winter tires taken off.
Late Spring:  Snow from the second big spring snowstorm begins to melt.  This is my cue to plan make-up games for snowed-out soccer games, purchase more bedding plants to replace the dead ones, and throw the damn winter boots back in the closet for the third time.  Some of us will finally get our winter tires off, claiming foresight instead of procrastination.
Summer:  Sunny and warm most of the time, unless you've elected to stay in Calgary.  This is my cue to make travel plans, BBQ every day and have as many Starbucks Frappuccinos as I can shamelessly consume.  Late in the season, I'll get the kids to try on hockey equipment, and start purchasing school supplies.
Early Fall:  Sunny and warm ALL of the time, now that you've used up all your vacation days and the kids are back in school.  This is my cue to watch copious amounts of professional and minor hockey, buy some new sweaters, and turn on the furnace.
Late Fall:  Snowy and cold enough to freeze the bananas off a brass monkey (it's a family blog, folks).  This is my cue to make cards, bake 22 pounds of cookies for freezing, and start Christmas shopping.

According to the schedule, I should be knee-deep in fancy ribbon and coloured sugar right now.  I should also have purchased 90 per cent of the presents.  Instead, I'm a captive of my own inertia, following the steady sandal-wearing, Starbucks-drinking cues I've been following for years.  After four months of living here in current conditions, I need to ease up on the school-supply purchases.  Also, the kids are threatening to snap if I make them try on their shoulder pads one more time.

So, for those of you experiencing the familiarity of a true pre-Christmas clime, I say revel in it.  Enjoy the feeling of snow melting at the top of your socks inside your boots after shovelling for the third time on a given day.  Relax while you sit in your car for 15 minutes waiting for it to warm up before making your move into traffic.  And then, make yourself a cup of hot chocolate, put on some Christmas music and take comfort in the fact that you have completed all of your holiday preparations.  As for me, I'd better get on it.  And I promise I will.  Right after I get back from lunch on the patio.

*Blogger's note:  As always, I welcome all comments, with the exception of those of an irate nature, particularly from frost-bitten Canadians.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


Holiday in Oman

Day 1 - Gee, I Hope I Packed My Banquet Pants...
Breakfast of Champions for Ben:  pancakes with chocolate syrup followed by a chocolate milk chaser and a sugar donut for dessert.  Morning at the pool, including 20-minute trips down The Lazy River followed by more pool, beach and giant chess for the boys, while I went to the spaaahhhhh.  Or so I'm told.  I have the bill to prove it, but I believe I was unconscious for most of it.

Day 2  - Finding Nemo
Snorkelling trip this morning, which involved a speed boat trip to a secluded bay in the Gulf of Oman.  Saw some neat coral, sea anemone, stripey fish and leopard-spotted eels.  Kids did brilliantly, and a couple of them may have lasted even longer if the ocean wasn't made of (surprise!) salt water.  Sadly, alcohol will not be served at the hotel for the next 36 hours, in observance of the Muslim Eid Al Adha religious occasion, confirming that no matter how hard we try, we can't outrun the long arm of Islamic law.  Buffet will be the end of us all, prompting Dan to declare that desserts will now be limited to breakfast and dinners only.

Day 3 - Inshallah All the Way, Baby
Best. Day. Ever.  Hired a local Omani guide to drive us three hours to the desert.  Ali was a great guy with a big heart, four kids, and a complete disregard for the posted speed limit.  Partook in unscheduled/complimentary dune-bashing, then visited a Bedouin family in their home, where we were served dates and coffee.  Camel rides followed with their young sons guiding.  After, we stopped at a wadi (oasis) for lunch and a swim.  Convinced of our imminent death on the return trip in the backseat of Ali's Prado, we were  delighted to return to the hotel in one piece.  Room service and mini-bar upon our return helped to take the edge off.
Dune Bashing - video (These take a few minutes to buffer)
Camel Riding - video

Day 4 - Mom, Can I Keep Him?
Rough seas postponed our plans to waterski.  Kids spent the day in the pool, wave-jumping, giant chess, and making 76 trips down The Lazy River, newly renamed The Lemoing Competitive Swim and Extreme Tubing River.  Ben has developed a serious camel obsession, and visits/rides the camels-for-hire on the beach daily.  Potential crisis tonight at dinner when Nick had to wait two and a half minutes while NO ONE WAS MANNING THE COTTON CANDY MACHINE.  And they call themselves a five star hotel.
Camel Riding on the Beach - video

Days 5 and 6 - Up He Goes!
Nick and Jacob tried water-skiing for the first time, while Ben was only a fraction of an ounce short of the gumption required.  Nick went first and had success on his fourth try, making his parents very proud.  Unfortunately he swallowed half the ocean, leaving little for Jacob to float in when it came time for his attempts.  Parents and kids have ceased frequenting the same restaurants at dinner, sealing mine and Dan's expulsion from the cool crowd.
Nick Water-Skiing - video

Day 7 - So Long, Shangri'la
Hotel speed-boat driver now knows, without asking, our name and room number.  Our Banana-boat ride for five started out at Mom-speed but slowly accelerated until we landed in the drink.  Several times.  Which apparently is the point of it, as demonstrated by Jacob's increased enjoyment with each repeated dunking.  Family kayaking ensued until we ran out of rowing songs.  One last chess game, with Ben crushing Dan, and then off to our evening flight to Doha. Ah yes, a plane ride.  And me without my Ativan.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Decorating for Dromedaries

Of the many experiences I expected to have while living in Qatar, a most unlikely one was made available to me last week that I had never previously considered.  Through the magic and generosity of the company social club, I was able to participate in a Camel Decorating Class.  Yes, you're reading that right.  Those of you who know me well can attest to the fact that I'm just not creative enough to make this stuff up.  Plus, I've got the photos to prove it.  Be forewarned that my self-appointed Editor-in-Residence questioned whether I had a enough material to write a whole blog on the subject.  But, since our marriage is mostly based on competition, rivalry, and a series of "I-told-you-so's", I'd be remiss if I didn't give it a try.  Just skip through all the gratuitous anecdotes that don't pertain to the subject.  Plus, I can stretch it out longer when I use words like 'gratuitous' and 'anecdote'.

How hard could it be? I thought.  A glue gun, some scissors and a naked camel as my canvas, and I expected to be done well within the four-hour time period allotted to us.  However, three and a half hours later, with fingers scarred from hot glue, sweat dripping from my brow, and my left eye twitching uncontrollably, I was finally able to declare my camel suitably outfitted for an Arabian night on the town, a casual lunch at the souqs, or a life-long existence on the corner table in my dining room.

Lucia, the Committee Chair of Camel Bling, spent a lot of time at the souqs finding just the right items to decorate our camels, and she did a great job.  Each of the 12 participants was given a bag filled with tiny wicker baskets, brass jewellery boxes, beads, coins, carpets and buttons.  There was also a table with items to share, such as nutmeg, ribbon, cinnamon sticks and frankincense (yes, real frankincense!).  It's unclear what my camel's religious persuasion was before the makeover, but he has apparently converted to Islam as he now sports a tiny gold-coloured Qur'an.

Not wanting our camels to be uncomfortable, we each put a small woven blanket over their backs, which would serve as a 'saddle', to which we glued all the other items.  But first, each tiny vessel (basket, vase, box) needed to be filled with even tinier things (pearls, coins, seeds), and each of those things had to be glued in place.  Now, in the event of a freak camel mishap, the goods are going to be secure.  Then, wielding our glue guns, we attached all the baskets, etc. to the blanket.  Now I think the only thing he needs to make him look like the genuine article is a set of false eyelashes.  Shopper's Drugmart Online, here I come!

The Camel Naming Contest is now open, and I welcome your suggestions.  The kids have already named him Iowa (don't ask, it just sounds cool when you say it the way they do).  Personally, I like the name that Dan and I came up with after a miscommunication between us, like a game of Telephone gone bad (or good, depending on your perspective):  Mike Hamel.  If this doesn't do it for you, try saying it three times fast.  Sort of looks like a Mike, don't you think?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Game, Set, Match

Yesterday I became The Accidental Tennis Fan.

Doha is again hosting the WTA, or Women's Tennis Association, tour.  The top-ranked women tennis players in the world congregate in Doha for this competition, with names like Caroline Wozniacki, Kim Clijsters, and Vera Zvonareva making an appearance.  Now, to be perfectly honest, the only two tennis names I recognize on a good day are Serena and Venus Williams, and since they are both injured and not competing, I thought we'd take a pass on attending any games.  But when Nicholas had an opportunity to go to a match with his Grade 7 class on Tuesday evening, he jumped at the chance.

A kid with as much good karma as Nicholas doesn't just get to go to a world-class tennis match for free and hang out with his friends; he catches one of three balls lobbed into the crowd by the winner.  And as luck would have it, his ball was not only autographed, but bore the word "Phone".  Following the Dohaesque (read "unclear; ambiguous; vague") instructions by the announcer, this lead him and his group to come to the conclusion that he had won a cell phone.  Despite his teacher's best efforts, they could find no one with qualifications above Clueless when it came to finding someone who could provide him with the alleged prize.

Knowing that this shrugging of shoulders in ignorance is a Doha phenomenon, Nick's teacher suggested that if we were to ask someone else on a different night, we would very likely get a different answer.

Last night we had a meeting to attend at the school, and afterwards decided, ball in hand, to go to the tennis Stadium and see what we could shake loose, so to speak.  As predicted, when we told the men at the gate our situation, we were ushered into the mall area and shown to the Sony Ericsson booth.  Still not exactly right, but two booths later we found our man.  He said that all prizes were given out after the third match.  Expecting it to be over by 10 pm, we purchased tickets and found our seats.

Self-admittedly, I've never been a big tennis fan.  It's not that I don't think the sport is worthy of my attention, but it's just never been on my radar of sports to watch at leisure.  Give me a hockey game, and I can stay semi-conscious with a beer in my hand in front of the TV for all three periods, overtime AND the shootout, and even explain icing to someone if asked.  There was a big risk that the tennis experience would be wasted on me.

Not surprisingly, my ignorance of the rules and the finer points of the game became apparent as the evening progressed.  The following is a sample of my running commentary, albeit in the hushed tones of the Tennis-Watching, during the matches:

"Are the numbers on the screen the players' rankings?" (Apparently, no.  It was the score.)
"Is there a Beer Gardens?"  (Again, no.)
"How come she gets to wear that little sleeveless, knee-baring number, and I'd get deported if I did?"  (No logical answer was provided by my better half.)
"Why does the judge keep calling her a Wus?" (Who knew that "Wus" sounds so much like "Deuce"?)

But I'll admit, it wasn't half bad.  I rather enjoyed watching a sport in an open-air stadium without requiring a parka, three pairs of socks and a thermal blanket.  We were so close to Wozniacki and her coach that I think we may have picked up a little Danish:  loosely translated, we think we heard him say to her "Kindly stop hitting it to her freaking forehand, you dolt!  She's killing you!", or something to that effect.  The computerized replay on the big screen after a challenge was pretty cool, too.  Disappointingly, though, no Smooch-Cam.

At the end of the night,  Australia'a Stosur beat number-one-ranked Wozniacki from Denmark in a surprise upset.  When it was all done, we were able to get Nick's new phone, which is far nicer than anything we would have bought for him (touch screen, HD video, "YouTube Ready", makes waffles, etc.).  His reaction this morning was worth every extra minute we were awake past our regular bedtime last night.  And that, my friends, is why I now consider myself to be a tennis fan.

I suspect that Nicholas may be on a roll, which is why I'm considering sending him to the Doha Tribeca Film Festival, currently underway.  Maybe he could win Kevin Spacey or Robert DeNiro for a day...I wonder if they do windows?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Nice Work, If You Can Get It

I was never meant to have staff.

Under the heading of I Can't Believe She Has the Nerve to Complain About This, I reached this decisive and most certain conclusion today.  My lack of spinal fortitude had me unsuccessfully terminating my housekeeper's employ for the second time in four days.  Don't misunderstand:  we LOVE Meena.  She is a sweetheart of a lady, a grandmother from India who has been in Doha for 26 years.  And, she cleans our house to exacting standards (not mine, as I don't possess any, but trust me, the standards of someone who's really, really picky).  The singular problem leading to the attempted "letting-go" is that, when she is here for her one day per week, I have to drive her home.  I know what you're thinking:  "Get a grip, lady, she's cleaning your whole damn house!"  This wouldn't be a big deal if it weren't for the fact that at that point in the day, I've just returned from the one-hour plus trek to the school and back (as I pick up Ben once a week) on the Expressway, and I've barely had time to pry my white knuckles from the steering wheel before hopping back in the car to return her home.  The half-hour return trip to Meena's house is just enough to send me over the edge and force me to complete a bottle of wine in its entirety while making dinner.

I know who to blame for this whole mess.  My loving husband arranged for this household help before I arrived, and dutifully drove her to our house and back once a week.  When I arrived (note: before I had my license) it made sense to me to keep with the status-quo.  Now that it affects me personally, it's a whole new ball-game.  Besides, in the dividing of marital tasks, I'm pretty sure it's written somewhere that he's supposed to do all the hirin' and firin'.

This is a country where eHarmony would do well to launch a subsidiary, a virtual match-making site for the service industry, perhaps something like  There is, literally, someone for everyone, if you're looking for that special person to do a task you'd rather wash your hands of, so to speak.  Since arriving, we have not pumped our own gas, cut our lawn, swept our sidewalk, washed our cars, filled our BBQ tank, or brushed our own teeth.  A friend recently referred to "the guy who cleans [her] golf shoes".  I'm sure if I had asked the young man behind the counter at Pizza Hut if he could tune our piano, the response would have been, with head waggling in one direction and pointed index finger in the other, "Yes, Madame.  I can do it.  No problem."  You'd think I'd be in heaven, but this place is not for the faint of heart.  This culture of service has, in several instances, put me in a situation where I have to hire an individual for a job that we might otherwise attempt ourselves.  And, not to put too fine a point on it, I suck at it:  just last week I bartered 200 riyals over the asking price for our carpenter to build extra shelves in our kitchen.  Note to the gardener:  don't water her flowers for two weeks and she'll tip you, big time!

My negotiating skills are self-defeating, to say the least.  After a 20-minute conversation with Meena, I've agreed to drive her for another month, at which point her taxi-driver friend will have returned from holiday and take over the driving duties.  Expect subsequent posts to include reports of me driving her home, cleaning her toilets and waxing her legs.  By Christmas, I should have a full-time job...that is, if her standards aren't too high.

Monday, October 11, 2010

And Now, Containing our Enthusiasm...

When I last left you, dear readers, our heroes were anxiously awaiting their sea shipment.  Was the family reunited with their worldly goods?  Did the container pass a Customs inspection?  Was the whole process a big pain?  (Long story short:  yes, barely, and oh, most definitely.)

After weeks of anticipation, our 40-foot green metal container arrived on Saturday.  Since Dan had gone to the rink to coach hockey with Nicholas and Jacob, the task fell on Ben and me to ensure that things went smoothly.  As they opened the doors, I saw lots of packing paper poking out of open cartons...the crew boss told me that everything had been opened at Customs.  I had to brush off a nagging paranoia (some might even say narcissism) that someone with Qatari Customs is a regular reader of my blog, and just wanted to teach me a lesson about expressing my lack of faith in their system.  The company line:  a shipment earlier in the week was found to contain TOY GUNS, so each subsequent shipment was given a good going-over (no doubt to counter the illicit toy gun trade).  So far, it looks as though all our things are intact, which means that they missed our bibles AND our porn!

A crew of eight young men, clad in orange golf shirts, carried our boxes into the house in quick succession...I stood like royalty at my front door and told each mover in which room to put his carton.  I was rewarded, after each "in the living room" and "in the kitchen" with a smile and a quiet "Yes, madame."

The piano was carried (yes, carried) off the truck by six guys, pushed up a ramp into the house and gently unwrapped.    I don't think it's that far out of tune, but Mr. Perfect Pitch Ben disagrees.  The bad news:  my days as a task-master resume next week, along with piano lessons for everybody.  The good news:  no evidence of fish eggs.

In the weeks to come, we'll likely be able to fashion some nice bookcases out of all the leftover cardboard and our newly-delivered Allen wrenches.  And, despite our house looking like a bomb just hit it, everyone here is pretty content:  Jacob has his Lego, Nicholas his bike and hockey nets, Ben his scooter, and Dan his Bose system and coach's whistle.  Even I got to spend some quality alone time with my Slap-Chop and garlic press yesterday.  And, of course, there are the three little words that all the neighbourhood kids were waiting to hear:  Air Hockey Table.  Warning to our new neighbours:  This could be a very loud winter.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Lost at Sea

When we left Calgary at the beginning August, we packed up and sold our house, and what we didn't give away or put into storage, the movers put into a 40 foot sea-can.  They secured the doors and sent the container on its way, with the promise that it would arrive in Doha by the end of October.

We've been able to track the shipment's progress online; it was sent from Calgary by train to the port of Montreal.  From there, it went to Spain, across the Mediterranean, through the Suez Canal, across the Red and Arabian Seas, and then into the Arabian/Persian Gulf, where it was trans-shipped in Dubai.

So, imagine our excitement last Thursday when we learned that our shipment had arrived in Doha early, and was scheduled for a Customs inspection yesterday.  However, when Dan contacted the shipping company yesterday morning, he was told that the port was experiencing 'unusual congestion' and that it would not be inspected by Customs as scheduled.  Based on my limited experience with how things operate in this country, and knowing that individuals in the service industry here are loath to bring you bad news, this could mean one of three things:

1) the port is experiencing 'unusual congestion';
2) the port is experiencing 'unusual congestion', and our shipment hasn't left Dubai yet; or
3) the port is experiencing 'unusual congestion', and our boat went down in the St. Lawrence Seaway weeks ago, and there is a school of carp currently residing in our piano.

Were I a pessimist, I might alight on a fourth option:  a crack team of steely-eyed Customs officials is currently poring over our cookbooks and DVD collection looking for evidence of bibles or porn.  We've seen many a shipment arrive at the compound in the last couple of weeks, from the U.S., Nigeria, and the Czech Republic, some completely unopened, others with just a few boxes re-taped, their contents neatly repacked and undamaged.  But we all know it's us Canadians that they really need to look out for.  Thanks a lot, Atom Egoyan.

I don't want to sound ungrateful, as we live in a beautiful furnished villa, and we're very thankful to have four dinner plates and three forks to use in the interim.  However, there are a number of things that I'd prefer to stop living without.  They are, in no particular order:  the kids' bikes, sharp knives, enough dishes for five people, Lego, the piano, the teapot, my toothbrush holder, and the banana hanger.

So, for now, we'll eke out our existence with our meagre possessions and hope that the air hockey table hasn't vaporized sitting inside a giant tin can in 40 degree heat.  Meantime, pass the fork Dan, there's pie...

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Qanucks Take to the Ice

It's currently 34C with 59% humidity;  I'm sitting outside in the backyard, in the shade, with the laptop.  Nicholas is home sick with a bad cold today (yes, we even get them here!), so he has joined me on the patio.  Life's good!

As promised, Nick and Jacob started hockey this past week, with the minor hockey Qatar Raiders.  The experience as a hockey parent here is a bit surreal.  The rink is in Villagio Mall, right beside the food court and the amusement park.  There are tables adjacent to half the rink, so you can sit and watch while sipping a Starbucks or eating lunch.  No parkas or blankets are required, although I do usually wear a sweater since the mall itself is over-air-conditioned.     The only negative thing about hockey for us is the distance we have to drive.  For Calgary readers, our driving situation would be the same as living in Kincora and having Triwood as your home rink, or living in Charleswood and playing at South Fish Creek!

All non-hockey parents might want to tune out here, as you may be tempted to nod off.  Both boys had conditioning skates Tuesday and Wednesday night.  On Saturday, evaluations began...and ended!  Quite a bit less stressful than our former experience with evaluations in Calgary, I must say.  Because of the small number of kids (only two teams per division), kids  can be moved out of their age group, depending their ability.  Jacob skated with his age group (6-8 year olds) on Saturday morning, and then was asked to skate with the next group up.  He is over-the-moon that he gets to "skip second year Novice" (his words) and play on the Atom team this year.  Nicholas will play Pee-Wee (up to age 13 here), and showed as a very strong skater out there.  His age group is made up of more experienced players than Jacob's, so there were a number of kids who are at about Nick's level.  These are house-league teams, and rep teams (the teams that travel to other Gulf states for tournaments) will have their try-outs next month.

The best part of having our two hockey kids playing in adjacent divisions?  They both have practices every Tuesday evening (back-to-back), and games every Saturday (also back-to-back).  Dan is playing two days out of Friday, Sunday and Monday each week, and will also coach.

So, one less kid in hockey and moving half way around the world has resulted in decreasing our days per week at the rink from seven to four!  We might need to take up another pastime...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Holiday Week in Doha

It's back to the grind today, as Dan returns to work and the kids to school after a week-long break for Eid.  Thankfully, this is only a two-day week, so we'll all be able to ease into it.

Most of our break was spent shopping, swimming, playing cards, and having copious amounts of screen time (all five of us!), but we did take the opportunity to do a little bit of exploring.  On Saturday, we drove to the beach at Ras Laffan, about a hour's drive out of the city.  There is a private beach club there, operated by Dan's company.  Our intention was to make this trip a scouting mission, as we left the city quite late (9:30ish), so that by the time we arrived it was really too hot to hang out at the beach.  We did have lunch at the little restaurant, though, which was pretty mediocre but unbelievably cheap, and convenient as we didn't have to haul coolers, etc. out with us.

We will definitely go again, and next time we'll swim, instead of just getting our feet wet.  It's interesting to note that on this side of the Gulf, it's referred to as the Arabian Gulf - the Iranian side is called the Persian Gulf!

Be sure to check out a new set of pictures, to the right...

Dan took the kids ice-skating at Villagio Mall on Monday, which is where they'll play hockey.  Not a big surprise, but our kids were quite speedy compared to most of the people out there!

We've been swimming quite happily in the compound pool, remarking on how great it is to swim in bathtub-temperature water.  Last week, the chillers were turned on after being offline all summer, which is really a shame as the air temperature and humidity have started to drop slightly.  When I got out of the pool, the sun had started to set, and there was a bit of a breeze.  Naturally, I declared that it was "freezing out here".  Temperature on our thermometer when we returned home:  34C!

And speaking of temperatures, it is a glorious 36C with low humidity today - remarkably pleasant compared to the last few weeks!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Ramadan at the Ritz

Ramadan Kareem!  On Friday evening, Dan and I took part in a Ramadan Tent at the Ritz-Carlton.  The event, which is one of many like it in the city, was held to celebrate Iftar, the breaking of the fast after a full day of fasting, and Suhoor, which is the big feast served before dawn before the fast begins anew.  The evening at the Ritz was open to the public, but a small amount of tickets were set aside for ExxonMobil employees, and we went with two other EM couples.

The Suhoor was like an all-night buffet, with some great Arabian/Qatari dishes, and the food was amazing.  Those sesame-allergy afflicted among us had to be pretty careful as sesame is definitely a staple here, but I escaped unscathed!  There was henna hand painting available, live entertainment, and shisha pipes for the daring.  We didn't follow the traditional Suhoor explicitly by staying up 'til dawn feasting, and we rolled our full stomachs home by midnight.

I had the pleasure (!) of holding a falcon that evening (see photo to the right).  Falcon mastery has long been associated with nobility and wealth in Qatar and other Arab states.  It is used in hunting, and is the fastest flying bird (both for distance and diving) in the world, reaching flight speeds of 110 km/h, and diving speeds of up to 440 km/h.  For this reason, falcon masters use the bird to prey on animals as large as gazelles.  Had I known this beforehand, I may have reconsidered holding one!

The end of Ramadan, or Eid Al-Fitr, is fast approaching, and most of the expats I know think that it won't end a minute too soon!  For us, it has been a bit disruptive...Dan has been coming home most days for lunch as there are no restaurants open during daylight hours (except in hotels); when we are out on a Saturday running errands, we can't stop for lunch or even water; many businesses are closed for the whole afternoon, only to re-open again for the evening, making evening shopping crowded and unpleasant.  The end of Ramadan is a moving target, and the official start of Eid occurs when the Mullah makes the first sighting of the new moon.  It is expected that that will take place on September 9th or 10th this year.  Schools and offices are closed, so the kids will be off school for a week starting this Wednesday, and Dan will be off for about five days.

Happy Labour Day weekend to all those back home!  Thought I should mention that this morning at 7:00 am our thermometer registered below 30 degrees for the first time since we got here:  29.5C!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

You Say Potato, I Say Batata

As a new expat, one of the things I feel slightly embarrassed about is my unilingualism. Sure, I could probably get by in French if I really needed to, but it doesn't beat being fluent in another language.  So many people I have met here speak two languages, and a good number speak more than that.  Our cleaning lady, who is from India, speaks five!

Having our kids in French Immersion was a real benefit, as I see now how easily they are picking up other languages.  We are so happy now to have Ben and Jacob taking Arabic, and Nicholas taking Spanish.  Hopefully they are on their way to becoming polyglots (don't worry, I had to look this one up when Nick's Guidance Counsellor used it!).  Click on the link below to hear Ben's progress in Arabic class:

Ben Speaking Arabic

The kids have now completed three full weeks of school, and the activity is really starting to pick up.  This week, Jacob and Ben had MAP (Measure of Academic Progress) testing, which is part of the American curriculum.  The goal of the testing is to see what level each student is performing at in language and math.  Nicholas has had several tests and projects in the last couple of weeks, and has done really well on it all.  I can check up on the kids in real time, as they each have an ID on the school website that lists grades for assignments and tests, as well as attendance.  The Grades 7 and 8 students received their own laptops from the school this week (a new initiative - Nick is pretty happy!) and after two days I'm happy to report that Nick's computer hasn't been dropped, lost, or left on the bus.

I'm feeling very spoiled as I no longer need to make lunches on school days.  The Elementary School sells coupons for 10QR (about 3.50CAD) each that the kids can use to get a full lunch.  We've fallen into the practice of giving Nick 80QR a week to cover anything he wants to buy at the Middle School cafeteria.  This covers four days worth of lunches and snacks (every Tuesday all students from ES, MS, and HS get early dismissal at 12:30).

On a personal note (speaking of spoiled!), I DROVE myself to the mall for a pedicure today (my first big solo drive), and then for lunch at W Hotel with a few ladies.  This, I could get used to!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Licence to Drive

It's official:  I can now do everything that Dan can in this country (except brazenly show my knees or shoulders in public).  On Saturday, I received my Qatari driver's licence.  I completed the whole process in record time, taking only 15 minutes from the moment I walked into the Traffic Commission.  All I needed to do was present my passport, Qatar ID, Alberta driver's licence and 150QR.  It's great to be a Canadian and be on The List of several countries whose expats don't have to undergo a driving test!  

I've only driven a handful of times since Saturday, but the true test was last evening when Dan and I went to the mall to get a mobile phone for me.  I don't know if you can imagine driving in the dark, through several roundabouts, in the evening during Ramadan, but it wasn't pretty.  I wasn't prepared for how busy it would be, both on the roads and in the mall.  Nonetheless, we made it home safely a couple of hours later with me at the wheel.   Stay tuned and keep an eye on the Accident Report on the top right of this page, though...I think it's not a matter of if, but when!

This might be of interest to some of you (you know who you are):  the legal limit for blood alcohol while driving is 0.00%.   Makes you rethink that glass of wine with dinner if you've got someplace to go afterwards.  Despite this, I'd still swear that half the drivers are drunk.  Speed limit 100 km/h?  The Sri Lankan in the little Nissan pick-up is going 60, while the Qatari in the Land Rover is going 160.  We actually saw an SUV run a red light the other day and round the corner on two wheels!

Yesterday, I had a specialized tour of Doha, courtesy of ExxonMobil.  My new friend A.G. (no, I'm not trying to conceal her identity; it's what she goes by when us English-onlys try to pronounce her Turkish name), who is also a newcomer, and I were guided by Angela (originally from the UK) on a "ladies" tour.  The purpose of the tour was to show us where to go for some essentials, like where to get one's hair cut or get a massage.  Angela brought us to some of the most exclusive spas in the city for tours, and all looked amazing, with some being comparable in price to those in Calgary.  So, girls, if you're coming for a visit, I know just the place for us to hang out for a day!  Angela also showed us the location of the gold souks, tailor souks and fabric souks.  I'll definitely make my way back there when Ramadan is over and it's not quite so hot.  We'll have another tour sometime in September which will be more family-oriented.

And now, I'll spend the rest of the afternoon getting psyched for the short drive I need to make later today!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

There's a Gecko Living in my Hockey Equipment

Well Dan's, anyway.  Despite having such a big house, we're faced with the same space issues regarding where to put the stinky hockey equipment.  So outside it stays until either a) it's dry; or b) someone surreptitiously stashes it in the maid's quarters.  (Lucky for her, we don't have a maid.)  Last week when Dan was getting ready for hockey, the tiniest gecko imaginable scurried out of his hockey bag and ran through the kitchen.  We haven't found him yet, but I'm sure the kids will be thrilled with their new pet.

I got my RP this week, so I'm in the clear to get my Qatari driver's licence.  Trying to find out their hours of operation (or "timing", as they say here), especially during Ramadan, is like pulling teeth, so we drove to the Traffic Office late Thursday, only to find it closed.  We're persistent, though, and will try again tomorrow morning.

It's been a busy week with school.  On Monday evening, Dan and I attended Activities Night, where organizations from all around Doha (and the school itself) set up booths to show what extracurricular activities there are for kids.  We made a bee-line straight for the Qatar Minor Hockey table (for Nick and Jacob), and then I ingratiated myself with the piano teacher.  I thought I was in danger of scaring her off by telling her that she had a potential four students in our family, but luckily she saw this as a good thing and agreed to meet with us today.  I'm happy to say that she has agreed to take us on, but not until our piano arrives in October.

The novelty of the weather is wearing off, I think.  This week it was three whole days before I looked at our indoor/outdoor thermometer.  "Huh, only 37 - that's not so bad."  And then I went outside and realized that I should have paid more attention to the 72% humidity reading.  It usually takes 'til I get all the way to the clubhouse before I can see where I'm going, as my sunglasses are actually fogged up!

More tomorrow, when hopefully I will be legal to drive...

Monday, August 23, 2010

Monday, August 23, 2010, 1:20 pm


Glad you're still tuning in!  If you would like to share this blog with others that may be interested, please do, as I may have missed some people on my original email.  And remember, you can always sign up to be a Follower (and join my one and only - thanks, Kim!) - I believe Followers are notified when I make an entry, so you don't have to check to see if I've posted.

I completed the final step in the RP process this morning, which was getting fingerprinted at the Forensics office.  Nick joined me, as children over 12 have to be fingerprinted as well.  One couple in our group brought their 12-year-old son, too, who coincidentally is Nick's classmate and one of his first new friends, Nathan.  Once again, there were separate areas for women and men, so the boys had to go with Nathan's dad.  The boys were quite impressed with the process - no ink, but a pretty sophisticated scanner which they use to scan each finger individually, as well as the palm of the hand.

It should now only be a matter of days until I get my RP, and then I can get my Qatari driver's licence.  After being a passenger for a few weeks, I'm looking forward to being able to get around on my own...but that will mean that I have to GET AROUND ON MY OWN!  I've never quite seen drivers like this anywhere, and the roundabouts don't help!  Ben told us this morning that one of his teachers has been here for two weeks and has already been in one accident.  I'm not eager to break her record.

I've included two new pictures:  one is of Cholesterol Corner (check out the sign on the Applebee's building) and a closer pic of the McDonald's sign with Arabic writing.  Still recognizable the world over!

Dan and I made a shopping trip (sans kids) on Friday, to the MegaMart.  Bit of a misnomer, as it was decidedly Mini when compared to the other stores we've been to.  However, as we were promised, it did carry quite a few North American brands (Bounce sheets - yay!).  We also found real Cheerios; most stores carry two different-looking boxes of the same brand.  Both will have English writing, but only one will have Arabic written right on the box, too.  The latter is the one that is made here (or some country nearby); the other is actually from North America.  You can also tell by the price - we paid 36QR for the box of Cheerios (about 15CAD)!  Dan claims it was worth it.

And FYI, Ben remembered that the last boy in his class is from Syria.  Quite a diverse group of kids!


Friday, August 20, 2010

Friday, August 20, 2010, 12:30 pm

Marhaba!  Currently in Doha, 11:15 am, 37C.  How hot is it?  Check out this link:
Expat Woman Bakes Cookies in Her Car

The kids have made it through their first full week of school.  It's still hard to get our heads around the new work week - I usually spend all day Sunday thinking it's Monday.  This morning, we've already been to the pool (with our newly repaired dinghy - fingers crossed!) and Dan has gone to play hockey.

Yesterday, my neighbour Lynn (who I knew from when we lived in Norman Wells, NWT) took me shopping, and showed me where to find some of the things I haven't been able to find on my own.  We stopped first at a Dean and Deluca location in Villagio Mall - if you're not familiar with the chain, it's a high-end grocery store (or, more appropriately, a "gourmet boutique").  They carry things like specialty coffee beans, imported pastas, and even balsamic vinegar that looks like a good bottle of Scotch - 200 ml in a fancy bottle, nestled in a padded box, all for the low price of 700QR (200CAD).  We didn't buy anything there - maybe when Ramadan is over I'll go back for some of their pastries.  We walked down to Carrefour, where we got most of our shopping done.  When were ready to leave, we tried to take our carts to the exit near Dean and Deluca, but the security guard stopped us.  Apparently, no carts are allowed in the area with Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Tiffany stores!  Which made me think, don't rich people need carts, too?  Apparently they have "people" to do their shopping for them...

One of the things I've needed to be careful of when looking for a public toilet (all North Americans: read "bathroom"), is that I don't go into a prayer room by mistake.  Nicholas and I almost did this on our first trip to the mall - the rooms are labelled with the male and female symbols.  The only thing that tipped me off as I was reaching for the door handle was the sign, in English, which read "No food or drink allowed in the prayer room".  Upon closer inspection, I realized that the symbol which I thought was hamburger, was really shaped like the top of a mosque!

Sometimes it's hard to remember that we're living in a Middle Eastern country, but yesterday Lynn had a story for me that brought me back to reality.  Dan and I don't have our bank account set up jointly yet, but Lynn and her husband do.  Every time she takes money out of their account, Bill gets a text message from the bank letting him know!  Lynn does not receive the same courtesy when Bill accesses the account.

On the school front, things seem to be going well.  The school follows an American curriculum, and has a cut-off date of Sept. 1 for birthdays.  Suddenly, our kids (with their birthdays in May and June) are some of the youngest in the their classes!  Nicholas was unable to take Arabic this year because the number of students enrolled in the beginner level wasn't high enough.  Dan and I were pretty keen to have him take a foreign language, so yesterday he had a French assessment, and he was too fluent for even high school French!  The principal and counsellor are working on trying to get him into a second level Spanish course, just to keep him going with another language.

Ben told us yesterday about the kids in his class and where they're from.  I'm going to let him take over now and give you his fascinating list:

Tilde:  Denmark
Augusta:  Denmark
Khaled:  Holland
Luke:  California
Megan:  Savannah, Georgia, USA
Blaise:  Orlando, Florida
Cedric:  Frankfurt
Soleyma: Petawawa, Ontario
Rayan: Lebanon
David:  Mexico
Hamad:  Doha
Mimi:  Doha
Kaito:  Japan
Grace:  New Zealand
Hannah: Australia
Haelyn:  Korea
Andrew C:  Texas
Andrew M: Pittsburg
Angelina:  Texas
Athaya:  Indonesia

There's one more but I can't remember where he's from.

Enjoy your weekend!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Wednesday, August 18, 2010, 11:00 am

Marhaba!  (Ben taught us yesterday that this is how you say hello in Arabic.)

Well, what a difference a couple of days can make!

I've seen much happier faces getting off the bus in the last couple of days, especially yesterday - every Tuesday is early dismissal (12:30) for all the kids.  Nick has made five friends (he's keeping track), and seems very comfortable getting around school for his different classes, buying lunch and finding company during his breaks.  Ben has made a couple of friends, and I think I'm in already in love with his teacher - the personality fit for the two of them couldn't be better.  Jacob is settling in quite well, and said he made a friend on the bus yesterday, a Fourth Grade girl from Australia who lives on our street.  Yesterday, the kids had a couple of boys over in the afternoon to play video games and go swimming.  They are also a new-to-Doha family, and have two boys, aged 12 and 9 - the oldest is in one of Nick's classes.

Yesterday, we asked Ben and Jacob what they had been doing at recess, since it's so hot outside.  They said they stayed in and played computer games.  "Mr. Leeper hands out laptops during recess to whoever wants them."  Stunned silence on our part.  Come again??  I think that particular perk has brought this school up several notches in their estimation!

I successfully completed the most arduous step in the Residence Permit (RP) process yesterday, getting my HIV test and having my chest X-ray read.  Happily, I had two other ExxonMobil women (one a spouse, the other an employee) join me to get theirs done, too, and it was so nice to have company this time around.  I actually felt like the experienced pro, as I knew how to navigate the first part of it, unlike my first attempt on Sunday!

Dan's office is located in West Bay, which is the downtown area of Doha with all the neat architecture.  He works quite close to City Center Mall, which has a Carrefour, so he is able to pick up a few things after work if needed.  Yesterday I called him and told him we needed milk, eggs, a combination lock for Nicholas...and a new dinghy.  Yes, folks, it's true - I know you're shocked but our raft sprung a leak yesterday, setting the record for the demise of a new toy.  Dan did not buy a new one, but patched it instead, and we're hoping it holds.

I learned some interesting facts about traffic rules in Doha from Rilwan the other day.  We were being tail-gated by a Qatari in a large SUV, laying on his horn and flashing his lights.  Rilwan had been going the posted speed limit (80 km/h) which seems to be recognized by ex-pats, but not (generally) the nationals.  He was telling me that there are big fines for speeding, but only if you get caught, and mostly if you're not from Qatar.  The fine for running a red light is anywhere from 6000QR or $1700CAD (running the light, no accident caused, but the camera catches you) to 50,000QR ($14000CAD), if you cause a serious accident.  My temporary right to drive expires today, so it looks like I won't have to worry about it for awhile.

I have much thanks today for my neighbour, the appropriately named Joy, who gave me her extra set of measuring cups (ours are in our sea shipment).  I was able to make brownies and chocolate chip cookies that held a reasonable semblance to the ones I make back home!

Salam alikum!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Monday, August 16, 2010, 1:30 pm

Get ready for a long one, folks.  I had so much to say yesterday, but I didn't post as I was following the old adage, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all"!

I have to be honest with you...yesterday was our toughest day here yet.  The kids started school, and as I had an appointment, I was unable to join them.  They got up at 6:00 am to catch their 7:00 am bus, so that in itself made everyone a little bit edgier.  It think Ben's day went the smoothest, with no hiccups in his schedule, and he even learned to write his name in Arabic (NOW the moved over was worthwhile)!  The fifth graders (all 154 of them) got together in the cafeteria and the teachers had games to help kids meet others.   Jacob's foreign language registration somehow got missed, so he was temporarily put in Spanish yesterday - we hope to have that straightened out by today.  Nicholas was pretty positive about his experience, but he did miss out on a couple of electives that he chose in the spring, and is unable to take Arabic as he was told he needed to start that in Grade 6.  We're looking into it to see what can be done...we'd like him to take some foreign language, and he's not allowed to take French (because of being in immersion previously).  All the kids seemed to really like their teachers - I think that will go a long way in making the transition smooth.  Dan stopped by the elementary school at lunch, and saw both  Jacob and Ben - I think it was nice for them to see an familiar face.

Jacob was the most down when he got off the bus yesterday - hang-dog expression on his face, head hung down, dragging his feet (cue the Charlie Brown theme song).  He's upset because he hasn't made any friends yet, but I have every confidence that it won't take much time for him, as he is such a friendly kid.  Ben (who is the only Canadian in his class) said he met two kids from the US, a boy and a girl, who seem pretty friendly.  Nicholas met quite a few people yesterday, and I'm sure he'll do just fine.

Yesterday I was scheduled to go for an HIV test at the offices of the Supreme Council for Health, as one of the requirements for obtaining my Residence permit.  The women's clinic is segregated, and normally Exxon provides an escort to help you through the whole process, but since that wasn't possible yesterday, they provided me instead with an "expediter" - Salmeen, a Qatari man whose is supposed to translate for you and tell you where you should stand in line, etc.  However, the driver and the expediter forgot to pick me up at 8:30, and by the time Dan made some phone calls on my behalf, it was 10:30 before another  driver got here - I was happy to see Rilwan again.  By 11:00 I was at the clinic and had received a number for my place in the queue...I was 95 people back.  I sat and waited until 12:30 (remember it's Ramadan, so no eating, drinking, chewing gum - it felt even too awkward to read my book), and I was feeling pretty good that there were now only 30 people ahead of me.  However, at that point the power went out and their system went down.  The electronic numbers above the wickets disappeared and most people rushed to line up.  This turned out to be fruitless because all the women behind the counter had stopped working.  After a conversation with an Irish woman (who told me that they were not going to re-open again that day) and some discussion outside with Salmeen (with him speaking to me in Arabic and English, gesturing for me to get back in line), I convinced him that I should return another day.  So, I get to do it all over again on Tuesday morning, hopefully with much more success!

I filled my washing machine with water yesterday morning (hot - the only kind there is in Doha) and let it cool all day.  When I got home at 2:00 (and after I had cracked a beer) I started a load of laundry, but the washer quit.  Great capper to a lousy day!

Today has already been more promising, with the kids heading off to school in better spirits, my neighbour from across the street stopping by for a visit this morning, and Maintenance arriving to replace the burned-out motor in my washer.  I'll try to have a happier (and shorter!) entry next time!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Saturday, August 14, 2010, 2:30 pm

Hi again!  Another beautiful day in Doha...forecast today is 41C, and current humidity is about 87%.

After 10 days here, I finally experienced driving first hand.  Thankfully, Dan was my navigator.  All the buildings are the same colour (picture sand-coloured buildings with terra cotta roofs), so I never know where I am because all landmarks look identical to me!  We went out in the Honda MRV after lunch, and since it's Ramadan, traffic was light.  As a non-resident, my Alberta licence is valid for two weeks after my arrival, so I've only got a few days left to get some practice in.  Once I have a Residence Permit I will only have to show my Canadian licence to get a Qatari licence.  It's great to be Canadian - expats from some other countries, including the US, have to undergo quite a rigorous driving test to get their licence here.

A couple of days ago, Ben said, "This pool would be way more fun if we had a raft."  So, off we went yesterday in search of the coveted dinghy.  Our first stop was Carrefour, a huge grocery/department store.  Imagine Superstore, but with none of the products that you are familiar with.  Without much searching, we found exactly what we were looking for, with a pump and a couple of oars, all for the ridiculously low price of 69QR (about 25 bucks).  Later in the day, while we were watching the kids use it, I commented to Dan that they were being really rough with it, and I was afraid it was going to get wrecked.  He responded, "Heck, at that price we'll go to Carrefour every week...a loaf of bread, some milk, and a new dinghy!"

Our next stop, for groceries, was the aptly named Lulu Hypermarket.  It seems as though all of the fasting Qataris decided to come out at the same time as us.  Parking was a nightmare, but we eventually found a spot about a million miles from the entrance, in full sun.  The line-ups inside were outrageous...strangely, by the time we were done, the place had pretty much cleared out.  Maybe the fact that it took us an hour and a half to find everything had something to do with it.  The kids were real troopers, and treated the whole ordeal like a scavenger hunt ("OK, you go find chocolate chips, I'll look for yeast!").  This store has probably the best produce out of all the stores we've been to so far, and also carries US beef, which we've heard is "the least tough" (not "the most tender"!) available in the area.  We even bought three kinds of ice cream (this is what happens when you go shopping with the whole family), and got it home before it melted.

That's it for today.  Tomorrow is the first day of school, and I think I'm filled with more trepidation than the kids!  This will be the first time that we are sending them off from the bus stop instead of accompanying them to school.  They will likely handle it better than I will.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend, while we begin our week!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Friday, August 13, 2010 8:00 am

It's the beginning of the weekend for us - Friday is the new Sunday!

Our stress level was reduced somewhat yesterday as our air shipment arrived from Calgary.  We got our second computer (with our wireless router - I can now use the laptop anywhere!), all of our remaining clothes, some books, and most importantly to some, the Wii!!  It feels just like Christmas.

Yesterday the boys went for their orientations at their new school.  The three of them were pretty nervous, and a little shy, but thankfully the school had arranged for "student ambassadors" to give new students tours, and there were a LOT of new students.  Ben and Jacob met their teachers, both of whom seem lovely, and we're just waiting on Nicholas' class placement.  He had to take the Math MAP test, to see where he should be placed...I think he did quite well.  He has firmly established himself as "Nick" at his new school, introducing himself to his principal and counsellor as such.  On Sunday, I will have to put them all on the bus and send them off...I have another medical appointment for my Residence permit.

Our first full day of Ramadan outside of the compound was not so bad.  Traffic is very light, especially in the afternoon, as many people leave work at 1:00 for the day.  We were able to eat lunch in the cafeteria at school (Subway!), but we were asked not to bring any food or drink to others parts of the school out of respect for those who are fasting.  The only issue was the drive home, when it was 39C and we would have loved to have a drink of water.

I'm going to back up a bit and tell you about our arrival.  ExxonMobil had arranged for "Al-Maha service" for us when our plane arrived.  There was a young woman who met us at the terminal (with one of those little signs that had our names on it) and led us into a lounge area.  We gave her our passports and our baggage claim tickets, and then we sat and ate fruit and yogurt while she cleared Customs and arranged to have our baggage collected or us.  This, all while looking out through the glass wall at the throngs (the poor saps) navigating the process themselves.  I read that it costs about 100QR (about 35CAD) per ticket - we are so paying for this when we're traveling on our own!

Breakfast is ready - better run.  Later today we're going to Lulu Hypermarket to buy groceries - another shopping adventure!

Ramadan Kareem!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Thanks for all the positive feedback, everyone!  I supposed it's early days, so I haven't put anyone to sleep yet...

Please ignore the date and signature stamp on this blog as it seems to be tied to some time zone in North America.  The date I type is actually the day of the post - time right now is 8:20 am.

Today is the first day of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month.  Ramadan is a time for fasting and refraining from "all other physical pleasures" during daylight hours.  This translates into a different, and sometimes trying, way of life for 30 days.  During this time, it is illegal to eat or drink in public (not even a sip of water), and we're told that there are "serious consequences" if you are caught.  It still isn't clear to me if those consequences apply to non-Muslims, but at the very least is considered rude and inappropriate to consume anything in front of someone who is fasting.  This means that Dan will either have lunch with his office door closed, or come home instead.  At the kids' school, fasting students will go to the library at lunch time, and all others, including teachers, will eat in the lunch room.  In the city, restaurants and coffee shops are closed during the day (oh, my beloved Starbucks!), and open again after sunset (who wants a frapuccino at 6:00 pm?).  I've been told that driving becomes a little dicier in the early afternoon, as drivers have low blood sugar and are somewhat crankier.  After sunset each day, the fast is broken with Iftar, which as I understand it, usually starts with dates, and is ultimately quite a feast.

I am really looking forward to experiencing Ramadan first-hand...everyone has told us how much fun it ISN'T, but I think it could be a great learning experience for us and the kids.

School starts on Sunday, Aug. 15 for our kids.  Ben and Jacob will go for their pre-admission tests this afternoon.  They have spots reserved, but everyone gets a test to make sure there are no special needs.  Nicholas was accepted to middle school a couple of months ago and has already chosen his electives, and he has a new student orientation tomorrow.  Apparently, they don't need Dan at work that badly yet as he is able to join us for (and drive us to) these events!

That's it for today...when things slow down in the next couple of days, I'll go back and fill you in on our arrival in Doha and our first few days here.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Monday, August 9, 2010

Hello all!  This is my first attempt at blogging, so bear with me.  We've been here for five days now, and I'm finding there is just too much to tell on FB or by email.  So, if you're interested in finding out what new experiences we're having, please check this website periodically.  I don't promise to make it exciting, interesting, or grammatically correct, but I will try to keep you informed of our goings-on.

My first impression of this country was, of course, THE HEAT.  The moment we stepped onto the tarmac, and walked to the shuttle bus which would take us to the terminal, we were hit with a veritable wall of heat and humidity.  Interestingly, Ben immediately said, "I am definitely going to like the weather here!"  It certainly beats sub-zero weather, but we've experienced close to that here in the malls, and even in our own home!  We're still trying to optimize the air-conditioning...

Today, I started the process of acquiring my Residence permit.  This involved going to a private hospital for a chest x-ray, blood typing, and vision test.  All very civilized, as I was picked up by a driver who escorted me to all the departments and brought me home when I was finished.  Mr. Rilwan was my driver, a nice young Sri Lankan who, coincidentally, drove us home from the airport when we arrived.  Let the education begin!  I had a very informative conversation with him about Sri Lanka, regarding language, traffic, climate...he said that now that the war is over, it's a great holiday destination for residents of Qatar and others in the region.

There is so much more to write about the last five days, but I will slowly dole it out in the next little while...besides, since it's almost 8:00 pm, it's almost my bedtime!  We are gradually getting adjusted to the nine hour time difference, with Jacob and Nicholas being our Sleep Heroes, each logging 12 hours last night.

One last thing...for those who may be interested:  to calculate what time it is in Doha, if you are in Mountain Time, subtract 3 hours from your current time, and change the am to pm or vice versa.  If you're in Central or Eastern, subtract 4 or 5 hours, respectively, and do likewise.  This will all change slightly when Daylight Savings Time ends, as Qatar doesn't change.