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!