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...