Friday, November 25, 2011

This Little Piggy Went to Market

I hate Tuesdays.  In our world, Tuesday is Hump Day, as the work week is Sunday through Thursday.  Tuesdays have been hard to get through for us since moving to Doha.  Every Tuesday, the kids are dismissed from school at precisely 12:30, instead of the usual 3:00 pm.  Oh yes, half days.  It conjures up images of children romping through the compound, blissfully relieved of their arduous schedule, an afternoon off at their disposal.  However, on Tuesdays, they don't get a lunch break, and by the time they get home from school at about 1:15, they are cranky, tired, and ravenous.  Every Tuesday, I try to circumvent this as best I can by making sure that they get a really good breakfast—usually eggs, toast, sometimes some beef bacon on the side.  Yes, beef bacon.  After a year of living in Doha, turkey bacon has worn out its welcome in this house, and at the very least, beef comes from a mammal, so bears some resemblance to the country's forbidden meat, pork.

Tuesday this week started like any other:  My alarm went off at 6:15.  I dragged myself out of bed and brushed my teeth.  Threw a sweater over my pajamas and walked out to the office where my iPhone sat on the desk.  I picked it up and browsed through the emails before waking the kids up.  I quickly logged onto Facebook just to see how everyone's day went back home and saw that my friend Inge, who moved to Houston a couple of weeks ago, had posted on my wall just minutes before.

"Donna...are you eating pork right now??"

Ha ha, very funny.  "No, are you??"

She cyber-laughed, and asked, hadn't I heard?  She had discovered, through the magic of Facebook, that pork was now being sold at QDC (aka The Only Liquor Store in the Country), starting yesterday.

I beg your pardon?

My two favourite animals:
pork chops and bacon
Surely she had to be mistaken.  Talk of the possibility of pork being sold in this country has been going on for like...ever.  Why hadn't there been a swirl of rumours leading up to this?  Why hadn't someone told me?  And, why, for the love of God, wasn't I sitting in a lawn chair outside QDC right at that moment waiting for it to open, with a camping stove, a dozen eggs, and a cast iron frying pan?

Sounds silly, I know, but I actually felt giddy.  To be denied a main staple of our Canadian diet for the last year, and then to have it suddenly reintroduced, without warning, left me, well, elated.  I think I wept a little.  Terrible Tuesday just got a whole lot better, and it wasn't even 6:30 am.

I glided around the kitchen making breakfast, humming a tune from Babe, with the kids looking at me quizzically.  This was not Evil Tuesday Morning Mom.  This was Bacon-Crazed Mary Poppins/Fairy Godmother Mom.

If only I could put into words how un-Doha-like this is.  After you’ve lived here for awhile, you get used to nothing getting done.  Promises are made, deadlines pass, and hopes are dashed.  Inshallah, and all that.  I can only imagine that for those pork lovers who have lived here for years, the shock of the news must have nearly put them into cardiac arrest.  And it turns out that it was actually news, not just rumours.  When I got to the bus stop, my friend Heather told me that she had been at QDC the day before, and had seen with her very own eyes the emptied-out former Cold Beer room, resplendent in its new-found purpose, with shiny freezers and a permanent “Pork Products” sign etched on the window.  Who needs cold beer when you can have a bacon double cheeseburger?

But it gets better.  We have it on good authority that in the next week, Parma ham and salami will be here, and in another month, pork chops.  And there's even the possibility of ham by Christmas.  I must be dreaming. Somebody pinch me.

The only wrinkle is that you need a QDC permit to enter the store, whether to buy alcohol or pork.  Dan has one; I never bothered.  But I will persevere.  Now that I'll be buying "groceries" from QDC, I think it warrants me having one.  In the meantime, I've got a pound of bacon in my freezer (from an undisclosed source to whom I am eternally grateful), awaiting the day when the five of us are here for breakfast.  Or lunch, for BLTs.  Or bacon-wrapped whatevers for appetizers.  And then we'll drizzle bacon grease on the light bulbs to fill the house with the scent of progress.  Ah, pork.  The one I love.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Holiday in Jordan

The Eid Al-Adha holiday fell in the first week of November this year, and both Dan and the kids got the week off.  As for me, it’s hard to differentiate between “off” and “on”, but I was allowed to join them on their trip to Jordan nonetheless.  We had a driver for the week (Essam) who shuttled us around the country in his very comfortable van.  We wanted this trip to have a good balance of hanging out by the pool and sight-seeing.  With so much to see, we prepped the kids as best we could.  In the words of the great Scott Feschuk, "OK kids, time to walk slowly past old stuff."  In the case of Jordan, REALLY old stuff.

Indiana Jones 1, 2 and 3
 at the Treasury, Petra
Petra is  nothing short of spectacular.  We rode horses for the first short part of the tour through the ancient city, and then walked the rest of the way, making it to the Treasury, and continuing on all the way to the Monastery. In the first nine months of this year, the site saw about 500,000 visitors less compared to the same time frame last year, and the people who make a living off of tourism are really hurting.  Boy, were they happy to see us.  Because there were less of us, their numbers seemed amplified, and we were targets of the men offering donkey rides, and the women and kids hawking silver jewellery, postcards, rugs, etc.  Nicholas and I got a good work-out practicing our "no thank-yous", but we did come away with a few souvenirs.  It was a very full, physical day, but a once in a lifetime experience.

The Drive to the Dead Sea
The Promised Land
We left a cold and foggy Petra to travel the 200 kilometers and 1200 meter elevation drop to the Dead Sea, with a lot of points of interest along the way.  We stopped at Ain Musa (Moses' Spring), Montreal Castle (built in 1115 during the Crusades), Wadi Mujib (Jordan's Grand Canyon), Byzantine ruins at Um Rasas (including St. Steven's Church), and the Greek Orthodox Basilica of St. George in the city of Madaba.  We made a stop at the Madaba Art and Handicraft Center, where we bought a beautiful (read:  expensive) mosaic table.  We were as surprised as anyone that we needed one, but with a little luck it will eventually be delivered to our house.  Our final stop was at Mount Nebo for a view of The Promised Land, where Dan quipped:  "I guess if  you spent 40 years in the desert it might look like the Land of Milk and Honey!"

The Dead Sea
And whose idea was it to have a little vacation within a vacation?  Mine, that's whose.  Brilliant, too, I might add.  After a couple of fun but long days on our feet and on the road, it was great to sit back for a few days in the warm weather at the Dead Sea, which is the lowest point on Earth, with an elevation of 420 meters below sea level.

The Three Buoys
We spent most of our time in or near one of the pools, and ventured out into the sea several times.  The beach is made up of salt encrusted rocks, so we had to be careful walking in.  The ground drops off a few feet from shore, giving way to deep water very quickly, and we were told that going in backwards was the best way to approach it.

Dan, floating...
Sunset at the Dead Sea

Amman and Points North
After three days at the Dead Sea, Essam drove us back to Amman, the capital of Jordan.  We wanted to try something local for dinner, so we went to Reem Bawadi, a restaurant serving Middle Eastern fare and housed in a large, high-ceilinged hall.  The cab ride was an adventure, with the five of us crammed into a Honda Civic with the driver.  We discovered that Jordanians drive a bit like Qataris, only with older, smaller cars.  Since it was the last day of Eid, the restaurant was quite busy, with lots of families sitting on cushioned benches at the low tables.  We told the waiter to bring us what he thought we should try, and had a great meal of grilled lamb, chicken, fish, and beef, stuffed grape leaves, falafel and various salads.  (One day I'm going to write a whole post on dealing with a sesame allergy in this part of the world!)

Corinthian column heads in Jerash
The next day we went to the old Roman city of Jerash, and Ajlun Castle, a Muslim castle built by Saladin during the Crusades.  Between these two stops, Essam assembled lunch for us by pulling over at a small shop, and coming out with a bag of falafel.  He drove a few blocks further, rolled down the window and said a few words in Arabic to some men on the street, and then made his way to another shop where he picked up two large, flat warm breads and handed them to Dan.  "Put the falafel in the bread and roll it up - the Jordanian Hamburger!"

On our last day in Jordan, we caught a cab and went on a self-guided tour of the Citadel in the heart of Amman, featuring a collection of ruins from Roman and medieval Islamic periods, and offering fantastic views of the surrounding city.  Then it was back to the hotel for a great lunch (with the manager and three waiters serving us, the only guests in the restaurant), and then on to the airport for our late afternoon flight.

There is easily another week's worth of places to visit and things to do in Jordan, so who knows?  We may have to make another visit someday.