Differences in the Everyday Mundane

Life in a developed city becomes very similar to life in any other city, no matter where that city is in the world. Work, exercise, cook dinner, sleep, repeat. However, living in a country other than your own quickly teaches you that what is considered ‘normal’ can vary quite a bit. Here are just a few of the differences I’ve come across over the past 8 months.

Buying a Car

This was a ridiculously easy thing to do! Before moving to Doha I had already decided that I wanted to buy a Wrangler to fulfill all over my desert dreams. Lucky for me, my friend Allison was selling hers in January. We agreed on a price, I pulled out the cash, and we made the official exchange of registration over dinner! Halas (finished). The government app Metrash makes it very easy to pay for and take care of many traffic matters on your phone, without any paperwork or visits to Traffic Headquarters.

They say it happens to every driver at least once…

Fender bender! With the chaos of the roads here it was only a matter of time before I got to experience the traffic accident process. A Qatari woman in a fancy BMW SUV rear-ended me one evening. We pulled over to the side of the road and she called the traffic police. From there, the process became very different from home. Our next stop was the traffic police station to report the accident, have our cars inspected, and receive documentation for the insurance company. The person at fault pays 100 riyal ($27) regardless of insurance company or coverage plan. After that you take the paperwork to the insurance company for a stamp on the documentation, then your car is able to be fixed. No cars can be worked on in Qatar without the paperwork from the traffic police.

Everything here is someone’s job

I don’t pump gas, clean up my trash when eating at a food court, make my own coffee at work, or even open doors a lot of the time! In Doha all of those small tasks are someone’s job. My friend even has an elevator operator at work.

Health Care

Fortunately, I’ve only had to go to the doctor once since August. Qatar Foundation has a free clinic for employees but I opted to pay 50 riyal ($13) and go to the clinic around the corner from my apartment. The doctor referred to the antibiotics as ‘Doha Chocolate’ when he was writing the prescription and then proceeded to write Advil, nasal spray, and an herbal cough syrup on the list. I was surprised to find out that my insurance paid for all the medications written down by the doctor and not just the antibiotic.

 

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Christmas in the Middle East part 2

Jordan!

Flying home to see family this year for Christmas seemed like too much to fit into only one week off work. (Next year I get three, so I’ll be there!) However, I feel lucky to have friends that feel like family and I was able to spend the week with Anna and John!

After landing in Amman, and hugging for an excessive amount of time, we were pleasantly surprised when Santa rented us a car and we spun the prize wheel to earn a complimentary upgrade! The afternoon was spent watching Anna and John battle jet lag, walking around the neighborhood, and eating falafel wraps at a cozy cafe.

Christmas Day! I woke up to presents Anna had arranged on the couch. Being away from family is easier when your friend’s parents take the time to send gifts to open on Christmas morning. 🙂 Although our apartment was freezing we had a great morning, sharing in our new Christmas tradition! After our slow start we drove to Jerash to see the ancient Roman ruins.

Jerash is said to be the best preserved Roman ruins, outside of Italy. It was a cloudy, misty day but beautiful all the same. We were all amazed at how accessible these ruins were. Being able to walk on old tiles and touch columns that are thousands of years old is incredible. If you VERY carefully place your fingers under a column, you are able to feel it swaying. You can even see the chariot wheel tracks in the cobblestones.

Of course while looking at all of this amazing history we were busted by a man for being fascinated by the goats. “You really love goats” he said to us with a chuckle in his voice. Yes, we do, because they have crazy eyes and are adorable. What’s not to love?

Wadi Rum- The next day we drove 3.5 hours to spend the night at a Bedouin camp. The owners were brothers and made the trip great with their humor and hospitality. When we arrived we had lunch, then drove out into the desert for sightseeing and walking around. For dinner, the men cooked chicken in a buried oven and served it with traditional Arabic food. After dinner we sat around the fireplace talking and sipping on Arabic tea. Later that night we bundled up and spent time laying on the ground, taking in all the stars! It’s remarkable to realize how many of the stars you are unable to see in the city due to light pollution.

The next morning began with a sunrise camel ride! None of us slept that well (even under about 7 layers of blankets) so the quick jerk up to 6 feet in the air was a brisk wake up call. Anna was on the guide’s favorite camel, Leila, who ran the show. 🙂 It was all timed perfectly for us to have an amazing view, and for the camels to enjoy their breakfast.

Onwards to Petra! Driving in Jordan was a bit treacherous but thanks(?) to the fog we had no idea how scary the roads really were. The rainy day was a welcomed chance to finally warm up in our hotel room in Wadi Musa and do a bit of souvenir shopping.

Before the trip we did very little research on Petra because we all wanted to take it in for ourselves, without being bombarded by photos beforehand. We could not have prepared ourselves for the size of the grounds! The day was spent walking about 9 miles in total, past the Treasury, then taking the high trail up to see many other well-preserved places in the city. The detail and symmetry is stunning and we spent much of the day discussing how a place like this even existed centuries ago.

We headed back that evening for ‘Petra at Night’, complete with luminaries and traditional Arabic music. While sitting in front of Treasury, we could look straight up and see a sky full of stars. It was a magical night! Then we went into “the oldest bar in the world”, which is clever because if you put a bar into a cave that is thousands of years old, it all of the sudden becomes the oldest bar, right?

Last stop, Dead Sea! After another terrifying drive through the backroads of Jordan, we made it to the Dead Sea. Anna’s phone briefly thought we were in Palestine, which was valid considering we were only a few miles from the border! We chose to just make a stop here, instead of stay for a night. Our goal was in and out because we thought the water would be freezing, however, we were pleasantly surprised that day when the outside temperature reached 65F! The water was only slightly chilly and we were able to comfortably float for as long as our skin could handle it before the burning of the salt kicked in.

This makes two years in a row that I have been able to spend Christmas with Anna and John, while also crossing off two of the Seven Wonders of the World. I know this tradition will not be able to continue but I’m glad to have made so many great memories with these Seoul mates!

구르는 돌에는 이끼가 끼지 않는다

Christmas in the Middle East part 1

Lebanon!

For winter break this year my school on had one week off, but luckily there was a three day weekend from December 15-18 for Qatar National Day. I took full advantage of any time off and traveled for both breaks.

First up was Lebanon with my friend Tessa. This trip was planned rather quickly after a causal question over lunch, “Want to go to Beirut?” Yes! Planned and booked within 36 hours.

It was great to get out of the Gulf Region for the first time since September. I was ready for a change of scenery and weather. Lebanon was cloudy, cool, and oh so refreshingly diverse! Beirut is a very charming city with a European flare. We had a great time seeing all the cafes, shops, restaurants, and street art along Gemmayzeh street. We stayed in a cozy Airbnb and our host took time to draw us a map of all the best breakfast cafes within walking distance.

The first day was spent with our driver Anwar (who very quickly became our honorary Lebanese Dad) driving to Byblos. We stopped at Jeita Grotto and explored the underground caverns but were unable to take any photos due to strict regulations. Byblos was the next stop and we had a great tour of the castle and lesson about the layers of history found here from a very knowledgeable woman named Marcella. She braved the rain and large puddles to show us around the grounds.

Next up was a seaside lunch at a restaurant with amazing service and delicious, fresh food. A complementary dessert was provided for us, as Tessa and I were escorted to a second table! The legendary Lebanese hospitality was not overrated and surely did not disappoint.

One last stop before heading back to Beirut, was a cable car ride up to Our Lady of Lebanon. The cable rides directly through a residential area and at times is about 20 meters from an apartment building! The views were spectacular and the sun peeked through the clouds just in time for sunset.

That night we went to a Christmas market in a train station. We soaked up all the Christmas we possible could and enjoyed people watching while sipping on mulled wine.

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Day 2 was devoted to Lebanese wine! Dad (Anwar) picked us up at 9am sharp and off we went to the mountain region. The drive was beautiful and the scenery changed very quickly. The elevation changed over 3,000 ft within the short hour drive as we went from beachside to snowcapped mountains.

Since December is not a tourist season, we were able to get private tours of the wineries and learned about the history of Lebanese wine.  Our favorite was Chateau Saint Thomas because of the down to earth atmosphere and the generosity of the tastings. 🙂 We explained beforehand that we would not be able to buy any wine since it is illegal to bring alcohol into Qatar.

On the ride back we saw several Syrian refugee camps and had a conversation with Anwar about it. Lebanon hosts around 1 million refugees, which is about 1/5 of there total population. Seeing the living conditions of the camps was shocking, especially given the cold weather at the time, but at least they are out of the war zone.

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Before flying out that night we made one last stop downtown, where there is a mosque and Greek orthodox church side by side. To add to the cultural diversity, there was also another Christmas market set up out front, complete with Santa.

This trip was a great glimpse into life in the Middle East, outside of the Gulf Region. Like all regions of the world, there is so much diversity and cultural differences throughout.

Namaste, y’all

I’m a bit late in getting to this post…but I went to India over the Eid Al Adha holiday break!

The trip was very last minute, as it was unclear whether our resident permits would be ready in time. My friend, Christine and I applied for our travel visas to India and bought tickets only two days before the trip. While it definitely cost more than it should have, it was completely worth it and only a 4 hour direct flight from Doha!

After advice from friends and family, Christine and I set these rules for ourselves:

  • Drink only bottled drinks
  • Use bottled water for brushing teeth
  • Keep your mouth closed in the shower
  • No ice, tea, or coffee
  • No raw veggies or fruit, unless it is peeled
  • Code word- Samosas (not sure why we needed a code word, but this was it!)
  • Sip on a little whiskey each night to help kill whatever bacteria we may have ingested (*note* this may not be medically sound, but is a good rule of thumb for any vacation!)

We landed in Delhi after taking a red eye flight and were happy to have arranged a driver to pick us up because dealing with taxis and money exchange on little sleep is not a fun experience. In Delhi, after a nap, we went to see the India gate and spent a few hours walking around the area. We were immediately approached at every tourist spot we visited and the merchants are very pushy. Although it feels uncomfortable, the way to get the sellers to leave you alone is to ignore them completely. Saying, ‘no, thank you’ only makes the sellers try harder and become more persistent that you buy what they have to offer.

After only one night in Delhi, we were off to Agra to see the Taj Mahal! Our driver picked us up at 6:30 and we began the 3 hour drive. Seeing the Taj Mahal was, as many experiences have been lately, very surreal. Seeing something in person that I have seen photos of and read about my entire life was a very grounding experience. Trying to take it all in: the age, beauty, and significance of the building itself, along with thinking about how many people have stood where I was standing over the past 300 plus years, was a large task for the few hours we were there.

Next stop, Agra Fort! The state of Rajasthan is full of these intricate, beautifully detailed forts, or palaces.

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Our last sightseeing destination of the day was Chand Baori, an ancient stepwell constructed in 800 AD. This is a less visited sight and our driver had never been there before, which made it a nice surprise to share this experience with him.

Jaipur was my favorite city of the trip! We bought beautiful pashminas, wall hangings made from old saris, and blue pottery.

Our second day in Jaipur ended with a tour of the City Palace and going to Naragarh fort for a sunset view of the city.

Onwards, to Jodhpur…except we missed our train! Christine and I have both traveled quite a bit are were a little embarrassed by this, but it is what it is. Not only did we miss our train, we watched it leave from only one platform away! The signs were confusing and it was 5:30am. Thankfully, one phone call and 30 minutes later, we were in a car and beginning the 5 hour drive.

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Taking pictures, instead of getting on the train!

Jodhpur is referred to as the ‘blue city’. The fort is beautiful, but the amount of blue seen from the city view wasn’t what I was expecting.

Our last stop was rest and relaxation at Colva Beach, Goa! We were ready to get away from the chaos of crowds and sightseeing to spend a few days lounging before heading back to Doha.

One week is never long enough to delve into a new culture, especially a place a large as India! I’m glad we had a chance to get a glimpse and am so happy to have found a person to travel with.

Roundabout after roundabout

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Driving in Doha is talked up to be a terrifying experience. It is definitely different than I’m used to with all the roundabouts in major intersections and the fact that lanes are merely suggestions here. So far, so good though! The amount of drivers of different nationalities and various driving backgrounds makes for quite a circus. Once you get in the mindset that rules do not exist and that you may be cut off at any moment, then it gets easier to accept the situation and let the anger go. 🙂

This week has been eventful!

  • Received my residency permit
  • Rented a car- It’s a Honda City but I really thought the man was saying ‘Civic’ over the phone. For my monthly payment, a man is going to come to my apartment to collect cash. This is one of the many things I’ve learned to not question and instead to roll along with!
  • Hired a cleaner for my apartment (it’s a tough life, y’all!)
  • Finally was able to set up my classroom
  • Met the returning teachers
  • Got paid and received a Qatari debit card
  • Went to Souq Waqif (a souq is a market) and had Lebanese food while being entertained by a whirling dervish dancer. Video of the dancing
  • Experienced my first sand storm! It seemed to come out of nowhere (I was inside my apartment and managed to stay sand free) and then cleared up just as quickly as it arrived. Video of the sandstorm

Next up…planning my trip for next week’s holiday break!

Eid Al Adha is a Muslim holiday that translates at ‘feast of the sacrifice’ and will be celebrated the week of September 11th this year (it’s lunar). This holiday commemorates the story of the Prophet Ibrahim (aka Abraham among Christians and Jews), who was willing to sacrifice his son Ismail (aka Ishmael) at God’s command. It’s an important time of year for charity and you see many tables set up at the supermarkets and major stores for people to donate to those less fortunate (similar to the Salvation Army bell ringers around Christmas time at home). Families get together for large feasts and celebrations.

 

First Impressions

Fist off, thank you to my cousin Will for coming up with the clever blog title! If you click ‘Follow’ on the right of the screen you can add your email and receive a notification when I make new posts.

Since signing my contract in November, I’ve been long awaiting this moment, so much so that I didn’t even feel nervous anymore when it came time to get on the plane. Mostly, I was just feeling ready for the transition to begin and to once again feed the hunger I’ve felt for this type of adventure.

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Immediate Observations:

  • English is everywhere! Because Doha has so many different nationalities living here, English has become the common language. Last night at the corner store I was able to ask the clerk if they sold dishwasher detergent. He responded with, ‘No ma’am we only have this kind for the sink.’ Wow! That is a thorough response and he understood me perfectly, without the use of any hand gestures.
  • All types of food are available at the supermarket.  Supermarkets in foreign countries are one of my favorite places to visit when traveling. I find the shopping etiquette, customer/store clerk interactions, and variety of food so interesting. It’s amazing how something so mundane in your home country can be so different, and possible anxiety causing, in another. As for Doha, I was pleasantly surprised! The store I went to was quite small, however, I was able to find food and even brands that I was used to seeing in the US. Believe it or not, they even had Texas Pete hot sauce! Some of you made be tired of hearing me talk about hot sauce (not sorry!) but this brand isn’t even found in parts of America. I have been warned though that if you see an obscure item that you like you should stock up on it because it may be months before it is in stock again or it may be a one time thing.  I also now have a membership card for the store. Pretty official! 🙂

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    So many choices!
  • This city is extremely diverse. My first day here I took a walk (in the 104 degree heat!) around my neighborhood to  get my bearings straight, and more importantly, to find food. I saw all kinds of people and overheard several different languages. I ended up at Turkey Central and was able to order a chicken shawarma with ease from the posted English menu. Best of all, it only cost 7QAR or around $2! This short 1 hour venture out of my apartment felt like a huge success because even though I have traveled to several countries, I’ve rarely ever spent time alone (shout out to the instant friends I made in Korea!).
  • The faculty and staff at my school are equally as diverse. So far I have met colleagues from the UK, South Africa, Lebanon, America, Canada, Ethiopia, Latvia, and the Philippines. And this is just new faculty! Returning faculty will be here in a week and I’m sure the list of home countries will continue to grow. The students at my school are equally as diverse because Qatar Academy Sidra is for students whose parents work for Qatar Foundation.(click on the link to learn more about the foundation I work for. It’s HUGE and I’ll go into more detail about it later.)
  • My apartment is massive!(although very sparse and colorless at the moment) Teaching internationally provides me with a lifestyle that I could never afford while teaching in America. The benefits vary by country but usually include free housing. Qatar takes it to the extreme and provides a two bedroom apartment for a single teacher, many household appliances (including a new TV and satellite channels), and covers all the utility bills. This time I even have a king size bed and balcony!

     

    Overall, I am adjusting well and everything is going smoothly. The heat is challenging at the moment and starting a new job is tiring. This weekend I’m going to check out the downtown area (a 6 minute cab ride from my place!) and spend some time getting to know my coworkers outside of school.