Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Jeff's school, part 2

About a year and a half ago, when Jeff was still working at Cathy Wever elementary, he was making one of his regular stops at a convenience store around the corner. He struck up a conversation with the Middle Eastern man running the store, and mentioned our hopes to go to Qatar one day. The man lit up, clearly impressed with the country, and said, "You must work for the Qatar Foundation. They are doing great things for the country, and they are an excellent organization." That night, Jeff looked around at QF's website and was impressed, but then mostly forgot about it. In January 2011 he was hired by Qatar Academy, part of the Qatar Foundation, but it was yesterday that he remembered the corner store conversation and made the connection. Cool, huh?

So if you just couldn't get enough of Jeff's school, here's a special treat for you: video footage from part of his drive. Try not to get too overwhelmed. It's pretty exciting!

But seriously...

The one downfall in our set-up here is Jeff's commute. Back in Canada, he got incredibly tired of the drive to Hamilton every day... a 45-minute slog through crazy traffic, and of course, unpredictable Canadian weather. One of his big wishes for living overseas was to be able to say good-bye to the commute.

Well, that didn't happen, now did it?

His drive is 35-40 minutes long, minus the Canadian rain and snow, of course. Now he just gets to stare at endless sand. Sand and more sand, with the occasional building thrown in. The fact is, the chance to work for Qatar Foundation was just too good to pass up. And the class sizes and math specialization didn't hurt either. And neither did the benefits.  He's been amazed so far at his school and the treatment he's been given.

And just think of all the podcasts he'll be able to listen to while trying to keep himself awake each day, leaving the house at 6 in the morning! Jeff, the endless repository of information, expanded version. :)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Happy Eid!

My turn.

I wish I could just talk. Writing and me don't get along. But those who know me, know I'd be happy to just tell you about it all...for hours...and hours.

As far as we know, Eid starts tomorrow. Someone has to see the moon tonight to declare Ramadan over. I can't say I understand completely, but it doesn't really matter - by anyone's calculations Kathy and I have nearly a week off now.

So as the holidays begin, I'll show you briefly around my school. Let's start on the drive:

Today our driver decided to take a short cut to pick up a colleague.  Why stay on the road when you have a minivan?  As you can see, between the compounds (villas) and roads is desert.  Not sand dunes, just barren, dusty, rocky desert.  Hence the desire for people to own 4X4s.  The compounds you see are for people who work in Education city - and are the compounds we had secretly hoped to be in.  Maybe next year!

School.  I've only got a few pictures (all I have with me normally is my iphone - so these will have to do).  Once you enter the front gate and pass security, you are on a covered walk:

This looks out from the school to the front gate.

Through the front doors past the security office and back out into the internal courtyard.  The main building is like a big square donut with the courtyard in the middle.  Here it is:

Through the opposite side of the "donut" and out back is the second building - the middle school - where I teach:

That's my building.  I've got a fantastic room with a smart board (on the way...), four iMacs, and a rolling double blackboard (old-school).  I could easily seat 25.  I have 8 students in each class.

And a few shots of some architecture around the buildings:

I had to include this, it's of the front doors on the villas that Dave and Tracie and Honour live in.

That's it for me.


Saturday, August 27, 2011

In case you were worried...

... that the only thing we ever get to do around here is SHOP, let me show you a little bit of what today was like. Jeff's employer, Qatar Academy, took all their new staff to the Intercontinental Resort in Doha. (Click on the link and watch the "Concierge Video Tour." It's short, and it gives you a good overview of what Qatar has to offer. I'm excited!)

The new staff included teachers from all three of Qatar Academy's locations: Doha, Al-Khor (Jeff's location) and Al-Wakra. And after we registered and got our fuzzy purple towels, we stepped outside to be greeted by a bit of this:

I haven't really done any resort-style vacations, so I didn't have a lot to compare this to. I can simply say that it was absolutely breathtaking.

The beach. I dipped my toes in the water, and it was stinking hot! There's a reason most of us stayed by (and IN) the pool:

The view of the Doha skyline:

Looking the other way towards The Pearl development (this entire country is under serious construction):

We got to see aiplanes flying overhead all day (and Kaiya pointed out most of them):

I wasn't sure how we would all fare with spending a day out in 40-something-degree weather, but you know, funny thing, we did just fiiiiiiiiiiiine. Of course, it helped that the pool was not bathwater temperature, but actually a little cool. But I think the best part was just being with people. We met a load of new people, all of us just floating around in the pool, swapping stories of where we're from and how we got here. And we got to spend a lot of time with our old/new friends, Dave and Tracie and Honour. Dave and Tracie have floated their way in and out of our lives through the years, and now here we are, all together in Qatar of all places, with Jeff and Dave teaching the same grades 5-7 students in Al-Khor.

Kaiya loves having new pool friends. More fun people to toss her around in the pool:

And she has a special fondness for Dave (must be something about the name...) Here she's doing the little trick Jasmine taught her, right in Dave's face. Thanks, Jasmine!

Do I look happy to be here?

I know Kaiya sure was. She took a real liking to Honour (although I hear many kids do). When Honour had to go at the end of the day, Kaiya insisted we swim her back to the steps, holding hands, and then she jumped up and gave her a big hug. I love how my girl loves.

At 12:30 we were served a grand buffet lunch. Cold dishes, including salads, hummus, baba ganoush, and other dips I didn't know; hot dishes including chicken, lamb, fish, and beef; and tables full of dessert. Extravagant.

If we had been quick enough, we could have sat in one of the "tents" lining the sides of the banquet hall:

But it wouldn't have been very practical with a 3-year old, I guess.

Here is our actual lunch table. Dave and Tracie and Honour sat with us. The other couple is our neighbours from Lebanon, very kind and friendly people we're slowly getting to know. They have a 7-year old girl and a 9-year old boy, but I believe they were at the dessert table. :) Kaiya spent the afternoon swimming with them.

And one last picture of the resort. Jeff worked hard on this one tonight, merging about 15 photos to bring you this beauty. He wants you to know that it is a 110 megapixel photo. Crazy! I can tell, because it's taking forever to upload. Sadly, the version you see here is much scaled down. But after all that work, it deserves to be posted.

As our Lebanese neighbours drove us home today, Jeff followed the map on his iphone. We're working hard to get a feel for this new place. As he zoomed out, he nudged me and pointed to the map of the world, with the red dot on Qatar. "We're HERE now, Kathy. Right here. We're not there anymore (pointing to Canada)." We both kind of shook our heads in disbelief. Really? Is this really happening? We definitely need more time to get this to sink in.

Tomorrow is Sunday, the beginning of our work week. Jeff has some more orientation before Eid begins, and I'm in for two full days of EFL orientation at the college. Perhaps a couple full days of work will help this new reality set in?

Later, friends...

Friday, August 26, 2011

A Little Bit of Extravagance...


Because every mall should have a canal running through its middle, complete with gondola rides (and you know we Epps will one day take one!)

And a Porsche displayed in the center, somewhere between the Burberry, Louis Vuitton, and Dolce and Gabbana stores.

Pretty to look at, yes it is. But something tells me we won't be shopping at this high-end mall too often. Although the ice rink right by the food court is kind of nice... :)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Shopping Insanity

Get used to a lot of posts about shopping. Shopping is probably this nation's #1 past time. The folks here love their malls... and there are so many to choose from. Jeff's school has set up drivers for all of us newbies for every night of the week... to go shopping. We don't go every night because it's just too exhausting. With jet lag, by the time 7:30 comes around, we're pretty much ready for bed. Never mind the fact that we have to drag Kaiya through all of the shopping... Kaiya, whose bed time used to be 8:00pm. Qatar has changed all that! These days, we're lucky if she gets in bed by ten.

But tonight we were up for the challenge. It's Thursday, after all, the Middle East's equivalent to our Friday, and so we were ready to get up and get out. Especially since the destination was City Center Mall, located, believe it or not, in the center of Doha. :) The mall is amazing, and overwhelming (I've used that word a lot this past week, haven't I?) It goes up four, maybe five stories, with halls of stores spreading off in every direction. I lost count of the many escalators and elevators, and I started experiencing some serious vertigo on the top floor, looking down to the hustle and bustle below. We're just lucky we found our way back to the driver through the maze of people and stores.

Here's a collection of some sights we experienced tonight:

Kaiya and Jeff hanging out in some random tent that was inside the mall.

Kaiya and I by the skating rink in the middle of the mall. You can look down onto this skating rink from each floor of the mall.

Kaiya meeting the characters of the show Freej. I saw this show once when I stayed with Darren and Larissa in Doha last June for 10 days. Even though Kaiya has never seen the show, she was completely enchanted.

She insisted we meet each and every one of the characters... It was so funny to see all the people come running to meet the characters, dragging their often crying, frightened children along to take some snapshots. We saw one Qatari woman whip out a huge Nikon SLR from under her abaya to take some shots.

Shopping for basics in yet another Carrefour. It was 9 o'clock by this time, and the mall came alive! During Ramadan, the shops are all closed till 7:30pm. But then, the later it gets, the crazier it gets. Thankfully, we were still awake enough to enjoy the buzz of all the excitement. When we left the mall at 9:45, swarms and swarms of people were just coming in. I asked our driver, "Do Qataris ever sleep?" And he just laughed. "Maybe around 5 in the morning, maam, they go to sleep."

Jeff getting more produce weighed at the "weighing point."

The number of checkouts is kind of unbelievable, and they all were a-buzzing.

I like this advertisement... always makes me smile.

One view from the outside of the mall, as we waited for our driver to appear among the masses of cars.

There were cars and people everywhere. All the drop-off points to the mall were overcrowded, so cars just randomly stopped on the side of the busy street to let off passengers.

My favourite picture from the night... the impressive entrance to City Center Mall.

We do intend to get back to our normal schedules one day, really we do. But as long as it's Ramadan, it's late night a-shopping we will go!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Was it only a week ago??

I feel like it has been months. So many new sensations, so little sleep. We managed the flight, have gotten Jeff through almost a week's worth of orientation, have had many trips to the bathwater pool, and have made even more negotiations regarding broken appliances.

I have been promised a little bit of something something tomorrow that will hopefully help me sink into a deeper sleep tomorrow night. I sure could use it. Somehow TGIT has less of a ring, especially considering they have TGIFridays restaurants here.

But yes, as for tomorrow... TGIT!

And as for right now...

Karen and Josh's van filled to the hilt. I can't believe we managed to fit everything in there! (and get the computer here in one piece)

Me locking the door on George Street one last time... (won't be seeing those shoulders in public for some time...

Sigh. Miss you all... in this week-that-has-felt-like-much-longer!

Bird's Eye Views

Villas around here have long ladders reaching up to their roofs. That's where the air conditioners, TV satellites, and often water cisterns are held, and since everything around here seems to break fairly regularly, you need this kind of handy access.

Of course, in Jeff's case, this is just an invitation to some roof top photography. He took the following photos right around sunset, but still came inside totally and completely drenched.

I LOVE this picture. You can see the little grassy playground area. Diagonally through that is where the clubhouse and pool are.

The ever-important necessity: air conditioners.

Another view from the rooftop, looking the other way...

Satellite dishes (one day soon ours will hopefully work!) and a water cistern.

This gives you an idea of the crazy building going on in this country. This is our landmark, the building we see clearly from our compound. We've been told it's going to be... a hospital!

And another angle. Our compound is small; just one block.

And a better shot of the pool:

K-bear, conqueror of the world:

I've got some storytelling I want to do, but I'm beat today. It'll have to wait. Up tomorrow: a day of orientation for me at my new workplace: CNA-Q. I'm pumped! Kaiya will be watched by Nelly, our friends' nanny. She's here right now, getting to know our girl. Her comment so far: "I like her laugh. It sounds like an old lady." (I know some of you will appreciate that!)

Have a great day, folks...

Monday, August 22, 2011

Here you go.... some pics of us and our new home

So, this isn't yet complete, but it'll have to do for now. First of all, a few factoids for you. Our villa has 3 bedrooms and 4 bathrooms. One bathroom comes off of a small, maybe 8 x 8 room which we were told was the "maid's quarters." We just use the room for storage, and don't even enter the bathroom.

The villa is a "semi," but with concrete walls, you really don't hear a thing. In fact, we even have trouble hearing each other when we're in separate rooms! When you walk in the front door, the stairs are on your left, and the living/dining room is on your right. In the back is a 2-piece bathroom, with a kitchen to the left and the "maid's room" and bathroom to the right. Upstairs there are 3 bedrooms. Ours is huge with a king-size bed and ensuite. Kaiya's and our rooms are at the front of the villa. In the back are yet another bathroom and a larger bedroom with two twin beds. All in all, it's a whole lot more space than we're used to!

So here are the pics we have so far. Sadly, the master bedroom is missing. (We could only do so much cleaning in one night!) You'll get to see that another day.

Here are some shots of our living/dining room. It is SO wonderful to have all this open space (if you've been in our George Street living room, you'll appreciate this).

Taken from the other end. We were so happy to see colour on the walls, and even some pictures. Stepping in the front door was a huge relief to me!

From this angle, you can see to the front door and stairs.

The main floor bathroom. We are still getting used to having one, but it sure is nice not to have to run up the stairs all the time.

The "maid's room." AKA storage space. I won't bother showing you the bathroom. It's blue, and it has the tiniest shower I've ever seen in the corner.

Time for a Kaiya and mommy break:

Aw, heck, let's do one more:

The kitchen. I spent a while cleaning this puppy for you guys tonight! Let's pretend there's a black stove top and a white wash machine there as well, shall we? Hopefully they will be returned soon...

Another angle, so you can see our back door. It's actually a regular-sized door. Jeff merged two photos, and that's why the door looks so huge! We plan on buying a couple stools for the island-thingy.

Kaiya welcomes you upstairs...

View from the top of the stairs. Yes, there's a strangely placed window there, so people can check us out as we walk around, I guess...

Upstairs hallway. It feels so long!

Kaiya and Jeff hamming it up in her room.

And Kaiya's actual room. We all have these wonderful closets.

Another not particularly pretty bathroom. We never ever use this one.

Our third bedroom. It has a message for you.
"Hi family and friends of the Epps. I'm feeling kind of lonely right now 'coz no one ever uses me. Please come and sleep in my beds. I promise they'll buy nicer (and comfier) sheets for you. I'll be waiting..."

And finally, Kaiya says,
"Hey, don't forget me and my crazy laugh or I'll have to beat you up!"

(I know I'm corny. Blame it on the jet lag... at least for a couple more days...)

Oh, and one last one. The pool! Well, the shallow end of the pool. Yes, we do go every day, and yes, it mostly feels like you're wading in a bath tub. Very odd sensation.

We'll post more pics of the outdoors as well as our massive master bedroom sometime soon. For now, good night!