Thursday, September 29, 2011

A sandier look... because our other background was just too *green*...

Hi all,

I was going to write and be witty tonight and tell you stories.....

But then it was Thursday (our Friday, remember) and Jeff went out with some guys, and I put Kaiya to bed and lay down with her to help her fall asleep and then somehow it was suddenly 10pm and I didn't know where I was, what day it was, or even WHO I was, and all wit had left the building.

So here I am, dazed and confused now at 10:30pm, but I'm dang determined to post something, because when I mentioned the blog the other day, Jeff teased me and said, "Oh, do you blog? I seem to remember you blogging..." And I know that in order to KEEP your readers you do actually have to ENTERTAIN them from time to time. So here I am.

My original blog idea will have to wait for at least a bit of clarity to return. For now I will present to you some completely random shots of our little lives here. Cause let's face it, you need some time with the Epps, you do. :)

A few Fridays ago, we went to Darren and Larissa's place along with Dave and Tracie and Honour. Here we are strolling around their compound in the evening. I know we've been in Qatar for a while because I kept commenting on how "green" their compound is. Ya, they've got a few trees...

I need to get together with this gal more often. Soon we will have vehicles, Tracie, soon!

Enjoying a light lunch at one of the many many mall coffee shops. I believe this one is in Hyatt Plaza. I love Kaiya's sneaky look.

I don't know why I'm including this picture except that I'm really hungry right now, and this Jeff-made dinner was to die for.

This was how Kaiya felt about it. I know Candice will like this picture. :)

At Ray's Reef, an indoor play area. You have no idea how much fun this was. Kaiya and I laughed and squealed the entire time.

 We crashed them boys, oh yes we did!

I love this shirt. This pic's for you, Robyn. I can hear you laughing all the way in Doha.

And these two pics are for Rose. Kaiya loves doing yoga with me. Pretty good downward dogs, huh?

But Kaiya liked it even better "under" me. I'd show you our cat and cow, but you just don't need to see that much Kathy-bum. Jeff's photo angle was a bit... off.

Kaiya running loose at Lulu Hypermart (our usual grocery store) with our neighbour's daughter. What can I say? Thank goodness they really love kids in this country!


The trees/bushes in our compound have these beautiful little flowers on them. One day I'll find out what they're called.

So you may wonder why I have included this. I wish I had a picture looking out of our kitchen on 20 George Street to compare. This is my view, out of our kitchen window. When I wash dishes, prepare dinner, this is what I see. That wall is the wall of our compound, and there is a small yard, enough for a future patio set, inside of it. That green hedge is on both sides of the yard, and I love to feast my eyes on the green. But most of all, I love to gaze at the sunset and the palm trees. I remember, when I look at this view, that we really are in a different land, and our adventure is just beginning.

We've got a pretty good weekend lined up. We're trying out a new playgroup tomorrow morning, and heading to Darren and Larissa's for dinner. Saturday morning is our Gondolania playgroup; it'll be our third time going to that one, and in the afternoon I'll be heading over to the TESOL conference at the tree-like convention center. Every day's been getting better, as we meet more people and get more settled. And that residence permit is just around the corner, which will equal a vehicle to drive and a heck of a lot more freedom. Can we say Road Trip!!? 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

I never cease to be amazed... all manner of items that break in this country, and the ways in which they break.

Scene #1:
It's the first week of classes for me at the college. Me and my family are all very sick with fevers and colds. Thankfully, no students actually show up to any of my classes. After one such student-less class, I go to the washroom. I sit, do my business, and then reach for the toilet paper. Imagine a t.p. dispenser that looks a little something like this:

As I'm pulling out the toilet paper, the entire dispenser crashes to the floor, missing my baby toe by millimeters. Somehow, I find the humour in this, and have a good laugh, by myself, while sitting on the can.

I check the next day, and the dispenser is no longer on the floor, but it is also nowhere to be found... just some loose screws sticking out of the stall wall.

Scene #2:
Last week, in the computer lab. I have somewhat successfully managed my unruly 19-year old boys through yet another two-hour block in the lab. But at the end of class, my monitor starts playing tricks on me, fading to black. The boys leave, and I try to somehow log out of the computer. I realize that if I turn the monitor off and back on, I get about 2 seconds of screen time before it fades back to black. I do this a number of times, trying to click and type and click as fast as I can in order to log off.

The back of the monitor starts to smoke.

I work these puppies pretty hard, yes I do.

I smirk at first, but then mildly begin to panic as the smoke thickens and continues to pour out the back of the monitor. I realize my emergency skill set is sorely lacking, and not knowing what else to do, I turn off the monitor (again) as well as the computer (for good measure). As my eyes locate the fire extinguisher (which I wouldn't know what to do with), the monitor suddenly stops smoking.

I immediately call IT, relaying the entire story... monitor fading to black, turning monitor off and back on, trying to log off... I dramatically pause, thinking a crew of IT people will storm the room as soon as I deliver the next vital part of the story...

"and then the back of the monitor started to SMOKE!"

The IT person does not gasp, does not laugh, does not panic. She merely says, in a completely neutral tone of voice,

"Oh ya, that happens sometimes. We'll send someone down to check it out."

That happens sometimes? We'll send someone down to check it out? Carry on, folks, life as per usual.

Nothing here surprises me anymore, folks. At least nothing that involves breakage. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go make my daily phonecall to the landlord. Our water pump is acting up, our stovetop is still MIA, and the four broken pieces of gym equipment in the clubhouse (there ARE only four) are still very much broken.

Kathy, reporting live from Doha.
Peace out.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Random Thoughts on a Thursday Night

I am home. The house is quiet. Jeff is out with some CNA-Q guys tonight, a much needed adult-conversation-type night for him, and I am home. A much-needed quiet evening at home. The dishwasher is on, and lo and behold, I nearly jumped up in shock when I walked into the kitchen tonight to find a surprise wash machine installed... a surprise wash machine that works (for now, anyhow). So that is on too. Documentary Heaven is loading up a video for me, and I'm slowly working my way through an entire pot of organic peppermint tea. Life is slowly beginning to come to a new normal. It's good.

Jeff and I have successfully navigated our first full week of teaching. The week has been quite wonderful for him. He is still very much in awe of his new reality: classes of eight students, minimal behavioral problems. It's a long shot from some of his ghetto-like teaching experiences back in Hamilton. For me, the week had a rough start. I started out with three students. Three, well, duds. I was questioning everything as I worried about Kaiya's daycare situation, grew tired of our reliance on drivers and lack of freedom, and wondered at all the new college policies I was trying to learn, and emails I was trying to wade through, all while trying to scramble together lessons for my overwhelmingly enthusiastic and motivated students (insert strong sarcasm here, in case you didn't whiff that one...)

But the tide has turned. On Wednesday, new students joined my class... 6 of them. And today, another three. Bringing my total to twelve 19-20 year old men. (That total's not going to change... right, Darren?) I am no longer weirded out by men in thobes. It's all cool. And the duds in my class are now greatly outweighed by positive, sweet, respectful, and quiet (for now) students. I'm suddenly motivated to teach again. Amazing how that happens, huh?

We also bought a desk and an office chair. No more putting my back out while leaning over a coffee table composing emails. Unfortunately, our internet connection has become more and more spotty, but we'll get all that sorted once we get our residency. Heck, we are going to party once we get our residency!

And I have to share some of the strangeness of life here.... It's Thursday, the end of the work week. So we celebrated by going to TGIFridays, all three of us, for an early dinner before Jeff went out. As we entered, the mostly Asian servers were singing "Happy Birthday" to a table of Western expats. This was then followed by a funky recording of the same song in Arabic. Once we were seated, we looked over the menu, while listening to a variety of American pop. The Black Eyed Peas "Imma Be" came on, and the song was about half over when it was interrupted by the Muslim call to prayer, also broadcast over the speakers. I turned to Jeff and said, "This is so weird." We are quickly becoming accustomed to the strangeness of life here, and the contradictions in the every day.

And finally, some photos. Because we all need some. They aren't necessarily "new," but they offer some continued impressions of life here.

A very common laundry detergent here

Starbucks (and high-end coffee shops in general) is very popular here. Thank goodness!

Well, they say it's good for you!

Mmmmm... who needs bacon when you can have "Breakfast Beef?" You know you want to try some...

Haagen Dazs is also popular here. The Arabic version of the sign.

A very cool (and HUGE!) building in Education city, near where we live.
Peace out, friends. Have a good weekend!

Monday, September 12, 2011

A few updates...

My friend Kate, who is blessed with a wonderful imagination, sent me birthday greetings that went a little something like this:
I hope you will be properly feted tomorrow: under a tent by an oasis, luxuriating on silk carpets, Jeff hand feeding you dates as the camels sing low in the distance.
In reality, my birthday, including the days immediately before and after, looked something a little more like this: 

Perhaps we'll aim for the silk carpets next year, huh?

You can expect fewer blog posts for a little while over here. It's safe to say I'm kind of overwhelmed at this point. I'm trying to get my body used to going to bed by 10pm every night and waking at 5:20, three days a week, and thankfully a little later the other days. Life in Qatar is early life, and my non-morning personality is not digging it.I'm not used to coming home and having a few hours free before dinner, but then only having a couple of hours to myself once Kaiya is in bed. Never mind having to adjust to the work week being Sunday to Thursday. 

A few quick updates... We have students now! Jeff says his students are cute, sweet, and well-behaved. Mine are none of the above. I've heard over and over this past week that teaching EFL in the TPP program is more about managing behaviour than actually teaching English. Great. But honestly, I haven't seen enough of my students yet to make that call. I've only had 3 so far. Though I've been told I now have 12. We'll see how that goes. But so far all my boys have complied in handing over their two-three mobile phones at the start of every class. I haven't had to wrestle them out of their hands... yet.

We are getting closer to obtaining our residency here. Jeff went for his "medical" today, and I go for mine tomorrow. (a blood test and a chest x-ray). It's a long day of just sitting around, but it's a day off work. ;)
Residency for us will mean the ability to drive (already know what car we're going to get!), get faster internet, and get alcohol permits. All very good things. We're getting tired of not having a car, and not having the freedom to just hop in that car and go exploring. The drivers are great here, but I'm dying to try driving a roundabout all on my own (and maybe just once!)

Kaiya hasn't started daycare yet, but will go twice this week, Wednesday and Thursday. She was supposed to start Sunday, but Sundays are my longest day, and Kaiya was still kind of sick. In the meantime, Kaiya has been going to our friend Larissa and Darren's villa, where she has been taken care of by their nanny, along with their son.

Our quiet little compound is slowly coming alive. And there are kids, lots of kids! I met a Romanian/American couple across the street a couple days ago, and I'm hoping to meet the Canadians who live next door to them soon. Today Jeff met a mom with a 3-year old son, who is going to stop by with an invitation to his upcoming birthday party. And we actually went to our little park after dinner today, enjoying the cooler weather while Kaiya played with our neighbour's two kids and another boy and girl we met at the park.

I'm going to leave it at that... it's after 9:00pm, you know... practically past my bed time! There are many of you I owe emails to. Please be patient with me, friends. It's all I can do to just go through the motions right now without having my head explode. But soon, soon, we will somehow settle into this new routine, and this crazy life will start to look more normal.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

no pictures today...

We miss you. I think that's a good place to start. It's been a very difficult couple of days. Work started for Kathy, I had to go in at regular time (6 am), we've all been pretty sick, Kaiya is sleeping in our bed again and is afraid of her room, and the wash machine broke again.

Of course there are exciting things going on. Everything will begin to go well once we settle in. And we will eventually get a car and have some freedom.

But for now, if you can picture this:

All your friends are only available by long distance phone call. You no longer have a car (or bicycle for that matter).

Your furniture has been replaced so you aren't used to it (and you're missing key stuff like lamps and a desk).

The light switches turn on upside down (when everything else bugs you this could be the last straw).

Most of your appliances are new but are inexplicably broken. It takes multiple phone calls to get them fixed (and even more days to wait) with no real explanation or timeline other than "maybe tomorrow".

It's hot. At least now we can venture outside - it's like a really hot summer day in Canada. But there no where to walk to since we live in compounds.

The electrical outlets seem to me to be crazy dangerous. They have three holes - one is a ground. But most small appliances have two plugs. For your safety, you can't insert anything into the outlet without a ground plug. The solution? Stick your keys (or other sufficiently straight and metal object) into the ground hole in the 220V outlet to release the safety switch so you can plug in the lamp, DVD player or otherwise. I'm constantly reminding Kaiya that only daddy's are allowed to do such stupid things.

Nothing is simple - for anyone who has been in another culture before you'll know that feeling - "I used to do this at home and it would only take a five minute stop at home depot", or "I could pick that up at walmart for five bucks", or "I knew exactly who to talk to at the bank to get that done". No walmart or home depot here.

They won't let you pay for your fruit and veggies until you've got them bagged and weighed.

And we're sick - (getting over it now).

Two and a half weeks in is about when we should first be experiencing culture shock. We are. So. We miss you. No pictures today.


Saturday, September 03, 2011

Souq Waqif

I feel like titling this post "The Epps Have Arrived," but I won't, because I'm already corny, and that's just crossing the line. But there's something about looking at the pictures I'm sharing here that gives me this overwhelming sense of "It's going to be alright." Half the time I don't know exactly what the heck we're doing here, and my cultural experiences have so far been mostly, and unfortunately, limited to the shopping malls. But the souq.... ahhhhhh, the souq. Even in the heat and humidity and dripping sweat and dirty toilets, it was a truly inviting place.

Yes, everything is going to be alright.

A souq is simply a traditional marketplace. Souq Waqif is the largest and most popular one in Qatar. I like this little description I found on Qatar Visitor:
Souq Waqif was an old Souq, so the government decided to knock it down and build a new Souq that looked like an old Souq. And, to my surprise at the time, they did a very good job at it.

I also read that its busiest time is Friday after 4:00pm. We were there Friday from 6:30-8:30.

We saw many elderly men in thobes pushing around full wheelbarrows, like the ones pictured here. I was going to say that I didn't know what that was all about, but I just read on Qatar Visitor that
Men with white beards and grey turbans wait in the pathways with wheelbarrows ready to carry your purchases.
What do you know, I'm learning new things every day.

Jeff did a nice job, wouldn't you say? Those of you who've been following us since we started this blog in Japan get to see firsthand how his photography skills have exploded. Mad skills, I tell you! It's wonderful being married to a photographer!

The souq is like a crazy maze, with one narrow alley leading to another. Fabrics, spices, traditional dishes, clothing... it's all here. I'm waiting for another trip to the souq to buy a lot of my spices. Our tour guide pointed out one of the popular spice shops, and I made sure Jeff got a picture of the sign.

This is one of my favourite shots of the evening. The center of the souq is spacious and open. Pedestrian only, cobblestone streets, lined with traditional and modern restaurants. The seating spills out of the restaurants onto the streets, but there are these misting fans everywhere, helping to ease some of the heat. This photo reminds me of a movie set.

There is also an "animal" section of the souq, with mostly birds, but also fish, rabbits, cats, some dogs, and the occasional snake. Here I'm admiring our neighbour Jabbour - at a safe distance - for his fearlessness.

Jabbour's children, Celine and Jimmy checking out the snake, along with a cautious Kaiya.

Kaiya wanted to hold the bird, but said it hurt her, so I stuck out my hand.

I don't really want to talk about these, because I'm definitely not a fan of dyeing animals...but yes, there were lots of these to go around...

Our tour guide, Nasser, who works for Qatar Foundation (on the left), and his cousin (who he kept referring to as his "assisstant.") :)

Men around here are constantly adjusting their head-piece thingies (I'll find out what they're actually called, promise.)

Okay, so when we were standing around taking pictures of one another, this guy walked up and wanted us to take a picture of him. So of course, Jeff did. He leaned in and told Jeff proudly that he was King Abdullah from Saudi Arabia. Er, um, okaaaaaayyy...

Nasser took us to a small restaurant right in the heart of the souq, run by this wonderfully warm woman. She treated us to ice cold water and a variety of sweets and other foods. We were also given a chance to try traditional coffee, which is flavoured with cardamom, saffron, cloves, and cinnamon.

While I was taking Kaiya to the bathroom, Jeff was "dragged" to a restaurant nearby to smoke some shisha. (Eye witnesses report that no actual dragging took place.) That whole contraption, including the thing he's sucking on and the stand beside him (a hookah), is used for this purpose. His was strawberry-flavoured. Yummy, until I actually inhaled and then coughed for five minutes (such an amateur, I know). Our more health-conscious neighbours informed me that smoking a shisha is like smoking an entire pack of cigarettes. I had to laugh. This was the first time Jeff had ever smoked in his life. Starting with a whole pack? Not bad, hon.

Tracie, exhaling her grape-flavoured shisha. She also blogged about the evening; you can find her take here.

Dave, clearly in his element...

The shisha group, saying good night.

When I took Kaiya to the bathroom down one of the many alleyways, we had to wait for a minute by another open-air restaurant. Up on the wall, giant screen, the restaurant was broadcasting American music videos. I had to smile at the scantily-clad J-Lo singing and dancing down at me. I'm still figuring out the rules and contradictions of this country. But then came OneRepublic, with their song, "Good Life." It's a great song that's been in my head in the months leading up to our move here. Seeing them belting that song down at me somehow was a sign.

Yes, everything's gonna be alright. Much love to you, friends. Tomorrow begins my first full work week. This is it.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

It's been two weeks.

I have learned...
  • that using drivers and nannies is not as overwhelming as I thought it was back in Canada. Drivers: call number, give directions and time, hop in car when it arrives, get driven! Nannies: call up friend's trusted nanny, arrange days and time, welcome her when she arrives, leave for work, call once or twice, arrive home and say good-bye. It's different, to be sure, and something I'm not completely comfortable with yet, but it works. Not so difficult.
  • that you can dust, but you will never get rid of the dust. This is the desert, after all. And everything, including my skin, including the back of my throat and my nasal cavities, is covered in a fine layer of sandy dust. I am hoping I get used to this. Until then, I am hoping to soon find a good allergy medication.
  • that CNA-Q (my employer) ROCKS. Orientation impressed me so stinking much, I could talk about it for days. In fact, the only reason I haven't blogged about it is that I don't know how to condense all of the interesting information I learned, and I'm afraid of totally boring you. But I could have listened to our dean tell stories all day. The history, the Qatari culture, the college's plans for the future... I was completely enthralled.
  • that I may never come to understand the English our Sri Lankan driver speaks. In fact, there are so many Englishes I don't understand represented in this country that I'm sometimes embarrassed to call myself an ESL teacher. Surely I should be able to understand more than just Asian and Latin accents!
  • that bananas ripen really quickly in this country. I'm going to be making a lot of banana muffins.
  • that our villa may never get totally fixed. And if something does get fixed, more than likely something else will break. All I can say is, thank goodness we have three showers in this villa, and functioning a/c in all our most-used rooms.
  • that being sponsored by the Qatar Foundation also ROCKS. They are slowly taking over this country (well, our section of the city, anyways). And their list of staff perks and discounts is unending.
  • that listening to too much Mumford and Sons is dangerous right now. I invariably start imagining myself with all my friends, beer in hand, arms locked around each other, bodies swaying as we belt out the lyrics to the songs. Not that this has ever in the history of Kathy actually happened, but wouldn't it be a beautiful scene? I also imagine it happening at the Feathery. Could we all go there at Christmas and make this a reality? 'Cause I tear up every time I imagine it.                                            

We went to Hyatt Plaza, another mall. Thankfully, this one wasn't as big. But the food court was packed. It's Eid, after all, and there was some kind of show or something that was going to happen (we left before we found out what it was.) There were the most Qataris we had seen in one place. Thobes and abayas were everywhere. Eid is a bit like Christmas to us: a time for family, gifts, new clothes, special foods. All the little girls had beautiful dresses on, and henna covering their hands and arms. It was an amazing sight. My favourite was a Qatari family, mom in black abaya, dad in white thobe, little girls in beautiful dresses, and two young sons with bright orange t-shirts that read: "My dad is cooler than your dad." Man, I wish we had gotten a picture of that one!

As you look at the pictures, please make sure to look at what is behind each of us. We're trying to -discretely- give you a sense for the national dress and the locals.

The mall we went to today was in the Aspire Zone, the area of Doha which hosted the 2006 Asian Games. Help me out Darren & Larissa... what is that tower? The "Aspire Tower"?? 

This is what Starbuck's Coffee looks like here. I have not yet figured out the cream situation in this country. But I had better soon. I need my cream! 

In the very busy food court. At the far end is a stage set up for we-don't-know-what. But there were lots of excited kids waiting in line.

Using our 3-year old as a prop to take pictures of the locals. :)

The "Jungle Zone." Most malls here have some sort of amusement/play area set up for kids. Jeff and Kaiya played here while I shopped at Giant, a store quite reminiscent of Walmart...


We were taken to the Education city clubhouse, a wonderful place that we get free access to, with a beautiful pool, fitness center, exercise classes, steam rooms, saunas, jacuzzis... you get the picture. We're being spoiled. But the most memorable part of the day was our 2-minute walk in the heat to Lulu Express, the grocery store next door. No one walks in this heat, and as cars passed by us, I leaned into Honour and said, "You know what they're thinking: 'Crazy people. They must be new here.'" We did actually see one expat in running shoes, walking along the road. One lonely expat.

The pool at the Education City clubhouse. Not too shabby... and I hear they have BBQs in the pavilion on the left every Friday.

The security building by the gate to the clubhouse. Everything is gated in this country, and there are tons of security guards everywhere.

A bridge leading from the Ed. City housing over to the clubhouse. We thought the whole area was quite pretty.

The walk to Lulu Express. Do you see the heat radiating? And the sweat percolating?

Yay for air conditioning!

And a totally random sign inside the Lulu. Check out the small red part of the signage.

By the way, I was going to post about a couple of grocery store experiences, but my friend Tracie did a stellar job of that, so let me just refer you to her post here. Let's just say that between finding Megamart and Lulu Express... I was lost but now am found. Even my old-fashioned oats! And every kind of flour and sugar under the sun! The only thing I absolutely can't find here is natural laundry detergent, but the search will continue.

In the future, I hope to post up a nice wordy post that gives you the lay of the land. What's going on in terms of our schedules, Kaiya's care, and how the adjustment is going. 'Cause you've been asking. But we visit the souq tomorrow, and something tells me there might be some sweet pictures to post from that visit. We'll see.