Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Scenes from Last Weekend

It's been an incredibly busy week. It kind of snuck up on me. Midterm exams at the college were held last week, and I had no idea what a BIG DEAL exams at the college are. They are invigilated by two teachers per classroom, and you never invigilate your own class. A long list of rules is played out, in both English and Arabic. After the exam, all exams have to be triple marked by teams of teachers. Then you have to fill in tally sheets, where essentially each student's every answer is input into Excel. Grades are finally put into some not-very-friendly software called Gradebook, and then they are finally published. And of course, there are timelines and deadlines associated with each task. We're only allowed to pick up our exams during certain times, and then every single exam-related item needs to be dropped off as well, but only at certain times. Over the top? Understatement.

In addition, I was observed today by the Associate Dean of Language Studies. Each new instructor at the college is observed twice, once in each of their first two semesters. It's a formal observation, where you're graded on a number of items. I thought the week after midterms would be a good time to get observed, but I failed to take into consideration the post-exam stress of triple marking, yadda yadda...

Oh, and Kaiya was sick with a mystery fever for a couple of days, and I had crazy swollen glands that started last Wednesday and that I finally got antibiotics for on Sunday. (Yes, I took the penicillin, mom and dad...)

Hence the silence on the blog.

But tonight is sweet. We are healthy. My observation is done (and nailed, I must say), and the midterm drama is all but forgotten. (Just have to make sure I return all my materials between precisely 8 and 12 tomorrow!)

So before I crawl into bed, I want to share some photos with you. These were taken last weekend when we took a little impromptu road trip down to Al Wakra. Here's a map of Qatar just to show you. It's just south of Doha.

In Al Wakra, we simply drove along the water. It was clearly a fishing village. Here's some of what Jeff captured:

There were a ton of Indian men hanging out together, fishing.

Fishing dhows

Cool, traditional-style walls

We all know Jeff likes his doors

Wanna go to the beach? Just pull up your Landcruiser. Better yet, get three Landcruisers together to make a little enclosure for your family. I had read that the beach in Al Wakra is popular. But I'm not sure why. It was covered in litter.

This is my absolute favourite. I love the Qatari flag.
Off to bed.

Good night.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Happy (Belated) Thanksgiving

Thanks to Tracie, on Saturday night we enjoyed a wonderful belated Thanksgiving. The festivities were held in Al Khor, the city where Jeff works. We gladly drove our lovely new vehicle there, even though we had already been driving all day. When we entered the compound, we were greeted by this:

Dave, Dean and Carlo, three teachers Jeff works with, playing guitar
The night was warm, but pleasant, and people slowly gathered together in and out of the clubhouse, bringing all the treats they had prepared throughout the day. We stood around, introducing ourselves and chatting it up, getting to know one another just a bit better.

Lovely Honour and her friends
After a while, Jeff took over Dave's spot on the guitar, and Hovig took over his camera, snapping most of the pictures of the night.

Kaiya wanted to help her dad strum.

Can I just say how happy it makes me to see Jeff with guitar in hand?

Listening to the guys play
Dave took on just a little bit of that pastor role, formally starting the meal, and asking us to find a little space in our hearts to give thanks.

It was an impressive spread. Many people became honourary Canadians that night, eating turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and Tracie's wonderful apple and pumpkin pies.

The desserts were pretty amazing. My favourite was this homemade carrot cake.
It was the perfect way to end the weekend. I met some great people, had some good conversation, and for the first time since arriving in Doha, felt part of a community. Thank you, Tracie, for bringing us together.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Picture Time!

No time for storytelling today. Just time for pictures. I know you all love them, because I'm always getting requests for them. So here's your feast for today:

Kaiya is amazing us every day with her word knowledge. She regularly spells out words now, and is trying to sound them out. Lower case, even! When I was out the other night, her and Jeff made these great letters. Jeff rolled out the "Play Clay" (as Robert Munsch calls it) and Kaiya surprised him by forming the letters... mostly by herself. She informed him that the one on the right is Arabic, and it actually does closely resemble a letter they studied in her Arabic class that week. We're proud parents, yes we are!

Our bathtub is FIXED. This is our old one, by the garbage behind our compound. Looks lonely, doesn't it?

The crazy clouds the other day. It never did rain. The wind picked up though, and we had some sand whip around a bit. I wouldn't go as far as calling it a sandstorm, but we Epps were pretty excited by something other than sun, sun, sun.

We made it to the "Green Market" yesterday, and these are some of the plants we brought home. We are crazy excited by the GREEN. I even bought some bamboo shoots in a pretty blue pot for my office. They made me think of you, Beth, and your kind housewarming gift to us some five and a half years ago. My office will feel a little more homey with a green reminder of a good friend at home.

This is our new "car," the car we have been waiting for. The best result of Jeff getting his RP was that we could finally purchase (and drive) a vehicle. And a vehicle means freedom, something we have seriously been craving. This Nissan is in all likelihood the nicest vehicle we Epps will drive in our entire lifetime. And we are going to enjoy it, for it is a thing of beauty. And it gets along quite nicely with all the other 4-wheel drive vehicles on the road. Those pesky Landcruisers don't feel so intimidating anymore. We drove 100 clicks yesterday, just booting around the city. As Darren said, "You must have circled the entire city three times!" Ya, in between getting lost on our way to each destination, that's about right. Four-wheel drive means we'll be able to take trips to the desert... and there's enough room for FOUR of you to visit us at once. (hint, hint)

Our license plate. You can teach yourself some Arabic by studying the numbers. These are the little things that excite us in the day to day...

Oh, and we filled up for a cool 54QR. That's 15 Canadian dollars. Knowing how much ire talk of gas prices generates, I will make sure that this is the only time I mention these facts on this here blog. I want to keep my friends, after all. ;)

Kaiya of course wants to drive. Sixteen is suddenly feeling far too soon! But I love this picture of her, so I had to share.

Hope you're having a great weekend. We'll be enjoying a belated Thanksgiving dinner tonight with friends from Jeff's work. Any excuse for pie and good company.

Take care...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

"Camping"... and other updates

I had a really good teaching day with my "boys" yesterday. When I told a fellow newbie about my luck, he said, "Oh ya, I had one of those a couple weeks ago. And never again. Don't get used to it." And knowing how my students like to keep me on my toes, I certainly wasn't expecting a repeat. So today was a very pleasant surprise. I introduced our second two-hour block with the topic "camping." I know it's a popular past time here amongst the young men, so I figured it would get them talking. And it did. Twenty minutes into the lesson and I had to work hard to rope them back in to the focus of the class.

As we talked, I shared a bit about what camping in Canada is like. "It's different," I said, "because we don't have desert." "What do you have?" they asked. "Well, forests. Trees. Lots of really big, green trees. And green grass. And water. Lots of lakes and rivers. We often like to camp next to the water." They nodded, but I could see they didn't really understand.

I had them complete a checklist of items they would and would not bring camping with them. The checklist including such silly items as TVs and DVDs. So I was very surprised to find out that almost all of them think these are camping necessities. They described their midnight desert TV-viewing habits, including the satellites they sometimes rig up. I stared at them, dumbfounded. Finally I said, "You know, in Canada, when we camp, we usually want to just be in nature, connect with nature, you know?" One student said loudly, "But Miss, we don't have any nature." I burst out laughing. The look on his face and the expression in his voice were priceless. But the next student's comment was the best (completed with his body language): "Go left, desert. Go right, desert. Qatar finish." It was a good moment.

Look at the focus!
Speaking of camping, I meant to include this picture in our last post. In preparation for our own desert day trips, I bought Kaiya this little tent. (She's been obsessed with Cars and Lightning McQueen since she watched the movie at Hannah & Wren's house.) She loves the tent. It has become her special crafting zone. It's packed full of all her goodies: paper, old crafts from daycare, glitter glue, markers, crayons, scissors... And she sits and concentrates. We all love the tent.

And in other news... We get our Pathfinder tomorrow!!!! We are so excited that we don't know what to do with ourselves this weekend. There are so many things to see and do... once you have a little freedom. Here are a couple of little outings we're considering for Friday:

Jeff and I both get weekly emails at work with all kinds of activities listed. Of course, there is a very good chance that we will simply hop intp our hot new car and just DRIVE. I seriously can't wait!

And the bathtub... yes, Jeff cracked through it at the end of his shower on Saturday. Amazingly, Kamal has been quick to act on this one. Almost apologetic even. It was supposed to be replaced today. Knowing how things work in this country, I was not at all surprised to receive his phonecall while at the college today: "I'm sorry ma'am, but while the driver was bringing the new bathtub to the villa today, it broke in the truck. We'll try to get another bathtub and do it tomorrow." Sigh... And no, we still don't have our stove top. That's been a month and a half. He apologized openly for that one, assuring me that he is pressuring LG for an answer. Whatever. We have a "temporary" stove for now, so it's not a problem. There's just a big hole in the counter where our stovetop should be.

Tomorrow's Thursday, and another week is done. I can't believe how fast the weeks are flying by here. Soon it will be Eid, and then soon after that, Christmas!! We look forward to seeing Canadian friends and family again. Take care, everyone!

Friday, October 07, 2011


So you may have felt more hope and happiness in the last post. And it's true. We have definitely turned a corner. Jeff getting his RP this week was a big one. But Kaiya. Kaiya has been the main one. Things changed this week. One day, when she was pulling some of her tricks, I simply sat her down and told her "no more." I explained that we've been here over a month now, and that everything is okay. And that I won't accept this behavior anymore. And something clicked. She got it. I can't explain it any other way except to say that we were both ready for it. That was Tuesday. And each day since then we have seen a happier girl, one that seems more settled and comfortable and relaxed. And we have relaxed right along with her.

Let's set the scene: Simple, really. The temperatures have cooled. Evenings are beautiful. Last night was night #3 of no air conditioner blasting in our room. We slept like babies in our peaceful, quiet room. For the first time since we've arrived, I slept in. Till almost 8 (yes, that's big-time sleeping in here!) I awoke relaxed, and just lounged in bed for a while. Jeff opened the window, and we listened to the birds and the breeze. And I thought, "Yes, this is what I've been waiting for." I finally felt relaxed and rested. 

Missing from our bed was Kaiya. Because she had slept the whole night in her bed. Instead of crying for us in the middle of the night, she did something quite funny. Around 2am she said, loudly, "Dad." (no crying... that's a big deal!) Jeff went into her room. "What's wrong?" he said. Sleepy Kaiya looked at him and said, "I don't know." Jeff said, "You just wanted to check that I was here?" "Ya," she said. "You gonna go back to sleep now?" Jeff added. "Ya," she repeated, while rolling over and falling back to sleep. Again, a BIG DEAL. No crying, and no crawling into our bed. This morning she also slept in for the first time, till 8am.

This morning my English Breakfast tea tasted better. My morning routine felt just like that... routine. I was overjoyed. We have been waiting for this, not knowing when it would come. I had been anxious about Jeff being gone all day at a conference, but honestly, Kaiya and I ended up having one of our best days together ever. Laughter, spontaneous hugs and dancing, singing and acting out the Barney song, cooking and baking together. It was so good.

We are thankful, so thankful this Thanksgiving, for these little things.

We were invited to a birthday party for Kylee, who is in Kaiya's class at Tiny Town, and whose parents work at the college. This was our best time out yet. Really friendly folk, a good vibe amongst the kids, and hey, who can go wrong with face paint?! The guys did a really great job. 

Kaiya and Kylee, flower princess and puppy :)
The kids all loved their McDs Happy Meals

The girls were so sweet together, they even opened the presents all together. "Let's open this one next!" And they'd all tear in.
Back at home. She got the mask in her goody bag, and they made the party hats at daycare this week.

It's Thanksgiving back in Canada this weekend, so I went all out for our dinner: roast chicken, roasted potatoes and carrots, asparagus with walnuts, and even Jenn Rekker's wonderful banana-date muffins! And I bought some jarred cranberry sauce from Lulu Express this week to make it feel a bit more festive. It was good.

Dinner. Yum.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

And just so you can see where Jeff was hanging today... This is Qatar Academy, Doha campus, where the conference was held. Neither of us have seen this much green in Doha. Jeff said he actually stopped the guys he was walking with and told them to smell the flowers. He was overwhelmed by green.


Beautiful, huh?

Apart from the architecture, this really makes me think of Canada. My eyes are bugging out from all the green!

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Little Changes

The "seasons" are a-changing out here in Doha. The last couple of days both Jeff and I have noticed. There has been a lot of wind. Wind is my most favourite form of weather. I love the playfulness I feel in it, and watching the changes it brings. Here it mostly brings sand into your eyes, as evidenced by Kaiya shielding her eyes and running into our driver's car as quick as she can when I pick her up from daycare. But the temperatures are definitely cooling. Our recreation newsletter at work is full of outdoor activities for October, including a boot camp I'm thinking of joining. And when I step outside, I enjoy the warm breeze, instead of feeling like I'm on the wrong end of a blasting air conditioner. And two nights ago, we slept with our bedroom a/c unit off for the first time. It was amazing (and a little weird) to sleep in the absolute peace and quiet. I'm sure the temps are still well above 30, but I don't really know. Why check the weather, when it's always hot and sunny? But I'm sure we're out of the 40s.

I have updates for you... lots of little updates. First and foremost, Jeff got his residence permit!!! We feel almost dizzy with the possibilities. What do we do first?? Call QTel for better internet? Get to Nissan to seal the deal on the vehicle they're holding for us? Boot over to QDC (Qatar Distribution Company) to buy the red wine that helps take the edge off a bad teaching day? The possibilities are endless! Of course, nothing is quite that simple. Most of these transactions first involve us getting a number of "no objection" letters from our employers. It all takes time. But the various balls are definitely rolling! QTel has been contacted, and within 10 days we'll be able to Skype and actually download videos again. And Jeff made an appointment with Nissan tonight to get in and get going. That's right... in about another week we should finally be tasting the freedom! (while cursing the roundabouts)

Our water pump: About one week ago, our water pump was fixed. When we first moved in here, we had zero water pressure. It turns out it was because our pump was broken. New pump was installed, but voila... along with our cherished water pressure came an unwelcome addition to the noise levels of our home. Imagine, if you will, an old, beaten up, obnoxiously loud pool pump that happens to have a broken propeller. This pump is located directly above your bedroom. Every time it turns on (in our case, with every toilet flush, use of the bath/sink/shower/dishwasher....) you hear a loud, brain numbing noise, for the duration of the water flow, and about half a minute longer. And then, imagine that you have mystery water leaks. You can't find them anywhere, but suddenly, in the middle of the night, the pump will go off, at completely random intervals. This went on for a month, until one night I blew a gasket and said I couldn't take it anymore. I either kept waking to the sound of the pump, or to the expectation of the sound of the pump. So, we called Kamal, who by now is quite sick of us (we feel the same, mind you). He brought out his goons, and we didn't expect much. The day it was fixed, Jeff was home before me, and as I was being driven home, I wrote him a text, more as an afterthought, saying, "So is the water pump fixed?" And he said, "YES. You can't even tell when it's on." I let out an audible cheer, mildly startling my driver. I couldn't believe it. But it was true. I came home, went up to the bathroom, flushed the toilet, and listened. I heard nothing. As I wrote to Larissa later that night, "You. Have. No. Idea." This single change has caused a massive improvement to our quality of life. Massive! Mind you, both Jeff and I still heard the sound in our heads for the next few days. Every time I flushed the toilet I would yell out, "BRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!" (I still have the tone down pat). 

My students. I still don't love them, but I'm slowly figuring out what makes them tick and how to connect with them. Last week it was camels. At the end of one class, after retrieving their mobiles out of the cardboard box I carry around for this purpose (I kid you not), some of them gathered around, eager to show me pictures of their... camels. One student proudly showed me pictures of his uncle's camel, a racing camel which he said is worth 4 million riyal (that's about a million bucks). The students also showed me pictures of pails and pails of their camels' milk. And they bragged about how much milk their camels produce. I was kind of ... speechless. You could say that I'm still getting used to this culture (severe understatement) I finally asked one student, "Do you all have camels?" "Yes, teacher, of course!" "And what do you do with your camels?" "Milk." And then, after a pause, I feebly stated, "In Canada people have cats... And dogs."

Kaiya. We've had a rough patch with her. This adjustment has been tough. But I think, after week #3 of solid routine, we are finally starting to see the glimmer at the end of the tunnel. She's laughing a lot more, picking fights less. And with the help of an encouraging email from a friend (thanks, Robyn), I've been able to re-focus, see the bigger picture, and love her harder, even when she's pulling her stunts and pushing me away. And thank God for crafts. I'm going to buy out this country's supply of glitter glue. Glitter glue, scissors, tape, stickers, and paper... and we get a content Kaiya, happy to sit on the floor and just be. Those are our best moments these days.

Overall, I think we're starting to settle in. Jeff's RP, and the prospect of freedom has really really helped to shift our thinking. We're looking forward to booting around this country, exploring all its corners, and taking tons of great pictures along the way. We've also talked about driving through Saudi and maybe into Oman. We hear there's great hiking and camping there. And there's nothing we Epps like better than a road trip.

This weekend's plans include my first night out with a girlfriend (YAY! I am so desperately in need of some coffee and deep talk time, and as wonderful as Jeff is, it will be amazing to go out without him... sorry, hon ;) ) Then, sadly, Jeff will be at a conference all weekend. But Kaiya and I have our own plans. A birthday party for a daycare friend (whose parents work at the college), and the Doha Mums Halloween party! Let's hope this is our last weekend car-less. :)

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Date Night at Katara!

I'm blogging on a school night. At this point in our lives here, this is kind of a big deal. I already uploaded the pictures a couple days ago, so all I have to do now is string a few sentences together, right? But after a day of teaching and attending a TESOL conference, even that may be a bit of a challenge!

Here we goooooo...

Friday night, two Fridays ago, was our first ever Doha date night. Our friends Larissa and Darren watched Kaiya for the evening so that Mr. and Mrs. Epp could finally go out alone. It was wonderful. I was giddy with excitement. After some hemming and hawing (sp???) we decided to go to Katara, a sort of cultural village right by the water. Watch the intro on their website. It's very worth it. Gives you a good feel for the place and what it offers.

It was pretty smoking hot, enough that I finally ditched the scarf covering my shoulders. But honestly, I've seen so many knees and shoulders out and about in this country, I'm really starting to wonder. We had a simple plan: walk around, checking out the very cool new/old style buildings, eat at one of the many great restaurants, and then take in the photography exhibition on Indonesia.

This is where we were first dropped off. There was a "cupcakery," a cafe, and then the "Friday mosque."

We noticed groups of expats coming out of the mosque, with women fully covered in black abayas, so we're assuming they do tours of the mosque. And you can bet we'll do that one day.

This is the massive archway leading to the even more massive amphitheater.

A funky stitched-together shot of the impressive amphitheater. The things Jeff can do with his iphone, I tell you...

At 5:30pm the beach officially "closes," but the security guards will allow you into this one section. (This country has a bit of an obsession with its security guards.) On the right you see the stalls they have set up. Very cool. The stalls had a variety of artists, local and not. We will go back one day for some beautiful and colourful art that was a fantastic mix of Indian/Qatari.

They had these really great curtained gazebos all along the beach. Inside were cushioned seats, and the curtains swayed beautifully in the breeze. We sat in one long enough to take this picture. :) So romantic, I know. When the cooler weather comes, perhaps we'll sit a bit longer...

Notice the bit about the "unruly behaviour." :) We made sure not to do any of that!

We finally settled on a Turkish restaurant. It had the most amazing ambiance. The whole restaurant was in a series of air-conditioned tents. (They are those white things in behind me) The lighting was dim, the music soft,  and the waiters helpful and friendly. We both ordered the pricey set menu and ended up with enough food for an entire second dinner the next day. But we figured we were celebrating: my birthday, our anniversary, and "Phew! We made it through the first month!" So a splurge was in order. Don't worry, mom. We'll make sure to save a little money too. I loved smelling the shisha all around me. I'm not usually a fan of second-hand smoke, but all the different shisha flavours smell so good!

This is the Turkish restaurant from the outside. We sat on the right side by the window.

I dragged Jeff over to these guys after we left the restaurant. They were cooking street meat, in the super hot heat (yes, that rhymes ridiculously). It smelled amazing, but of course we were pretty stuffed. Next time.

And this is the view we sat gazing at while in our tented Turkish restaurant. I believe the hotel on the far left is the Intercontinental, where we spent that really great day back in August.

Unfortunately, we missed out on the photography exhibit. When we first walked by it, the security guard said it was open till midnight. (I know that sounds late, but in this country, not so much). But when we came by after our two-and-a-half hour dinner, they were closed. The security guard then told us it was only open till nine. (Again, not so strange here, but disappointing nonetheless). But it was still a great night, and I know we'll be back again... perhaps sooner rather than later. We heard they have a Latin festival happening for a couple of weeks in October. Now THAT should be interesting. Will we be drinking margaritas and breaking out the merengue? Perhaps no. But we will certainly go and find out!