Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Florence





It is my turn.  I was the one who went to Europe for a long weekend.  I was the one who's company paid for it all.  I was the one who had the freedom five days without a three-year-old provides.  I was the one who got to meet up with Andrew and Emma so far from home.  I was the one who spent time in the birthplace of the renaissance.  I was the one who got to see Ponte Vecchio and the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. And in the end - I got to take the pictures.
I usually get to take the pictures.
So when I came home from Italy, I got to work choosing and editing photos.  Once I was done editing the photos, I exported them to the appropriate folder and waited.
I usually get to take the pictures.  But Kathy usually does the writing.  My waiting was in vain.  I just have to write this one myself - I was the only one who went.
And I was the one who took the pictures...


So if you haven't heard, I went to Florence, Italy last weekend for a conference put on by the International Baccalaureate Organization.  My school in Qatar sent me.  And Andrew and Emma (who were and are backpacking around Europe) managed to make their way over to Florence to take advantage of my company's generous per diems.


The short version is: Europe is great to take pictures of.


The longer version includes stories of having very little daylight hours to explore the city because of my workshop schedule, meeting Andrew and Emma at my hotel at 10:30pm the first evening after not even knowing if they were going to make it out of Greece, getting minuscule amounts of sleep because "you're only in Florence once", going out for pizza, pasta, and wine every night I was there, and desperately trying to get good pictures without having any daylight.


The short version concludes the same way the long version does:  I loved it.  I texted Kathy after the second day simply, "I could live here!"


So enough said.  Here are some pictures from my three days in Florence, Italy:










florence, italy, originally uploaded by Jeff Epp.


restaurant in florence, italy, originally uploaded by Jeff Epp.

pillar, florence, italy, originally uploaded by Jeff Epp.




ponte vecchio, florence, italy, originally uploaded by Jeff Epp.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Green Sweater

I'm wearing an Unremarkable green sweater today. Very conservative and boring. The kind with one of those fake white shirt collars that you annoyingly have to iron every time you wash it. I bought this Unremarkable sweater at Cosco, I kid you not, close to two years ago. It's the kind of sweater my sister would make fun of, telling me I need to find some more fashionable places to shop. And well, she's right.

But the sweater is starting to make me wonder. I have worn it to work twice so far. The first time, one of my male colleagues noticed it, saying he wishes he could wear sweaters to work (it's shirt and tie for the men here), and one of my female colleagues, whose tastes are far more high-fashion than mine, commented on how well the colour suits me. Hm.

Today is the second time I've worn the sweater. In my first class, one of my 19-year old students complimented me. I mean, I almost fell over. "What did you say, Hamad? You like my sweater? You think I look nice today? You're actually noticing me beyond asking me when class is finally going to be finished???" (He must be looking for a higher mark).

And then, I slipped out to Landmark to buy a few supplies for class tomorrow. On my way out of the mall, I treated myself to a "take-away" coffee. As I sat and waited for my coffee to be prepared, I felt the glances (stares) of three significantly older Qatari men who were sitting next to me. I hesitantly looked their way, and the oldest one WINKED at me. I did a bit of a double take, but there was no mistaking it. He had winked. At me. Let me tell you, there has never been a longer wait for a cup of coffee. I just sat there, no books to bury my nose into, and a dead mobile, so I couldn't even feign texting someone (although I should have). I resorted to sheepishly playing with my coffee receipt, folding it over and over again, ever so slowly and precisely.

Finally the barista yelled, "Number 51!" As I grabbed my coffee and booked it out of there, I nodded politely at the three men. Each of them smiled and said, "Ciao." I've hardly received so much as a nod from a Qatari man until today, and now this?

The green sweater has had its day.

I can't help but wonder...what will happen the next time I wear it???

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Last of our Eid Posts

Ahhhh.... I am enjoying a much-needed evening of ME time. Jeff was gone in Florence, Italy for a conference for 5 days. He is now officially MYP certified, which means a lot in the world of international schools, but sadly, not so much in Ontario schools. The first of many, many, many discrepancies. But I digress...

Kaiya and I held the fort pretty well, but oh, were we happy to see daddy again. Last night, Kaiya spent over an hour in full concentration making him three different cards to welcome him home. She dictated to me what to write (in dot style), and then she traced each and every letter perfectly. I'm in awe of her developing mind and focus. Then she asked me for a plate, which she traced, and then drew a hilarious face inside of. (Apparently she learned this skill from the "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse," one of her favourite TV shows here.) She wasn't initially impressed by his gifts of string bracelets and a purple leather belt. Thank God he bought the little Pinocchio whistle in the airport! And then, she asked him to tell her the Pinocchio story over and over again as she fell asleep with him snuggled in beside her in her bed.

Life can be so good and sweet and simple when you're three years old.

I have so many thoughts to report and share, but I am well overdue for our last Eid post. So the deeper (and not so deep) thoughts will have to wait for now. I uploaded these photos over a week ago. It's time to get them out to you!

Our last two big events during Eid were seeing the light show and fireworks at Katara, and joining some of my college colleagues on a dhow trip. The fireworks happened Wednesday night; the dhow trip Thursday night. But I'm going to choose to believe the opposite. Because really, the fireworks were an absolutely perfect end to a busy, fun-filled week. So let's just pretend that that's what happened, okay? Because truth be told, we were kind of burned out by the time we went on the dhow trip (shhhh! Don't tell!)

The Dhow Trip
A dhow is a traditional, wooden boat, used in the past for fishing and pearl diving, but mostly used now for tourism. Last weekend, while Jeff was away, Kaiya and I went to the first dhow exhibition at Katara, and let me tell you, these boats can be a thing of beauty, with intricately carved wood benches covered in beautifully designed cushions.

During our Eid week, Chad, another newbie at the college I've bonded with, kindly invited our family to join his and a few others on a dhow cruise hosted by Qatar International Adventures. The cruise we chose took us past Doha's fantastic West Bay skyline and to Al Safliya island, including "watersports" (a couple of jet skis and a banana boat), and a BBQ dinner. By Doha standards, it was cool and windy that day, and I was feeling particularly wimpy, so I chose to stay on board, apart from my brief motorboat ride to the island (which is a bare stretch of hard sand). But as you'll see below, Kaiya and Jeff were a little more adventurous.

The dhow had two levels. This is up on top. Kaiya kept singing the theme song for "Jake and the Neverland Pirates" while she "steered" our ship.

The banana boat was very popular. Even though it was still on the dhow, no one could wait to get on!

Another dhow with the West Bay in the background.

No fear whatsoever. She was all smiles the whole time.

Seriously... LOOK at that smile! Have you ever seen anyone happier?

I had to include this... she just looks so "old" here...

Jeff took a number of sunset pictures. This was his favourite one.


The Katara Fireworks

Our grand finale to the week... you're all still playing along with me, right? ... was the light show and firework display at Katara. We have been to Katara more times now than I can remember, more than Souq Waqif, which I thought would for sure be our favourite haunt (it still has potential to be, mind you.) Katara never disappoints. Every single time we have gone, we have been amazed. The beautiful buildings, the stone walkways, the beach, the merchants, the pockets of live music and dance, the amazing and expensive restaurants placed in and amongst the cheap but equally good "street" vendors.... this is what I dream Qatar will one day have more of. These give me my necessary and regular cultural fix. Mmmhm!

For four nights in a row, there were Eid celebrations at Katara. We managed to just squeeze them in on their last night. And by chance, we also managed to meet up with Dave and Tracie and Honour. The lightshow was  impressive. Two screens were set up, depicting the history of Qatar. It was all in Arabic, so we couldn't really understand a thing, but the pictures gave us an idea. At the same time, there were different coloured laser lights shooting out and up into the sky. This show was then followed by 30 minutes of fireworks, all set to soul-stirring music. The fireworks were amazing... a bit much, really! Think of the "grand finale" of fireworks in Canada... this was 30 minutes of grand finale.

We all stood on a bench, with a fantastic view of the night show. As the show went on in front of my eyes, I got to feeling sentimental, remembering the last time we watched fireworks with friends. It was this past Canada Day, one of our favourite family memories of all time. We ended the evening at Fort George with Rose, Nathan, Sue and Brent. On my desk in my office, I have the picture of all of us, looking extremely Canadian with our Canada t-shirts and our Tim Horton's cups in our hands. Kaiya was so mind-blown by all the events of the day and the fireworks at night ... she was a complete chatterbox. "This is such amazing!!!" she kept repeating again and again. She told us that it was the best day of her whole life.

I stood at Katara with the Giesbrechts, remembering that night, feeling the music around me, watching the lights explode in front of me, and when I saw the sets of three orange fireworks, each shooting off in different directions, I got teary-eyed. Here we are, having left many of you, firing off in our own, unique direction. And though it was time for us to go and follow the path we've been given, I wonder about you daily and the paths you are on. I have been impressed, once again in our time here, by how large and how very small our beautiful world is, all at the same time. We are no longer a part of your daily lives, your comings and goings, and yet at any time we wish, we can tap in, connect, and be a part of your path for a little while. This life is so rich and so fragile, and I'm so thankful for this opportunity to drink it deeply.

It was a wonderful night.


Enjoying the light show



Jeff's favourite... it's so sparkly!

The 30-minute grand finale

We have another great week and weekend of activities lined up, including a female-only Wanasa night at the college for me tomorrow. And in three weeks and three days, we'll be Ontario-bound, home for Christmas to see the ones we love the most.

Life is good.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Parks and Pools and Sweet Little Girlfriends

Today is not a very good day. Yep, after 11 sweet days off, we were back to work. And the harshness of life over here came crashing down on me... at about 3:30am. That's when Kaiya decided she wanted to be awake. While she was very sweet, talking with me and cuddling me, and telling me she loved me, she did not fall asleep again till about 5. I tried to sleep beside her, but I was stressed, mulling over the pros and cons of life here, and worrying about my first drive in to work (my first drive in to work!!!!! I've joined the crazies on the road now!!!) 

5:30 came quickly, and I got up, gritting my teeth and telling myself over and over, "You can do this. It's just one day." And I did it. (And rocked the roundabouts, I gotta say...) But it was stressful. The early mornings, the rush into traffic and to daycare... they are always stressful. And I get to missing home and what we left... and I'm not going to say anymore. Because I have in fact been up since 3:30 this morning, and I've promised to give life here a year before evaluating it too much, 'cause God knows we would have booted out of Canada if we had not committed to that first year, and I risk becoming an overly sentimental pile of mush if I don't stop right now.

Anyone else notice my overuse of italics when I'm tired?

So what I really wanted to share with you was more of last week. Because it was such a sweet week, and a wonderful reprieve from what is kind of a hectic life here. Yes, we had a few major day trips. But we also took the time to explore some of Doha's wonderful parks (and to go back to the Intercontinental). I've said it before, and I'll say it again: having a 3-year old changes things. In the past, we would have been quick to get the heck out of the country for a holiday, but this past week we were quite content to take our time settling in, exploring Doha, and making new friends. I'm so glad we did.

Here's more pictures of the fun:


Seriously, is this not a postcard? This is either Al Bidda or Al Rumaila Park. I'm not quite sure. But it has very much of an "in the middle of the city" feel. I loved it. It was huge, with many different parts... playgrounds, shaded spots, shops... I absolutely loved the view of the West Bay and the Corniche.

Kaiya and I lounging in the park, finishing off our bag of popcorn.

***

One of the daycare moms very kindly organized a playdate at Dahl Al Hammam Park, our favourite park. It's the best, because it's HUGE, with an amazing amount of greenspace, and a fantastic playground (and a fenced-off cave that I think we Epps need to look into). It attracts expats and Qataris alike, and it's super close to our house, and on the way home from Kaiya's daycare. 

Anyhow, Dia's mom organized a little Eid get-together, saying it would be a good chance for the parents to meet and "break the ice" and for the kids to play together. Only four families ended up showing up, but it was a treat to see these girls play together. I love watching Kaiya make little 3-year old friends.

They tossed around and chased this ball for a bit...

...until they realized it would be much more fun to tackle Dia's mom.
The group of us at the park. This was the day I got downright cold once the sun set!

***

And finally, we spent another day at the Intercontinental Hotel. We went with Kylee (our daycare/trick-or-treating friend) and Katie. These girls had so much fun together! It really warmed my mama heart to see these friendships forming.

One of my favourite pictures right now. It's on our fridge.

Katie had to go, but Kylee and Kaiya just kept on playing. 

I could eat these two right up!!

And then the two adventurous girls went kayaking on their own. HA. Kylee's dad is there with them, promise!


Four weeks and four days till we're home for Christmas!! Four weeks and four days! (oops, there go those italics again.)

We are settling in, bit by bit, but we are SO excited to see family and friends over the holidays again.
Love to you all. It's to bed I now go.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Our Trip to the Inland Sea

The weather has changed here. Suddenly, the nights are cool, and we're donning sweaters I was beginning to think we would never don. Although daytime temps are still in the 20s, when it gets to around sunset, if I'm still in a t-shirt, I actually start getting goosebumps. It's downright embarrassing. Am I really Canadian? A woman we met at the park who's lived in the Middle East for many years said it like this: "If you think of the 50 degree weather we were living  in, 20 degrees is quite a drop! So it makes sense we feel cold. " Um, ya, I guess... but I still feel like a wimp.

I hear it's going to get hotter again this weekend, but for now we've really been loving Doha's "winter" temps. These temps were brought on by an equally surprising but welcomed occurrence: RAIN. Yes, Monday morning we awoke to the sound of rain drops. Our first Doha rain. Jeff was so excited he moved the truck out to get it "washed" (wishful thinking) and took some pictures. Look at that: real rain drops.


The rain was exciting except for one fact: we had planned a trip to the Inland Sea that day. But really... rain schmain. We weren't about to be deterred. So around 9am, we set off for our meeting point: Sealine Resort, where we would meet up with the three other vehicles that would be part of our caravan for the day.

Sealine Resort, just under an hour south of Doha, is the point at which the road ends. Everyone driving to the Inland Sea pulls off to the side of the road at this point, deflates their tires, and then stands around for awhile till someone in the group deems it's time to go. Then we all pile into our vehicles and head into the desert. There are no marked roads, but there are more and less commonly used routes. For the most part, we followed the "salt road." It's flat and feels like a paved road, but it's salt. Yes. And at other times, we hit a few of the gentler dunes. Just enough to get one of us stuck. It took us about another hour to get to our destination.

For your information, I found this little bit of information from the Qatar Tourism Authority:
Khor Al Adaid (80 km south from Doha)Also known as the Inland Sea, this breathtakingly beautiful area, surrounded by crescent-shaped sand dunes, is one of Qatar’s finest treasures and a prime tourism asset. A shallow tidal lake with a narrow outlet to the sea, the many-lobed Khor Al Adaid lies between Qatar and Saudi Arabia and has shores in each country.
Four-wheel-drive vehicles are necessary and only experienced drivers should attempt the journey. 
And for your viewing pleasure, I have a rare treat for you... corny videos narrated by yours truly. I promise, each one is short... a minute or so. And yes, they are slightly lame... but maybe they'll give you a better sense of what the day was like. If nothing else, they will make you smile and remember us Epps a little better. Enjoy!

Video #1: Getting Ready at Sealine Resort

video

Video #2: Going to see the camels (please insert the phrase "dune buggy" where needed. Honestly, I can't believe I forgot the word "dune buggy!") 

video

And in case you're curious about the camels we saw, here's a picture:


Video #3: Here we go!

video

Video #4: Stuck Vehicle
video

Here's Kaiya just before we climbed the dune to where Tom's vehicle was stuck:



Video #5: Getting Unstuck

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And finally, some pictures of our time at the Sea. We stayed till around 2:30, wanting to make sure we were back well before sunset. But till then, we enjoyed swimming, picnicking, collecting shells, watching fish, and just hanging around. The way back was crazy busy, with loads of Qataris coming in to spend the night.

We stopped to help someone with a flat tire. 

Kaiya has loved each of our day trips. She still is crazy about water.

Looking around for seashells.

Enjoying the shallow water.

Many Qataris camp throughout the winter... in style, with air conditioners, lights, running water...

Enjoying lunch

Kaiya and Jeff spent most of the afternoon swimming, while I went for a nice, long walk along the shoreline.

It was a really great experience to go off-roading, but I think next time we'll overnight it with an organized tour. That way we can leave the preparations to someone else, and stay to enjoy the beautiful Qatari sunset.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

There are just too many great pictures! ... the Singing Dunes

Our Eid break is shaping up to be something pretty amazing. I still have pictures to upload from yesterday evening's trip to the Souq, and this morning's outing to Al Bidda Park. But for now I'm pretty stinking overwhelmed by the beauty of these shots from this afternoon's trip to the Singing Sand Dunes. Thank you, Mr. Jeff Epp. You did a fiiiiiiine job.

The Singing Dunes are located about 40 kilometers southwest of Doha. Darren and Larissa kindly offered to lead the way there this afternoon. Word got out, and before you knew it, there were six vehicles in our caravan. We left at 2:30 in order to escape most of the day's heat and sun, and packed a picnic dinner to enjoy at the bottom of the dunes. Here's all the cars, and most of the people:

As soon as we hopped out of the car, Kaiya was crazy excited. I mean, it was the biggest sandbox she had seen in her LIFE! We hurriedly joined our friends on the steep climb up the dunes.



The idea's pretty simple, really. Climb up the dune and then scootch down on your butt. But the cool thing is, when you do it, the dunes "sing." Get it? "Singing Dunes?" Ya.

But I'm serious. When you scootch down, there's this weird low vibration that you can both hear and feel. It's wild! And a little disconcerting, really. To think that your butt can cause so much action. Jeff thought at first it was a distant airplane. But no, it was the dunes. And the butts. Here's a picture depicting the scootch (and all of us going "wow... do you hear that??)



Kaiya wasn't sure at first, I think mostly because Caleb (Darren and Larissa's one and a half year old son) cried while him and daddy were going down. But soon she was sold. We went down together at least three times, with me half dragging her back up each time.

And yes, we all showered when we got home. There was sand everywhere.


I simply couldn't choose from amongst all the photos. I admit, I'm a very bad editor of my husband's work. So enjoy! I don't have a lot to say, except that it was pretty much a perfect afternoon: friends, food, perfect weather, a great location, and an escape from the crowds and noise of Doha. We'll be back.





You can see how the wind was blowing the sand.



Feeling on top of the world.

It was a long way up.



You could also kick or run your way down. That's what Jeff chose to do.

WOW!





Little girl who just can't get enough.

Tracie and I gabbing through the sunset.


You can be sure this will be on the list of things to do if any of you come to visit.

Tomorrow, it's a trip to the Inland Sea with a family Jeff works with. Take care, and good night!