Monday, March 31, 2014

The Singing Sand Dunes ... Al Kharrara

A couple of weeks ago, when we were at the QF clubhouse, a woman from New Zealand approached me and excitedly told me she had found our blog while looking into moving to Qatar about a year and a half ago. She even had a favourite post. And she even had passed on our blog to a friend of hers, who was also now living in Qatar. For 5 minutes I felt like a rock star. And I told myself I would write more often, because -YAY - there are people (other than my family) out there reading, and I might actually be making a difference, or informing them... or something.

And then I just went on with my week.

Because life's been like that for the past few months. We've just had our heads down. We've just been working. And what precious little energy we have had left has been going into our girls, and the occasional email home. Because work and children are a lot more do-able when you go to bed every night at 9. Not very exciting or glamorous, no, but definitely less headache-inducing.

But there comes a time to get out of the rut and - most definitely - to get out of Doha. So this weekend, we found ourselves going back to a favourite place... the Singing Sand Dunes.

Each time we go, we are offered a new experience. This time our friend Liz came along with us (and took many of these wonderful pictures). At first, we were disappointed to find our usual spot strewn with litter. So we decided to check out the dune "next door"... much higher than our usual spot. It ended up being a good choice. While us girls started the steep climb up, Jeff decided to check out the sand down below, deciding whether he would dare to drive up part way.

We watched as he tested the sand with the Pathfinder, circling on and then off, on and then off again. I started to think he wasn't going to do it when I noticed this Landcruiser on the dune above us. It looked as though father and son were watching Jeff, and we waited, wondering what they might do. Sure enough, after a few minutes they drove down to Jeff, hopping out of their vehicle to speak with him, thumping their fists on his tires to guess at their pressure. "Twenty, good. Thirty, okay." He knelt down to release some pressure from the back tires. And then, with hand gestures indicating that Jeff should follow, father and son hopped back into the Landcruiser, and gunned it up the dune, with Jeff close behind. At the top, the father hopped back out, indicating to Jeff that he should park facing down the dune, to avoid getting stuck later.

Our first dune-bashing lesson, Qatari-style. Love it.

The family got out of their Landcruiser and we all said "Salaam," with the children handing us bags of chips and drinks. Without knowing it, this family was guiding me through my latest bout of culture shock, helping me remember the kindness and desert hospitality of the Qatari people.

We picnicked in the shade of our truck. And we hiked up the rest of the dune, huffing and puffing, and yes, sliding all the way down just to walk back up. We watched our desert "hosts" as they too enjoyed the dune, driving up and down, and getting out to admire the view and run down, too.

Baby Izzy was not fond of the sand and was happiest either on daddy's shoulders...

... or sitting on the mat playing and eating.

Kaiya, however, was once again fully in her element. One giant sandbox, I tell you. And she loved showing off the dunes to our guest, Simon, her class' teddy bear.

Funny enough, at one point, our hosts got their own Landcruiser stuck, giving us another chance to see desert culture in action. Within a few minutes, three men from another party far off at another dune had joined Jeff to help the family extract their vehicle. They used the wood we had planned to use for our fire to dig out all four wheels. And then they all pushed and lifted, till the vehicle was free. The picture below is Jeff in the aftermath. You could say he was a little tired. Liz likes to call this picture "Jeff of Arabia."

We stayed till sunset, enjoying the gorgeous views, and the way the sand gained a pinkish glow in the setting sun. Then, realizing we were the last ones left, we gunned it back down the dune, all of us nervously praying we wouldn't get stuck while Izzy squealed and flapped her arms in joy.

I'm still carrying the happiness of that desert encounter with me today. Truly, to know this country and its people, you really do have to get the heck out of Doha and head for the dunes. I'm glad we did.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Today ... and more geocaching

It's Thursday.

While Jeff took Kaiya to her Playfit class, Izzy and I blasted Ed Sheeran, spinning and whirling, turning our Thursday afternoon into an impromptu dance session.

Later, as we finished our dinner, the tapping and ringing of my wine glass prompted Jeff to pull out the singing bowl he bought me in Nepal, and as he got it whirring, Kaiya and I sang and hummed along, the air resonating with that one perfect note.

Then, thunder - glorious thunder! - cracked outside and we all rushed out to big, fat raindrops pouring out of the sky. Such a welcome release after a hot, hazy day of blowing sand and dust. There we stood in the dark, chatting with neighbours while kids crowded out of villas, running onto the street, screaming and singing and zig-zagging their way up and down, chanting, "It's raining, it's pouring, the old man is snoring..." Our neighbour from New Zealand smiled and muttered. "We all come out for the rain. What a crazy country."

And five minutes later it was done.


I have realized this year that the hardest part of this expat life -for me- is having my heart firmly stuck in two separate places. I always know what time it is, both here and there. I cheer Izzy on as she practices standing, and then wish everyone back home were here to see it. I listen to a friend from home as she shares her struggles, and wish I were there to hug her and share a cup of tea. I walk with Kaiya through both the joys and struggles of school, and long for her to be surrounded by the support of the people who have known and loved her since her birth. I learn about a new food co-op that has the potential for such positive impact on my old community, and my heart is there, alongside the amazing people putting it together, hoping for its success.

While part of me enjoys the complexity and the tension of this expat life, another part of me is ready to chuck it - and social media - out the window. I'm tired of connecting through Facebook. I want to be in your living room. Got it?

But right now, here we are. And two and a half years into this gig, we are finding our groove. Even in the midst of this transient world, we have found our community. Neighbours, from all around the world, who have become friends to us, as day after day we watch our kids play together in the street. It all may change so quickly. Someone may suddenly decide it's time to move to another post, or back home. But for now, it is our community.


And for now, while snow continues to blast our other home, we enjoy the sun and warmth that our Qatari home brings.

We went geocaching again last weekend, to two different sites. And while we only found one of the caches, we made many other sweet discoveries. Camel bones, a beach palace, and the amazing peace and quiet of a deserted beach.

She just won't keep hats on! Time for a velcro strap.

The first site, in Simaisma. We didn't find it, but we DID find...

Camel bones! For real! Jeff and Kaiya snuck home a toe-bone without telling me. :)

Look at those teeth!

Our second cache was by this crazy palace.

The tide was waaaaay out. Oh, glorious silence.

Good night, friends, both near and far. I hope you all have a good weekend.