Life in Qatar during the Pandemic- Covid-19 (Coronavirus)

We are basically advised to stay in our accommodations and only go out for food, medicine and emergencies.

By now, everyone all over the world is being affected in some way or another by the Coronavirus. As many countries surrounding Qatar began to report cases of patients with Coronavirus, Qatar was immune for a while. However, on February 26 this happened, “HH the Amir has issued directives to evacuate the citizens of the State of Qatar and citizens of the sisterly State of Kuwait, who are currently in Iran, due to the outbreak of the novel Coronavirus (Covid-19).” (Qatar News agency) And on February 29, The Ministry of Public Health confirmed Qatar’s first case of the novel coronavirus. The patient was a Qatari male who was one of the evacuees from Iran (Qatar Living). Since then the number has risen to over 450 patients infected with Covid-19, with the highest jump occurring just 11 days later of 238 cases. As of today, there have been 0 deaths and 4 people recovered.

At first, like many other countries, the Ministry thought the risk of spreading the virus was low and putting small precautionary measures in place would keep it that way. However, as the virus continued to spread, it was obvious that more would need to be done to keep the public safe and infections down.

Travelers were screened at airports. Some residents whom returned from countries with high cases of the virus were put in quarantined for 14 days. A hotel and some residential apartments were used solely for quarantines. Those residing there received free wifi and three meals a day from what I was told from a friend who returned from Italy and was quarantined upon arrival and without choice. She was released after the 14 days. The Gov’t paid for everything.

I was really looking forward to Spring break which was this week, March 13-21. We would have been visiting friends in Saudi Arabia (KSA), which I was really excited about since KSA had just recently opened their doors to tourist visas. Our visas were purchased and approved. Our flights were booked. We were also going to stay a few days in Kuwait. We already had our visas for there too as well as hotel stay and flight. Needless to say, we did lose out on some money, around 500 usd. We were able to recoup some of our flight money and 1 night of our hotel stay in Kuwait. Our visas for KSA are good for 1 year but the ones from Kuwait were only good for the time of our stay. If this has taught me anything, it is to pay that extra money for free cancellation on flights and rooms because the unexpected can happen. I usually don’t purchase insurance but for some reason I did on the hotel in Kuwait, probably because it was only 8 usd, so now I am waiting to see if the Insurance will reimburse the money from the other night stay for the hotel. I’m kinda bummed about the whole thing because I was excited about this trip and I haven’t been on any vacations this school year but I’d rather be safe than sick. There are many bright sides to this whole thing but one in particular is that, the original plan was to go to China to see the Great Wall for Spring break but I decided against that to save some money. Thank God for that because I would have lost a whole hell of a lot more money. In the meantime, I booked our flights to Malta for May. It was going to be our first stop on the way home this summer, followed by a few days in Ireland. Well my flight to Malta has also been cancelled but at least they refunded all of my money for that. However, my flight from Malta to Ireland is still booked and sitting in limbo.

Anway, with the rising numbers of infected persons, the Ministry announced the closing of all schools for students as of March 10. For the remainder of that week, students stayed home and teachers went to work planning for virtual learning. Everyone was advised not to travel but of course some did. And earlier this week, Qatar cancelled all incoming flights for 14 days for anyone except for Qatari citizens. Some people were left stranded. This week major precautions have been put in place: Mosques, malls, cafes, barbershops, spas, public transportation, sit down restaurants, public parks, events etc.. closed, distance learning for students and social distancing. We are basically advised to stay in our accommodations and only go out for food, medicine and emergencies. The Gov’t has offered some incentives for small business owners like, no rent payments, freeze on bank loan payments but nothing for the common residents.

I am a little worried but not panicked. This kinda summarizes how I feel each day.

I’ll admit, I am enjoying my time. Being stuck in the house doesn’t bother me especially since I’m stuck with my best friend. It’s like being snowed-in back in Philly. Darryl and I are spending our days doing various things. This is how we spent yesterday outside of Netflix and chill.

I watched birds building a nest outside my bathroom window.
Playing Corn hole
I cooked dinner (which I rarely do, barbeque tofu, farro casserole and left over cabbage) and we ate by candlelight with our Coronas and watched a movie.

I’ve made a list of things I would like to do during this lockdown and am taking my time accomplishing them. Some of those things include: finish my Abundance Now book by Lisa Nichols, begin my new book on How to write a Children’s book, write a draft of my children’s book, declutter the house, make a decision on where I will live next year (will I move again or stay put in my apartment for the first time in 4 years), cook, start using my budget app, virtual museum tours, research investing, book my next detox, etc…

I think Qatar is doing their best to contain this virus but the daily rising numbers show just how resilient and contagious this virus is. I’m actually glad I am not in the U.S. right now. In my opinion, I don’t think enough is being done there to combat Covid-19, however, I am outside the bubble looking in. I pray for my family over there and hope that it doesn’t get as bad as it is in Italy there.

The first known case of Covid-19 is traced back to November 17 from Hubei province in China- https://www.livescience.com/first-case-coronavirus-found.html. It’s been approx 4 months and China is just starting to get a handle on it after over 80,000 people were infected and 8000+ have died. The end of June will be the 4 month mark in Qatar since the first case was reported and since January 19 was when the first case was reported in the USA, the end of May will marks that country’s 4 month mark. Qatar has already basically locked down the country but the U.S. has not. I am nervous that I won’t be able to make it home this summer to see my family. I’ve been face-timing my boys back home and really would like to see them face to face. But I don’t believe that this virus has peaked in the U.S. yet. I fear the end is far away.

So far since moving to Qatar, there has been a blockade and a pandemic. I would have never expected these things to occur while living so far away from my family. But life as an expat comes with a lot of unexpected situations. Stay healthy. Stay safe.

Please Wash Your Hands

Things to do during quarantine:

Virtual Tour of the Great Wall of China

Virtual Tours of Museums, Zoos, Botanical Gardens, Aquariums, and Famous Landmarks and more

Tour National Parks

Take a Virtual Field Trip

Play Games- I just ordered one of my favorite games, we used to play with the boys when they were little (Guitar Hero)

Exercise- Many gyms are doing virtual classes and there are many on youtube

100 things to do

FYI: This website reports case of Coronavirus around the world

*I would love to hear how others are coping and what your country is doing in light of this Pandemic. Leave a comment!

Things That are Weirdly Expensive in Qatar- Collab post

What weirdly expensive items have you discovered in your foreign country?

How many of us go into Walmart or Target expecting to pick up one or two items and leave thinking, ‘what did I just spend $100 on?’ Well it’s like that everywhere you go in Doha, especially since if you see it, you better get multiples because it may be a long time before you see it again. This is life in Qatar.

I’ve been living in Qatar for 3.5 years and it still shocks me how expensive some things are. Most of the residents are expats, like me, who come here for a tax-free salary. However, there are other benefits to living here, like diversity of cultures and safety, which you can’t really put a price tag on. But contrary to what numbeo.com says: the “Cost of living in Qatar is 8.72% lower than in United States …”, the cost of living in Qatar is not lower than in the United States. In fact, I have the data to prove it.

For example, the first time I saw a deck of cards here, it was at a Shisha spot and it cost about 100 Riyals or $27. In the U.S., you can get that same deck for about $3.87 at Walmart, or a cheap deck for $1 at the $1 store.

The other day, Darryl and I were looking for jump ropes to exercise with and the prices ranged from 50 qar to 159, between $13 and $50 usd.

And don’t even get me started on manicures and pedicures. They can set you back 500-600 riyals easily, that’s $137.

One of the reasons I chose to come to Qatar was it’s location, which should make it a pretty easy travel hub all over the world. Unfortunately, due to the blockade traveling from Qatar is dreadfully expensive now. Three years ago, my sons and I flew to Dubai, for $99 each, non-stop, round trip. The flight took less than 2 hours. Now the flight cost $400+, takes double the time and includes a layover.

Okay, so I know that this is a Muslim country but they do sale alcohol and you will definitely pay the cost to sin. There is literally a ‘sin’ tax and because of it, alcohol prices have doubled in the last year. A bottle of Tito’s vodka is approximately 231 riyals or $64 at Qatar Distribution Corp. You can get that same bottle of Vodka in the U.S. for $20.

In a country that has one of the highest rates of obesity, you would think Gym memberships would be reasonable, think again. An annual gym membership can range from 5000-9000 qar or $1300-2500.

Rent here is insane for what you get. I live in what Americans may call a project looking apartment. A flat among many, but it is very nice, clean and surrounded by greenery, which is rare in Qatar. The maintenance is wonderful and utilities are included. It also has a gym and shopping within the area. The best part is it puts me 10 minutes from work. It’s a two bedroom, 2.5 bathroom, 120 sq meter, 1291 sq foot apartment and the rent is 8500qar/mth or approx $2400/mth. I’ve lived in 4 places in Qatar and rent all ranged from $1500-$3900/mth. Here is where I agree with numbeo.com, “Rent in Qatar is 16.40% higher than in United States (average data for all cities).”

Thank God my job provides a housing and utility allowance which covers this insane cost or I would not be living here.

Since Darryl does the shopping let me introduce my guest blogger, my husband Darryl, who will discuss other weirdly expensive things in Qatar:

“I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” Wimpy 1931

Like a lot of children I loved cartoon as a kid…who didn’t? The Wimpy character from Popeye was hilarious to me because all he wanted to do was eat and not pay for it (lol). Now that I am older, I see Wimpy as someone who wanted to get the most he could and pay the least for it (not sure if he ever paid for any of those burgers he ate).

As the main shopper/cook of our household, I, like a lot of people (excluding my wife), will travel to the ends of the earth or Qatar for a bargain, (although if I factor in the amount of gas I use to travel to the ends of the earth it may not be a bargain anymore, IJS). However, in Qatar there are some items that no matter how far you drive they will still be weirdly expensive when you get there.

With that being said, here are the nominees for Weirdly Expensive Items in the Household and/or Food Category:

A Liter of Listerine mouthwash at 60 qar (approx $16 usd) may cause you to stock up on Mentos.

Tide w/bleach at 75 qar ($20 usd) might have you thinking about using the old bar of soap and wash board method to wash your clothes. Even some of the non USA brands are just as expensive.

Taco Shells, not even the full taco kit, is 35 qar ($10 usd). I mean if you are going to pay that much for the shells all the fixings have to be top of the line like Waygu beef and aged cheese.

Non-Dairy Ice Cream 45 qar ($13 usd) regardless of your reason for eating non dairy Ice cream (vegan or health issues) at this price it is definitely a treat worth savoring.

…and the award for most Weirdly Expensive Items in the Household and/or Food Category goes to that little green leafy vegetable called Kale!

At 60 qar per kilo ($17 usd) it is by far one of the most weirdly expensive food items in all of Qatar. I mean it is a leaf for all intense purposes. While I understand it is a superfood, at that price it should be considered a super duper food.

To my readers: What weirdly expensive items have you discovered in your foreign country?

Thank you to my contributors- Darryl Montgomery (husband), members of the BSOQ facebook group.

The Doha Metro

With the new Metro system up and running in Qatar, I thought it was about time to try it out. When I moved here 3+ years ago, there wasn’t an established transportation system but the country had began building one. Roads and roundabouts were slowly closing in preparation for the new metro and in conjunction with the 2022 World Cup stadiums being built all over. The Metro is a component of the larger Rail System being built. The transit system became operational in May. The Red, Blue and Gold lines are now open and operating.

We decided to take the metro from our residence to the Flower Festival in Souq Waqif. A major convenience to the metro is it’s MetroLink. It is a free service feeder bus that runs daily and provides first and last mile connectivity to Qatar Rail customers within a 2-5 km radius of the Doha metro stations- https://www.qr.com.qa/metrolink. This is the website where you can find out times, locations and schedules for the Metrolink.

We live in Barwa City and there are a few Metrolink bus stops within our community. We only had to walk about 2 minutes to the nearest stop and it was on time.

The Metrolink took us to the Free Zone station which is between Al-Thumama and Al Wakrah. Once there we were able to purchase our tickets. A single standard ticket cost 2 riyals about $0.55 usd; a day pass cost 6 riyals=$1.60 usd, which is a hell of lot cheaper than a day pass on Septa in Philly which will set you back $9.00 usd.

When you enter the station at the Free Zone, there is a vending machine and map. You have to take an escalator or elevator upstairs, then walk across the bridge that takes you over the highway, then walk back down another escalator to purchase your ticket. Once the ticket is purchased, you go back up another escalator and walk to the train door. Seems like a lot of up and down, up and down, so it’s a good idea to plan ahead for this extra time that will be spent just getting to the train. Fortunately the trains run pretty regularly and there are signs, maps and assistants all over to help.

We had to take the Metro Red Line to Msheireb Interchange station where we transferred to the Gold Line and got off at the Souq. Of course you have to do some more up, down walking to actually get to the Souq. There are several exits that take you up to the Souq but I think we walked out of the wrong one.

After about 45 minutes, from our home in Barwa, we made it to the flower festival.

Last words about the Metro:

It is clean.

Timely, however give yourself a few extra minutes to account for the extra walking.

Official Website https://www.qr.com.qa/home

There is an app for that

There are three different sections on the train cars: standard and family class- cost the same, Gold club (a single journey cost 10 riyals and a day pass cost 30 riyals)

The train cars are small and can get crowded. If you can afford it opt for the gold club to avoid crowds and guarantee yourself a good seat-in the front of the train with a conductors view, private and enclosed.

Please watch your kids.

Stand clear of the doors and let people off of the train before you try to rush on.

Get onto the train quickly as the doors do not wait and will try to crush you.

Clean up behind yourself.

Be careful if you are wearing a thobe or abaya or any other long clothing so that your clothes do not get caught in the escalator or metro doors.

Black Excellence

I have received many certificates in my life but this one was up there with my Bachelors, not because I had put in a lot of work but because it took a lot of strength for me to come this far.

A few weeks ago, there was an advertisement in the BSOQ group for the Black Excellence ball that was coming up. I considered buying a ticket to attend, but never acted upon this. A few days later I received an email stating that I was nominated for an award, from an anonymous person, and because of my nomination my attendance would be complimentary. So I purchased one ticket for my husband.

I was asked to submit a brief biography of myself to the organizer, The Brofessor. Once I submitted my bio, The Brofessor asked me to mention alopecia in my bio. That is when I realized I was being recognized for being a courageous women with Alopecia. My advocacy for women embracing their bald crown did not go un-noticed. I had impressed inspired someone and my heart was overflowing with humility and pride.

I went all out for my husband and myself. I purchased a dress but decided it wasn’t enough and decided to get a dress professionally made for myself and a jacket and pant suit made for Darryl. I called my girl Nazma, and she hooked me up with a beautiful henna design for my crown and glory. I have received many certificates in my life but this one was up there with my Bachelors, not because I had put in a lot of work but because it took a lot of strength for me to come this far. To be recognized as someone with courage is one of the biggest compliments I could have received.

For years, I was so ashamed and would never think of venturing outside uncovered. Like many other women who live with Alopecia, I was embarrassed more than anything. I still cover my head, mostly in Qatar- where hair is such a sense of pride and any deviation from normalcy is frowned upon-but it is not because I am embarrassed. It is because I don’t always want to be stared at like a zoo animal. I love to stand out but I prefer it be a choice. Alopecia is not a choice. But deciding when to reveal it, is MY choice. Embracing it, other than allowing it to take over my life, depress me and make me feel less than what I am, is MY choice. (There are some positives to having a bald head that I’ll keep to myself.)

But this post isn’t just about me. Many wonderful people were honored and awarded due to their work in Qatar, outside of Qatar and moves they are making. There were many professionals in attendance and not just Black. There were doctors, an Ambassador, a pastor, an opera singer (whom blessed us with a song), photographers, engineers, entrepreneurs, teachers, journalist and so much more! Even a young Achiever in the making was honored. You couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride being among such amazing people and hearing their stories. There was food, dancing, networking and an overall good time. Women shined and men were handsomely dressed in suits and ethnic attire.

The Black Excellence ball was a celebration of Greatness; a time to come together and say: WE SEE YOU! WE HONOR YOU! WE ARE HERE! And above all, WE LOVE YOU!

It is an event not to be missed. I know this event can only get bigger and better and I can’t wait to be in attendance next year!

[click here to view The honorees video]

Eyes Forward

I enjoy having people in my life that I can have deep conversations with, I mean like conversations about goals and future aspirations.

The first break of the school year is here and I have no plans. I think this is the first time since I’ve been here where I didn’t genuinely NEED a break. So far this school year has been wonderful. I am loving my new position and all of the work that has come with it. I think I’ve found my niche, for now anyway. I am one of those people that tire of things after a few years, so we shall see. As the only official elementary Reading Specialist at the school, everything is kind of new. I’ve been allowed to create my own schedule, and order the curriculum that I know works. I’ve been given a lot of autonomy and I feel like a professional again. Working with small groups has been effective for the students and maintaining my own low stress level. Working alone is also rewarding. I have accepted that I work better alone, however I do maintain a professional relationship with the teachers that I work along and we do have a better relationship this year probably due to the distance.

Working outside of the classroom allows for more flexibility to do other things. I’ve been able to attend some Professional Developments of my choice to hone in on some skills. I passed the Level 1 Google Certified Educator exam and am working on Level 2. I facilitated a couple of PD’s as well in Guided Reading and have been supporting the teachers in implementing Guided Reading within the classroom. I’m much happier at work and it shows. I’ve set up my small classroom as a place of zen and solace with positive words, plants, cushions and aromatherapy. Co-workers have been asking me what’s the secret… here’s my answer.

I’m having a great year and I just don’t have space for bullshit.

I chose not to travel during this break instead I stayed home to take care of some appointments and catch up on some rest. I haven’t had a massage in months so I’m going tomorrow and I haven’t been in a gym in about a month either, that has to change and soon. My eyesight is getting worse. I wonder if the bright Qatar sun has anything to do with it or is a combo of age and amount of time spent in front of the television and computer screen. Speaking of Qatar sun, I’m wondering when the weather will break. This girl needs to see some actual rain.

This school year has only just begun but it feels like one of those years that will move very quickly. Already this year, I’ve seen death and new life. I’ve hugged, loved and cried for others. Being so far away is hard sometimes, especially when you can’t physically be there for others in their time of need and have to navigate through difficult situations in a foreign country. Things change, people change, babies are born and people die but life goes on.

As life goes on, I’ve been especially blessed with accomplishing several of my goals and a few of my dreams and here I am in the midst of year 4. It was about 8 years ago when I first thought of this as only a dream but with determination some dreams become goals and with hard work those goals can become reality. Speaking of life, can we take a minute and talk about dreams because the days are long but the years are short. I enjoy having people in my life that I can have deep conversations with, I mean like conversations about goals and future aspirations.

I’m listening…

I actually should have done this years ago but eyes forward, I won’t be able to do what I’m doing forever and neither do I want to so I’ve created a 15 year timeline and I encourage everyone to do the same. This timeline consists of 1 and then 5 year intervals including goals and dreams covering financial, career, family, attitude, artistic, education, physical, living, pleasure and public service. Time to start following the plan, because what good are goals without a plan. What are some of your dreams and goals and what are you doing to get there? Eyes forward, let’s talk about goals.

Life After Detox- Back to Work and In New Spaces

When I left The LifeCo, the last things I wanted to see were juices and salads.  After 5 days of salads and juices, I was done. We ordered a raw bag to go, which consisted of breakfast- Chia pudding with crackers or vegan Turkish breakfast, lunch- Raw wrap or sushi, dinner- hummus wrap or vegetable platter, dessert- brownie, and supplements.  This way we could post-detox appropriately. To detox correctly, you first must pre-detox, then detox of course, post-detox and then eat mindfully and healthier. You have to post-detox to wean yourself back into your regular diet to avoid an upset stomach. You don’t start feeding a baby chicken right away, so treat your body like a baby afterwards and slowly introduce things back into your diet and life.  

Day 1 and day 2 after detox should include raw meals.  On day 3, you can re-introduce starches back into your diet- wheat bread, pasta, but no fried food.  You can begin to incorporate protein back in by day 4 and fish and other things by day 5. You can still eat your guilty pleasure items but in moderation, once or twice a week.  Alcohol, should be minimized to 1-2 glasses of wine or 1 glass of liquor. It is good to drink 2 glasses of water when you first wake up and drink plenty of water throughout the day.  Your water should contain a pH8 or higher. Probiotics are a good supplement to take to help with digestion which in turn will increase your energy.

After detox, I felt weak but I knew that eventually it would be time to return to work, and with work comes stress.  Stress does not only come with work, it comes with life. I know that yoga helps me with stress and so does exercise.  I’ve learned that I need to incorporate more strengthening exercise into my regiment. My plan is to get back to the gym, regularly, find a good yoga class or find a good routine online, lift weights, and continue to run.  Last year, I focused on self-care a lot and I plan to continue my monthly massages, waxes, trips to the nailery and weekly dry brush. I also want to fast at least once a month, even if just for a day. I plan to continue to eat healthy and try not to eat within 3 hours of bedtime.  I had 9 days before the school year started, which gave me time to relax a little, prepare and move to my new flat. 

My new flat has a gym right downstairs and it’s unisex, so hubby and I can work out together.  Who needs a personal trainer, when you have a husband. Our living and dining rooms are bigger, so we can practice yoga here.  It’s also surrounded by grass and trees. Darryl is specifically happy about this and the supermarket which is a 3 minute walk away.  We are thinking about purchasing bikes since there is a running and biking trail.  

Work started a week ago.  The first week is always filled with Professional Development and time to prepare for your new students.  This year, in my new role, I didn’t have all the stresses that come with setting up a new classroom. I feel blessed and extremely positive about the school year.   I set up my new smaller room with an atmosphere of Zen including plants, comfy seating, aromatherapy, inspiring pictures and a minimalist attitude. And to connect the many new faces, I threw a welcoming social at my new place.  Week 1 is over and we have a one week break for the Islamic holiday of Eid. I am not traveling; I am relaxing and preparing for a fresh new start. 

3 Years Later, An Expat in Qatar

Monday, marked the conclusion of year 3 for me.  Three years teaching in a foreign country.  Three years living in a foreign country.  What happens is, your foreign country doesn’t feel so foreign anymore.  It begins to feel more like home than your native country.  But one of the biggest differences is that you often find yourself saying goodbye more.  

The double edge sword to being an expat is the wonderful relationships you build with new people but having to also say goodbye when those new family members decide it’s time to move on.  This has happened every year so far and each year the group I began working with dwindles.  There are only a few of us left from the original crew.  One of my favorite couples, The Marshalls, have left.  It’s difficult to find good couple friends; they are one of the good ones and we will miss them dearly.  We made sure we spent a lot of time together before we all went our separate ways for the summer and vowed to keep in touch and meet up in another country.  I believe I have truly made some lifelong friends here.  It’s easier to build genuine relationships with other expats because usually you have commonalities and all you have is each other.

This is the first year I truly felt comfortable in Qatar.  I pretty much know how things go and how to find things.  So if people are wondering how long it takes for your host country to feel like home, I’d have to say about 3 years. 

Work had its share of ups and downs.  Although it doesn’t always feel like it, there were definitely more ups than downs.  I was offered a new position for next year which I am very excited about.  I will be the early, elementary Reading Specialist.   I will provide reading intervention for 1-3rd grades.  I will not have a class, instead I will work with small groups of students.  I moved out of my classroom and into a smaller room.  I’m sure the first grade team will really miss me lol. 

This year was filled with fun times in Qatar.  ATV riding over sand dunes in the desert at sunrise, clay shooting, Virtual Reality Gaming, paint ball, visits to the beach, small parties with friends and more. 

This year was also filled with fun times outside of Qatar.  My friend Jennifer and I went on our first girls trip together and our first wellness retreat.  It was also my first time in Thailand.  That trip sparked a year of self-care, desire to detox at least once a year and a fondness for Thailand.  I’m already planning my next retreat.  My husband and I spent 9 days trekking all over Sri Lanka, enjoying beautiful beaches and green scenery.  We ran from elephants and monkeys and saw enough temples for a whole lifetime.  We hiked mountains and chased whales. 

In April, I returned to the U.S. for two weeks.  My mother was having surgery and I needed to be there.  During that visit, old qualms were forgotten and many hugs were passed.  That visit home was very timely, as several other family members were having health issues and I was able to visit them and be a source of comfort for some.  I was able to handle some personal business with my home and spend some quality time with my sons.  And since I hadn’t planned on returning to Philadelphia during the summer break, I am glad I got the opportunity to go in April.  I also appreciate my job for allowing me to go.

After summer vacation, Darryl and I will be moving, again.  I have moved each year that I’ve been in Qatar.  But before that I have an amazing summer planned for us, including planes, trains, boats and top bucket fillers.  First stop Amsterdam!