There is a Monster Under My Bed- Surviving my First Earthquake in Costa Rica

It was about 9 pm when I started falling asleep Friday night. It was early but I had a long week and after one glass of Seville and tonic, I was done. I told my hubby, whom I’d been video-chatting with, I love you and called it a night. I’m a light sleeper and any light or sounds awaken me, so I put in one ear plug and covered my eyes with my blinders.

About 4 hours later, something scared me half to death. I was awakened to my bed being shaken. I felt it once and thought I was dreaming until, it happened again. This time I jumped up because I thought a monster was under my bed. Half asleep, I looked over at my vanity to see if anything had fallen over. Perhaps it was an earthquake, but I couldn’t see anything. The dogs outside were barking and then suddenly stopped. I checked under my bed, no demons there. I called Darryl and left him a message. Of course he didn’t answer, he was asleep. It was 1am here which meant 3am there. My heart was beating out of my chest and it took me 2 full hours, and 2 episodes of Making the Cut, to finally fall back to sleep.

Later that day, Darryl checked google for any record of Earthquakes in Costa Rica and there it was. At 12:53am, a 5.0 Magnitude Earthquake occurred in the North Pacific Ocean, 44 km South of San Isidro, Costa Rica. That was the monster that shook my bed side to side, woke me from my slumber and scared the shit out of me. The website www.volcanodiscovery.com provides alot of information on Earthquakes around the world. Check out this reporting from that website on earthquake occurrences in Costa Rica:

Past 24 hours8 quakes | 5 quakes M2+ | 3 quakes M3+
Past 7 days87 quakes | 43 quakes M2+ | 35 quakes M3+ | 4 quakes M4+ | 1 quake M5+
Past 30 days316 quakes | 157 quakes M2+ | 132 quakes M3+ | 18 quakes M4+ | 1 quake M5+
Past 90 days781 quakes | 340 quakes M2+ | 379 quakes M3+ | 50 quakes M4+ | 1 quake M5+
Past 365 days2,944 quakes | 1,148 quakes M2+ | 1,519 quakes M3+ | 226 quakes M4+ | 14 quakes M5+ | 3 quakes M6+
https://www.volcanodiscovery.com/earthquakes/costarica.html

The ironic thing is, we had an earthquake drill at my school just this week and my Director and I were just discussing our experiences with earthquakes on Friday morning. The only other earthquake I had ever experienced was in Philadelphia 11 years ago. I remember that earthquake clearly because I was in training at the first school I ever worked at. It was a 5.8 Mag earthquake that struck in Virginia and was felt pretty far up the East Coast.

I guess now is as good a time as ever to prepare an emergency bag. I had one prepared in Qatar when the Embargo occurred against Qatar by Saudi Arabia and talks of war were everywhere. No matter where you are in the world, it is always better to be prepared. Thankfully, I am ok and this was just an interesting, surprise experience in my new country. I just love my life!

Adjusting to Life in Costa Rica- 1 Month in…

It’s been a little over 1 month since I’ve moved to Costa Rica and I have gone through all four stages of culture shock at different times and some at the same time. I’ve moved through most of the stages in moments rather than days. Stage 1: The Honeymoon stage- There have been times, when I have been extremely happy with the move. I do not regret my decision in the least. Stage 2: The Frustration stage- Banking was frustrating, as is trying to find a car, so is being unable to hold a conversation with my Uber driver because my Spanish is minimal, and being cancelled by my Uber driver after waiting 8 minutes. This stage comes and goes due to bouts of loneliness too. Stage 3: The Adjustment Stage- I think, this stage takes the longest because I am constantly adjusting, especially mentally. Stage 4: Acceptance- Although I go through all stages here and there, ultimately, I understand that I must accept what is so that I can thrive in my new environment. I will admit that the hardest part has been doing this completely alone, no friends, no family, no familiarity.

I’ve moved into my condo, aka- apartment. I haven’t lived in a place this small since my first apartment right out of high school. It’s a lovely, top floor, 1-bedroom apartment. Since it’s in the central valley, where most people are located, Santa Ana to be exact, it’s pretty expensive compared to some other parts of this country. My rent is $850/mth. My housing allowance is $800. During my search for my place, I was torn between the one I chose and a 2-bedroom that would have run me $300 additional per month. I settled on the less expensive 1-bedroom to give myself time to adjust financially. My condo grounds are immaculate, very green and clean. It has a nice pool and a gym.

My place is an hour walk from work, a 15-20 minute Uber ride or a 25+ minute bus ride. I’ve done all three. I prefer to walk to get my cardio in, which is the only exercise I’ve accomplished so far. But walking home from work has proven difficult in the rainy season, which is the season we are currently in and I would prefer not to exhaust myself and get sweaty before work. The bus is cheap, only $0.49 but it takes the longest time and taking it means being out the house an hour before I’m due at work. The bus is my least favorite mode of transportation, not because anything is wrong with it. I just don’t like to take public transportation anywhere and you have to leave so early to ensure you make it on time. I use Uber most days. It runs me about $5.00 each way. Sometimes it takes a while to secure an Uber and sometimes they even cancel on you, so while it is convenient due to door to door service, it’s not the best either. So in summary, I’m looking for a car.

But cars are expensive here, about $3-5,000 more than in the U.S. Kia and Hyundai seem to be the most common brands here. Once you leave the main roads, the others can be quite rocky and underdeveloped so I believe a truck would work best. I definitely don’t want to run into the same problems I had in Qatar with a vehicle. That American car cost me an arm, leg and mental anguish. I was so happy to be through with it. So now I’m taking my time and being smarter with my car buying decisions. Having my own car would be super helpful right now. My new country is absolutely beautiful and I want to get out there and explore it more.

One of things I love the most about Costa Rica is the flora and fauna. This place is the complete opposite of Qatar in that area. I look outside of the window of my workspace and see so much green.

Every morning, I am greeted by bird sounds that I’ve never heard before and a red breast squirrel even greeted me on my balcony twice. I’ve been on two hikes, so far, and couldn’t stop snapping pictures of colorful flowers, breathtaking views and natural beauty. I assume a mix of this crazy rainy season and the fertility of the volcanic ash makes this place what it is- a paradise to the eyes, and I haven’t even scratched the surface.

For my birthday weekend, I borrowed the school van, (yes this is allowed which is a wonderful perk) and along with two other teachers drove down to Jaco (pronounced Ha-kō) beach. The scenery along the drive was beautiful. We stayed only one night, and the beach wasn’t swimmable but still it was a lovely time. I spotted a black squirrel, several iguanas, and some leaf cutter ants on the hotel grounds. This past weekend, Darryl flew down and we took a tour to the Arenal volcano. On this tour, we visited the Tres Generationes coffee plantation and had the best coffee we ever tasted. We also visited the Cinchono Waterfalls, which is in the center of the Americas. I felt like I was back in Hawaii standing in front of this waterfall. It looked identical to the ones Darryl and I had seen on the road to Hana and for the first time, and for a brief moment, we both admitted that maybe we could stay here instead of moving to Hawaii. It was on this tour that I saw a sloth in person for the first time, along with some other animals and Darryl got attacked by a Couti. More on that in another post. We zip-lined through the rainforest and I repelled down a mountain. Needless to say, the last two weekends have been full of fun.

As for daily life, I get up, go to work, come home, video chat with my hubby, cook, watch tv. The same things I was doing before, just in a different place. Work is definitely different here. Some days I love it, others I don’t. I work longer hours than I have in years and I’m quite busy. Resources are less than what I’m used to and the power goes out from time to time. I’m making less money but so far I’m still able to save. The natives are very pleasant; everyone speaks and smiles. The children are sweet and affectionate but are not used to sitting still. I’m not in the classroom 100% of the time so that’s a plus. I haven’t quite found my footing as the ECE Coordinator yet, but hopefully that will change. It’s a new position for the school and for me so I kinda feel like I’m on trial and not really sure where I fit. I just remember why I’m here and make the most of it. Twice a week, I attend free Spanish classes after school, which are needed, because everyone does NOT speak English. Learning Spanish will make life easier here. My Spanish is improving because I try to use it as much as possible. I want to learn it. One of my only regrets about Qatar was not learning the language before I left. Sure it wasn’t necessary but it would have been nice and I don’t want to make that mistake twice.

Moving abroad has it peaks and valleys especially in the beginning. Some days are easy. Some days are tough. So if you’re wondering how I’m doing, I’m adjusting…

The Big Move to Costa Rica

July 9 was move day. With all the negative experiences people have been sharing about the airlines lately, it was a big concern. My flight had been changed prior from a PHL departure and short layover in Miami to a layover in Boston, then a longer layover in Miami with a next day arrival. This was not acceptable so I cancelled that flight on Jet Blue and rebooked another on United, non-stop to SJO from Newark Airport. There were some discrepancies on the weight and size limits of the baggage that I could take but in the end I used the information given to me over the phone by a representative. We were allowed a max of 2 checked bags, that we had to pay for, and 1 carry-on and personal item for free. At the advice of some other expats in a FB group I joined, I purchased some totes for odd shaped items. In total, I packed 2-62.4 dimensional containers, purchased from Lowes, 2 large suitcases, 2 medium suitcases, 2 small suitcases for carry-on and 2 backpacks as personal items. Darryl and I left with 10 total pieces of luggage, 8 which were mine. I paid $440 in total but I didn’t mind because I would be reimbursed by my job for relocation costs. A very nice United Airlines attendant helped us at the airport with rearranging our seats so that we were sitting together and in spacious seats. (Advice: wait to get to the airport and ask for seat changes rather than paying for them online)

We had to present proof of return flight, within 90 days, since we were going on a visit visa, which we would obtain on arrival. This is a Costa Rican rule. I cannot obtain my work visa until my FBI apostille comes back from Washington. The only two documents I was required to get authenticated for work in Costa Rica was my birth certificate and FBI background check. The Birth Certificate authentication is completed at the state office building, Harrisburg in my case. That was a simple task of simply driving up there, walking in and paying a small cash fee of $15.00. The FBI authentication is completed through the national office in D.C. and walk-ins are not accepted. I used the third party company ProEx again; the same one I used to get my documents authenticated for Qatar. Their services cost me $150 and takes approximately 4 weeks. I still plan on flying back home for the October break rather I have the document within 90 days or not.

Our flight departed only a few minutes late and was rather pleasant. Five hours is a whole lot less than the 12.5 hour flight I was used to taking to get to Qatar. Getting through immigration was easy. They simply asked where we were staying, stamped our passport and whisked us through. There are nice gentlemen in green shirts at baggage retrieval that can help you with your bags for $20. Containers like totes come out of the area marked with the number 1 all other baggage comes out of different baggage carousels. Minus 1 missing tote handle, all of our things arrived safely. Thankfully Darryl had the bright idea to zip tie the totes as extra security. The lines for customs was disheartening, however they moved quickly and we were out of the airport in under 30 minutes.

My new VP picked us up from the airport and she had a vehicle big enough for all of our stuff. She drove us to the Aloft hotel, where we would be staying until we found housing. In our room was a small gift bag with coffee, cookies and snacks from Costa Rica, cash of ¢150,000 ($215 approx.) and a prepaid phone with ¢30,000 ($43 approx.) credit for our use for the first few days.

After dropping off our baggage, Mrs. VP and family took us around the neighborhood and then to get something to eat. The restaurant is where I learned my first lesson about Costa Rica: I need to learn Spanish and fast…

A Feature Story in Undomesticated Mag

…simply put, I am not done here, not yet.

A few weeks ago, a young lady contacted me after stumbling across my blog. When this happens, the person sends you some questions about your experiences, you respond with your answers, they tweek the content and then put together a feature. Ms. Hawk did a great job of putting my thoughts together. I’ve pasted the interview below for your reading enjoyment. Interesting fact: the article came out on my anniversary 11/11. What a nice gift. If you fancy, subscribe to the magazine as well. There are some very interesting reads on it. Click here for the website.

International Careers: Kennesha Bell on Teaching in Qatar 

teach-abroad-qatar-kennesha bell-sand-dunes.jpg

Kennesha Bell lived her entire life in Philadelphia until at the age of 39, she packed up her family and moved to Doha, Qatar to teach first grade, satisfying a longtime yearning for travel and international experience. Four years later, she has no plans to leave. We talk about getting the assignment, adjusting to another culture, the challenge of being so far from family, and why she loves life in the Middle East.

You can read more about her experience at her blog American Teacher Overseas.

Undomesticated: What led you to teaching abroad? And why Doha?

Kennesha Bell: I applied to teach abroad because I needed to get out of Philadelphia. I felt like I was suffocating. It was sort of a calling, I guess you could say. I love to travel and I wanted to experience life somewhere else. 

Doha was not my first choice. In fact, the first time I applied to teach overseas I was turned down by Teachaway, the company I went through. I didn’t have enough experience at that time. Then two years later, I applied again, passed the interview with Teachaway but was denied by Abu Dhabi Education Council and never heard back from the school in Kuwait. I applied for a third time two years later, being the persistent person that I am, and received offers from Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Kuwait. Qatar had the best benefits package for a family. 

One of the reasons I chose the Middle East was because of the mystique of this part of the world. I only knew what I heard about it through the media, which gives a very one-sided outlook. Also I had read that Qatar was, and still is, one of the safest places in the world, and it is smack in the middle, so what a great hub to travel to the rest of the world from. How could I resist moving to a place that is safe, pays great, is a travel hub, and a mystery to me?

Undomesticated: When people think of overseas English teachers, they usually think of someone recently out of college and single. You, however, were in your late thirties and married with children. How did that affect your decision and your transition to Doha?

Bell: It was not easy, but I was determined. Honestly, I thought it would be a good opportunity to give my children. They would have something I never did, travel experience and exposure to different cultures. I figured we could go through the growing pains together. The company I work for in Qatar was extremely helpful with the transition. My director even connected me to another mother who was in Qatar with her children. We talked via Skype before I moved. She put my mind at ease and she and I are still good friends. 

Undomesticated: What was the biggest surprise about your job? About living in Doha?

Bell: The biggest surprise about my job was the surplus of resources and help that was available to me. 

Also, the diversity of the staff was a surprise. When you come from a place where everyone looks like you, talks like you, and has had similar experiences to you, you get locked inside a bubble. Here I felt like it was the first time I stepped outside of that bubble and saw life for how it is supposed to be: Colorful and beautiful.

Undomesticated: What would surprise people back home in Philadelphia about your life now?

Bell: I feel 100% more safe in Qatar than Philadelphia. This surprises people because Qatar is in the Middle East. That stigma about the Middle East runs deep for people who live in the West bubble and have never traveled to this part of the world. I love it here and have no desire to return to my hometown outside of being with friends and family.

Undomesticated: How do people in Qatar react to you as a Black American woman?

Bell: Some people are surprised when I tell them where I am from. One person even said, “I thought only white people were from the United States.”

Americans are looked up to here and as an African-American, I have never felt discriminated against. The population here is so diverse. There are people from everywhere here. 

Women in general have preferential treatment in some ways here. There are lines just for women. Women are often allowed to go first. The commonality of separation of genders takes some getting used to though. 

teach-abroad-kennesha-bell-al-bidda-park-qatar.jpg

Undomesticated: What is the biggest reward of your job?

Bell: I feel appreciated as a teacher in this country. Most families respect you and look to you as an expert.

Of course, the money is great too. I’ve been blessed with being able to travel to many places, pay off debt, invest, and enjoy the fruits of my labor. 

Undomesticated: What is the biggest challenge?

Bell: The biggest challenge for me was adjusting. Things are different here. Life is slower. I’m from a big city, where everything is rush, rush, rush. I’ve had to learn patience and humility. Things don’t happen on your timetable here; it happens when it happens.

Another big personal challenge was being without my husband for the first year because he was working and we had a house in the U.S. that someone needed to live in. And being without my kids for the following years. The issue with my kids is touchy and very emotional and I devoted an entire blog post to this.  My two sons are so different. My oldest son stayed with me the entire first year.  He does very well with change and is adaptable. We traveled and spent a lot of time together.  He returned to the U.S. when we went home for the summer and stayed there to finish his senior year in high school.  

My youngest son however, does not do well with change. I wanted us to immerse ourselves into the new culture, and I think it was too much for him. He did not want to stay, so almost three quarters of the way through the first year, he returned to the U.S. to live with his dad. Some may not agree with my decision but I truly believe that everyone deserves to be happy. Being here was not bringing him the joy I had hoped, so I let him go home.  

Some may ask why I choose to stay despite it all, and my answer is this:  Qatar is my home now.  I am happy here.  Life is more peaceful here. I have a well-paying job that has allowed me to pay off thousands of dollars worth of debt, save, travel to many places, and I’ll soon pay off my house back in the U.S. I wasn’t able to do these things while working and living in the U.S. Sure I miss my other home and my family most of all. Before the pandemic, I made it my business to travel there every year. But, simply put, I am not done here, not yet.  

Undomesticated: What advice would you give someone hoping to teach abroad?

Bell: Go for it but have patience. If it is your dream, do it; but don’t expect others to be excited about your dreams. 

Think of all the wonderful things that could happen, and live a life without regrets. 

Credit: https://www.undomesticatedmag.com/blog/teaching-abroad-qatar-kennesha-bell-


Answers to Questions for Teachers Preparing to Teach Overseas

As several people prepare for their journey to Qatar or elsewhere overseas, I’ve been receiving lots of questions lately. I have decided to use this time to answer some questions…

I’ve connected with several people via social media in regards to teaching overseas.  I’ve tried to be as helpful and as transparent as possible by offering suggestions.  As several people prepare for their journey to Qatar or elsewhere overseas, I’ve been receiving lots of questions lately.  And now since I have completed one full year and will be beginning my second year real soon, some of my previous suggestions may have changed.   I have decided to use this time to answer some questions that I’ve been asked and maybe others have the same questions.  Hopefully this helps.

From Lauren:

1. So now that you’ve finished a whole year, looking back-what teaching supplies would you recommend someone bring?  Did you have all the supplies you needed for centers? Would you still recommend a new hire to bring classroom decorations?

I can’t speak for all schools overseas, but I can speak about mine in particular.  There is an over-abundance of material there from centers to curriculum items.  Much of what we use in the states is there.  I generally like to decorate my classroom with a theme so I did purchase some decoration for that but I don’t recommend it and I won’t do that this year.  I say this because, the classroom is not yours alone.  Four other teachers came into the classroom to teach in the course of one day, so they needed space as well, wall space to hang things and space to store things.  The space belongs to the kids so it was a waste of money and time to get hung up on decoration.  However, I would recommend purchasing and or bringing specific things you can’t live without as a teacher.  I like order, even if I’m sharing a room, and I run a tight ship of independence, so there are certain things that I like that makes this easy.  Some examples are: seat sacks and grouping items (same color folders, books, table caddies).  I also purchased plastic sleeves for name tags and labeling bins.  Butcher paper and borders were provided.  I will also bring specific workbooks and teacher resources that I like to use, eg..Words their Way, Sight word work and Daily grammar spiral workbooks.

2. Is it easy to transfer money into your American bank accounts?

It is very easy to transfer money into your American bank account.  Once you get your bank account set up overseas, you can set up automatic transfers or individual transfers online.  The first transaction can take up to a week but after a few transfers, it only takes about 1-3 days.  The overseas bank or your home bank may charge a fee.  Find out what that fee is for your particular banks.

3. …would you say that it is best to bring king sized sheets? Any other household items?

You can buy most of what you want in Qatar.  You may have to hunt around and it will take time but you can find it.  IKEA is in Qatar and they sell the same things as in America but you know their sheets and stuff fit their products best.  I prefer to bring my sheets from America.  The king sheets fit the king mattresses there.  I am very particular about my sleep comfort and I like 100% cotton sheets and pretty comforters with some weight.  So I spent too much money on having them shipped via Aramex from Bed Bath and Beyond and had my husband bring some sheets with him when he visited.  This summer, I purchased more sheets to take with me.  This summer I also purchased melting waxes from Walmart and floating candles from Amazon, but before I left Qatar I did discover some melting waxes at one of the malls.  I also found floating candles but not the color I wanted.  Much of these items are cheaper in America.

4. Was it easy getting around before getting your drivers license?

My school provided transportation to and from work for the first two-three weeks.  They also provided transportation to the supermarket and malls at specific times as well as government offices to take care of important matters.  Uber is everywhere in Qatar and most people carpool as well.

From Nancy:

5. For work, bag or purse? Do you carry a laptop around? Lots of paper?

We were provided with a laptop and laptop bag.  It is heavy and bulky so I use a big Michael Kors handbag to carry everything I need for work.  You won’t be bringing a lot of work home so you won’t carry around a lot of paper.

From Leslie:

6. Does ____ have a policy against open toed shoes?

There is a dress policy in place.  They prefer you not wear casual flip flops but most people wear open toed Birkenstocks or other open toed sandals.

Other recommendations:

Take at least one piece of apparel that represents your culture, favorite sports team, and something for wacky days eg…favorite storybook character day, mismatched day (polka dots with stripes etc).   Bring some hometown knick knacks for kids, they love to get treats from the USA, eg… treasure box incentive trinkets, small birthday gifts, snacks. Although, I have found many spices in Qatar, some I’ve never heard of, many people recommend bringing your own spices.  Personally, I would recommend fine sea salt and ground black pepper, oh and don’t forget Vanilla Extract.  You cannot find real vanilla extract in Qatar, something to do with the alcohol content.   Bring your medicines because although you can get medicine in Qatar, it takes a while to get used to the names, you won’t find the brand ‘tylenol’ but you will find an equivalent.  Take specialized toiletries with you.  I use Secret clinical strength deoderant and I haven’t been able to find it there so I stock up in America and pack it, enough for a year.  I also use Aveeno cream because I have eczema (Aveeno is very expensive in Qatar), so I stock up on that and I buy Shea butter and essential oils and make my own body butter and body scrub to bring.   Bring wash clothes, or get them at Ikea.  I have found hand towels but not wash clothes anywhere else except Ikea.  Also bring kitchen rags, same issue.  Buy work clothes and shoes before going.  The shoes in Qatar are European sizes and don’t fit me well but if you don’t have an issue with this than forget I said anything.  Also Qatar has many malls but I prefer to shop at places I know, like New York and Company and Venus for work clothes.  You won’t find these stores there. Do bring a few cold weather items, eg… sweater, jacket, rain boots, sweats; yes it is hot in Qatar but it gets cold for about 2 months and if you plan to travel, keep your destinations weather in mind when packing clothes. You know those bags of white cheddar cheese popcorn and peanut chews that you gotta have, well bring those, you probably won’t find them in Qatar and if you spot them there, you may never see them again.  So in short, bring the snacks you love, until you learn to love the snacks that are there.

Don’t take big electronics, in fact outside of your Personal laptop, phone, and IPad, buy your electronics there.  I can’t begin to tell you about the whole blowing things out, that I went through in the beginning.

That’s all I can think about right now if you have any more questions feel free to leave a comment and I will try my best to answer.

My advice: Have an open mind, try new things, be flexible and by all means enjoy yourself.

 

Did I Keep my Promise?

Remember the pledge I made to you….

Back in May 2016 I made this pledge to my readers, and I wanted to know your thoughts on how I did?

I promise to always be honest

I promise to not sugar coat what life is REALLY like for an Expat living in Qatar

I promise that despite how anxious I am about moving abroad I will always keep it real

I promise to blog at least once a month

I promise to include the pictures I am allowed

I promise that if I don’t like it there I will admit it

I promise that if I love it there I will admit it

I promise to share the good and the bad

I promise that one of these promises I will probably have to break

I promise not to get over there and forget why I am there

I promise not to get over there and forget who I am

I promise to keep an open mind and remember that Qatar is not America

I promise not to forget that I am a visitor to their country

I promise to try it for at least a year (as long as we are safe)

I promise not to forget that I am an African American Woman

I promise to return home at some point to visit

I promise that I probably forgot something and will add it later

More good things to know

Things I’ve discovered along the way.

Get the Metrash App for your phone upon arrival.  After you get your RP go to OOREDOO and register your phone with your RP.  After a few days, try to register on the Metrash app. From what I know so far, because I am still waiting for my phone registration to go through, there are several things you use Metrash for: request an exit Permit for your sponsored family members, find out if you have traffic fines, etc… Check a later post for more details on this. Also find out if the phone companies offer discounts for your company.

Update: I moved from mobile service with OOREDOO to Vodafone because they offered discounts to QF employees.

Update: You need Metrash, download it immediately.

Purchase the Entertainer app. You can also purchase the book but the app is cheaper and more convenient.  It’s $65.00 USD.  It is more beneficial to purchase this closer to the beginning of the year since it is good for the year.  It includes coupons for many things. I used two of the bogo dinner deals in one weekend.  It’s well worth it.  I made my money back in two days. I only wish I had began using it sooner. Update: I used it to book a two night stay in Dubai.  BOGO at the JW Marriott Marquis, a savings of over $200.00.  I am working on a BOGO deal for a room in the Maldives.

I went to the QDC (Qatar Distribution Center) for the first time on Wednesday around 4pm. It wasn’t crowded at all.  It is where you can purchase liquor and pork.  Here is the process (but remember it may be different tomorrow).   You have to request a letter from your employer (employee relations).  The letter basically gives permission for you to purchase liquor and states that they are your employer, and that you are not Muslim and how much you make.  Once you get your letter, you take it along with your RP to Qatar Distribution Company where they will send you upstairs.  Once upstairs they will take your picture and issue you a permit to purchase.  You have to give them $1,000 QAR deposit made through your debit/credit card. You can get your deposit back once you bring your ID back.  Darryl and I both were issued permits.  Since I am his sponsor, we only had to pay one deposit.  At the QDC, I purchased 1 bottle of Martini and Rossi, 6 Coronas, 1 bottle of Jack Daniels Whiskey for a friend, Malibu rum, 2 bottles of Pinot Noir and 1 bottle of Pinot Grigio for a friend, 2 bottles of sweet red wine, and 1 bottle of pink moscato for me, 2 packages of pork bacon for the boys. The total was QAR 736.60 which equals $203 USD.  This after I received a 20% discount for purchasing 6 bottles of wine.  There is a lot of variety.  Not too bad ‘EY’.

Update as of Feb 2017: Now you pay a certain amount per year for your license, no more 1,000 QAR deposit.

Get involved in groups.  Doha Foodies is a good group on FB.  I work with the administrator and she is fantastic.  In this group are many suggestions of where to eat in Doha.  Another good one is Buying and Selling Doha.  Join Qatar Living online.  It is a very informative website and you can find vehicles for sale on this site.

Download Waze for directions.  You will get lost.  Download Uber to take you around. Download Talabat for food delivery services and Zomato for reviews.  Get a good conversion app, for obvious reasons.

Purchase shoes with thick soles.  I brought some flats here with me, but the soles have worn out.  I bought some Birkenstocks recently.  I caught a good BOGO1/2 price but they also offer discounts for QF employees.

You may have to shop at several food markets to get everything you want.  Géant is located across from the Villagio mall in the Hyatt shopping plaza and is pretty good.  Also the Megamart near C ring road, behind the KFC is also really good for finding American brands and vegan choices.  I’ve also heard about a place called Spinneys and Monoprix but I haven’t been to either yet.  Al Meera is close to me, so I go there for quick visits.  Lulu’s is big and sells veggie crumbles.  Also they don’t sell cilantro as cilantro; it is sold as fresh Coriander.

 

 

And on the 36th day of Qatar…

…I got paid.  And, it was everything that they promised with the exception of some of my shipping allowance which I will receive once Darryl and Zamir have their RP’s.  Btw this should be within the next few days.  They have had their doctor exams done as well as their fingerprinting.  This is great because everyone will have their ID’s.  This is bad because it also means Darryl will be leaving me soon.  I’ve also received almost everything I was waiting for, except for my license to purchase liquor.  I feel much better now.

Driving here is a nightmare.  I think I’ve mentioned that before, but it is worth mentioning again.  I think I hated driving in the states, well there is no comparison to here. Traffic is horrendous and it is all day except Friday mornings, prayer day (sort of like Sunday mornings in the States).  But many things are closed at that time as well so it defeats the purpose of no traffic.

Speaking of driving, the bank, QNB, is driving me crazy.  I have been locked out of my online banking for over a week and I am unable to transfer money to my American accounts, so I can’t pay my American bills.  It is extremely frustrating.  In American, you can call the bank and they will reset your account, no problem but this is Qatar.  In order to transfer any money, I have to go into a specific branch within The Mall (that is the name of this mall).  I went there, took a number, A12, they were on A01.  I walked around The Mall and went back 15 minutes later and they were still on A01.  Needless to say I left.  You have to go into another branch to pick up a bank card.  And still another branch for…. Well you get the picture.  They can’t even make the transfer for me over the phone.  They really need to improve the banking customer service here.  They told me they have up to 3 working business day to fix the problem.  Tomorrow is day 3.  Fingers crossed.

Anyway, work is good.  I still spend time lesson planning, but most of it is occurs at school. No staying late at school or up all night planning.  Most of my kids are GREAT too!  My parents seem nice and responsive as well.  My coworkers are great.  I even went to Zumba with a few of them last night.

Here are a few things I find funny here:

  • people running across the street like their life depends on it.  (it does) It reminds of me of the old Atari game ‘Frogger’
  • students wearing jackets and sweaters outside to recess (it’s like 200 degrees)
  • I haven’t lost my voice yet.  I don’t do much screaming and I always lost my voice within the first month of teaching.
  • I haven’t been sick either (with the exception of a 24 hour sinus bug) I always got sick teaching stateside
  • An old friend of mine sent me a care package and paid more for the shipping than the contents.  She paid almost $200.00 for shipping. Thanks Theresa Kelly!
  • Sometimes friends will have your back better than family
  • You can wear white all year here.
  • People leave their cars running and unlocked while they shop in the supermarket 
  • 90F is cool to me.
  • And the ultimate funny thing: It’s cold in Philly but I’m still sleeping with the AC on.

 

 

One month later

Everything is an adjustment here…

On August 17, we boarded a plane and headed to Qatar.  I had no idea what I was stepping or should I say flying into; I just knew I wanted out of Philly and to live somewhere other than the USA.  So how are we doing 1 month later?  Well I do not have regrets but there are days when I wonder was this the best idea, like the day a week had gone past after I was supposed to have been paid but wasn’t (and still have not been by the way, but I did receive an advancement so that’s a pretty good indication that I will be eventually).  Like the day I realized that my husband was not going to receive his Residence Permit and in turn not have his passport back in time to fly home next week and back to work.  And there were many days similar to these where I expected something to happen but it didn’t turn out the way I expected.  I often have to remember to not have expectations.  But then there are other days when I’m super surprised.  Like when I first arrived I sent an email to the supervisor of my housing compound about my mattress not being new; I didn’t get a return email about it so I bought a mattress topper from IKEA but then a week later, I got a knock on my door from the security guard with a new mattress in tow.  Or the time when I found Pine nuts and ground Flaxseed at one of the food markets after I had just about given up on them (that was just yesterday by the way). Everything is an adjustment here and it already feels like I’ve been here for a year.  But I am here now, I don’t plan on going back and there are some interesting things here.


Tomorrow I meet my new group of first graders.  I know students often have mixed emotions about returning to school.  Well guess what students, so do teachers.  I am nervous and excited.  Not only is this a new country, a new school, a new group of coworkers and administration, a new curriculum and new culture, not to mention I vowed to never return to the class as a elementary school teacher again.  So much for that.  And if your paying attention to the date, our first day is on a Sunday.  The work week in Qatar is Sunday-Thursday.  That makes Friday and Saturday the weekend.  I will be using the PYP curriculum this year.  I am excited about that.  It looks good on a resumé.  Each grade at my school has a helper.  I haven’t quite figured out the extent of their help.  So far I know that they sharpen the pencils for our kids, can cut out laminated paperwork, organize your cabinets, put up your bulletin boards and much more.  I am not used to this and find it difficult to ask but like everyone else I assume I will get used to it and will use my resources to make my life easier.  There is also maintenance persons who are always cleaning and are there for you as well.  Picture coming in to your class room on your day off and finding two young ladies in your room, scraping the old name tag adhesive off of the desks.  Then asking security to communicate to two other men working on the premises to come into your room and scrape old labels off of the outside of your cabinets.  Yeah that happened.  My classroom was also full of supplies and resources, including a leveled library and interest books.   My classroom has a smart board, elmo, projector, MAC, dry erase board, and chalkboard.  It is a small classroom and for the first time in my teaching career I felt like it had too much furniture in it.  Believe me when I tell you, American teachers would give anything for these luxuries.  On the other hand, the school is growing so much that it is running out of space and my students will spend almost their whole day in one class including lunch.  First graders get instruction in Language Arts and Science in English from me, and math from another English teacher.  They get instruction in Language Arts in Arabic as well as Islamic Studies and Qatar History. They also have specials like PE, Music, Art and IT in English.  It is a private school.

Sometimes it feel like nothing makes sense here or works right but maybe it just takes time to get used to.  I am getting used to using a 12 hour clock, but at first I wanted to take my new alarm clock back to the store because I thought something was wrong with it when it read 00:32.  I tried to take my new printer back today because it just doesn’t seem to work right but they wouldn’t accept it until I have a tech come out and reinstall it because of course it worked fine in the store.  It reminded me of when you go to the doctor’s because you are sick and when you get there, nothing is wrong. Don’t you hate when that happens?  But I didn’t know a tech would come to my house and do that.  My shower spout is too close to the shower wall and so when I wash the water goes everywhere including the bathroom floor.  Mind you all the bathroom floors have drains in them but who wants a wet bathroom floor every day. Well they came to fix it several times, and eventually even replaced the spout but water still gets on the floor.  I’ve gotten used to it now, besides it is so hot, it only takes a few minutes to dry anyway.  I haven’t been able to find shower liners here at all, but I guess they figure, what’s the use.  Oh and store hours, I haven’t quite figured out yet.  Many stores open up early, then close around 11:00 am and then reopen around  12:30 pm and others close ’til around 4pm.  Most times it’s best to shop early or late except on Friday or Saturday evening because it’s the weekend.  And don’t even get me started on the driving and construction here.  If you get a chance research slip roads and roundabouts in Qatar.  If you want to get to a store on the other side of the road, drive one mile and do a u-turn or at the roundabout take the 4th exit.  I actually like roundabouts now but boy do they take some getting used to.  It’s kind of like playing a real life game of Frogger.  And it may be a roundabout at that corner tomorrow but don’t get used it, because it might not be there tomorrow.  There is construction going on everywhere here.  They are really building this state up but google map and WAZE (another gps app) can’t keep up, so driving can be frustrating.  On the upside, I rented a car for a month and the last time I gassed up, it cost me (you ready for this) a whopping 38.75 QAR which amounts to $10.71.  I also passed my driver’s test on the first try so I was able to pick up my driver’s lic for 250 (it was either 250 or 150, I can’t quite remember) QAR once I received my RP.  That’s about $70.  And yes I also received my RP, which is sort of like your Social Security card/State ID.  Once I had my medical done, I had to get fingerprinted and a few days later I got my RP and I got my passport back.  The whole process took about a week, which surprised me because I had heard horror stories about people not getting their passports back for months.  We are still waiting for the boys and Darryl’s RP but I am hopeful that they will be here within the next two weeks.

I don’t know if I will be able to save any money this first year.  There are some expenses that I hadn’t really considered and I will have to get used to spending here. Tomorrow the boys start school and I had to find them a driver because their school is about 30 minutes away from our house and in a total different direction than mine.  Most drivers/companies that I spoke to want 2200-3800 QAR/mth, which equals to about $608-1,050.  I never read that in any of my research, so I want to share that because I think that is important to know.   I found one who quoted me 1950 QAR/mth which is about $540.  This is the cheapest so far.  A driver is supposed to come and pick up my boys tomorrow, take them to school and bring them home after school. Prayfully everything will go well.  I will then pay them for one week at the end of the week.  And food, OMG, is expensive here, especially if you want food that you are used to because that kind of food is imported.  I’ve been spending about 1000 QAR a week ($276) in groceries.  That doesn’t include what we spend on eating out.  For now I am renting a car on a monthly basis for around $550.  I plan on continuing this at least until I complete probation, eventually I will buy a vehicle and that is another expense. The good thing is it is pretty easy to get a loan here after a few months.  The bad thing is, it is pretty easy to get a loan here after a few months.  My job also gives 20% of the price of a new car (no older than 2 years old) and if you decide to stay and work for 3 years here, you won’t have to pay that 20% back.  Another good thing is that they give us a monthly transportation allowance, but my son’s transportation will eat that up alone.

There are 3 main food markets here: Al Meera, LuLu Mart and MegaMart.  Megamart is a little on the expensive side, sort of the Whole Foods of Doha but they do have a lot of American foods.  Al Meera is in between, kind of like the Acme and then there’s LuLu. LuLu is like Walmart supermarket.  It has everything but maybe not what your used to but if you see something good, stock up, because you might not see it there again.

Things to know about shipping.  It’s expensive to get things shipped here from stores. There is no way around it.  My sister sent me my first care package which was some things I had ordered and sent to my house in the states.  It cost her $31.00 to send a small box weighing 2 lbs via FEDEX (thru the USPS) but it got here in 3 days, which I thought was super fast.  It didn’t come to my villa, even though she put my address on the package.  Someone had told me to make sure she writes my Qatar phone number on the package or I might not get it, so she did.  So the QPost (the main post office here) sent me a text message that said I had a package and to pick it up. When I went to pick it up, we had to pay 15 QAR.  They said the fee was because I didn’t have a p.o.box. I didn’t know I could get a p.o. box.  You can, for 500 QAR ($138) for the year.  I haven’t gotten that yet, because this week was EID and everything shuts down for EID.  EID is like Christmas and the 4th of July all in one.  Anyway, I also bought an ARAMEX account.  It is a shipping company that provides you with a U.S. address.  You can ship things to that address and the company will ship the items here for you for a fee of course.  Come to find out that if you are a Qatar Foundation employee it is free to join Aramex.  I wish I had known that before I paid $45.  Recently I shipped quite a few things thru Aramex.  My heaviest order was from a teacher resource store and the weight is 29lbs.  It will cost me 963 QAR thru Aramex ($266).  Yes, that’s alot of money.  It should be here tomorrow.  We will see what happens.  Next I will try the p.o. box and see which shipping method is the most cost effective.

Okay I know this post is long but stay with me.  Here are a list of things I wish I had bought with me: Many times before I came I asked people what teacher supplies should I bring and most people just said Sharpies and Expo markers but as a teacher that likes to have specific things I am finding myself purchasing things that I had at home and could have just brought with me, which pisses me off.  Table caddies, specific decorations, name tag clear pockets, routine story books, seat sacks, etc… If you like your room a certain way, bring it with you.  Curriculum stuff, leave home.  Besides teacher supplies, I wish I had brought: shower liners, nutritional yeast (can’t find it here), snacks (little bites, skittles, my kids miss these, peanut chews, dipsy doodles, I miss these), shower curtain rings, grits, dryer sheets, stock paper, bed sheets, mattress covers (the kind that zipper), instant oatmeal, static guard.

Besides all of this I have had some fun too. I have taken many trips down to the Corniche- it’s like Penns landing x 2, Sand dunning in the

desert, img_2035

img_2047bowling, shopping, paint nite with Darryl

and two trips to very beautiful beaches minus the jellyfish. img_2004I even have a favorite store.  It’s called Centre Point.  It has lots and lots of aromatherapy products.

Well it is time to say good night.  My alarm clock says 22:06.  I think that means 10pm and I have to get up earlier than I ever have for work, 5am.

The first 7 days in Doha

So things aren’t perfect but I like it here.

I started this post days ago but when I tell you I’ve been sooo busy believe me.  And now, instead of it being 7 days in Doha, it’s more like, 8, no wait, 9.  Yes it has been 9 days in Doha.  My sense of time and days is all off.  I rise and sleep earlier than I ever have.  The sun rises around 5am here and it’s dark around 6pm.  I’m usually up before 6:30, sometimes by 5am and down by 10, sometimes by 9pm.  I’ve never been a morning person, but Qatar is turning me into a Grandmom, up early, down early.  Anyway enough about that.

I know that I have only been here 9 days but it feels more like a month because we have done so much and I owe that mainly to my new job.  I have experienced some wonderful things and some things that just don’t make sense to me but the good definitely outweighs the bad so far.  I have this new saying, “It’s Qatar.  Maybe it will happen, maybe it won’t!”  It is my way of coping with some things that don’t always go as planned and that happens a lot.  For instance, I will be teaching First Grade instead of Kindergarten.  I found that out on the first day of work. (I actually think it might be a blessing in disguise). Another example: We waited 5 days for internet.  It was supposed to be fixed/installed for 3 days straight but everyday, “It’s Qatar. Maybe it will happen, maybe it won’t!” Fortunately it did on the fifth day.  And there were other minor occurrences but I won’t bore you to death with them.

I started work last Sunday and my family was able to go with me for the first week.  We received our orientation schedule for the next 3 weeks but were told it is subject to change. So within one week, I toured my new school, which is nice, I’ve met all the new staff, we turned in all our gathered paperwork, took several trips to the mall, arranged by our school, had an eye examine for my driver’s test, saw my classroom and was given time to work in it, had my medical exam, took a trip to Ikea, toured Education City, signed up with the bank, scheduled my written driver’s test, which is tomorrow, and took a trip to Sheikh Faisal’s Museum today.  I really appreciate my administration using this first week to take us around and get things done that will make our stay in Doha easier.  It also helps to ease us into work.  The children do not start for another 3 weeks.  Our second week begins tomorrow, where we will get into some curriculum things.

I really like my new coworkers (hopefully it is not just the honeymoon phase).  We are a diverse bunch.  I work with people from all over, South Africa, Australia, Jordan, Turkey, U.S.A., etc.. It is so refreshing to be around like-minded individuals. I hope the rest of the staff are just as wonderful.

There are malls everywhere here.  I love to shop but this is too much even for me. I’m not here to spend a whole lot of money and this definitely does not help my addiction.  And the Ikea is great including the food there.  I can only imagine what the mall of Qatar will be like. It will be the biggest mall in the world.

Last night my husband and I attended a teacher’s social event at the Hilton Hotel in West Bay, Doha.  It wasn’t a lot of people there for the event but the majority of the attendees were my coworkers. We had a blast.  I won some prizes and my husband recited Rapper’s Delight.  We even had a drink or a couple, okay, okay, a few.  Yes, you can drink alcohol here, at hotels and if you obtain a liquor permit, once you get your RP (Residence Permit), you can also purchase alcohol to consume in your home.

It is very hot here, but bearable in small doses.  When I say small doses, I mean like, walk from your house into the air conditioned car, out of the car, into a building.  A few days ago, we decided to walk around our neighborhood around 5:30ish in the evening.  I think we got about 6 blocks when I decided I had had enough.  I felt like I was being smothered, so we turned around and came back home.  I’ve also been experiencing headaches.  I think it might be due to the sun, or dust, not sure which. But I haven’t had any allergy attacks, so that’s good.  During the day, the heat is dry and the sun is so bright that my sunglasses fog up as soon as I walk outside.  In the evening, the humidity is so prevalent that you feel smothered.

Okay so here are some tips for my followers whom are considering working here:

  1. Bring patience and leave the chip on your shoulder home. Bring humility too.
  2. On the day, you are scheduled to meet with H.R. bring a packed lunch.  You will be waiting a while. Also keep a few copies of your passport photos. Don’t give them all to H.R. Believe me you will need them.
  3. Be sure to switch your cellular provider to Tmobile before you come here and download SKYPE and Whatsapp.  Tmobile provides you with free text and wifi calling and 2 Gs of data monthly while here. You can call back home for $.20 a minute.  You can SKYPE back home for free and use Whatsapp.
  4. Please follow this advice- Have a couple thousand dollars that you can access.  You will need to buy things for your accommodation, food and a Qatar SIM card if you want to get things done here, before you get paid. Remember you are starting over from scratch basically.  Bring some cash and exchange it for QAR and keep some in your American bank account.  Also check your bank to see how much are international fees when you use your card here.  You may or may not receive your first pay when you expect it.  I didn’t. But hey, “It’s Qatar…” you know the rest.
  5. Check the money you get from the bank before you leave America.  They will not exchange $50’s and $100 bills that have dates older than 2007 here.  I read that somewhere before I came but I forgot and they sure didn’t take $200.00 of my money.  But Ikea does take American money and they had no problem taking those bills.
  6. Be sure to make a copy of your passport because your job will take it until you get your RP and you need your passport to exchange money here.  Some places will take the passport copy.
  7. You can rent a car with a International Driver’s Permit until you get your RP, but I don’t know why you would want to rush to drive here.  It is aggressive and UBER works but that’s money again.
  8. The process to obtain a drivers license is crazy.  Do not come here with an expired drivers license or you will have to pay for driver’s school and it is not cheap. When you go to schedule your driver’s test, bring your American Driver’s Lic and a copy of it.  You will also have to pay a fee, but you can only pay it with your Qatar bank card.
  9. Here’s the kicker though, I tell you all of this but rules and policies change like the wind here, so tomorrow may be different rules. LOL!
  10. Most things you can find here, you just have to look for it.

So things aren’t perfect but I like it here.  I’ve also embraced my villa and my compound has some perks.  Smaller compounds usually do.  My husband and I have worked out in the gym together several times, which is literally 10 feet away.  My house is large and the air is the bomb.  My kids are adjusting well too.  Everyday is like an adventure.  I promise to post pictures and videos soon, but I have to get to bed.  It’s late and I have the written part of the driver’s test at 7am.

Update: I passed my test today!  Here’s the process to obtain a Qatar Driver’s License if you have an American Driver’s License.

Step 1: Pass your eye exam. Simple and is done in the mall.

Step 2: Schedule your written test, purchase a manual for 55 Riyals about $15 U.S. Read thru the manual.

Step 3: Take the written test (theory test) consisting of 20 questions. You can’t get more than 4 wrong.  You can download the app Qatar Driving and take some practice test. After you pass the written test, you can take the driving test or schedule the driving test.

Step 4:  Take the road test.

I have Step 4 scheduled for next Sunday. Wish me luck and stay tuned for the results.

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