Christmas Isn’t the Same Without my Kids

Merry Christmas to all my followers that celebrate.  I hope your holiday was filled with joy.  This Christmas was difficult for me.  It was the first Christmas I didn’t have my sons around.   I know that it is a day to commemorate when Christ was born and it is also a day that families get together to exchange gifts and spend time, and in my household it was a pretty big deal for several reasons.  Up until I was 12 years old, everyone always gathered at my mom’s house for the holidays.  My mom cooked a large Thanksgiving dinner and baked and sold cheesecakes in the neighborhood.  On Christmas Eve, my cousins, siblings and I would stay up late, shaking our wrapped gifts and trying to figure out the contents of many presents under the tree.   On Christmas day, the floor was a mess with wrapping paper and we all sat down for a delicious meal; my mom was a great cook.  My mom shared her birthday with New Year’s Day so she was always out celebrating and my cousin and I would celebrate with a toast of sparkling cider and watch the ball drop on television.  Around my 12th birthday, my mom decided to rejoin her past religion for which there was no celebrating of holidays and all those parties came to an abrupt end.  Our household became very religious.  When I grew up and had my own family, I started my own traditions during the holidays and it always involved my sons.

We had some of the best Christmas’s ever.  We always put up the tree together after Thanksgiving while listening to Christmas music and one of our traditions was, every Christmas Eve the boys were allowed to open one gift and it was always a new pair of PAJAMAS!  After a few years, they knew what gift I would allow them to open but it never stopped them from asking.  And each year, they smiled as they put on their new pjs on Christmas Eve.  My sister and her kids would come over for dinner every year too.  And on the few occasions where we traveled for Christmas (and always had extra kids) we went to the Poconos (a mountainous region in PA) and we stayed overnight in a villa.  The kids could go snow tubing, paint balling, horse back riding and other things.  One year, we took them to the outlets in the Poconos, gave them money and told them to go shopping for whatever they wanted. (Mind you, we have 5 kids combined)  For New Years, we often watched the fireworks together and had a midnight toast with sparkling cider, just like when I was a kid.  Last year, my boys and I traveled to Bahrain and Oman for the holidays.  But this year, my boys were not with me and neither were my step-daughters and that was sad.  I could hear the sadness in my sons text messages he sent me and I’m sure he could hear mine.  It was never about the gifts, but the time spent together was priceless.  We could always count on that time of the year being fun and filled with love.

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All of our kids, starting on the right in the front, going counter-clockwise, Zamir, my nephew Luke, Moriah, Bethany, Sara, and Zarien.

 

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All of us on one of our holiday trips to the Poconos
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Christmas at home when they were young

But my hubby and I made the most of this Christmas.  We got dressed up and had brunch at the Ritz-Carlton with our Doha friends.  It was a festive Brunch and the Chefs tried their best to accommodate my vegan lifestyle but I wounded up eating some seafood anyway (OOPS).  I know I am such a bad vegan but on special occasions I tend to let lose a little.

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Afterwards, we played spades and dominoes with Jennifer and JD and Jennifer and I were vindicated again with a win over the men.

It was a nice day but the memories with my family sustained me the most.

This is one of those thorns from the roses of expat life.  The holiday season can be especially difficult.  So if you are one of those expats that find this time of the year depressing, know that you are not alone and next year do something about it to change it, as I plan to do as well.  As almost all of our kids are grown now, it is time to make new traditions!

Merry Christmas from Darryl and I!

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Qatar’s National Day: A Celebration of Fortitude

National day in Qatar is celebrated on December 18th when Jassim Bin Mohammed Al-Thani succeeded his father as ruler of Qatar.  He helped to unify the various tribes and force away outside influences and although Qatar did not gain it’s independence until 1971, he was seen as strongly influential in the unified Qatar.  (read more about the history here)

Even though National day is held every year, this year’s National Day festivities were highly anticipated for two main reasons; last year’s celebrations were cancelled due to the conflict in Aleppo and more importantly the current blockade against Qatar by several Middle Eastern countries.  Other than these reasons, I was excited because it would be my first year seeing an actual celebration in this country on such a wide scale.  It was almost like, this country needed a celebration, some joy amongst the sadness that has engulfed this nation after 6 months of political unrest, which still seem to have no end in sight. (the latest on the blockade)

Many social media outlets advertised this year’s festivities which included a week long drone show at Katara, a 10 day celebration at Darb Al Saai (we took our students there last year on a school trip), shows at the Mall of Qatar, a parade and fireworks on the Corniche and much, much more.

My school held a National Day celebration on the last day before our three week winter break.  Students put on performances and booths were set up all over the school grounds with games and food.  Teachers were dressed in National clothing and parents came out to spend the day with their children.

Jennifer, JD, Darryl and I checked out the festivities at the very crowded Darb Al Saai one night.

But the real celebration was at the Corniche.  The parade was set to start at 3pm and we had a strong feeling that it was going to be super crowded so we decided to get down there around 12.  As we walked along the Corniche to get closer to where everything would be, the crowds began to form and we were able to experience something a little out of the ordinary.  There were hoards of men and they could only walk up to a certain point before being stopped by guards and police, because our husbands were with us, they were allowed to proceed.  Qatar is definitely made up of a dominant men population,  mainly due to the amount of laborers and because it is a family-oriented country, priority does go to men and women couples, women pairs and women with children.  So as we were allowed to proceed, not without going through the metal detectors and being patted down; it felt strange watching the sea of men disappear behind us.  I felt sorry for them but I understood the logic.  Groups of single men in an open area with few women, in a country where you can get into trouble for staring too long at a women could be asking for trouble.  It is also a way of crowd control.

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There weren’t many seats set up across the street from the Corniche and we were not optimistic that we’d get one so we opted to stay on the water side.  Unfortunately, to really see the parade you’d have to be on the side of the street where the seats were, so we were not in the best place to really enjoy the parade but what we did enjoy was so much more.  As I looked around, I saw a myriad of diversity, Indians with Asians, blacks with whites, Arabs with Christians, young and old people, smiling, laughing, enjoying the day.  No fights, no arguments, just happiness.  As Darryl and I sat on a curb and lost our view of the street, due to many people with children taking their seats on the grass in front of the gates, an Arab family took food out of their bags and began to eat.  Then they offered us some and although I said “La, Shukran” (no thank you) 3 times, they refused to take no for an answer.  I’d heard that it was rude to reject an offering of food so I reached out my hand and accepted the plate.  I did the polite thing of taking a bite of some Arabian treat for which I had no idea what it was and then the older woman of the family said she was going to give me more, and a younger women took back our plate and loaded it with more food.  The food wasn’t half bad either.  We had water which was being given out for free from an Al Meera truck and food from a kind stranger.

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Then this happened, men, complete strangers, gathered shoulder to shoulder and began praying together.  Since I moved to this country, it is one of the things I admire the most about Islam, the way they pray.  For those few moments, they are not strangers, expats, nationals, rich or poor, but brothers and equal.

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The parade was a show of arms.  The few glimpses I was able to see on tip toes between shoulders and over heads were of military trucks and men in uniforms marching.  But we had a great view of the air show and it was awesome.

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We didn’t stay for the people’s parade but Jennifer booked a hotel on the corniche where we went back to watch the fireworks at night.

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Darryl and I left the hotel and headed home after the fireworks but a usual 10 minute ride took 1.5 hours to get home and we found ourselves smack dab in the middle of the real celebration.  Cars, trucks and people everywhere celebrating in the streets.  The real parade, in a sense, had just begun. A display of real pride prevailed

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Even though we didn’t get to see the drone show in Katara or shake the hand of the Sheik, or truly get to see the parade, I immensely enjoyed being amongst the people for National Day.  In American, I would be so afraid to venture out in large crowds for fear of violence or bombings.  Here, even though I was nervous, only because of the blockade, I still felt safe.  It was nice to see a country of people united standing side by side in solidarity and believe me it felt like the entire country was present. I feel like Qatar needed this day.  Despite what’s happening politically, Qatar is showing courage.  Be strong dear country, be strong!

Here are some tips on how to be prepared for the parade:

  1. Arrive early, like 5 hours early
  2. Get a seat in the stands so that you are facing the parade (if you are on the water side, only the vehicles come down that side, but it is a good side for the air show) or sit close to the gates
  3. Go as a family
  4. Take some snacks and liquids
  5. Locate the bathroom
  6. Dress for the weather (hoodie-if it’s chilly, that you can take off if you get hot) (sunscreen)
  7. You can drive and park at the MIA and take a bus over to the festivities or drive to a nearby hotel and walk the rest of the way
  8. Book a hotel near the Corniche for the day, so you can enjoy the fireworks and avoid the crowds
  9. Go, be pushed and shoved, smile and meet people
  10. Get into the spirit and dress like a Qatari or wear something that shows off local pride (hat, t-shirt, scarf)

Road Trippen’ in Qatar

Yesterday, Darryl and I got up early to go check out the Torba Farmer’s market in Education City.  I’d seen the advertisements all over Ed City when we traveled to class every Monday and Wednesday and I’d heard about it in several of the food groups on Facebook.  It was underwhelming with maybe 12 stands of merchants selling handmade items and food.  However, we did try out a Vegan Hazelnut Crepe which was tasty but could use some powdered sugar on top.  We also purchased a cup of lemonade with chili peppers in it.  It was okay.  I found the prices to be a little on the expensive side, especially for the produce.  Feeling a bit disappointed and wanting some adventure, I suggested we take a road trip…

…And that’s exactly what we did.  We threw on some beats that we could vibe to and drove to the northernmost part of Qatar, Madinat Ash Shamal.  As we drove farther away from Doha, the buildings disappeared and so did the houses.  All that was around us was desert and one highway.  As we reached Ruwais, some houses began to show up again and then there was a port.  A drive up the coast led us to a beach area with sand that reached far out into the Persian Gulf and way into the distance was the illusion of land.  While posting our location on Facebook we noticed that we were only 36 miles from Bahrain International Airport.  This discovery made me feel kind of sad; to think that the Kingdom of Bahrain was so close yet politically so far away.  Last year, my sons and I visited that country with a visa on arrival, and now as a resident of Qatar, I would be denied this same visa despite my U.S. citizenship due to the blockade against Qatar.  So much can happen in one year.

After we left the beach we headed west to Al Zubarah, Qatar’s Unesco World Heritage site.  The fort is a historic Qatari military fortress built under the oversight of Sheikh Abdullah bin Qassim Al Thani in 1938.  It was built on the ruins of an older castle that had been destroyed.  The fort is open daily and is free to the public.  You can learn more about it and how to get there by clicking here.  A short distance away from the Fort was the walled coastal town of Al Zubarah which is now being excavated and is protected by a fence.  The town flourished as a pearling and trading center during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  The layout of Al Zubarah has been preserved under the desert sands which swept over it after it was abandoned in the early 20th century.  Read more about Al Zubarah here.

After learning about pearl diving and some of the animals that surround the area, we wanted to keep driving around the coast line of Qatar all the way home but realized that we were low on a gas and did not know where the next gas station would be along our journey so we turned around and headed back the way we came.  Hey, who wants to be broke down in the middle of the desert, not me.  We will save the rest of this adventure for another day.

to be continued….

Arabic 101: Lesson 5

I survived ‘Survival Arabic’.  You heard me right.  Darryl and I made it through.  It wasn’t always easy but I learned so much in 12 weeks.  I know all of the Arabic alphabet and can write it and I can recite many general phrases.  When people are speaking I can pick out some words and get a gist of what they’re talking about.  I can greet you and say goodbye.  I can tell my students directions and they understand.  I can read signs even if I don’t know what the words mean.  I can tell you what I’m doing and describe some things.  So, yes it was well worth the money and I’m glad I took the course at TII because several people took Arabic in other places and still wound up in the same class as me with the same struggles.

We are considering signing up for the next level but not right away.  After working all day, the last thing I want to do is go back into a school.  Maybe next year.  I feel like it would be such a waste to stop now with very limited comprehension of the language.  I’m inspired to learn more so that I can hold a conversation and improve in my ability to read it with confidence.  I know that learning the language will make me more marketable especially over here.

Arabic 101: Lesson 4

My last post about Arabic class was not so positive. Well I am happy to say, it got better.  I decided to take it serious and it is paying off.  Darryl and I review our notes together and go through the textbook with the companion website to complete the relevant exercises.  I received a 17-20 on my first quiz which included, un-connecting and connecting the letters, translating questions and answering them in arabic and identifying the letters.

Some classes are better than others and I still find it difficult to attend class on Wednesday but my after school activity duty on Wednesday is over so it should get easier.   We only have about 4 weeks left of class and we are considering taking the next one.  We’ve gone through the entire alphabet now and are learning new words and phrases.

One of the most confusing parts of arabic for me is changing the words to fit the gender and possessives.  In english, we just add he, she, I, we, us, our, -s, -es, -ies, -ing, etc…; but in Arabic it’s a whole process you have to learn and the root words change.  Also in Arabic, there are words that are spelled the same or very close but have completely different meanings depending on the pronunciation.  This is similar to homonyms in English (pole, pole) except homonyms sound the same.

Kalimat Jadida- new words

Nahnu-We;         Heya-she;          Howa (who-a)-he;          Anti-You(f);            Anta-You(m);

otbkh(authbook)- cook;         anthf(ounawthif)- clean;                anam- sleep;             ajls- sit;

Ghor-fat Nawm- bedroom;   Ghor-fat TaA’aam- dining room;   Ghor-fat Joloos- living room

Ham-maam- Bathroom;         Mat-bakh- kitchen;         Hadeeqa- garden

Ayyam fi al oosbooa- Days in the week              cooliyawn- everyday

Al-Ahad- Sunday

Al-ithnayn- Monday

Al-thulathaa- Tuesday

Al-arbiaa- Wednesday

Al-khamees- Thursday

Al-jumaa- Friday

Al- sabt- Saturday

 فَقَط‏- (faqaṭ)- that’s it

 

 

 

 

Go Bananas!

On the weekend of 11/11/17, my husband and I celebrated our 6th year wedding anniversary.  I surprised him with a trip to Banana Island!  Yes, that is the real name of the island.  Take a look at this video:

It’s actually a resort by Anantara, just a 25 minute catamaran ferry ride away from Doha, Qatar or a private helicopter ride.  It’s a luxury, dry (alcohol free- out of respect for the local Islamic culture) resort.  The resort features 2 & 3 bedroom villas with private swimming pools and 1 bedroom hotel rooms.  It also offers over-water bungalows. We stayed in the hotel since it was just us.

I’m trying hard to stick to my commitment of saving versus traveling but last year was our 5th anniversary and we spent it on two different continents so I wanted this one to be special.  Is a weekend on banana Island expensive?  Yes, but still cheaper than paying for a flight, hotel and food someplace away from Qatar and wasting time on a plane ride for a quick getaway.  I called Darryl on the phone three hours before I left from work and instructed him to pack for a weekend.  It wasn’t until we were on the Corniche, being dropped off by our good friends Jennifer and JD, that he realized where we were going.

You check in to the resort while still in Qatar and as soon as you enter this small building, you’re treated with royalty.  The banana island check-in is located near the MIA on the Corniche.  As soon as we walked under the arch, someone greeted us and took our bags.  We were offered dates and water.  Ten minutes later we boarded the ferry.  In less than thirty minutes we arrived to the sounds of beating drums.  Our preferences were reviewed and we were escorted to our room. Our bags met us shortly there after.

The room was huge, featuring a full bathroom including a large rain shower head, dual sink vanities an attached sitting area and closet.  The bedroom had a sitting area, mini bar, small refrigerator, Keurig machine, king-size bed, and a large spa tub in front of the balcony overlooking the ocean.  We turned on the t.v. to check the channels and was surprised by the Boss surround sound that followed into the bathroom.

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The island is beautiful.  It has several restaurants, a public pool, large play area for the kids, surrounded by beach of course, golf carts that will take you around with one call, a cinema, bowling and more.  I was actually surprised by how cold the beach water was, but we still enjoyed it.

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What about the food? Well, they did not disappoint.  You know if the food is good, than you got me.  They were very aware of my vegan diet and at each restaurant the Manager came over to greet me and consult with me about what I wanted to eat so that they could prepare it fresh for me.  He even asked what I would want the next day, so that they could prepare it.  I mean top shelve service, even down to room service.

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There were only 3 things, I had a problem with: no villas for single couples, no alcohol, and the pillows, where your head sunk right to the bed.  So take your pillow and the other thing with you (if you know where I am coming from) and enjoy a 5 star vacation 25 minutes away from Doha.

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Footprints in the Sand

So my head is famous and now so is my face, a little bit. 

I love being in front of the camera.  That sounds really arrogant, right?  I know but it’s the truth.  No, I don’t think I’m the most beautiful person in the world, not even close but I’ve learned to love myself and that was a journey.   I also think the camera and I have a pretty good relationship.  I would love to be a model, but when I google types of models, I don’t fit into any of the categories.

I am not tall; I’m actually pretty short, 5’2 to be exact.  I’m not thin or plus sized; I’m somewhere in the middle with a pouch.  I’m not glamorous, fit, a child or mature.  But I do have pretty nice skin, a caramel complexion, a pretty smile, a nice shaped BALD head, I’m smart and I’m confident.  So I’ll probably never end up in Vogue or on someone’s catwalk but for some reason I always end up in front of a camera.

It could have started with my baby pictures.  I was a cute, chunky baby.  Or perhaps it was nude photos I had taken years ago.  Where are those anyway?  Or maybe it started with this….

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That was a picture taken at my graduation from Cabrini College for my Master’s degree 4 years ago.  I remember a photographer coming around and snagging pictures but the real shocker came when I received a phone call from a friend saying that they just saw me on the L-train.  I knew I hadn’t been on the L-train that day so I was confused.  Then they told me, my picture was on a billboard advertisement for Cabrini.  I contacted the school and had them send me a copy.  That picture was on their billboards and on pamphlets.  For months, people would call me saying that they saw my picture.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine passed on some information about a tv channel that was looking to interview some people of Qatar.  So of course I responded and a few days later the crew was at my flat conducting the interview.  The interviewer asked me questions about my life in Qatar and allowed me to speak about Alopecia and my blog.  The interview went well, but I beat myself up afterwards because there was so many other things I wanted to say.  Isn’t this always the case; you think of things you coulda woulda shoulda said afterwards?  But it was too late and well, what’s the point of crying over spilled milk.  He said he would contact me once all the editing was completed and the interview was posted.

Today on my 6th wedding anniversary I got the message.  The interview is posted.  Please check it out using this link.  QatarnaTV

Everything that was said was my exact words, but it comes off a little different than my intentions especially at the end, when I said “I don’t plan to return to the U.S. anytime soon.”  It is true that I don’t intend on moving back to live in the U.S.A any time soon, , but it’s not because I plan on living in Qatar forever either.  I plan on exploring other places.  And when the time is right to leave here, I’ll move someplace else.  I’ve learned so much from living abroad, I want more experiences like this.  I will always love my home country of the U.S.A and will always visit.

My friend Nazma, the Henna artist, did an interview for Society magazine November 2017 edition (The First Family Magazine in Qatar) a few days ago and she posted a copy of the article on facebook.  And who’s big head took up a whole page, MINE!  Here it is in all it’s glory.

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You can also read the article here. Society Magazine

So my head is famous and now so is my face, a little bit.  I have another interview coming up this week with Nazma on Al Jazeera. Wish me luck!

Honestly I would love to be the first internationally recognized alopecia model and travel the world as an activist and a bold, fierce model.  I would love to be the face of alopecia all over the world, to encourage other women to not let a lack of hair define them, but to recognize their natural beauty inside out.

Who knows, maybe one day, I will create a new type of model.  For now, I’m leaving my footprints in the middle eastern sand.