Your Perceptions Could be Wrong

With only a few days left of winter break, I decided to call one of my new coworkers and invite her to lunch.  It is amazing to me how ignorant we show ourselves to be before we get to know people.  Let me first give you some background: I think that many Indian women are beautiful, have long dark hair, brown coffee skin, and of medium build.  There are many natives from India here in Qatar but the ones I’ve noticed, bobble their heads when speaking, have a recognizable body odor, and are mostly low income.  This was my impression until I met Omaimah.  Omaimah is from the northern part of India and when I first met her, Indian did not come to mind.  When she told me she was from India and I responded with, “Really, I would have never suspected”, she said, “Why, is it because I don’t bobble my head?”  I was so embarrassed, as I should have been.  Which leaves me to question: How often do we judge people or a group of  people before we get to know them?

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This is Omaimah, fair skinned, big eyes, long dark hair (got that right), smells nice, does not bobble her head, is pretty well off and a teacher from India.  She’s beautiful and thoughtful and she has taught me, and she doesn’t even know it, not to judge a group of people before I get to know at least one of them.  Everyone from one country do not all fit in the same box.  I want to apologize to the universe and say thank you Omaimah.

Has something similar ever happened to you?

Read my next post to find out how lunch went, with a real Indian, at a real Indian restaurant…

365 Day Recap

It is New Years day here in Qatar and I am not at work. Hallelujah!  -My New Year’s Eve was kind of boring (no fireworks here, and stayed home instead of partying) but after the amazing year I’ve had, I’ll take it!  If you came to my blog expecting this…

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Sorry to disappoint you.  Sure, there are things I plan on doing more and even some I plan to do less but believe me I’ve set and broken enough resolutions in my life.  I like to set goals whenever I feel like it, not just at the start of a new year.  But that is me, so if you have set New Year resolutions for yourself, I sincerely wish you success.

When a new year starts, I like to reflect.  I like to reflect on the things I did in the last 365 days.  It is a way for me to stay humble, grateful and thankful.  So here is my 365 day recap…

I started 2017 in bed because I had to work the next day for the first time, that stunk but that was no indication of how my year would be, in fact quite the opposite.

I visited 7 countries, 6 of them for the first time, 1 of them from my original bucket list (now called my Places to Visit List).  

My husband moved to Qatar with me and I moved from my big villa to a nice apartment.

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Us at Banana Island

I had some of the most amazing food ever and even tried really hard to be a vegan when I wasn’t eating seafood. 

Really what would this post be without some food pics!

I found fun ways to enjoy my time and took in some sights around Doha.

I flew first class for the first time, twice.

I watched my girlfriend marry her sweet heart in Vegas and we had a blast.

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I ended this year with several interviews and a headline on Al Jazeera, focusing on my superpower- alopecia!  Something tells me this is just the beginning…

I’ve made new friends and lost some people along the way.  Everybody I knew last year, is still alive and that is a blessing in itself.  This is only a portion of my last 365 days. 

The next 365 will be even better!  I LOVE MY LIFE!  I am on a journey and the path looks amazing! 

What were some of your highlights from 2017?

My Imperfection is my Super Power: The Crown

“Step outside of the box and others will follow” by Kennesha Bell and Amani Khlifa

I told my son I believe that it is important to give and serve but I didn’t think that I was doing enough to help other people.  Yes, I am teacher and I help little people every day but that is my career.  Then my partner, Nàzma (the very talented Henna Artist from Sri Lanka), called me to do an interview with her.  She wants to get her free services out there and serve, so that more people are aware and can use her.  For some reason, she has not gotten any call backs for women with cancer or alopecia wanting henna crowns for their bald heads here in Qatar.  She has contacted the cancer society here and still no responses.  I have my own opinions about that.  I think people here are ashamed.  I told her that if she was in America, she would have too many clients to handle.

I was first interviewed by a young Northwestern University student named Noof.  I met her at a local mall, where she asked me a few questions about how Nàzma and I hooked up and my perception on the culture here and its response to hair loss.  She then wrote a paper as part of her assignment for school.

You can read the feature story here:

feature story alopecia and Henna 

After that initial interview we just called ourselves partners.  Each time Nàzma called, I answered.  She was contacted by a Qatar University college student, a journalist, Amani Ben Khlifa (famous from AJ+ as well).  Amani did a documentary on us and presented it to her school.   I was so bummed that I couldn’t make it to the presentation because I had prior engagements but I was honored to have been a part of it.

My featured Image above was from the front of the brochure she created and the documentary is here:

 

One of our proudest achievements Nàzma and I did, was the interview with Al Jazeera.  Laura Burdon-Manley and her videographer came to my flat and recorded a whole news story on November 14, 2017.

This morning Nàzma sent me this Whatsapp message, “Kennesha we will be on aljazeera…I don’t know when, everyone messaging me that they saw me…”  No-one told us when it would be airing and apparently it had already aired.  We searched and searched through the tv channels and online.  Nàzma was able to find it by scrolling back through the news on Al Jazeera English Live and youtube.  And then while sitting in front of the television, there it was:  My big bald, beautiful head.  They aired the Headline again and I was so proud of myself and my partner.  Then Laura, who was in London, sent us the clip and here it is:

 

So now I’m thinking, I am helping people, through my story, at least I hope that I am.  I would love to be the face of alopecia and inspire other women, who like me, are bald and beautiful.  It has been an internal journey to accept me, but I hope that my external journey is just beginning, the journey to help others to accept themselves.

I am using my imperfection as my Superpower! What is your SuperPower?

Special thank you to Nàzmä Màzhar- a very special and talented person, Noof Al-Ahmad, Amani Ben Khlifa, Ahmed Photography, Laura Burdon-Manley for helping to get the word out.

I value the opinion of my readers and would love to hear from you, do you have any suggestions of how I can advocate more for alopecia sufferers, inspire other women and or become the face of alopecia?  Please leave a comment with your suggestions!

If you or someone you know has alopecia please join my facebook group: For Women Living with Alopecia.

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A High-Tea for Vegans in Qatar

I’ve been hearing a lot about something called High-Tea and I didn’t know much about it but I knew I wanted to try it out.  Through a group on Facebook, I’d heard that the Shangri-La Hotel here in Doha offers a vegan afternoon tea and without knowing any more than that I booked it.

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For 98 Riyals you and a friend can enjoy an assortment of coffee, teas and small bites such as: Falafel in pita bread, mushroom and pine nuts calzone, asparagus baked in filo pastry, berry crumble, banana and date almond bread, banana ice-cream and more.  It was a small amount of food but it was nice for a light, late lunch.  The eating area is comfortable and quiet and several waitresses are there to assist.  I was just happy, this vegan had an uncompromising and tasty lunch.

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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….