3 Years Later, An Expat in Qatar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fun and Active Things to do in Qatar

Get out there and find some fun

When you’ve been an expat for a while in the same country, the glamour and newness begins to wear off. I’ll admit, I’ve gotten quite comfortable in my routine just sitting at home, cuddled up, watching Kodi or Netflix. Once my personal training sessions ended I GOT LAZY! So I began looking for some fun and active things to do here, at least until I re-open my gym membership. You may be quite surprised by what this little country has to offer.

It started out with Paintball. It only lasted an hour as I purchased the voucher from Qgrabs for a one hour session but we had a good time. Our party of 6 got a little beat up and for 3 of them it was their first time. Jennifer was not ready for the pain that comes with getting hit with a paintball. The course is in Sealine and if you’ve ever been to paintball before, you will automatically think as I did, “Is this really the course?”. They should get a little more creative with the course. Nevertheless we made the most of it.

The Paintball course

A couple of weekends later, we rode out to Sealine again, but this time to ride ATV’s over and through the sand dunes. It’s different than riding through the mountains and mud in the Pocono’s like Darryl and I are used to. Instead of getting dirty in mud, you get covered in sand. I recommend riding the bikes with 4W drive (350+ riyals) because they can handle the dunes. The smaller bikes will get you stuck in the sand (250- riyals).

If you want to save the world by killing off Zombies or Robots, head over to Zero Latency. It is a multiplayer virtual reality game. It’s located in the Tawar Mall, inside Bounce. For 35 minutes, minus the 15 minute introduction, and 70 riyals = $20 you can do just that. For more money you can play more games for longer periods of time.

You and a few friends will battle together. You step into this empty, dark room, that is until you gear up with your heavy artillery back pack, gun, ear phones and virtual glasses. Then the room is transformed into a virtual world that looks real. My back was hurting afterwards because well I’m old and I have a bad back and that backpack is heavy, but it was loads of fun. I killed 71 zombies, all in a days work but they also killed me and I came in last for kills. I’ve never been that good at video games anyway.

Something I am good at is real shooting. You can even do this in Qatar. Well you can’t actually buy a gun and go bust some rounds off, like in America, at least I don’t think you can. But you can do some clay pigeon shooting at the Lusail shooting range. It’s located very close to the Lusail Circuit, along Al Khor road and about 10-15 minutes pass Festival City and Ikea. It’s open Sat-Wed, 4-8pm. You get 25 shots for 100 riyals almost $1 per shot. (You can shoot shot guns if you are a member)

My accuracy was 20%. That’s pretty good for someone who has only done clay shooting one other time. I’m so much better with a real gun.

Almost!

The point is, your host country is what you make of it. So get out there and find some fun. What are you waiting for?

If you are an expat, I’d love to hear of some fun you’ve found in your host country. Be sure to leave a comment.

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)

Finding Fun on a Budget in Doha #1

With my inner travel bug temporarily locked away and a new goal of saving this year, I’ve begun the mission of finding fun in Doha, while on a budget.  I browsed the Pleasure and Leisure section of my ‘My Qatar Book’ (discount book) and found Adventure Rooms. I booked a game for 6 and last night Darryl, Jennifer, JD, Britney, Quahn and I went. They have these escape rooms in the U.S. but I had never attended one but always wanted to.

Let me paint the picture for you.  You and your party, enter a room and are locked in for a period of time. There are clues in the room that you have to solve within the allotted time in order to get out or get into another room.  If you solve the clues in all the rooms you win and are freed, if you don’t, then you lose and the doors are opened for you.

The Adventure room is located on D room road.  It cost 600QAR for a party of 6 or 200 QAR per couple, that’s about 54 USD.  You can choose between several different rooms and scenarios, prison break, world traveler etc..  We chose the Crazy Science room because it is supposed to be medium difficulty and since only 2 out of the 6 of us had done this before, we wanted to take it easy.  We didn’t know what to expect.  I was team captain since I booked the outing and was taken into the room last.  We were all chained to some bars, then the attendant through the keys out of our reach and locked the door behind us. -No instructions were given except for a little card we read before we went in. I won’t spoil the fun with details of how it went down but I will say, WE WON!  We worked as a team and was able to unlock two rooms successfully and make it out with 5 minutes to spare.  There were some funny moments and some awww are you kidding me moments.  We had a really good time and are going to do this again in a another room.  Thanks to my discount book, we get to go again for free.

Afterwards, we went to Trader Vics for dinner and libations.  I used my entertainer app for two entrees for Darryl and I, buy one get one Malaysian Curry dish.

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In all it was a good night and we only spent 500 QAR, 135 USD for everything, 200 for the adventure room and 295 for dinner and a drink.