4th Year in the Bag- Teaching in Qatar

Today marks the last official day of work, bringing to a close my 4th year teaching in Qatar. Each year I usually write a recap of how the school year went but it just seems weird this year. For the last 2 months, I haven’t even been in the physical school building. I didn’t even get to close out and pack up my room. This year was bitter sweet. I had an amazing working experience, but this year was also full of WTF events, ending with the obvious one that I won’t mention.

This was my first year, since being here, holding a position outside of the classroom. I loved it. It was stress-less, manageable and fun. I was able to focus on small groups and see growth. I was able to attend and conduct several Professional Development workshops. I obtained my Google I Instructor certificate and re-enrolled in school. I smashed my goals both personal and professional.

However, I didn’t travel once since the school year started, instead I focused on achieving some monetary goals. I waited to travel ’til April but that got shot down. My trips to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Malta, Ireland and numerous ones in the U.S.A all had to be cancelled. I am still waiting for several refunds and I have accepted that I probably will not get them anytime soon. I lost money too. I won’t be traveling home this summer which has me feeling very sad. I can go home but there is no guarantee that I’ll be able to make it back in time for the next school year to begin, as many borders are closed including Qatar’s for incoming persons. I also don’t want to risk close confines with strangers on a plane right now. I miss my kids and my family but I’m not alone as many people are suffering the same fate or worse. I still have a job and I have my health, so far, and I am safe. My family is healthy and I am grateful. Although if my husband was not here, I would be losing my mind.

I can’t believe it has been 4 years and I’m still here. I have no regrets about coming here. Time surely flies though. I have no idea what next year holds but I’ll be here for the adventure. We will probably start the year virtually and I may even be asked to return to the classroom temporarily, depending on the ability for new teachers to commute to Qatar. I hope not but the possibility is there. Either way, year 4 is in the bag.

Who knows what tomorrow holds? I could have never predicted that I’d be living through a pandemic in a foreign country. I never predicted I’d be here this long either. We have to plan for the future, but enjoy the day. So buy the shoes, eat the cake, take that flight because tomorrow is not promised.

Stay safe and healthy. I love you all!

Attending a Qatari Wedding

On this night, they were just women having a good time and it was a reminder that we are all human regardless of race, religion, culture or socio-economical status.

For many expats in Qatar, the Qataris are a mystery. They tend to stay to themselves, identities covered and hidden and with that comes perceptions of who they are and what they are like. Most relationships with them are business, so of course I said “YES” when I was invited to a Henna Party/wedding event by a Qatari business associate. I was super excited to receive my invitation to get a glimpse into their world. One of the reasons I left the U.S. was to engross myself in other cultures and this presented a great opportunity.

The person that invited me also invited me to her parents house to pick out a Jalabiya, after I asked for suggestions about where to purchase one. A Jalabiya is an Arab garment, sometimes worn under an abaya and the fancy ones are worn to celebratory occasions like a wedding. Her mother was very welcoming and brought out many Jalabiyas for me and my friend to try on and choose from. She even gave us jewelry to wear with the outfits. Before we left the house, we enjoyed sweets, tea and coffee. They were very hospitable to us.

There were a few things I understood about a Qatari wedding prior to attending. It is different than a traditional American wedding as the bride and groom have two separate events. The groom usually celebrates in a tent in the sand (traditional) and the women celebrate in a hall. Also guest do not bring gifts to the wedding. It is similar to an American wedding as there is lots of music and food.

This wedding was at the Ritz Carlton and our phones (cameras) were confiscated before we went in. Taking pictures is not allowed at these ceremonies and we planned to respect the culture to the fullest as guest. Of course, there were several people who chose to ignore this rule. The ceremonies were to start at 7:30, Britney and I arrived around 8:00. Most people did not start showing up until around 8:30. We chose a table not in the front but not in the back either. Seats were not assigned. At every seating there was a gift of oud and a Arabian Mubakhar to burn it on. Oud comes from the wood of the tropical agar tree and the wood chips are burned as an incense. Oud can also be used as an oil and a perfume.

The women were dressed to the nines. Most women attendees wore some form of Arabic traditional garments, some Indian, some Moroccan, all beautiful. (I really wished I had purchased that Indian Saree from Sri Lanka. I would have fitted right in) The rainbow was definitely represented this night, because there were many colors worn. Makeup was flawless and Britney and I felt a little out of place because we didn’t have a professional makeup artist beat our faces before coming. For once there were no shaylas and I was able to see the faces that are usually covered and hidden. I was able to watch them let their hair down. On this night, they were just women having a good time and it was a reminder that we are all human regardless of race, religion, culture or socio-economical status.

There was a live female singer, whose voice sang Arabic songs the whole night. Arabic music never sounded so good to me. The music was loud but I enjoyed it. Women took the stage in the middle of the hall and danced to the music, while others went up to them and threw money at them and over them. They was making it rain up in there. The money was collected and I was told the money goes to charity. I’ve never seen that at an American wedding. Since I’m never getting married again, because that would mean a divorce from Darryl, then the next wedding I help plan will include this Arabic tradition. They dance different than Americans. It was just like subtle limb swinging and hips swaying, very sexy. I also heard that it is at these weddings that mothers and grandmothers look for potential wives for their single sons. I would assume that several of the women that chose to dance are looking to be seen as well. There was no tossing of a bouquet, there was this instead.

Food kept appearing at our table, most of it Britney (vegetarian) and I (vegan) could not enjoy but we did have some tabouleh, hummus, olives, vegetable rice and some sweets. Gifts also kept arriving at our tables. Makeup mirrors and chapstick rolled in tulle, mascara and nail polish on a silver tray. We went empty handed but left with a bag of feminine goodies.

Leaving the wedding with my bag of goodies
Gifts for the Guest

When the bride arrived, she didn’t wear a white gown, she wore an Arabic garment and a long veil. She was beautiful. She walked to the stage, then back to front and stood for a long time as the photographer and videographer took many shots. I don’t know if I could have stood still for that long time in those heals. Family members eventually made their way to the stage to congratulate her.

Britney and I left around 11:30 and the party was still going strong. I don’t know if the groom arrived to the ceremonies later as we had left but I had read online that this is what happens. The groom and his party arrive towards the end of the wedding, women cover back up as the men arrive and then the men leave again and the groom retrieves his wife.

Britney and I didn’t talk to anyone besides the family that we knew, probably because we don’t understand the language and probably because we are outsiders but we never felt uncomfortable. We thought we were going to get henna tattoos because it was a henna party but I guess it wasn’t that type of henna party. Nevertheless we really enjoyed this experience and can’t wait to get another invite.

Update: I got invited to another wedding, but this one is an Indian Arabic wedding and from what I’ve been told they sure know how to turn it up and at this henna party, you get your tatts.

Until next time…

When the Newness of your Host Country Wears off…

It feels like this school year should be further along than what it actually is.  Between all the packing and unpacking and repacking and re-unpacking and moving to a new school building and shifting classrooms and constant changes this school year feels infinite.  Thank God, winter break is just two weeks away.  But outside of work, it seems the flashy newness of my host country is wearing off and after two and a half years I’ve settled in.  So now what… Well I’ve started checking things off of my ‘Things to Do Before I leave Qatar’ list.  This doesn’t mean that I’m leaving tomorrow, because I have signed on for another year, but next year may be my last for several reasons unless there is a major change in my position, because a change is overdue. 

For our anniversary this year, Darryl and I stayed at the famous Torch hotel and had dinner at Restaurant 360.  It rotates so you get a full view of Doha.  The hotel is very nice.  The rooms are all powered through the Ipad and you can set the mood in the room by changing the color of the lights.  The food at the restaurant was delicious but the service was slow.  However the view was great.  

For his birthday, I took him to Nobu- a well recognized Japanese restaurant.  Although the lightening of the interior is a bit darker than my taste, the food is amazing.  I could not resist the Black Cod Yuzu Miso dish, so my fake veganism re-appeared. 

Last week we went to see Creed II in the Seven Star Novo Theatre in Souq Wakif.  It is very similar to a First Class Flight on Qatar Airways with reclining leather seats and partner pods.  You even get a blanket and satin covered pillow.  We received a welcome non alcoholic drink upon arrival and ordered some food that was bought to our seats.  Had I known, this movie theatre was so luxurious, I would have dressed better. Oh the movie wasn’t half bad either.  

A few days ago, my girlfriends and I made a visit to the beach that is literally down the street from my house.  We had a small picnic and some girl talk.  It was the first time I actually sat on this beach and I’ve been in my flat for 6months.  There was a nice amount of people there enjoying the cool weather and I decided that I’d frequent Al Wakra beach more often.  Besides, I always wanted to live near the beach. 

Over the weekend, Darryl and I along with another couple (Britney and Quahn) went Kayaking in the Mangroves of Al Khor.  I didn’t know kayaking was so much work.  But it was nice to be out on the water, and for a little while, I felt like I was on vacation. 

I don’t know how much longer I will be in Qatar; I’m thinking 1-2 additional years Max depending on the situation.  But before I leave there are still a few more things on my list that I plan to do before I go because once I leave here, I don’t plan on returning.  In the meantime, I’m off to see another part of the world.  Nine Days in Sri Lanka, coming right up.  Stay Tuned…

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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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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 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

 

 

 

 

Arabic 101: Lesson 3- Honestly Teachers Make the Worst Students

It has been 5 weeks since I began taking Arabic course and every week I have to drag myself to go.

Most of the time it’s because I’m lazy but I also run an after school activity where I am cooking healthy snacks with a group of 17 excited first-third grade girls on Wednesday which is one of the days I attend class. -And after working all day and doing an additional duty, all I want to do is chill.  But it is also because the class is not fun, at all.  I don’t know why I thought it would be fun learning another language.  It is so hard and I am kind of in a place in my life where I just want easy.  I’m also used to being one of the brightest crayons in the box, but in this class, I’m just slow, dull ass gray.

Most of these people seem to know more Arabic than me and seem to be catching on faster too.  Or maybe, they just study and read the book.  I’m not big on studying either.  Did I mention I’m lazy?  I haven’t always been lazy but my current life is the cause.

However, I am not giving up.  For one, I paid way too much money to just give up.  Secondly, I really am learning and want to learn more.  Finally, I am not used to giving up.  I’m not a quitter.

Now that, that is out the way, here is some Arabic for you…(please keep in mind that I am spelling these words phonetically so that you can say them almost right)

Some colors:

Abiyad- White,   Akdar- green,    Aswad- black,   Ahmar- red

Some phrases:

Heya tashraboo shy bedoon haleeb- She drinks tea without milk

Kitabi akbar- my book is green

Ma Lahwn al column- What color is the pen?

Zawjee oheeboo an yadros- My spouse likes to study

Ana Asifa- I’m sorry (f)

I’ve also learned 17 letters out of 28 and have done some writing with most of the others.  Inshallah, I will make it 7 more weeks.

Masaa al-khayr- Good night.

 

 

Seeing the Beauty in my Imperfection

When I first decided to blog, I knew I did not want to focus on my disease but then something wonderful recently happened.  More on that in a minute…

I have alopecia totalis, hence the bald head.  Alopecia is a skin condition in which my immune system attacks my hair follicles, mistaking them for foreign.  It started out as alopecia areata, hair loss in small patches, then I would get needles in my head with a cortisone to make it come back.  To make a long story short, after years of getting this done I got tired of it, so one day I shaved it all off knowing that without the shots it wouldn’t grow back.  It also spread to my legs (a blessing in disguise), eyebrows and eyelashes.  The summer before I moved to Qatar I had microblading done for my eyebrows.  They’re like tattoos.  Learn more about alopecia by clicking here.  There is even a national agency, National Alopecia Areata Foundation.  To learn more about microblading, click here.  I also have a Facebook group called ‘Women Living with Alopecia‘.  It is a support group for women like me.

…on to the something wonderful that recently happened.  A little over a week ago I happened upon an article on Dohanews, about a women here in Qatar who does henna on bald heads for free, for women who have suffered hair loss from cancer. You can read it by clicking here.  I contacted her and asked would she do the same for a women living with alopecia.  Her answer was a resounding “YES!”  Then she asked me if I’d be willing to do a photoshoot.  And my answer was “YES, of course.”  [In my former life, when I was taller, I dreamed of being a model, so I was super excited.]  It took less than a day for her to set up a Whatsapp group between me, herself, a make-up artist and the photographer and two days later they were all at my flat.  For a day I felt like a runway model and didn’t I look like one.

bomb beauty

henna head bomb

garden tribe

All three of these lovely Sri Lankan women provided their services to me free of charge.  They have renewed my faith in the good in people.  I feel so blessed.  Thank you Nazma, Lucky and Nadeesha with all my heart!

the gang that made me beautiful for a day

Henna by Nazma Mazhar.  https://www.facebook.com/qatarihennastudio/  http://instagram.com/qatarihennastudio

Makeup by Lucky Allure  https://www.facebook.com/luckyallure1/

Photography by Nadeesha Rathnayake  http://www.instagram.com/nadrat_photos

Even almost a week later, my henna is still beautiful. [unedited picture below]

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I have a brief interview coming up on a Qatar TV show in a week focusing on “People of Qatar”.  I plan to rock my bald head with a henna crown, thanks to Nazma, and speak about my activism.  And for all my fellow women living with alopecia, I leave you with this quote.

Don’t ever let your imperfections make you weak, instead use them to give you strength!˜Me