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.

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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.

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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!

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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

That’s When I Knew I was in First Class

Then the flight attendant offered me my pajamas and slippers…and that is when I knew I was in first class.  

Over the summer, along with checking Cuba off of my “I Will DO IT” list, I was able to check off Flying First Class, x2.  The first experience was with American Airlines.  Darryl had already booked our flights home from Miami so I figured I’d see how much it would cost to upgrade.  The upgrade costs us less than $300, so why not.  Before we boarded, we went to the admirals club.  American Airlines had sent me two free passes to the admirals club in the past and I hadn’t used them until now.  Admirals Club is a membership program and lounge operated by American Airlines.  In the lounge, there was free food, drinks for purchase, free wifi, showers, television and comfortable seating.

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Of course, First Class boards first and we were seated in the second row.  The television screens were bigger than in economy class and we were served drinks right away.  We had the constant attention of attendants and received free snacks and a tasteful meal. There was more leg room and the seats were comfortable.

I may have been acting a little bougie, because I kept wondering when they were going to close the curtain.  And when they did- that’s when I knew I was in first class.  You know that E*Trade Commercial, yeah I was the women with the champagne…

There were lots of kids on our flight, but I didn’t hear any.  You don’t know how good it felt, to be the first ones off the plane either.  No waiting, no pushing, just strolling. Like A Boss!

Well something like that anyway.

I sent the following IM to my girlfriends:

“Yo, I just upgraded to first class American Airlines. I’m chillen in the Admirals club waiting for my 4:30 flight with free food and Wi-Fi and showers.  Why not, it’s my birthday month.”

This was my girlfriend Jennifer’s response:

“Let me know when you are riding first class on the way to Doha! That’s when you’re fancy.”

So, what did I do when I got to JFK airport when my summer had concluded and it was time to head back to Doha?  I asked how much it was to upgrade my Qatar Airways tickets to Doha, and that was on some other level!  Now let me clarify something: I am by no means rich, but I have learned how to work the system a little and get cheap flights.  I found a super cheap, one way flight back to Doha from JFK so I was willing to splurge a little if the price to upgrade would put me around the same price of a regular ticket. Sometimes you just have to live a little and at that very moment at that first-class counter a quote I refer to often came to mind…

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So I bought ‘the shoes’, well the tickets.  I was some what salty because we didn’t get to try out the Qatar Airways lounge.  After fighting through New York traffic and walking that big airport it was almost time to board.  Qatar Airways is already top shelf, so I could not wait to ‘eat the cake’, especially after the ticket handler said that I wouldn’t be able to get my pre-ordered vegan meal.  She said because that was for economy.  She said my meals would be better.  I was willing to have my pre-ordered meal but she said not in first class; they could not bring me economy meals.

We boarded first, of course, and found our seats or reclining beds.  Then the flight attendant offered me my pajamas and slippers…and that is when I knew I was in first class.  Don’t mind if I do.  She handed me a toiletry purse and directed me to the bathroom.  This bathroom was better than some homes.  After I changed into my pjs, she took my clothes and hung them up in a closet and then made up my bed.  Did you hear me?  She made up my bed.

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My husband asked if we could order a drink but was told that they can only offer champagne until after the take off.  Don’t mind if I do.  We were given menus to choose what we wanted to eat and were told me could order how much and how often we’d like. Did you hear what I said? Order how much and how often we’d like.  It was like having our very own butler, because the attendants attended to our every need.

Seven hours into the flight, Darryl woke me up and reminded me that I had slept half our first-class experience away.  It was the best sleep I had ever had on a flight.

So we watched some movies on our big screen monitor together and ate and drank for the duration of the flight.  First class makes a long flight enjoyable and if I could fly this way everywhere I would spend the money and do it.

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The only thing I didn’t like about both of my first class experiences was the big console in between the seats.  Darryl and I couldn’t cuddle.  In economy you can lift the armrest and lay in each other’s arms but the big consoles between us made this impossible. Should that deter you from flying first-class?  HELL NO!  It is an experience worth having at least once, if you can afford it.

The Spice of Doha

If you’re looking for a variety of choices of tasty foods to eat on a Friday afternoon, the Spice Market is an excellent choice.

The first Friday brunch I ever attended in Doha was at the Spice Market.  I had only been once for the brunch because it is one of the more pricier ones, but it was memorable. After a not so impressive brunch at what used to be my favorite place, Zengo (more on that later), Jennifer, JD, my husband, Nancy, her husband and I decided to go back to Spice Market to see if it was the same as we remembered, and it did not disappoint.

The Spice Market is located in the W Doha Hotel in the Diplomatic area of Doha.  The flower arrangement that greets you upon entering the hotel is beautiful and the bold blue bulbs that dangle from the ceiling are the perfect backdrops for pictures.

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We were welcomed to the restaurant by tray choices of drink specials, non alcoholic and White Lady, Classic Margarita, Ginger Margarita or champagne.  Don’t mind if I do!

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Besides seafood, I don’t partake in any animal products but there was a variety of different foods for everyone.  There are plenty of food stations including sushi, seafood and salad and cooking stations including Thai, Indian and more.  The sushi station is my favorite.  My husband said the beef was tender and cooked to perfection. Everyone in my party enjoyed the dessert.  I just ate some fruit, since I don’t eat dairy and most desserts contain dairy.  There were no complaints about the food.

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And when it comes to service, the Spice Market’s service is top shelf.   Lae Lae and Promise were our servers.  Our glasses were never empty.  They never complained about being asked to take our pictures.  We never had to wait for clean plates.  They kept a smile on their faces.  They were excellent.  The Assistant Director of Beverage and Food, Piercorrado Papotto, came over and introduced himself as well as the restaurant supervisor, Esradh.

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If you’re looking for a variety of choices of tasty foods to eat on a Friday afternoon, the Spice Market is an excellent choice.

Tips:

Go hungry and early and stay the whole time

Pace yourself so you can enjoy as much as possible

Purchase the My Book Qatar on your mobile device for 160 Riyals and enjoy a Buy 1 Get 1 free meal and save

Make reservations in advance especially if you’re going with a large group

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Afterwards we took the lift to the 29th floor of the W and admired some artwork by Ahmed Almaadheed.  He created the Tamim The Glorious photo.  We signed our names on the We Stand with Qatar murals and book and then took in the sights of Qatar from above. Admittance to this gallery is free and worthwhile.

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Zengo, Used to be my Favorite Brunch Spot

**Dated 8/12/17** When I arrived back to Qatar, my friends and I all planned to go to Zengo to celebrate my birthday and to celebrate us all being back together.  Most of them had not been to Zengo before but I bragged about it so much that they agreed to try it out.  You ever brag about something so much to other people and then when they give it a try, it flops. Yeah, well that is exactly what happened.

It was a group of 10 of us, colleagues, teachers and spouses.  We went for Friday brunch on 8/11/17. Our server bought some menus, regular and vegetarian for some of us.   We ordered our first round of drinks and caught up on each others summer break.   The brunch menu consists of five courses, cold, hot, main, sides and dessert.  The food is served a la cart so you don’t have to constantly go to a buffet, which is what I prefer.   After devouring our first round of cold appetizers, approximately 40 minutes had passed before they bought over our next course.  And this is pretty much how the brunch continued.

My group of friends like to drink, so we paid the price for brunch that included alcohol. Each time someone ordered drinks, there was a long wait time.  In between each food course, there was a long wait time.  It almost seemed like the restaurant workers were purposefully taking their time with our drinks, so we could only consume a certain amount.  This did not sit well with the group.  And taking a long time to bring the food did not sit well with me.  I even spoke to our server several times to speed up the service but nothing changed.  It was the worse service I have experienced at brunch and never did I expect this from Zengo.

The brunch menu had also changed and they used to substitute seafood for this pescatarian but that wasn’t offered either.   Needless to say, my friends were not blown away by Zengo like I always am, but unfortunately I was disappointed as well.

Regardless of how our meal went, the view from the 61st floor of the Kempinski Residences & Suites in West Bay is undeniably beautiful.  I just wish our experience matched.  It was not the expected delicious welcome back to Zengo, I had expected after a summer away.

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

Looking back on my first year in Qatar

In all this was an amazing year. Despite all the hiccups and stress, I don’t regret anything.

A year ago, I was nervous about my new adventure.  I had received my flight information and reality was beginning to set in.  I was shopping and packing, preparing to fulfill a dream of mine.  I was fearful but wanted to feel free.  I quoted Nina Simone, “I’ll tell you what Freedom is to me. No fear.”  But I’ve learned that real freedom is not the absence of fear but the ability to not be enslaved by that fear, and the courage to keep it from holding you back!

Well I didn’t.  I conquered my fear and survived teaching abroad, in Qatar, as a black American. That sounds so stupid to me because I wouldn’t say survived or black or American, but these are some of the words people used when I first announced this as my plan.  I would reword it to say:   I fulfilled a dream, lived and worked abroad in Qatar and it was absolutely amazing!  The experience was like no other and totally liberating. Now don’t get me wrong, I’d be lying if I said it was easy.  It was hard and some days I asked myself, what was I thinking.  It was filled with happy and sad moments.  There were things that I loved and things that I hated just like in Philly.   But I feel so accomplished and so much wiser than I was almost 1 year ago.  A lot can happen in 1 year.  Here are some of those things…

Happiest moments:

Visits- The happiest moments I had there were when my husband and sister came to visit.  I felt like a giddy child every time and very sad once they left.  I felt like a tour guide when they would come, showing them around my hood.  They seemed so happy to see me and the boys.

Traveling- Who would have ever thought I was afraid of flying the way I traveled this year?  I’ve been to places I never even heard of, before I left.  Life outside the U.S. bubble is truly something to experience.

Conversations- Having conversations with people of different backgrounds than yourself is truly life changing.

Hardest things I had to deal with this year:

3: Moving to a new country is a big adjustment.  I always thought I was a person that easily dealt with change.  Guess what, dealing with change is not that easy.  I’m not going to lie, sometimes it was hard.  I really love living in Qatar, but it took me all year long to feel this way.  There has been so much change this year.  I’ve lived in two different accommodations, both with their own quirks but I had to accept that none of these quirks were earth shattering.  CHANGES! I’ve never worked with so many people with so many different backgrounds, and so many different views.  CHANGES!  I’ve never gone to a supermarket and been so overwhelmed in my life.  CHANGES!  I’ve never been surrounded by so many strangers without anyone I know.  CHANGES!  I’ve never felt so lost in my life. CHANGES!  Etc. Etc.

2: You will lose people along the way.  Nothing I read, before I moved overseas, and I read a lot, informed me about this.  And to be honest I don’t think, anything could have prepared me for that.  I have lost ‘friends’, and family not thru death (thank God) but in life.  I have learned the true meaning of ‘reason or season’.  I know that people have lives and sometimes life gets in the way but it can get lonely living abroad.  It is important for expats to feel missed and loved.  Be prepared as much as possible to lose people and to gain people along the way.  Know that you may have to take this journey alone.  Your dreams are your dreams and yours alone, do not expect others to embrace it so easy. APPRECIATE THE ONES THAT STAY!  Know that I appreciate you, you know who you are.

1: My youngest son said he wanted to go back to the U.S. to live with his dad: After all I had done to make the best life for my sons.  Traveled hundreds of miles and spent thousands of dollars to give them something I never had and afforded them an opportunity of a lifetime.  Took them to countries many children in the U.S.A never even heard of.  I raised him with the help of his step-father and minimal help from his biological father, put him in several charter schools and then struggled with tuition in private school for years because he actually liked it after only attending 1 year of public school, which was awful. Then he lied and said he wanted to go back because the school here was too hard and his brother was bullying him only to finally fess up and admit that he only wanted to go back because he missed playing his video games with his friends online.  Talk about a smack in the face.  No matter what I do, in his eyes, I could never compete with his love for gaming.  It was completely selfish and I was hurt, angry and sad. But I granted his wish. Why, for several reasons.  One: sometimes as parents, we have to make hard decisions and choices that we may not like. Two: Kids need to learn lessons, not just be told, the best lessons are those learned through experience.  Kids don’t believe that shit stink until it’s under their noses.  Third: My son was miserable and he did not care to hide it and I refuse to allow anyone to steal my joy, even my own kids.   I also believe that everyone deserves to be happy even if I don’t agree with their path to happiness.  I’m sure his dad felt like he had won.  Despite all my degrees and his lack of, despite all my money and his lack of, despite all the attention to school I gave my son, and his lack of, despite my desire for growth, and his lack of, despite all the opportunities my son had with me, and the lack of these with him, one of my sons, his boy, chose him.   This broke my heart.  I mean this was my baby, my 13 year old son, who was choosing to take a game over me and his brother, after everything I had done for him.  To me this was the ultimate betrayal and I didn’t know how to deal with the betrayal of my own child.  He is so much like his dad and it kills me that he would throw all of this away for what… I knew it wasn’t personal but it sure felt personal.  And it still hurts as you can probably hear the tone in my words.  I had lost friends, even some family members by taking this huge step but never in a million years, did I think I would lose my baby boy. It felt like someone broke up with me and never explained what I did wrong.  On top of that, once he went back, we only spoke three times and those times were within the first month.  It’s like out of sight out of mind.  Am I wrong for not calling him?  I mean he left me.  He chose to go back.  Does this make me a bad parent?  I literally went through four stages of emotions after he left: Hurt, Sadness, Anger, and finally acceptance.  Yes, I finally accepted that he chose to leave me to go back to America and live with his dad.  It is what he thought he wanted.  I accept my part in this whole thing.  I took away the one thing he loved the most in life, games.  But life is funny like this sometimes, no regrets. Now that I am temporarily back in America, he has not left my side, yet.  I love my son.  I will end this here.

Trips I’ve taken in order, You can read all about them in past posts by clicking them:

Qatar

Dubai

Bahrain

Muscat, Oman

Maldives

Cairo/Luxor Egypt

Paris

Porto/Lisbon Portugal

Back to the U.S.A

Things I loved:

All the people I’ve met- I have met some very smart people this past year and made some friends.  It felt great being surrounded by like minded people with similar goals.   The expat community is a tight knit group of people because we are all we got.  People look out for each other.

My job- I love my job.  This teaching year has been one of my favorites.  It has indeed been the most un-stressful teaching year.  It wasn’t perfect but it wasn’t stressful either. My students were good and the workload was light.  When I was finished at work, I was finished working for a change.  The amount of work days with no days off were a bit much but I would take that over teaching in Philly any day.  In fact, after this year, I don’t know if I will ever teach primary school in Philly again.

My kids and parents- I had the sweetest group of students ever.  I would have looped with them, were I not the only first grade teacher staying at my school.  I was the newbie this year and everyone else that taught first grade had been there 3+ years, so they all moved on at the end of the school year.  Next year, I will be the only veteran.  I’m actually excited about that.  Anyway, my parents were great too.

The weather- No Snow period

The food-  OMG! Well you read all my blogs about my food experiences in Qatar, hopefully.  I’ll leave it at that.

The safety- I’ve never felt so safe in my life.  There were nights that we slept with the door unlocked.  There were no news reports of guns or violence.  Islam means Peace, did you know that?

Things I hated:

The weather- No Snow also meant no snow days.  Hot everyday and cover down to your knees and your shoulders, need I say more.

Dressing- I am a closet nudist, so being covered, is not really my thang.

Being in the middle east during a diplomatic crisis- which is still going on with no indication of an end in sight.  I hope they find peace and soon.

Things I’ve learned about life:

No matter where you are in this world, people are just people

There are shysters all over world, people trying to get over. People will try you, don’t underestimate them. Don’t think just because, you are in a safe country that someone won’t try to rob you, they may just be a little more slick about it.  Watch your back and don’t let your guard down!  On the contrary, be a good person, because I believe there are way more good people than not in this world.

Everyone is not your friend

Don’t allow everyone into your world.  Watch and then choose a few.  Everyone gossips. There will always be haters and people trying to drag you down and get you in trouble. There will always be people that feel threatened by you and try to steal your joy and shine, don’t let them.  And if they are successful, because we all are imperfect, let it only be for a short while, and don’t stoop to their levels, things always have a way of working out. Stay focused on your purpose!

To experience is to truly know

If you have never lived in another country than you haven’t lived.  If you haven’t traveled, you don’t know shit.  That may sound strong but anyone who has traveled will say the same thing.  You can never learn from a book what you will get from first hand experience.

Things I’ve learned about me:

Chill and be still

For the last 14 years of my life, I’ve been on a fast pace.  If I wasn’t in school, I was at work.  If I wasn’t at work, I was at home cooking, cleaning, taking care of kids or doing homework or work for work.  I was tired all the time and always moving.  It was difficult for me to just do nothing some days.  As much as I craved this for years, I didn’t know how to to do it.  I felt like I was cheating.  But I have now learned that it’s not cheating, I was cheating myself for years.  I believe that this year has added a few more years to my life because I have learned that it is okay to just chill and be still.

Patience

I’ve never been a very patient person.  Maybe it’s because I grew up in the city.  But there you don’t have a choice but to be patient, patient with people, patient in traffic, patient with paperwork.  Losing your patience won’t make things happen any faster.   I’ve learned how to stay calm in what could be stressful situations.  I’ve also learned that things are usually escalated because of our own lack of patience and agitation.  It goes along with learning to just chill and be still.

Reflective

Along with being patient I’ve learned to be reflective of myself.  When a situation turns sour, I think of ways I could have handled it differently and what part I played.  I think of how to find silver linings amongst clouds.  I’ve learned that I am an impulsive reactor.   I react so quickly sometimes without thinking first, my blood goes up and I lash out. Acknowledging this fault of mine is the first step, I think, in changing it.

In all this was an amazing year.  Despite all the hiccups and stress, I don’t regret anything.  I am looking forward to year 2 in Qatar.  For now, I am enjoying my summer back home, meeting up with old friends, chillin and being still, being half naked outside, enjoying a drink outside of a hotel, spending time with my husband, son and few family members, shopping for next year, eating at my favorite restaurants, watching HGTV, cleaning, creating some DIY projects and making appointments and plans.

I will end this post with advice for anyone considering taking this journey:

“I’ve learned that fear limits you and your vision. It serves as blinders to what may be just a few steps down the road for you. The journey is valuable, but believing in your talents, your abilities, and your self-worth can empower you to walk down an even brighter path. Transforming fear into freedom – how great is that?”      Soledad O’Brien