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

 

Headed to Paris-What to pack?

Just left Paris after spending 3 full and 2 half days there.  I must have packed and re-packed at least 6 times to prepare myself and still forgot some essentials.  It was my first time, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect and even though I did a lot of reading ahead, I still feel like I could have been better prepared.  Hopefully my experience will help you.

Here are some suggestions of what to pack to get you through:

  • Pajamas
  • Toiletries including wet wipes (make sure your toiletries are travel sized if you plan to only take a carry on bag and don’t forget your toothpaste)
  • Undergarments
  • Camera
  • Portable chargers
  • *Universal converter (I forgot mine and couldn’t charge anything until I purchased one)
  • A face cloth (I find that European and Middle Eastern countries usually do not supply face cloths, it’s like they don’t use them. They will supply you with hand towels and bath towels but where are the wash clothes to wash your body and face with, anyway)
  • Comfortable shoes for walking eg.. Birkenstocks or hiking sandals (Do not make the mistake I made and pack only flip flops and converses or shoes for looking pretty. Take your ugly, worn shoes.  You can always crop them out of your pictures)
  • A cardigan to tie around your neck or waist and to throw on when it gets chilly
  • A small cross-body handbag or passport holder with pockets. A cell phone cover with pockets would work too.  (I’m pretty sure you’ve heard about the pickpocketing there.  I’m pretty sure I was pick pocket proof)
  • A dainty silver or gold necklace, bracelet, earring studs
  • A fitness watch (You’ll want to track all the steps you take. I reached my step goal x2 or more each day)
  • An LBD (can be dressed up or down, worn alone or with a shirt over it) (FYI: Little Black Dress)
  • A long white button up shirt (can be worn alone as a dress or over your little black dress tied in the front, now you have 3 outfits instead of 2 plus a bathing suit cover up)
  • A swimsuit if staying in a hotel
  • A pair of skinny jeans of course
  • 2 graphic t-shirts
  • A special Parisian outfit to wear for those pictures under the Eiffel tower (I ordered a black bubble skirt from Etsy that could be worn long or buttoned-up to be short and purchased a ruched sleeved white shirt from H&M, and finished the look with a black and gold head scarf as you can see in the picture above)
  • Sunglasses and a hat

That should be enough for at least 5 days.

You can use your credit cards in Europe and your debit card to access Euros from the ATM.  Check with your banks on the foreign transaction fees and inform them of your travel plans.

As far as phone apps go, download Yelp, Google Maps offline and Google translate. Trust me they will come in handy.

What are some essentials that you pack when you travel?

 

3 Days in the City of Love

I mean if you see the Eiffel tower, you have to journey to the sommet, right? 

Unlike many people that I know, I never had a desire to visit Paris.  I am not a very artsy person and when I thought of Paris, that’s what came to mind.  The site of the Eiffel tower did nothing for me, neither did the thought of seeing monuments, statues and art museums.   This may seem odd, as I am a teacher and all, but it was my truth.

My son, however was passionate about experiencing Paris.  He studied French for 4 years in school and wanted to exercise his skills outside of the classroom in a genuine French setting.  On our way back to Philadelphia for the summer, I decided to plan some stop-over vacations.  Since Paris was on the way and Pegasus airline had tickets for under $200, I planned our trip.

Pegasus airline is a no frills airline, no free food, no movies, no wifi, one equal class, but we were quite comfortable especially since our seats were reassigned to the first row. GO US! We had ample leg room and the seats were pretty comfy.  My coworker and his family who was flying to Germany was also seated in the first row across from us.  We were allowed one checked luggage and a carry on.  We were sure our bags were over the limits but we had no problem checking them in.  They served us cheese and chicken sandwiches, which I apparently, accidentally ordered online while purchasing my tickets.  I gave mine to a gentleman sitting beside us.  I got in some zzzz’s while the captain and flight attendants made several announcements in French.  I couldn’t understand one word they said but after 5 hours we landed safely in Istanbul.

While in Istanbul I realized that my credit cards were not working.  I called the bank before I left Qatar to inform them that I’d be traveling to Paris and Portugal but it never dawned on me to inform them of my layover country of Turkey.  The banks in the U.S. would not be open for several more hours, so I called my bank in Qatar and notified them.  Advice #1: Be sure to call your banks and tell them where you are traveling and include your layover stops in case you want to buy something there.  Four hours later we hopped on Pegasus for the connecting flight to our destination, Paris.

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Our checked luggage arrived with us to Paris.  I hate checking luggage because I am always fearful of it getting lost and I hate waiting to retrieve it but because I was going home for the summer, I had to take more than what would fit in a carry on.  We grabbed a taxi and headed to 20 Rue de Vertes (click here if you want an airbnb just for sleeping in a good location). Since most accommodations in Paris are small anyway, I figured this was a good opportunity to try out an Airbnb.  I’ve always wanted to try one out.  I settled on one in the 4th arrondissement of Paris, close to the center, but not too touristy.  We were pretty close to metro stations and could get around easy.  One cab ride later, our host, Jean, met us at the Airbnb.  He showed us how everything worked and left.  It was small but it had everything we needed to rest comfortably.

We were so tired that we took a short walk, and found Le Potager du Marais, a small vegan restaurant, to have linner (lunch/dinner).  I had lasagna and my son had a salad.  On our way back to our place we spotted this gem, Hanks Vegan pizza.  We were definitely going to try it out during our stay.  Close-by was this vegan market that we stopped in for snacks.  I was in Vegan Heaven.

The next morning, we headed to breakfast.  I used Yelp as a guide and found Bob’s burger, yup you guessed it, another vegan restaurant, where we enjoyed breakfast. 20170617_102757 I’m mad I didn’t get to go back for lunch to get a vegan bowl.  They sounded scrumptious but weren’t available for breakfast.  Advice #2: Download Yelp on your mobile device to find eateries, especially if you follow a special diet.  This place does not have a sign on the door, in fact we walked right passed it but thanks to google maps we backed up and went in.  Advice #3: Download google maps on your phone if you don’t already have it.  It gives directions to every where via walking, car or public transportation.  

A coworker of mine strongly suggested we check out MontMarte.  We looked it up on google maps and decided to walk there.  During this 47 minute walk, we were able to take some cool pictures around Paris.  It was also during this walk, that I realized, my choice in footwear was not good.  I mean I know that converses are not the most comfortable sneakers but they do go with almost anything and I didn’t think about the amount of walking we would do exploring.  Despite this, I really enjoyed our walk.

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MontMarte is situated high on a hill.  You do not have to go to the top of the church to take in some good views.  We didn’t go inside either.  We just enjoyed the views and took some great shots.  Click here to learn the MontMarte’s history.

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Next, we hopped on the Metro.  I purchased a two-day pass for the both of us.  It cost 70 Euros.  A day pass cost approximately 35 Euros.  I probably would have saved money by purchasing individual tickets, but I paid for the convenience of it all.  I did not want to have to purchase a ticket for every time we rode the metro or use my credit card for each purchase and acquire an international fee each time or dig through money to purchase a ticket every time or wait in line every time. Taking the metro was pretty easy too and in my opinion better than taking a taxi or Uber everywhere.  That gets expensive, so I saved money this way.  Advice #4:  Opt for the metro or walking over other means of transportation and if convenience is important to you, purchase a day pass for how ever many full days you will be in Paris.  

The Louvre was our next stop. When you get off the metro, you walk into a mall.  From the inside of the mall you can see the top point of a triangle, upside-down, made of glass.  When you get outside, you will see the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel across from the Louvre.  The Louvre is diamond-shaped, made of glass and protrudes from the ground.   Beautiful architectural buildings surround it and small fountains.  We did not go inside the museum.

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After a short ride on the metro, I decided we should get off and explore some more.  I found a small shop that sold Pain au Chocolate, a Paris sweet, Danish with chocolate inside.  I had read about these so I tried one.  It was good.  We continued walking and came across this gigantic piece of metal standing on four legs.  It was the Eiffel Tower.  On this day, we decided that tomorrow we would go to the top.  I mean if you see the Eiffel tower, you have to journey to the sommet (summit, but this is how it is spelled in Paris), right?

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We took some pictures and headed back to our Airbnb.  On the way back, Zamir spotted a statue of liberty.  This was pretty cool, since I had read that there were several throughout Paris.

We stopped at Hanks for vegan pizza for dinner.  We both had a slice with potatoes, red onions and vegan cheese.  Zamir also had sorbet and I had a salad and a cookie.

I have to mention that we discovered this drink by Schwepps called Agrum, that is absolutely devine.  Dare I even say, it is better than Pepsi, strong and tasteful.  We wished we had brought some home.

Something really strange happened the next day while visiting the Eiffel Tower.  We got up early and started our trek around 8 am.  The Eiffel tower area doesn’t open until 9am and they don’t start letting people up until 9:30am.  Since we didn’t purchase tickets online, we chose to get there first thing.  The line was long when we arrived but we waited anyway.  The wait was about 1 hour between waiting for the gates to open, purchasing our tickets which were approximately 29 Euros for the 2 of us (tickets are discounted for 12-24 year old youth), and waiting in line to go up.  People who purchased tickets in advance still had to wait in a line, a shorter line but still waited nonetheless.  Advice #5: If you are not with a tour guide, you will wait whether you buy your tickets online or not, so I suggest going early in the morning before the gates open to cut down on the wait time.  The view from the sommet of the Eiffel is breathtaking.  You can see Montmarte, The Arc de Triomphe and many more monuments if you know where to look.  It’s not scary either.  When we decided we had had enough of seeing Paris from 1,000 feet in the air, we went to look for the elevator down, but were told we could only go down the stairs.  Once we were on the second level of the sommet, we waited for the elevator and waited and waited for an elevator that never came.  Then we also noticed that the steps were blocked.  This is when everyone began to stare at each other with curiosity.  No-one was being allowed to go down.  Zamir looked down and noticed that everyone on the ground was leaving the park and the police were blocking the street to the Eiffel.   Then a worker announced that they needed everyone to move to the west side of the Eiffel due to a matter of security.  There wasn’t anything we could do but wonder and wait.  I called my husband just to be cautious and to see if he could find anything on the news.  He found nothing.  After approximately 20 minutes, we were all allowed to leave and the park was re-opened.  We never did find out what the scare was about but we were happy we made it safely down.   We took some photos in the park and made our way to the Arc de Triomphe.

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The Arc de Triomphe is literally in the middle of the street and after going to the top of the Eiffel, it seemed pointless to journey to the top of this monument.  We strolled the infamous Champs-Elysées street and stopped in Leon de Bruxelles to eat.  Here we enjoyed the best mussels ever.  Advice #6: Stop here for lunch and enjoy the delightful mussels.  We attempted to see the catacombs this day as well, but the line was around the corner.  One of the things I wanted to do in Paris was some boutique shopping.  I was hoping to find some unique Parisian clothing or shoes.  I read about Rue de Charonne, so we took the metro there.  Unfortunately, I didn’t take the day of the week into consideration and all the shops were closed because it was Sunday.  Needless to say I was very disappointed but it made me want to return to Paris even more.  We moved on and saw Notre Dame but the line to go in was too long here as well.  I wore my flip flops out on this day.  My feet hurt so bad and so did my calves.  Advice #7: When considering shoes for Paris, go for comfort for walking over everything else.  Oh how I wished I had bought my ugly Birkenstocks with me.  Another trip to Hanks for pizza and salad ended our vacation in Paris and the next morning we were back in the airport, on to our next adventure.

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In the street in front of the Arc De Triomphe

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I have come to accept the fact that if a vacation spot’s food game is on point, I’m sold.  Paris did not disappoint.  The vegan choices where we stayed were in abundance as were other food choices.  There were other things that I liked about Paris too, the ease of getting around and the freedom.  I actually enjoyed seeing couples in PDA, which is a far cry from Qatar.  I mean what’s wrong with showing the world how much you are in love or in lust with the one you’re with.  I would like to plan a return trip to Paris.  Why, to EAT of course, amongst other things.  I would still like to check out the boutiques, cruise down the Seine, visit the Paris Sewer Museum, check out the covered food market and street market, go inside the Louvre and see the catacombs.  Before going to Paris please note, people smoke cigarettes everywhere and if you are not a smoker, this can get very irritating.

For now, it is off to Portugal.  Until next time Paris.

Au Revoir!

P.S. The day after we left Paris, a police cruiser was rear-ended by a man in a car full of explosives on Champs-Elysées street.  The whole area was cut off from the public.  The man later died.  The police officers were not hurt.  This coupled with the events that transpired when we were at the Eiffel tower just makes me thank God even more that my son and I were able to visit Paris unscathed.  I really wish people could just be good. I pray for peace. Click here to read about the incident.