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

 

Portugal: Cobblestones, Cod and Cork…

…and so much more.  I don’t know where I heard or read that Portugal was the seafood capital of the world, but every since then, I knew I was going to visit this country.   And now that I have, let me tell you, there are so many other, better, reasons to visit Portugal!

After spending 3 days in Paris, my son and I took a short and cheap flight on Vueling Airlines over to Porto, Portugal, where we stayed in Ana’s AirBnb right in the heart of everything.  I highly recommend staying on Rue De Flores street.  The picture above was the view from the flat.  I adore the red-thatched roofs on the top of the houses.

We saw a lot of Porto in the two, too short nights spent there.  Porto is beautiful and we were lucky enough to stay right near the river.  On either side of the river you can watch the boats, enjoy wonderful wines, eat tasty food, listen to the live music, feel the cool breeze and cringe at the youngsters jumping off of the Luís I bridge into the cold deep river.  On the west side you can tour the wine cellars, if Port wine is your thing.  I’m not a big fan.  While meandering through some of the shops I noticed lots of items made from cork.  I didn’t know cork was a hot commodity in Portugal.  You can get purses, coasters and many other things made from cork.  I purchased some cork, wedge sandals.  They are quite comfortable and I can’t wait to wear them but not in Portugal.  I would probably break my ankle because there are cobblestones and hills everywhere.  They are slippery too.  I got quite a work out walking up and down all day.  Portuguese people have great legs.  I truly don’t know how they do it everyday but I guess like anything, you get used to it eventually.

You can find Cod on almost all restaurants menu’s, made several different ways.  Squid is another food you can find almost anywhere.  I was able to indulge in both and although cod is just okay to me, I thought the cod in Portugal was better than average and after getting up the courage to eat some squid, I actually enjoyed that too.

I booked a hop on hop off bus tour as well as a boat ride down the Douro river for Zamir and I to see as much of Porto as we could in our 1 full day.   We were able to see the blue painted tiles referred to as azulejos, on buildings, homes and walls of the train station. Blue is my favorite color and I found azulejos to be absolutely beautiful.  We saw the beaches and visited some of the famous landmarks: Ribeira and the Luís I Bridge, San Fransisco Church, Clerigos Church and Tower 3E.  Unfortunately, the Mercado Do Bolhao was being renovated so we missed that, we didn’t get a chance to ride the tram car and we didn’t get to try the food at Madureira’s restaurant but Zamir did try out the famous Francesinha dish, but he wasn’t a fan.

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Our favorite spot to eat was this little shop across from our flat called, Nut Porto.  The desserts there were delicious.  My favorite was a cookie and cream waffle with nutella and whipped cream.  We also really enjoyed the Sangria that we purchased for 2 Euros right on the the west side of the river.   I found the Portuguese language very interesting because it is a mix between Spanish and French.

On day 3, we packed up and purchased two train tickets at the famous Saõ Bento train station, for 60.5 Euros, to Lisbon, Portugal.  The train station was within walking distance from where we were staying, although it wasn’t easy dragging heavy luggage up hills and cobblestones.  The Saõ Bento walls are covered in azulejos.

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Outside of the Sao Bento train station
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Azulejos on the walls of the train station

We took the next train to Campahna station and boarded another train to Santa Apolonia station.  The train ride was rather comfortable and took approximately 4 hours.  Our seats reclined, there was space to put our larger luggage and staff members came through the cars with food and beverage carts with items for sale.

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Santa Apolonia train station

We stayed in Paulo’s spacious Airbnb in Lisbon.  We had to walk a ways to get to any action from this Airbnb but it is very close to the train station.   My first impression of Lisbon was, it is not as beautiful as Porto.  This may be because the area near the train station is very famous and was undergoing a lot of construction.  We walked around and noticed that this area is also where the cruise ships dock.   We stopped for some food and got ‘Lisbon-boozled’. Apparently in Lisbon, after you order your food and are waiting, the waiters bring you bread, cheese, butter and croquettes and after you are finished your meal, you notice several extra charges on your bill.  Remember that bread and butter you ate and that cheese you picked over, oh yeah, you have to pay for that.  Surprise!  This created a distrust and dislike for me for Lisbon.

It seemed like I wouldn’t get to the places I wanted to see in Lisbon on my own, so I booked us a full day of tours for the next day.  I found Portuguese for a day tour company on Viator.  It was really short notice to book a tour and this company was the only one that had space available.  Filipa was our tour guide and the owner of the company.  Zamir and I and 2 other couples set out to tour Lisbon.  It was small group and it was nice.

We toured Sintra.  Sitting atop of a hill, overlooking all of Lisbon, sits this beautiful, colorful, fairytale castle called Peña Palace.

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We toured Quinta Da Regaliera, a 20th century-built gothic looking palace and garden with underground passages.  It is here, where we happened upon the Initiation Well that I saw all over the internet, beautiful in pictures, wonderful in person.

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We also visited Cabo Da Roca- the westernmost part of Europe and Caiscais (pronounce catchcize)- a coastal community and the richest municipality in Portugal.

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We had lunch and picked up some souvenirs after a full day of Lisbon beauty.

At the airport I picked up a Lisbon inspired Pandora charm to add to my travel bracelet, because no trip is complete without a momentõ.

Our trip to Portugal was short and sweet.  Portugal is a beautiful country with lots to see. The weather is also very comfortable and in summer the days are long; it doesn’t get dark until after 9pm.  Porto is older and maintains a lot of it’s rooted charm.  Lisbon has more to see but is also more touristy.  In Porto, the area I stayed in was perfect.  If I were to revisit Lisbon, I would opt to stay downtown or in Caiscais.  I plan to visit Portugal again for a longer stay in another one of its regions.  I feel like I didn’t get to experience the food, wine, beach or culture to it’s fullest.

So, Obrigada Portugal (thank you in Portuguese), I will be back.