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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The Truth about Expat Life- Petals and Thorns

Dealing with change is hard especially when you are used to things going a certain way.   Sometimes people say they can deal with change, that is until change happens.  Then they are all kinds of flustered.

At first glance, you may think my life in Qatar is Roses.  And you’d be right!  I’m going to new places and paying off debt.  I’m obtaining new experiences and meeting new friends. I’m eating, a lot and smiling.  I’m making good money and don’t have to stress about paying bills.  I love my job and my life. My resumé is growing and the blank pages of my passport is shrinking.  I feel completely safe and there is no snow.  Did you hear me, NO SNOW?

But on roses are these pointy, sharp edges called thorns.  Nothing and nowhere is perfect but I tell you, living here as an American Expat Teacher definitely has it’s petals and thorns.

Work

I actually really love my job here.  I teach first grade and I had a really good class last year.  I don’t know if that is because it was a good group of kids or because my classroom management is the bomb.  It’s probably a mixture of the two.  We will see what this year holds out and then I will revisit this thought.  I have a really light workload.  I never stay after hours or go in early to complete work.  When I take work home it is never out of necessity; it is a choice.  But there is always something happening at work.  There is always something new to prepare for that I wish I had been told earlier so that I could get a jump start on.  I receive so many emails in one day that before I finish reading one, here comes another. My classroom does not belong to me even though I am the homeroom teacher and am responsible for the room.  My students only attend one special a day, so all other teaches come into my, excuse me, the classroom to teach the students.  I have OCD about some things, like a neat, clean and organized classroom but this cannot happen when you share it with others who don’t feel the same.  I could drive myself crazy but instead I have learned to let it go.  We have helpers that clean our rooms, and some people have gotten so dependent on them, that they forget how important it is to teach children to clean up behind themselves.  So work has its share of stressors, just different kinds of stress than the kind you experience in the U.S.

My work day is 6:45-3:00pm.  Yes, 6:45 am.  My alarm is set to 5:00am every week day, that’s Sunday-Thursday.  Yes, Sunday.  Screen Shot 2017-09-06 at 5.24.51 PMAnyone who knows me, knows I am not a morning person and I am still not used to the time.  I hit snooze at least 3 times and bribe myself to get out of bed.  Students start coming into the classroom at 6:45 and dismiss at 2:00pm. From 2:00-3:00, I’m engaged in dismissal duty, meetings and prepping.  I’m asleep before 10 everyday.  If not, I’m a walking zombie and need a red bull to give me wings to fly or a caramel macchiato with soy milk and a double shot of espresso from Starbucks to even function.  That is until Ramadan when the work day is reduced to 8-1.

Many teachers complain about behaviors of students and this is why I will only teach the younger kids.  I learned my lesson my last year of teaching in Philadelphia when I wanted to play super teacher and take over a failing, troubled 5th grade class.  I did it, but that was the last year I taught in a Philadelphia school; I should have just stayed in my K-2 bubble.  By the end of the year, I gained valuable experience but I will never do that again.  Just so you know, kids are kids everywhere you go.

But for every benefit there is a cost.

Work-Life-Balance

Are there things to do here? Yes.  Do I have time to do them? Yes, because I am not overwhelmed by work.   When I come home from work, I am not totally exhausted.  On the weekend, I am not playing work catch up so I have plenty of time to be involved in other things.  I am in a new country so there is tons to do, even in the desert.

Thing is, you have to work harder at work-life-balance here than you would at home. When you are surrounded by people you don’t know, you either have to make new friends or be a loner.  I’m somewhere in the middle.  You have to be willing to try new things and take on new adventures or you can wind up with ‘no’ life and become depressed if you are not careful.

 

The People

Qatar is a melting pot of cultures.  With so many people from different walks of life, come different perspectives, even on personal hygiene.  I don’t know if I will ever get used to the various smells and take on manners.  But there is so much you can learn from people who’ve grown up some place different than you.  You have to be willing to learn and ask questions and accept differences.  I am a teacher but I am also a life-long learner.

Fun

There are things to do here for fun but most times you have to create your own fun or pay for it.  It’s often too hot much of the year, so you have to wait for the cooler months to enjoy outdoor fun.  So we enjoy visiting our friends, having adult game night or just staying in and watching tv.  I used to go to the movies a lot in the states but the movies here are censored so I don’t frequent them.  Eating out is expensive and it’s hard for vegans to eat out without compromising, besides I enjoy my husband’s cooking the most so we mostly eat at home. Recently my husband and I purchased pool sticks so we play pool at our complex or swim or work out.  When it cools down a bit, we will take road trips around Qatar, go to the beaches, camp out, run on the Corniche, spend time in the Souk and become more creative.

Missing out

Weddings, parties, birthdays, births, you will miss out on all of them when you leave everyone behind to live overseas.  You also realize that people can live without you. lol. Home goes on without you and you start to wonder, what is home.  People who cried that they will miss you, stop calling and people that said they would visit, won’t.  And when you go back home to visit, things will be the same but things will also be different.

Change

Dealing with change is hard especially when you are used to things going a certain way.   Sometimes people say they can deal with change, that is until change happens.  Then they are all kinds of flustered.  I guess we should specify what kind of change we can deal with and what level.  And a lot of times, you are not sure how much change you can deal with until it is actually upon you.  Change is harder than you think, especially when you have no control over it.  Moving overseas in itself is a huge change, then there’s culture change, job expectation change, circle of people change, all kinds of change. There is also good and bad change.

I needed this change.  I would not have been satisfied without it.

This expat life ain’t for everyone you have learn to work around the thorns to enjoy the petals!

When a Blogger takes a Pause

I have over 8 pending posts waiting to be completed.  I have so much to share but why haven’t I?  At a time when my blog is being recognized in multiple capacities and is helping many people in different ways, why have I paused?  I know what I want to write about and I know that if I don’t write while things are occurring or soon afterwards, some necessary details will be forgotten.  And still I haven’t published anything.  I see that some of the bloggers that I follow post consistently, despite it all, how? I used to, but why have I paused?

I’m back in Qatar and back at work, could that be it? No, because my teaching life abroad was the whole reason I started to blog in the first place.  Can it be that, my husband is with me now, in Qatar and I have no worries?  No, because my children are in America and so the worries never cease.  Is it that I have nothing to blog about?  Of course not; I have lots to blog about.

When a blogger takes a pause, they often start their return post by apologizing and making excuses.  But I won’t apologize for living life.  It’s not that I lost my desire to blog, because I love it.  Sometimes I’m just chillen and being still.  And sometimes, hours turn into days and we just need to PAUSE!

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

 

All I see is $$$$$

At least they give me some of the $$$$ back

Yesterday I received an email from my Teach Away Rep for Abu Dhabi.  At this time ADEC would like to move forward with my application to the hiring department and an offer letter would be going out within the next few weeks.  I quickly informed the other girls via the text chat group and within a few hours they all responded that they too had received the same email.  It’s crazy because for a brief moment I felt sad.  I felt sad because I really like the women from the NY interview and they would all be together and have each other but me, I would be alone in Qatar without any of them.  I know it probably sounds petty but it felt good to be around like minded women and people that were sort of in a similar situation as me, feeling what I feel and anticipating what I’m anticipating.  Still, I feel good about my decision to go with Qatar.  It’s a better choice for me and my family.

There is so much to do to get ready.  There is so much to do just to get all paperwork to QF.

I’m in the process of trying to enroll the boys in QF Doha.  From what I’ve heard it’s a really good private school that is a part of QF, so the tuition would be free for the boys.  They offer the IB curriculum, and many more wonderful opportunities.  I completed the admission’s application and the fee was $500 Riyals which is about $137 U.S. dollars for each application.  I had to try 4 different credit cards to pay the fee before one finally worked, due to international transactions.  I had to attach a picture of the boys, medical records, immunization cards, last 3 end of year report cards, pict of passports as well as my passport.  Some of the documents I did not have yet so I uploaded blank documents so that I could submit the applications.  I spoke to my QF director to inform her of the completed applications and she told me that she already enrolled them in QF Sidra as a backup, which was great.  I hear that Sidra is okay but Doha is the best.

I’ve sent my H.R. director, copies of the boys birth certificates, my marriage certificate, copies of my passport, Darryl’s passport (my husband), and the boys passport.  All of this is necessary to begin the process of our visas.  I must get 2 pre-employment Health examination forms completed by a doctor, as well as complete Blood Group Reports for each member of my family.  This means all of us have to see a doctor and have lab work done.  That means ($) copays and ($) fees for form completions. Did I mention I had to pay $137.00 for both school application fees?

I must send several documents to be authenticated: Transcript and degree, children’s birth certificates, marriage certificate, ($) Criminal Record check for Darryl and I, ($) FBI record check for Darryl and I. This means all documents must be ($) notarized, ($) stamped by the issuing state, ($) stamped by Wash D.C., $stamped by the Qatar embassy. I have decided to use ProEx to complete this process.  I will ($) pay them, ($)mail them all the documents and they will take care of the whole authentication process.

I need a letter signed by my ex-husband and father to my children verifying that he does not object to me sponsoring my children in Qatar.  Then this letter needs to be ($) translated in Arabic and notarized.  I’ve found a company to take care of this too.  But first I have to get ‘him’ to sign the paper.

The boy’s passport expire in a month so you know what that means.  I have to ($) pay for new ones and because they are minors, there is no renewing, only $pay the whole application fee.  My passport expires in two years, which means it will expire before my contract is up.  You know what that means, I have to ($) renew mine.  Oh we also need ($) passport pictures for the new passports.

On top of all of this, all of us need 12-16 passport style pictures to travel along with us to Qatar.  They use these pictures for everything, visas, Driver’s license, liquor license etc… Passport pictures usually run about $8 for 2.  That would cost me over $200 for all of us.  So I went to Office Depot, ($) purchased some photo paper for $8.00 on sale.  I put up a white chart paper on my wall and we all took head and shoulder shots on our phones. With a purchase of some ($) printer ink, we were good to go.  We used the gov’t passport website to help us crop the pictures correctly and WAHLA!

At least they give me some of the $$$$ back for all this paperwork when I arrive in Doha, Qatar if I don’t go broke first!