Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Doha Diaries, no. 1

What I've learned so far on the occasion of living in Doha for one month:
  • I can do this...the time will pass quicker than I think, and we will all be better for it
  • Ramadan, in some ways, is like Christmas without the capitalism. You have the feasting before sunrise and after sunset, but the idea of being more charitable, doing good deeds, and getting closer to God --- without the giant exchange of store-bought gifts --- is quite nice. I'm not so much into fasting, but we've found ourselves easily respecting and going along with all other things Ramadan.
  • I can now get to all major shopping malls, grocery stores, and the schools my children attend without using a map (or getting lost)!
  • I know, in general, which stores to go to for various items (i.e. we can only find meat that doesn't taste funny at Family Food Center, which is right near our compound).
  • I have a fantastic boss! Seriously folks, because Hubby and I overlap for one hour in our teaching schedule, my boss offered to watch the baby in his office...She stayed with him for the hour yesterday, and everything went fine. This is just temporary, until the montessori opens the baby program back up on Sept. 6th.
  • Driving around roundabouts can be tricky, but I might like them better than stoplights...maybe.
  • How much I appreciate air-conditioned school buses that also have seat belts!
  • How much I miss all things familiar: my favorite mascara, street names I know by heart, BBQ pork of any kind, my friends and family, anything that doesn't get weighed/measured using the metric system, and water I can drink right out of the tap.
  • That there will be me before Doha, and then there will be a different me after Doha. It's only been a month, and I have such a different perspective on so many things. For example, Hubby and I were watching _A Mighty Heart_ the other night, a film about the life and kidnapping of Daniel Pearl (Angelina Jolie was, I think, nominated for an Oscar for her role as his wife). One of the opening scenes begins with a shot of a mosque and the call to prayer. Hubby and I just looked at each other and knew we were thinking the same thing: "We know that sound now...it's part of our daily lives." We recognized that, prior to moving here, we had no idea what the call to prayer sounded like, when it happened, where it happened, what the effects of it were, etc. But now, I know the time of day based on the call, without even needing to look at a clock. I can tell by the stream of men in white thobes walking in the same direction.

I know there are lots of other things I haven't covered, but these are the things that come to mind immediately. Things have settled down now that we're done with our immigration processing, our shipment from the US arrived, and we've finished unpacking. It still doesn't feel like home, and I'm not sure if our house ever will...but it's "home for now". The kids are doing well, and the financial peace of mind is actually taking some getting used to. We're still in the broke graduate student/utilitarian state of mind, and I still look at the price of everything before buying. The bottom line is that we are very fortunate to have these jobs and this opportunity, and I couldn't be more thankful.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Roller Coaster Ride

...that is international relocation to the Middle East is at a high point for the moment. Two fabulous things happened today: our things arrived from the States, and Hannah got accepted into ASD (the American School of Doha)! She tested yesterday and thought she did well, but said she had some problems with the reading part of the test...just some words she wasn't familiar with. Evidently, she did just fine, because she's IN!

It's like Christmas in our house now! Eliza keeps saying how much she loves the boxes of her stuff....doesn't always even know what's inside, but she's so happy to just have her things here that she's smiling from ear to ear. Our own swing (not one borrowed from the neighbors), our own wagon, our other car seats, my kitchenware, which has been so very missed (the other night, I pounded chicken breasts with the bottom of a rum bottle).

HANGERS! Hangers with the clips on them! You have know idea how important these are until you move to a place where they don't exist. Pictures of my girls, our family, things that will finally make it feel like we're living in our home instead of a McMansion in the desert.

These first two weeks or so have been harder than I ever could have imagined. My days ususally start off hopeful and positive, but by the end of the day, I'm exhausted, depressed, homesick, and wondering if we bit off more than we can chew. I was warned this is how it would go...that this is all normal, but I don't have much patience for simply surviving it each day. But today--just for today--I'm happy to have the rest of all the little pieces of our life back.

More to come on: being in the presence of a Sheikh, what Eliza thinks about how people dress here, and getting a medical exam at a government-run medical clinic.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Pictures to come...

The madness continues.

Driving in this country may, in fact, make me crazy, but as long as everyone survives and leaves the country uninjured, I can deal. I must note, however, that I am horribly saddened every time I pass a vehicle with Arab children roaming freely about the seats (front and back). I can't imagine how many children end up hurt or dead from traffic accidents here because car seats (or seat belts) aren't legally required.

The worst of it? We still have no routine. No groove. Every day seems to be a tiny bit better, but there's no rhythm, we merely survive. More than half the children in our compound are still on holiday, so Hannah is a little disappointed in the slim pickings she has for friends right now, especially since she's not allowed to go swimming by herself. Eliza started visiting her Montessori this week, and she'll start full time next week. That will help, simply because we'll be forced to get up early enough to get her there on time in the mornings. The administrative workers are trying to get us "processed" as quickly as possible, but sometimes this involves calling us at 9:00 a.m. to let us know they need one of us there within an hour, which isn't easy with three kids.

I'm very happy to have a friend of ours over helping us for the week! She's the exact opposite personality from me, so she's relaxed, chilled out, and willing to do anything. Without her, I'd be in tears daily. We've gotten lost going to or returning from several places more times than I can count now, but I'm determined to keep trying. I still have no sense of my meal planning/cooking routine. After a week and a half, we've managed to eat two meals at their normal times, which probably isn't a big deal to anyone but me, but ya know?? It bugs the shit outta me!

On top of everything, Eliza got a quick stomach bug last week and we were completely dependent upon the driver from Human Resources--Mohammed-- to lead us to the hospital. He's from Yemen, so English is not his native language, and it turned out that he led us to an emergency pediatric clinic. He promised that this is the place where he takes his children and that "they speak good here" (as opposed to the other hospital where they send you from desk to desk and want lots of money up front). This man went beyond the call of duty as he picked up my vomit-covered child out of her car seat and carried her into the clinic to get us checked in. Within a minute she was admitted to a triage room and they began examining her. Because we'd only been in the country 6 days and she was exhibiting 2 of the symptoms (fever and vomiting), she had to be tested (the booger sucking tube) for Swine Flu. They gave her a shot for the vomiting, waited, then said if she could hold fluids down after 30 minutes we could go home. She did, and though the doctor wanted to put her on Tamiflu, I never gave her the medicine because I knew she didn't have the flu. The whole time, Mohammed kept a close eye on Eliza, making sure she was comfortable, getting her a blanket, asking the nurse questions to make sure he understood how they were treating her, and getting everyone to move promptly. When it was time to go, the whole thing (which took just over a couple hours) cost approximately $3.00, which he refused to let me pay. $3.00 freakin dollars!! This is an unfathomable contrast to what happens in emergency rooms back in the States. I still can't believe how kind everyone was. One of my worst fears was immediately put to the test, and everything turned out fine. Eliza was back to her normal self by bedtime that night.

There's simply too much difference, too many experiences, too many small details to fit into a few posts, so I'll have to be choosy. For now, it's safe to say that nothing could have ever fully prepared me for living here. It's not just another country. It's another culture, another language, and they are both completely foreign to me. Little things like not knowing the Celsius scale so I could give the doctor Eliza's temperature, or knowing how much lunchmeat I'm asking for when I say 250 grams, or taking for granted the all KFCs in the world serve biscuits....these have turned out to be huge reminders of how small my world has been my whole life. Don't get me wrong, I don't regret coming. But there are definitely some things I wish I'd thought about, learned about, and/or brought with me before leaving the U.S.