Saturday, October 24, 2009

Good Things--Finally!

A few good things have FINALLY happened. Most important, we celebrated Eliza's 3rd birthday! Having a party with our friends and other families from our compound made it feel as close to normal as it could have. We had tons of cake, lots of presents, and an incredible amount of noise (thanks to the party horns I bought for the kids). We officially have some memories--good ones-- from this place.

We also got a couple of boxes from the US, one from my Mom and one from Hubby's parents. The former contained heavenly things like beef jerky, Special K Fruit & Yogurt cereal (which costs $10 a box in Doha), Funyuns (which generally don't exist in Doha), children's Benadryl (again, non-existent here), trail mix, and my monthly Southern Living magazine--yay for wonderful things! You can't imagine how much you appreciate things like this until you're living halfway around the world from them. The latter box contained Eliza's birthday gifts, and she loved everything!

Our wire recall finally went through, and we got our $5K back in our US account. Now we officially have money in the savings. Our plan has been/continues to be to live off of one salary and put the other salary in the bank until we have our savings built up to cover 3 months living expenses, the cost of replacing our living room and bedroom furniture that we sold when we moved, and a few other things we plan to buy when we get back home. In the meantime, we'll still be able to pay off credit card debt as we go, with all of them paid off by the end of the year. Sometime in late Spring, we'll start whacking away at the student loan debt, which will feel so good!

Hubby, Hannah, and Eliza made some memories of their own yesterday, when they took a trip to the inland sea.

(Not our picture, but ours don't look much different). This view if from the top of one of the sand dunes, which surround the sea. I had to stay home with Amelia, as the drive is 2 hours each way, and there's no place for a baby to nap in the middle of the desert. They caravaned with several families from our compound and some friends who work for other universities in Education City, and the girls had a blast. Hannah and her friends slid down sand dunes on their tummies, and Eliza enjoyed watching everyone try to get one of the vehicles out of the "goop" as she called the sandy-muddy mess. The geological phenomenon there is evidently quite something to see.... Oil is actually percolating to the surface!! You can dig just a few inches in parts of the sand, and you start to see oil. Crazy stuff...

So yeah...I won't say things have gotten better for me in the larger sense. I'd simply say that we've finally had some good days. I got my debit card for our local bank account, and in about a week, we're going to apply for a credit card and two vehicle loans. We'll see how that goes....

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Teaching the Muslim Student

Yeah, so I've gotten my first dose of "What the hell did you just write?" in a student essay.

In a response paper to an article that describes the relative inaction of Middle Eastern countries to do anything to recognize and prevent the spread of AIDS in the Muslim world, a student wrote the equivalent of, "we only have 3% of the total AIDS patients, so it's not really a problem...about 1 million people dying isn't a big problem." WTF??

All I could do was ask: "How many people have to be dying for it to be considered a 'problem'"?

And then we have, "Maybe the writer hasn't grasped the idea that being conservative is safer in a fight in a deadly disease"

I mean, really....where do I even begin?

Monday, October 12, 2009


Another week went dramatically downhill after I messed up the account number on a $5,000 wire transfer, trying to get money from our US account to our new account in Doha. The advice I was given by the US bank's rep was to simply "change" the account number online. Yeah, well, that duplicated the wire request, and POOF-- $10,000 was in cyberspace limbo.

Fast forward to today...I'm home sick. Nothing serious, just a cold and general tiredness. I have tons of papers to grade, so I figured staying home might help me get caught up. However, I've realized two things. One, I'm always tempted to do "home" things rather than "work" things when at home (cook, clean, etc.). Two, this isn't home. Even though it's the space I am sharing with my husband and three children, where we eat at least two meals almost every day at the dining room table, where we will all come closer together as we make it through the next 21 months--this is not home. There's just something empty in the marble floors, vast quiet (since the kids are at school and daycare), and infinite summer outside my windows. It makes me feel like a stranger in the house, like I shouldn't be here while the family who lives here isn't home. I tried lighting a Fall Harvest-scented candle to trick myself into a little bit more comfort, but it isn't really working.

From now on, there will be no more working from "home".

Monday, October 05, 2009

Doha Diaries, no 2

Okay, so it's been a month since I've posted...sorry. I'm sure nobody's been waiting at the edge of their seats. To sum up the time: some important things have changed. I don't even know where to begin, so I have to resort to the drudgery of bullet points:
  • Banking/Lending: opening a bank account in a developing country is a bizarre and archaic experience. Trying to finance a vehicle purchase only makes this more complicated. For example, you need not have money to open an account, but you can walk away with an activated debit card for said account, on the spot. One cannot get a car loan until at least one direct salary deposit has hit your account. When this happens, you can apply for the loan. If you are approved for the loan, you then physically write out 48 (for a 4-yr loan) checks in the amount of loan payment and hand them to the banker. The bank will then deposit/cash one check each month on the due date of ones loan. In order to facilitate getting a car loan for a new minivan, Hubby promptly opened an account and filled out the paperwork to have his payroll direct deposited into his Doha account. Good right? Yeah, except that the finance dept. works about one month in advance, and he was two days past the cutoff for getting October's payroll into the Doha bank. This means we cannot even apply for the car loan now until November 1st, when his payroll hits. Seriously, this is beyond ridiculous. Now, we're stuck leasing two vehicles for this month, one of which is covered by one car allowance, the second of which (a Chevy Tahoe) will cost approximately $1,000 for the month (after the car allowance is applied).
  • We made it through Ramadan just fine, but living within the limitations of Ramadan operating/working hours was inconvenient to say the least.
  • Hannah and I went back to the US for the Eid break that follows Ramadan. I'll skip the nightmare that was the possibility of us not getting our passports back from the immigration office in time to leave....We had a great time back home: shopping, eating (one day I managed to eat pork at breakfast, lunch, and dinner--yum), the State Fair, and college football! I even organized a clothing drive for the troops that are on the base in Doha (they aren't allowed to leave the base without civilian clothing, and most of them don't have any). But, the trip was bittersweet. On one hand, I wanted to stay, but on the other hand, I desperately missed Hubby and my two little ones back in Doha. The airport scene to come back to Qatar involved Hannah in tears, clinging to a chair, and begging to stay in Home State with my parents and them trying to pry her off the chair. I'm not hopeful that this scene will improve with future trips.
  • My classes continue to go quite well. My students are sweet, funny, interesting, and (usually) eager to learn. I brought my film students blueberry muffins, and it was the very first time most of them had ever tasted them. One asked, "What do you call this again?" I plan to make pecan pies for them in the future :)
  • Hannah is unhappy with school. I'd heard her make a few general complaints after we got back from the US, but last night she opened up and explained that she feels out of place, behind, and lost in the classroom. Part of this is because many of the kids have been going to ASD previously, so they've learned the methods being taught. Part of it is that she doesn't feel comfortable asking questions because she's afraid people will think she's stupid. She doesn't want me to tell her teacher that she has ADHD because she doesn't want to be given special treatment. She has great friends in our compound, and she admitted how much she loves spending time with them, but she hasn't made any connections to other girls in her class.
  • I've grown a bit unhappy here as well. I like my job...I really love only having two classes (with a grand total of 25 students combined), and God knows the money is just what we need to pay off our credit cards and get some of our student loan debt erased. However, I don't have any close friends, and there isn't really an academic or intellectual community for the humanities faculty here (much less one more specifically concerned with literature). Granted, I knew this beforehand, but there's one faculty member in another humanities department that specializes in my period, and I thought that person might be someone with whom I might connect in academic matters. Someone to share work with, discuss matters in the field, etc. Well, not so much.
  • Also, I have no quality time with Hubby. No babysitter in a world full of South Asian nannies. We're brainstorming ways around this problem, and we may end up "skipping" work one day to just be together, but for now, this really sucks. I don't remember the last time we really kissed each other.
  • Add that fact that Hannah is increasingly unhappy with her school, and Hubby and I are at the point that we're willing to break contract if we were to secure tenure-track jobs back in the US. Indeed, after my talk with Hannah last night, we've made an agreement with her.

Option 1: Hubby and I will apply for t-t jobs in the spring. Most likely, we'll keep it to ones that we have particularly promising chances at...If either of us lands one, we will go back to States. This will mean paying taxes on our salary for the time we've been here and we'll have to pay back the relocation allowance advanced to us when we moved here.

Option 2: If neither of us get a job (or there turns out to be no spring job market), AND if Hannah is still unhappy with school at the end of this academic year, we'll stay for the second (and final) year of our contracts, but Hubby and I will home-school Hannah. We'll learn the curriculum over the summer and seek help from others in our compound who home-school their children, and we'll do the best we can. The good part about that option is the flexibility it would allow for all sorts of things, but especially travel back to the US.

This doesn't cover post really couldn't. Life here is a daily something. It may be an adventure one day, and a nightmare the next. Some might say that this is true about life anywhere, and maybe it is. But here, there's an overwhelming feeling of helplessness. The feeling that you don't know the rules, so you can't really respond logically. Of course, it doesn't help when sometimes (and this is really true) the rules are, literally, not written down (as in the case of traffic laws).

I'm still giving it my best effort. I will remain hopeful, not only for my sake but also for the sake of my family. I still believe it is in our best interest to remain here, fulfill our contracts, and use this time to work on getting published and hitting the job market with as much marketability as possible. It's just that some days are harder than others to remember this...