Well, this new normal is starting to feel just... normal. We finished working this week in what I suspect will be the usual and are starting to get into a routine. We still have a few odds and ends and new employee trainings to take care of in the weeks to come, but we should be settling down to the daily grind.
A friend sent me a Facebook message with some questions, that I suspect more than one of you (maybe at least three of you!) are also wondering. So here are some answers, based on my observations of the past week.
What is the clothing like?
Pretty normal, like what we would see just about any other place. Many women choose to wear traditional clothing- some wear the burqa, with just their eyes visible. Others choose the abaya, a long black garment that covers everything; but, it's anything but basic black. Many of them have beautiful embroidery or trimming in complementary colors; even saw one the other day that had sequined red hearts along the hem and sleeves. The abaya is usually accompanied by a matching scarf covering the head and neck, but the face is visible. And then there are also many women who dress like we do, and choose to wear just the hijab, which covers the hair and neck. These can be quite colorful and beautifully patterned. As for "Western" women, we can wear pretty much anything we want, as long as it's not disrespectful. Modesty is the key, and the rule of thumb is to be covered "elbows to knees." I bought a bunch of three-quarter length sleeved shirts before we left, and this fits in perfectly. Jeans and skirts, knee length dresses (can be slightly shorter with tights underneath) are all fine. I have noticed, much to my amusement, that the Muslim women are QUITE stylish under their abayas or burqas- I have caught glimpses of jeans, nice slacks, skirts- and fancy loafers (think Cole Haan-ish), sneakers- even saw one woman wearing a pair of Chuck Taylors with her abaya! Made me smile, as I happened to be wearing an identical pair!
What about school? Are classes co-ed?
They are at TAMU-Q! We only have aound 500 students, and the curriculum is pretty set. Also, we don't have a huge faculty, so the classes are mixed, male and female. There are a handful of Kinesiology classes that are men- or women-only.
As for the younger school levels, it depends on the school. Most of the international schools are co-ed, but there are a handful that have single-sex classes too. It's a very cosmopolitan city, and really very tolerant.
What's the food like?
Wellll... I'd like to say I have more experience of the local cuisine, but we've been naughty. We have eaten way too much crap so far- we have been to Chili's, TGI Fridays, and ordered Pizza Hut one night. In our defense- there are a TON of American chain and fast food restaurants, and everyone else is eating this crap too. We did discover a great place with Moroccan food near our apartment on Wednesday, and we will definitely be back there soon- it was fantastic! We don't have a full complement of kitchen stuff yet, so while I have cooked, it's been pretty basic stuff like spaghetti and tacos. We went to our local market today though, and stocked up on stuff for the week: fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, beef, chicken, fish, lamb kofteh, and some sides. We also got some spices and good olive oil and balsamic vinegar, so I'm all set to do a little more in the kitchen this week. (And, of course, a frozen pizza for when we're just like, "Screw it." But it's ORGANIC! Also the only frozen pizza they had.)
We're also working on the apartment, and it's starting to look more like "us" than a hotel. We've hit two Home Centers and Ikea twice, and we've rearranged the furniture some to make it feel more cosy. Thomas came up with an arrangement to give me a spot by the window where I can see the water and the TV. Our stuff should be delivered sometime this week, then we'll really be in business!
We went to the American Embassy last week to get our police clearances notarized, THAT was fun. It was a whole lot of waiting, in series- go in here, get a number, wait. Go thru the security checkpoints (pretty much like an airport, had to take my shoes and belt off), get another number, wait some more. Go into the next waiting room, wait for your name to be called this time, sign form, done. Walk out, collect ID, get back on the expressway and go home.
Thomas goes super-early tomorrow morning to take his test for a temporary drivers license, which should convert to permanent once our resident permits are approved. Then I can go and get mine, but I have to wait for Thursday- Ladies' Day. There are some places and certain times set aside for women to go and do things, but for the most part I can go anywhere/do anything I need to. The traffic is less and less scary the more time we spend in it, and Thomas has pretty much mastered it. The roundabouts are the only part that still worry me- but the more I observe, there is a system and I think I understand it now. So yay for that!
We went for a nice long walk along the Corniche, the waterfront, yesterday morning, down to the Oryx statue- it's the national animal and they are everywhere. Really cute too. It was such a nice sunny, cool morning and we sat and listened to the water lapping and watched the dhows (traditional pearl diving boats) cross the bay. I needed that morning- each day I'm here, I feel more at peace that this is where I am supposed to be now, but the homesickness is still fresh and fierce. My friend Suzanne, also an expat living in Australia, put it best: she described it as waves, sometimes huge and crashing, sometimes small and lapping, sometimes rolling swells... but always there. So far this is exactly what I have felt- I'm doing well, chuggin' along, and BOOM- I see a picture, I hear a song, something triggers the tears. Sometimes they dry quickly, other times my eyes leak for a while. But I am dealing... and there are plenty of great folks who have offered me sympathetic ears and shoulders and have encouraged me. For that I am extremely grateful.
So yeah... hope that answers some of your questions, Rachel! : )