Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Last Two Weeks...

...have been a whirl!

T+ 6 weeks.

I know, I am falling down on the job... the last couple of weeks have been super busy, but this week is Spring Break for our campus so it should be slightly slower.  So... how are you?  What's happening in your life?  So let's see, where did I leave off...?

We are continuing our city explorations on the weekends; last Saturday we went to the Souq Waqif (pronounced Sook Wakeef) and poked around there.  Exactly what I had always pictured in my mind of a traditional Arabian bazaar.  No photos there because I was trying to be culturally sensitive (many folks over here don't like to be photographed), but let me tell you, it was amazing.  The site is on the historical location of the souq that has been there forever, but about ten years ago the government rebuilt it- looks like it's always been there, with it's warren of shops and twisty alleyways.  There are stores selling just about everything- from bulk spices, to shoes, to hardware, colorful fabrics, traditional handcrafts and jewelry, to birds and bunnies and puppies.  (Thomas said he debated leading me down that particular alleyway... but I survived with very few tears.  The puppies were so cute, piled in their corner and snoring away...)  The fabric shops there were amazing, a riot of color and pattern- you can have just about anything made there for a very reasonable price.  It was hard for me to not buy a scarf in every pattern!  And the smells wafting from many shops, either incense or the spices parked out front, were just heavenly.  I took lots of deep breaths just to smell it all.  There were also lots of tiny little perfume stalls, souvenirs, accessories, you name it.  All for sale from a shopkeeper willing to haggle with you.

After all that, we were peckish so we decided to get some lunch.  We'd been given a restaurant recommendation for Syrian food, so we found the place and were led to a lovely terrace upstairs with comfy chairs and couches.  The food was really good- grilled meats (chicken, beef, lamb), fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, olives, and fresh bread- hollow loaves that steamed when split open.  Also hummus with olive oil, grilled lamb, and pine nuts.  So good, so very good.  Since the terrace was open-air (like a patio), there were a few cats around; likely keep mice away.  One sweet little expectant mama befriended me (of course, cats love me because I am highly allergic.  They ALWAYS know...) and jumped right up in my lap, licked my hand, and began purring away.  I had to shoo her away gently, but she didn't seem to mind... she just parked it under the table for a while then wandered off.  So that was Saturday...

Sunday was driving test day 1 for me.  Thomas had completed his testing and gotten his license a couple of weeks ago- now that we had our residence permits, it was my turn.  This was a fun adventure... told to meet the drivers license "fixer" at 7:00am on campus, that meant we had to leave the house at about 6:30am.  Urgh.  Coffee helped.  (Also, we are learning about "Qatari time"- generally, means about half hour AFTER the scheduled time for anything.  So our guy didn't even get there until 7:30.)  I used the extra time to make a quick review of the road signs I'd be tested on.  Not too terribly worried about it.  We got to the driving school at about 8:05 or so, paid our fee for the eye exam, took the eye exam- yes, I can see.  Good.  Then over to the traffic office to do the computerized test... not so fast.  Apparently they didn't have spots for the four of us to be able to test there that day, but we could come back another day.  Mohammed, our fixer, not having this- he took us to another driving school where we were able to get right in and take the test.  There was one other lady in our group, and we've made friends!  She is Jordanian, a new mom, and had lived in Plano before moving to Doha, so we bonded over Dallas traffic!  Anyway, she speaks Arabic and so she was kind enough to translate for me.  We both passed the exam with flying colors (20/20, what what!) and also were able to tell the proctor where the battery, radiator cap, and oil dipstick were in the engine compartment of the car there in the lobby.  Passed that test too!  Jimmy Roberts didn't raise no girly girl clueless about what's under a car hood!  So now, we've completed everything but the road test.  Which, at that school, we can take at the end of the month, no problem.  Mohammed not having this either- back to the other school we go, where Hibba and I get appointments for the next Tuesday... Ladies' Day.

And they tell us to be there at 6:30am.  So now, we have to leave the house at 6:00am.  Poor Thomas had to take me there, but he gave me some tips about the test, having already taken it.  We get there right at 6:30, and I'm hoping it won't be too crowded... and I walk in and find that it's full of chattering women already.  OK, then.  Check in and settle down to wait.  There are about five lady police officers that do the driving test for women, and they don't even show up 'til 7:30.  They get the paperwork and we start hearing names called a bit after 8:00, and I get called in about the third group.  While we were waiting, I found Hibba, and also met one of the faculty members of the program I advise for, so at least I had someone to talk to.  So, heart thumping, I meet the examiner: large, beautiful, INTIMIDATING.  Girlfriend has PRESENCE.  Now, I'd been told to try to drive second or third, so I could see the route and have an idea of what I needed to do.  So as we are walking to the car, the other two make beelines for the back seat... OK, I'll go first.  Buckled up, seat forward, mirrors adjusted, deep breath... go time.  She signals left, right, etc but doesn't say much else; then she sends me down a road, tells me to turn right into heavy traffic, and to go left at the roundabout.  SHIT.  (Have I mentioned that I very strongly dislike roundabouts?  I strongly dislike roundabouts.)  But I manage to worm my way in, get over two lanes, and when I get up to the roundabout there is a nice policeman directing traffic! YAY, not bad.  Drive a bit farther, straight thru one more easy roundabout, and then she tells me to pull over, park.  She smiled and said, "Finish!" Phew.  So I swapped places with the next victim driver, thank the Jesus for letting me get thru that, and humbly ask to make it back to the driving school.  Apparently this lady is a local, and it's clear she doesn't have the experience- very timid behind the wheel, except when she didn't slow down for a speed hump and bottomed out.  She was also very unsure about her lane placement, so she decided to drive in the middle of two to be safe.  Pull over, park, next!  Hopefully this one will be better, she's not a local... nope, pulls out in front of oncoming traffic during a left turn, stopped in the middle of the road after a (legal) U-turn... my heart rate is pretty elevated at this point.  The examiner tells her to pull over and park, and then looks at me and points me back into the drivers seat. WHAT?  Actually, probably safer that way.  She directs me back to the school, and again when we pull in smiled and said, "Finish.  American, you pass.  Others, fail, fail!"  Uh... thank you.  So then I just had to go in and wait for the paperwork to be processed.  But apparently, instead of handing it in as each group was completed, they keep it until they are done.  So I had another hour and a half to wait... Hibba finally got called, and she had the same lady.  She told Hibba that we were the only two that she had passed that day!  Dallas traffic was good for something, I guess!  So once the examiner came back in, she handed in all the paperwork.  Hibba went to check how much longer, and told me that I was already known as "the American lady" that day and wouldn't be much longer.  We finally walked out with two shiny new Qatar Driving Licenses now, yay us!  Thomas and her husband Mohammed, who had actually met on campus previously, were outside chatting and waiting for us.  I am so thankful to be done with this process, it was the last bit of official documentation I needed.  Back to campus just in time to make my third meeting in three days with the Associate Provost from main campus.

This week we were also really excited to have some friends from home visit as well.  He's faculty, she's an advisor, they are both awesome.  They get their own post tomorrow, this one is long enough already and I have THOUGHTS.  BUT!  We went to another new grocery store today- MegaMart- and we found this:

More comfort food from home!  Happy dance!  We also found another Southerner!  Nice gent saw Thomas' shirt today, and he stopped to ask where we were from. We said Texas, and he said he's from Montgomery, AL.  We chatted for a few minutes, he's been here since September and we talked about how we were making the rounds to get "stuff from home."  So lovely to hear that Southern accent!

AND, almost forgot- Monday we went to the opening round of the Qatar Total Open, totally watched Venus play.  Pretty damn cool.  (Literally.  It was in the 50's.  We were CHILLY.)

So... I'm not done, I have more to write... Part 2 tomorrow!  

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