Friday, July 24, 2015

I'm Tumbl'n

Decided to try something new- I'm now on Tumblr!  Follow me:

I'm armather00, and my blog is The #Texpat.  Let's see where we end up!

I'm also on Instagram as armather00, and all my posts are tagged with #texpat as well.
And if you want to see my Twits.. I mean Tweets... Twitter handle is @TnPDiamond.
Pinterest is Amanda Mather, if you want general nonsense and pretty good recipe ideas...

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Time Flies Like the Wind...

Fruit flies like bananas.

T+ 5 months or so.

Whew.  It's been over a month since I've written- yikes!  SO much has happened in that time.  Here's a brief rundown:

TAMUQ celebrated our annual Commencement Ceremony on May 7, and this was my first go-round here. We had about a hundred students participating in the ceremony, and it was a little different than what I was used to on main campus.  For starters, the event was OUTSIDE.  In the DESERT HEAT.  In MAY.  And those of us working the event had to wear academic regalia.  This is one instance where not having any graduate education came in handy, as I just had to wear a robe, no hood or hat, and a simple t-shirt dress underneath.  My job was to act as a student marshal, helping to line the students up beforehand and leading them in the recessional after.  Not too bad.  The speaker was the US Ambassador to Qatar, and she had a pretty good speech, short and sweet and to the point.  After was a huge reception with Qatari sword dancing and tons of heavy hors d'oeuvres and drinks (water, juice, coffee) and the grads and families were able to celebrate.  It ended up being a really beautiful ceremony.  (Just made for a really long day.  Rehearsal was at 9am, also outside, then workday, then the ceremony prep and ceremony itself, then breakdown and cleanup- and did I mention all this was outside?)  My head hit the bed at 11:50pm and I don't think I moved til the next morning.

Graduation, Part 2!
Timing is everything, except when it isn't.  Most of you reading (OK, both of you!) probably know about Macey.  She is our "adopted daughter" who started as a student in my learning community, and became a part of our family- without having to go thru the painful teen years.  She's super special to us, not just because she takes phenomenal care of our dogs when we travel.  Anyway, she also graduated in May on main campus, with a degree in Theatre Arts.  When we first explored the possibility of coming over here, she wasn't sure she would let us go.  We managed to be there in person for her Ring Day, but it just didn't work out for us to be there when she walked.  BUT her super sweet boyfriend was kind enough to Skype me in the middle of the night (my time) so I could at least watch her get her diploma.

I'm always proud of all my students when they reach this goal, but Macey was so special.  We have had many heart-to-hearts about majors, job opportunities, philosophy, Harry Potter, the meaning of life, Pitch Perfect... the child really is like a daughter to me, and it was incredible to be able to see this milestone from 8,000 miles away. I couldn't be happier or more proud if she really was my kid.

Sixteen. Years.  Holy shit, right?  We were young and dumb- but sixteen years ago, I married the love of my life.  I THINK Thomas did too.  We celebrated this milestone by doing... nothing.  Well, nothing fancy.  We had planned to walk to breakfast with friends, and we did walk to the restaurant- only to find they were not yet open.  (Not our usual walking-to-breakfast place, Ric's- this was a bagel place much closer.  We'd been there before, but apparently they open later on Fridays.  Who knew?)  But all was not lost, our friends said, "Come over!  We'll make pancakes!"  So we proceeded to enjoy delicious pancakes and BACON.  Yummy, yummy, real pork BACON.  Not a bad way to start the day, if I'm honest!  We'd also talked about going to dinner at a fancy restaurant, but summer school had started that week and we were pooped- so we ended up ordering dinner in and watching TV.  Pretty perfect.

So there's this group of friends that takes an annual trip to Dubai, to the Atlantis resort (!) and this year, we were invited to join them.  I feel like we've officially been initiated and are really part of the gang now.  (This ended up being our official anniversary splurge.)  We left Doha early- left our building at 5:45am.  Normally, when you leave at that time, it's dark- but here, the sun's up at the ass-crack of dawn, around 4.  So it was bright!  Once we got checked in at the airport, our friends (who have racked up status on Qatar Airways/One World) got us into the business lounge... so of course we had to have some champagne, as you do.  And croissants and cheese for breakfast.  Saw an older gentleman in an Aggie shirt, so of course we had to say hello.  He was on his way back to Dallas from Dubai.  Nice gent.
Anyway, after a short flight, we arrived in Dubai, cleared passport control, and headed to the Duty-free Shop to acquire certain adult beverages.  After QDC, this place seemed dirt cheap, honestly.  Made our purchases, crammed ourselves into two taxis, and sped off to The Palm.  (Y'know the palm-tree-shaped man-made island?  Yeah, that one.)  Atlantis is pretty spectacular, and one of our group had gotten us a special deal for the weekend that included breakfast, dinner, waterpark, and aquarium access.  Thomas and I, being the last ones to join, had an Imperial Club room that also gave us access to the Club, snacks and happy hour.  (We're the shizz now, apparently! ; )

Anyway- WATERPARK!  OMG.  One room was ready, so we all threw our stuff in there and changed into swimsuits and went to play.  This was the best waterpark I've ever been to- lazy river, water coaster slides, body slides, big raft slides, beachy areas... we had so much fun.  And, we all greased up pretty good and not one of us got burned!  We went back the next day too and played for a few more hours, it was awesome and very relaxing.  Just what we all needed.

We also had incredibly good food, Italian one night and French the next- three course meals each time.  SO. GOOD.  We also took a bit of time to play on the beach, in the Persian Gulf, and explore the Aquarium there too.  The last day, our flight home wasn't until 4:30, so we Thomas and I took the resort bus to the Dubai Mall and the Burj Khalifa- the tallest building in the world.  We went up to the 125th floor observation deck, which was pretty cool.  It had been pretty hazy the whole weekend, so we couldn't see too terribly far, but it was neat nevertheless.  After a quick lunch, we also went to the aquarium and "Underwater Zoo"- they had some massive sharks and rays.  Then we caught a taxi to the airport, and again met our friends in the lounge for pre-takeoff drinks.  And were home by 7:00pm.  It was a whirl of a trip, but so fun, so relaxing, so needed.  Everyone should be so lucky!

So that's been my month... and next week, we go down under!  I have an advising conference in Melbourne, and Thomas is tagging along.  We plan to explore the city, and meet my friend who lives there, and enjoy for a couple days after the conference is done.  It has long been at the top of our list of places to go, and I am excited that's finally happening.  In the meantime, we will be working as ususal... well, sort of.  The Islamic Holy Month of Ramadan begins tomorrow, so our schedules will be shortened for the next 30 days.  We'll work 7:30-2:30, but knowing Thomas he will use the slow time to get extra work done... I may be catching rides home with friends!

So I promise to try to do better and update more regularly, especially as we experience our first Ramadan.

Also, it's hot.

More soon!

Saturday, May 9, 2015


T+ almost 4 months..

Well, it's taken me a while to sit down and write a new post because it's taken me this long to process all the emotions from our whirlwind trip home to Texas.  We didn't stay in any place longer than two nights, and we managed to squeeze in approximately 1200 miles of driving in those days, and my arse has just now recovered feeling... but it was so worth it all.  I needed that- I needed to see my family and friends, to hug them like there was no tomorrow, to laugh and be goofy with my nieces.

We left Doha on the 1:50am flight... and this time we flew economy 'cause it was our dime paying for my ticket.  On all our previous trips here, we'd been spoiled in Business Class since the University/Qatar Foundation was footing the bill, but on this trip it was only Thomas that was covered.  We ended up in the middle two of a 3-4-3 configuration, with two large gents on either side of us.  They were nice enough, but we were squeezed in!  Oy.  Thankfully that was the shorter flight to Germany, and on the longer one were still in the middle section, but on the outside two seats.  So I at least only had to climb over Thomas to get to the bathroom... oh, and did I mention our bags?  So we had bought a FEW souvenirs for people back home, and we packed one giant suitcase with nothing but those.  And two large rocks- one for my mom and one for Thomas' dad, who are into that.  We've dragged back rocks from all over the world for them.  Now generally we go for about fist-size, but Thomas was of the opinion "Go big or go home."  So these weighed about 10 lbs each.  Which made that checked bag overweight.  So it was $150 US or get rid of the rocks.  I feel bad for the custodian who had to empty that trash can... once we finally got the bag underweight, we were good to go.  Two checked bags going over, plus I had my little red rollaboard.  Remember that...

After a very long day, we finally made it to Houston and I have never been so glad to see pine trees in my life.  We had gotten approved for Global Entry, so we breezed thru customs, picked up our bags, and  headed for the rental car center.  Picked up a Nissan Rogue, and I slid into the drivers seat and we headed to the Mather's for the night.  Never thought I would miss Houston traffic, but after Doha, no sweat.  Bring it, Beltway!  Since Thomas does most of the driving here, I told him I would happily drive across Texas and back.  From Houston, we proceeded to go to College Station (doc and dentist in one day!) then on to San Antonio for Thomas' conference, Round Rock, Tyler, Marshall, Fulshear, Houston, back to College Station, back to Houston to fly out.  Along the way we managed to get all our Texas food fixes in: Mexican food at Adobe Verde in Gruene, BBQ at Salt Lick in Round Rock, Brown Pigs at Porky's in Marshall, Agnor's Chili in Tyler with the family (and I brought back 24 packs of mix, one of which is simmering in the crockpot now for tonight's dinner... the apartment smells awesome), Whataburger in College Station, more excellent Mexican and margaritas at Casa Rodriguez in downtown Bryan, and lunch at Chili's with my friends.  I gained weight and I don't care, it was worth it.  Along the way we also managed to collect another suitcase and two duffel bags worth of loot- clothes (you can't go to San Marcos and not stop at the outlet mall.. Old Navy FTW!), groceries (some things we just can't find here...) and a few things I had wanted to bring in the first place and just wasn't able to.  So when we checked back in at the airport, we had four checked bags and two carry-ons each.  I was worried about being able to haul it all, but we managed.  OH, how could I forget- in one of the checked bags was 5.5 lbs (max legally allowed) of dry ice cooling 6 pounds of kielbasa sausage, turkey lunch meat, Little Smokies... Thomas insisted.  Thankfully, nothing caused issues at Qatar customs and we actually still had most of the dry ice when we got home 25 hours later.

I did better leaving Texas on this trip, I only cried a little when we left my family and again when we left our dogs at home in CS.  Oh, my doggies... I miss them so much.  When I got home, and I walked in to the house, they were happy to see me and we all rolled on the floor for a bit for puppy kisses.  Then we all snuggled up on the couch for a while, including Laura's dog Charlie.  (Laura is the awesome friend who's living in the house and keeping the babies in excellent condition, by which I mean spoiled as they ever were.  I'm so incredibly grateful to her for that.)  Charlie is a mess, he ended up sleeping with us while we were there!  He's such a cuddle bug!  It was really great, though, to see how good they all are, and know they're well cared for and happy.  Who knows what really goes thru their doggy brains, but they seem perfectly content.

This trip was good for me on so many levels- it allowed me to see everyone and catch up on sorely missed friend time, but it also allowed me to be more at peace that I am where I am supposed to be right now.  I do like Doha tons (not quite to loving it yet, thanks traffic!) but it's great.  It's the right place for me, career-wise, as I'm getting the chance to do some cool stuff and kind of remake the advising office.  It's the right place personally- as much as we have been together over the last four months, Thomas and I have really grown stronger as a couple, since we have to rely on each other so much.  Not that we didn't before, but here we do much more.  And since we are not so busy with "extracurricular" stuff, we are spending more time together too.  Both of us have less stress, job-wise, and are less prone to bringing work home with us after-hours.  We are more relaxed, and since we have less stress we are less likely to take it out on the other- so, win-win.  Also, it's the right place for us to be able to travel, something we've both wanted to do more of.  I got approved to go to an advising conference in Australia this summer!  I'm so excited.

And, honestly, I was glad to get back to Doha (just in time for the whirl of graduation week and the unique frenzy it brings... more about that later...)  Texas will always be HOME, no matter where I live- but Doha is beginning to seem more home-like.  I am really starting to feel like we are growing tentative roots- we have good friends, we've pretty much figured out how and where to get just about everything we need, I have Agnor's Chili Mix to keep me for a while (seriously, it's THAT good- you should try it. Not for nothing did it win Terlingua in '76), we have Skype, and I have Thomas.  I wrote a while back, quoting my friend Suzanne, about homesickness being like waves- sometimes great and crashing, sometimes small and lapping, but always there.  I'm to the point that they are mostly small and lapping, which is good.  I know I will be more than ready for the next trip to Texas, which will likely be in December... but it's really not so bad here.  And for that I am grateful.

(And I am also grateful for Z-Packs, and understanding docs that will prescribe them in advance of needing them.  I've spent the last week with a painful ear infection, which finally broke this morning.  Not totally gone, but so much better than it has been!  I can hear again!)

Love to you all back in the Lone Star State!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Ring Day in Qatar

What, two posts in two days?  I know, I know... but this was SO COOL, y'all!

We attended our first TAMUQ Aggie Ring Day today. Now we are seasoned veterans of main campus Ring Day and it's unique brand of chaos- we have delivered a few Rings on our time to some very excited Aggies.  So we wanted to see how they do it over here, and it's every bit as much of a big deal as it is at the Mothership (that nickname shamelessly stolen from my friend JP from TAMU-Corpus Christi!)

The event was held in the student center cinema, which is NICE.  (Sorry, Rudder Theater, you've been bested.)  We walked in and heard the Aggie Band playing and I'm not ashamed to say I had to fight back a lump in my throat and my eyes may have been a bit watery.  The Band has always had that effect on me, from the first time I saw them march and especially after I became an Aggie.  Anyway, I digress.. Seats were reserved for the Ring recipients, and as we made our way up the stairs I saw friends and family with flowers, balloons, etc and the excitement was palpable.  I know many think that, being so far removed from main campus, that the Aggie Spirit isn't really a thing here- but I beg to differ.  It's alive and well, and the Ring is just as powerful a symbol here as it is there.  Many students have noticed my Ring and commented on it (and I think are a little surprised that I am a graduate.  On main campus we Former Students are a dime-a-dozen, here we're a little rarer.  I digress again...)

The emcee was great, funny and very personable.  Each student receiving their Ring was called out and individually presented their Ring by the Dean of the University, and photos were taken of each one with him.  The students there to support their friends and classmates were yelling, clapping, cheering, laughing, and really it was incredible to see and hear.  Flowers and balloons were given, and afterwards there was CAKE.

A HUGE cake shaped like the Aggie Ring, with delicious chocolate and yellow cake and the best fondant icing I've ever had.  Usually it's too dry and flavorless for me, but this was really good, soft and sweet.  Mmmm...

Student Affairs was responsible for the event, and they did a tremendous job.  I recognized several of the students getting Rings, and it was nice to witness the camaraderie of the students and be small part of the excitement again.  It was a really great way to end the week.

I know main campus Ring Day is tomorrow, as part of the annual Parents' Weekend, and I know lots of my former students and cadets are getting their Rings too.  I'm sad I won't get to be a part of it, as I know exactly how hard they had to work to earn that shiny piece of gold, but today helped soften that a bit... something tells me, though, that the students here don't know about the unofficial Ring Dunk tradition of main campus.  Probably for the best...

Congratulations to all those who get their Rings this weekend, you've earned it and I'm proud of you!

4 days to Texas...

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


T+3 months, 2 days.

What a busy last couple of weeks!  Holy crap.  Trying to get approximately 500 students preregistered in at least 2 classes as the only academic advisor in the school is lots of fun.  Then trying to get through the drop deadline (q-drops, if you saw  it on Facebook) AND lifting holds for the 40 or so who didn't bother to come in for advising and trying to placate those who don't like the classes they were assigned...

I had my first student yell at me on Sunday.  He didn't like that he didn't get his way (I get the feeling that this was a new thing) and didn't get resolution immediately, but I held my ground, even though my heart was pounding and I was absolutely quaking.  Not from fear, but I hate being yelled at.  I told him repeatedly that he could take care of the issue during his registration time later this week- and guess what, he came back yesterday, was much nicer, and he was able to get the class he wanted.  I've had a few others that were less than pleased when I told them no, I don't think it's something they have heard from the advising office prior to now.  New sheriff in town...

Random:  One of the radio stations here has a "Country hour" on Mondays, from 4:30-5:30pm, and we happened to catch it on the way home that day.  This week's show was all about Willie.  Yes, please... I was singin' along all happy, then they went and played "(Mamas) Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys" and I. LOST.  IT.  Ugly cry.  Caught my poor husband way off guard!  It just brought back SO many memories of my dad and uncle, both guitar players, pickin' and grinnin' and singin'.  I love it here, but I don't think I had admitted to myself just quite how homesick I am for Texas.  Fortunately, we are going home in 5 days!  Not that I am counting or anything... but I am ready for family and friends, to see my dogs, for Whataburger and Mexican food and bluebonnets and wide Texas skies.  I've never lived outside the great state until January, and no matter where I am it's always going to be home to me.  We've been building a stash of souvenirs for everyone, we are gonna need a giant bag to get it all home... Thomas also has a pretty extensive list of things to bring back to Doha with us, topped by Polish sausage (beef, of course) and Kraft mac and cheese (hard to find and expensive when we do.)  I've also done some online shopping and it's all waiting for me at Mom and Dad's house.  I am so ready to be there, I really need to learn how to Apparate and just skip the flight bit altogether...

We have gotten approved for Global Entry fast track for US Customs, and we have the Qatar version of that called E-Gate.  So hopefully that will make things a little smoother along the way.  We have our passports, our residency cards, our exit permits, I guess at some point we should pack stuff... I would honestly go with nothing just so I can hug my mom and dad again.  Skype has been such a blessing, we talk on Sundays for at least an hour.  I don't know that I would have made it this long without it.  If you stop to think about it, it is pretty impressive that I can say something and they can see it and hear it 8,000 miles away!

We are continuing our weekly 10K treks to Ric's on weekend mornings, we feel pretty good about eating the giant breakfast burrito (we do share it) once we do that.  It's steadily getting warmer, though, and before too long it'll be too hot to do that.  Guess I will have to get my arse up to the gym and get on the treadmill instead... This week as we walked along the Corniche we came across a movie set, neat to see- they were filming a dhow in the bay, first one I've seen with sail raised.  Made for a pretty picture on a sunny day.

Otherwise things are puttering along here, get up, go to work, come home, eat, sleep, repeat.  It's a pleasant routine- I do like my job, even when it's stressful, our friends here are wonderful and lots of fun, and I genuinely like our life.  I am happy to be here (and I realize typing this that it sounds like I'm trying to convince myself!), I just miss my people, that's all.  But I get to see them soon!  Keeping me going...


Friday, April 3, 2015

More firsts

T+... Oh, about 2 1/2 months, give or take.

This week was another week of firsts for us, in a couple of ways.  We had our first really big sandstorm (we've had our share of dusty days, but this one was epic.)  Like, so big as in the campus and all other schools closed because it was dangerous to drive, as in zero visibility.  Can't say this was on my bucket list, but it's now checked off...
We were in the bedroom at about 10:00pm on Wednesday night- Thomas was piddling on his iPad and I was reading, the TV was off so it was quiet in the room.  I was sitting near the windows, and kept hearing them creak.  Eventually I turned around and looked out, but all I could see was what looked like white fog- but was really sand and dust in the air.  I couldn't see the street in front of our building, no lights in the buildings by ours- everything was blocked by dust.  The wind was blowing hard (eventually we read it was up to 70 km in some places!) and we heard things hitting the windows.  We went to bed a little later with it howling, and we were woken up at 6:30am the next morning (well, I was, Thomas was already up.  He's weird like that.) saying that due to the storm, driving conditions were hazardous and our campus would be closed for the day.  Well, hello, 3-day weekend!  No complaints here... we got up a little later, and the air was starting to clear.  By the afternoon it was mostly clear.

Which was good for today, as today turned out to be gorgeous.  Even better as we had plans to walk over to the W Hotel for their Easter Brunch.  We had heard about Friday brunch in Doha- apparently it's quite the thing to do, and most of the hotels have a lavish spread each week for this.  The W did theirs from 12-4pm, and silly me, I thought it was a come-and-go anytime between those times.  Dummy.  You ARRIVE at noon and STAY 'til 4, eating and drinking the whole time.  It's a marathon, not a spring, and you seriously have to pace yourself.  Can you say bottomless mimosas?  Also the signature cocktail, which this week was a Pimm's something or other which was absolutely delicious.  Yes, please.  And then there was the food.  Sushi? Yep.  Waffles?  You got it.  Steak, lamb, veal, mac and cheese?  Just over there.  Oysters on the half shell?  Of course, have some!  Creme brulee, cupcakes, cheesecake, ice cream, chocolate mousse (anyone else think of the movie Top Secret when you hear those words?  No, just me?  OK.) chocolate cake, caramel popcorn, crepes, chocolate fountain?  Sure, have at them! OMG  it was all SO GOOD.  We staggered home.  I felt like Mr. Creosote:

I don't have the foggiest idea HOW people do that on a weekly basis.  I have to walk to Ric's AND BACK tomorrow to work that off... but it was certainly a great time with great people.  I should be ready to do it again around Thanksgiving...
Happy Easter from Doha!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Random Musings...

T+... 2.5 months...ish...Sorry y'all, I'll do better!

So Thomas is at a work training session, and I am rattling around the apartment waiting for dinner to thaw.  Random things I've thought this week...

-Baby-sister-who-isn't-really-a-baby-but-she'll-always-be-to-me moved to Chicago in November, giving me tons of inspiration to do this thing.  She flew home to visit this weekend, and I got a precious few minutes to Skype with her (as well as the rest of the family) this weekend.  SO hard seeing them all gathered together and not being a part of it... brought a lump to my throat and maybe a few tears to my eyes.  But one thing I noticed- she looks SO happy.  Happier than I have seen her in a long time, and that makes ME happy.  She and I are far more similar than different, we have so much in common, and I am so proud of her for taking the big step she did.  Also, her Sig.Other is pretty awesome, I blame him for a lot of this.  Thanks, man, for making my sister happy and taking good care of her.  (Not that she isn't fully capable of taking care of her self- she is- but you really make her light shine in a way it hasn't in a long time. Y'all really complement each other.)

-I had an advising appointment today with a student, who had some questions, wasn't sure he was on the right track but thought he might be... and after we hashed it all out he said the greatest thing to me.  "I thought I'd be OK, I just wanted to hear it from someone who knows what they are doing.  Kinda like going to the doctor!"  Made me smile so big.  He thinks I know what I'm doing!  Must be doing something right, then!

-Officially the only academic advisor here now.  The other girl has now moved into her new role on campus, so it's just me.  Yikes, no pressure to get May grads cleared, degree adjustments submitted, schedules planned...

-Thank goodness, then, that I got MY liquor permit this weekend!  Gonna need that... just kidding but seriously... I can also now officially buy pork.  Delicious, delicious pork.

-Also discovered the Jarir Bookstore this weekend!  Not quite Barnes and Noble, but they had a decent enough selection of English language books that I can keep myself occupied for a couple of weeks.

-We have found heaven, and it is called Ric's.  Ric's Kountry Kitchen, to be more specific.  It's a bit of a hole-in-the-wall place (which is exactly our type and what we've been looking for) but they have damn good breakfast and we've heard good things about lunch and dinner too.  The menu has lots of familiar foods- migas, breakfast burritos, Texas toast, CFS, grits... and ICED TEA.  Honest-to-goodness real ICED TEA.  Strong, crisp, caffeinated, SO GOOD.  I can drink a gallon of it.  We wer introduced by some friends, who invited us to walk over for breakfast a couple weekends ago.  We accepted, and met them in the lobby really early on Saturday morning.  Should have been a warning to me that they were dressed in workout clothes and we were in jeans... the walk was a BIT farther than we were expecting.  About 8 kilometers farther, around the Corniche and about three long blocks off of it.  Still, it was a great morning, sunny and breezy and the company was great, and the food was worth the walk.  We earned our breakfast burrito that day, and liked it so much we walked back this past weekend too (we caught a cab home both days.)  There's a tentative plan to go back this weekend as well, and if the weather's nice, I just might try walking both ways.  I do love being outside in the breeze when I can be, before it gets too damn hot.

-We were in one of the grocery stores this Saturday, and I was poking around looking for something when I heard someone say, Happy Mother's Day!  I turned to see who it was, and realized she was talking to ME!  Apparently Mother's Day was this weekend in the Middle East, and she was a rep for a baby formula company and they were giving roses to moms.  I told her I wasn't one, didn't have kids, and she said, "That's OK!  You get roses too!"  Uh, OK then!  So now I have two beautiful roses, one deep red and one peachy-pink, blooming on my dining table... unintentionally, a lovely reminder of Tyler, TX, Rose Capital USA!

-It rained this week.  HARD.  Surprisingly so, thunder and wind and all.  There aren't many people over here who know how to drive in the rain, since it happens so infrequently... also, very little drainage so no place for the water to go but over the roads. Was an interesting ride to work.

Dinner is just about thawed, and Thomas is on his way home... so I will sign off for now!  Four weeks to Texas!

Friday, March 13, 2015

In the Groove...

T+ 2 months.  Already? Time flies when you're having fun!

So we realized walking back from the grocery store this morning that today is our two month anniversary here in Doha.  An anniversary on Friday the 13th... that's got to be a good omen, right?

We have pretty much settled into our groove and things are rocking right along... work is going smoothly and as each day passes I feel more and more confident in the position.  I'm swimming in the deep end- the manager who hired me left last week, and the other advisor on staff will be leaving soon- so it will be just me.  But, I'm swimming!  There are people here who are really great about understanding that I don't know everything yet, and are more than willing to answer my questions and help me.  So I got that going for me, which is nice...  I am also excited about the opportunity to take everything I have learned in my previous position and thru my NACADA networking and implement it here. I think I have some really good ideas that can improve our services and really help our students better.  Those will have to wait until the end of the semester, though- right now, we have to get thru preregistration for summer and fall, and I'm learning that the process works slightly differently here than on main campus.  So much to learn, and I'm excited!

Outside of work, we are still taking every opportunity we can to explore and try new things; there are certainly a wealth of those!  Last weekend, we attended the finals of the CHI AlShaqab International Equestrian Competition; we saw the dressage and grand prix jumping.  Those were things I knew nothing about, and had really only seen on TV.  But up close and in person, really QUITE incredible- there were Olympians in both events.  And did I mention that since we are employees of the Qatar Foundation, we got FREE tickets?  Very cool...

Random thoughts... things I miss: aside from the obvious (family and friends)
-The sound of trains- no rail lines here, but they are building a subway system.  Right outside our bedroom window, all night long, they are building a sub way system...
-Albert's Hot Sauce- my favorite salsa from home; it's refrigerated, so not shelf-stable and therefore not orderable from Amazon.  You better believe I am eating a TON of it in April when we visit...
-Moderately insane traffic- like in Houston or Dallas.  Doha traffic is BATSHIT.  My heart rate is elevated just getting in the car. I do drive on the weekends when traffic is a little less nuts, but I leave the weekday driving to Thomas- who loves it.  I am more than happy to drive across Texas and back, and probably will next month when we visit...
-My patio- I miss being able to sit outside in the mornings with a cup of coffee and a book and enjoy the breeze... I can do that here, but I have to walk two blocks to the coffee shop on the waterfront. That goes right along with...
-My dogs- Casey loves to join me on the patio loveseat or in the swing, and I miss absently rubbing her belly or head as she was curled up next to me as I read.  Pudge would often jump in my lap and nudge my reading material out of the way in a demand for attention.  But, I have it on good authority they will be more spoiled than I left them... I am really looking forward to puppy snuggles...
-Mexican food- 'Nuff said.
-My Pampered Chef whisk- it's pretty substantial and can stand up to thick mixes and doughs.  The one I found here was bent out of shape after one spin thru my beer bread... I will be grabbing this from my kitchen at home (sorry, Laura Ann!)

Things I have discovered and I love here...
-The people!  Qataris have a reputation for hospitality and friendliness, and that has absolutely proven true.  Everyone has welcomed us with open arms.
-Urban living! I have never lived in a city larger than 150,000 before, and until Jan 13th had lived in Texas all my life.  College Station was a wonderful place for us, but in order to go anywhere we had to jump in the car.  Here, we can walk to just about everything but work- two grocery stores, a mall, the waterfront, tons of restaurants and hotels with bars, movie theater, dry cleaners in the basement of the apartment building... pretty much all we need on a daily basis.  Really convenient.
-Cooking more (not a new discovery, really, but I AM enjoying it.)  We were SO close to multiple fast food establishments in College Station, and it was so easy to just hit the drive-thru on the way home from a long day of work.  But here, even though there IS fast food, it's not exactly convenient- to get to the drive thru IS kind of a hassle with traffic, and it's cold by the time we get it home, because TRAFFIC.  Also, we have a much smaller fridge and freezer here so we can't just keep buying stuff and throwing it in there for later... so I've been cooking more and really enjoying it.  I've become quite domestic in that regard...
-Grocery shopping (also not a new discovery!) I really didn't enjoy grocery shopping at home- most times, the store  was crowded, I was on my way home and tired and cranky and hungry, and there wasn't just a quick "run in and grab it..." solution.  Here, though, the store is smaller, and generally less crowded; also, it's always fun to see what they have in store week to week.  It's always slightly different.  It's been inspiring!  And, Thomas can drop me off on the way home, I can "run in and grab" what I need, and then walk home and enjoy it.  I like walking here (this may change when it's 110 degrees... but for now I enjoy it.)  Also, since we have to carry it home, it has really stopped us from grabbing random things and throwing them in the basket!  We've actually been eating much better since we've been here- a lot less crap.
-Reading time!  I've had more time to read here, since I don't have something to do almost every night, and I am really enjoying that luxury.  I've finished five books so far! I will have to bring some home since I don't want to cart tons of books back when we eventually leave, but that's OK.  I have a library that has some room...

On the "Pick up in Texas" list...
-My kitchen notebook; didn't have room or weight to bring it, but all my treasured family and favorite recipes are in there and I miss having it.
-My whisk.
-Kitchen trivet for cooking utensils.  Hard to find here, apparently not a thing...
-Olive oil bottle with pour spout.  Same deal as the trivet...
-Girl Scout Cookies from the nieces- if they survive at my parents' house til we get there!
-Vanilla beans.  Can't find them here, and I want to make my own vanilla.  I can get the vodka, but not the beans!

So, yeah... in the groove.  My favorite routine so far is our Friday mornings (we work Sunday-Thursday.)  Friday is the religious day here, so those mornings are pretty slow.  We've gotten into the habit of waking up early, heading down to the coffee shop on the waterfront for breakfast, and hanging there reading (or in Thomas' case, playing on the iPad) for a bit, and then going to the grocery store for the week.  It's a nice way to start the weekend.

Sunday, March 1, 2015


Yesterday's post, continued... FRIEND VISIT!
(Can you tell I was just a little excited to see familiar faces from home?)

So our friends S and J came to visit this week- for a potential job!  S is an academic advisor like me, J is a faculty member.  He was interviewing for a faculty position starting in the fall, and she could be working with me in the advising office if everything works out.  They got here about 11:00pm on Tuesday night, and since their hotel is a block away I walked over to see them for a bit.  SO good to have hugs from home!  Also, they needed an adapter...

So J spent most of the next day in meetings, but I got to spend time with S.  We had some time to talk about the current advising situation (my boss is leaving Wednesday of this week for good.  The other advisor is likely to be gone by the end of the semester, leaving li'l ol' me...) and also showed her around for a campus tour.  Thomas joined us for that, then we all went to lunch and caught up.  Lots of questions asked and answered on both sides, then we went back to campus for a couple more meetings.  We brought her back to our apartment to relax and see the place (it will be one of their housing options if they decide to come over) and just chat... and nap.  They had a dinner scheduled later that evening with the faculty bigwigs.  Thursday we went down to the Corniche, to the coffee shop there, and had breakfast and a tour of the waterfront and park before heading into work.  It's been a bit hazy the past few days, but while they were here the weather was perfect.  They had their housing tour that afternoon, and had visited a school the day before (they have small children), and then J had a dinner so S came over to hang with us.  Then on Friday we did breakfast again and they headed out for a city tour with another faculty member.  They headed back to the States very early on Saturday- too soon for my taste.

But really, the best part was just seeing my friend again.  We easily fell into our old rhythm, and it was so wonderful to have that again, however briefly.  Don't get me wrong, I really really like it here; and the longer we are here, I know this is where we are supposed to be.  But DAMN I miss the people.  I knew this would be the hardest part, and some days are better than others.  As we were driving in to campus on Wednesday (S and J would meet us there later) I was so excited to see her I was literally in tears.  And when the door closed behind them, I turned to Thomas and sobbed.  (But then they called me and said, "We still have your adapter!"  So I ran over to get it and stole a bit more time with them waiting for the car to the airport.)  Anyway... I Facebook chatted with another couple of good friends today, and Skyped with my parents.  Ten years ago, that would not have happened- we are so lucky to be living in this age of super connectivity and I can type something or say something on Skype and my people will hear or see and respond instantly.  That has eased the transition somewhat, and definitely eased the homesickness.  If I'm honest, though- I might be a teensy bit jealous that they are still in CS together and can see each other regularly.  There is an advising conference coming up this week, one I've attended with a tight group in the past- they are going and I am not.  And it will be great yet hard to see the photos and know I am missing the fun and adventures, and I won't be part of the stories told from this trip.  And knowing this group, there will be EPIC stories.

I will have other opportunities, I know, and I will make friends.  I'm not shy. And the community here has been nothing but helpful and welcoming- I just wish there were a way to combine the two and have them all... BUT! I don't have to wait as long as I originally thought to see them all again!  Thomas has a conference to attend in San Antonio at the end of April, so I will tag along and we will get to see everyone soon.  I'm counting the days 'til I can have a beer with my Binnie, a Sazerac with Sam, froyo with Huong and Sarah... soon!  Very soon!  I.  CAN'T.  WAIT.

These are two of our new friends, Kerry and Eric, that we work with and also live in our building.  This was taken at the Doha Aggie Club's annual Boot Scoot dinner and dance, which was a GREAT night.  Tex-Mex, good music, cold Corona... happy Mathers!  And they are Aggies- and Aggies take care of Aggies.  They have certainly taken good care of us, and I am grateful for their friendship.

Make new friends, but keep the old.
One is silver and the other's gold.

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!  

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Weekend Update (apologies, SNL)

T+1 month.
Yesterday was our official one-month anniversary here!  It feels like we have been here much longer, and yet at the same time it feels like we just got here yesterday.  Friday the 13th is a pretty auspicious day for an anniversary, don't ya think?

To celebrate, we got out of the city!  We decided to do a little "out of town" exploring, so we went west.  More specifically, to Dukhan, on the west coast of the Qatar peninsula.  Dukhan is a very small town, not much there besides a McDonald's, the Cuban Hospital, and massive production facilities for Qatar Petroleum.  It's about 90 kilometers from Doha, and there generally isn't much traffic on Friday mornings, so I bit the bullet and drove.  Super windy, and very dusty, but overall not too bad.  The water is crystal clear, and wasn't very deep where we were, so we went wading for a while... the water was really cold, but our feet went numb after a couple of minutes so it was all good.  That's what we get for going to the beach in February!  The beach was deserted- no one around for miles.  Literally.  No one but us and the critters in the water.  It really was gorgeous and I am looking forward to going back when it's warmer.

From Dukhan, we went to the even smaller hamlet of Umm Bab- not even a McDonald's there, just a turnoff for the cement plant.  Not another car on the road, and there was even a spot where sand had blown completely across it.  We found the beach, and the lovely cluster of palm trees that give it it's name (Palm Tree Beach)... and another oil production facility.  This beach area wasn't quite as nice, so we waded a bit, took a few pictures, and headed back.

We took an alternate route back to Doha, a smaller road across the peninsula and the desert that, actually, reminded me a LOT of West Texas.  Flat, dry, you can see for miles, and oil production equipment here and there.  But you generally don't see this sign off of I-20:

Yep, that's a camel crossing sign.  We saw several (signs, not camels) on the way back, rather like the deer crossing signs you see in the US.  There was actually quite a bit of flora to see along the way- most people think of the desert as vast and sandy and nothing living, but it's actually rocky and there are lots of trees and small plants and native grasses that manage to eke out survival here.  Quite pretty when the sand isn't blowing all over.  Our small car was buffeted quite a bit by the wind, and I had to fight to stay in my lane a few times.  (We've been given a Nissan Sunny, the international version of the Sentra) as a loaner car til we get one of our own.  It's decently zippy.)

Let's see, what else?  We received our RPs, our Residency Permits, on Wednesday this week.  We are now legal residents of the State of Qatar!  We also got our passports back- phew, relief.  It was a bit worrying to have to give them up for an extended period, but they did get returned. I'm somebody again!  Now for the drivers license, which I hope to get soon.  We also got our "liquor letter" from our employer; this allows us to go get a license to purchase adult beverages (and pork!) at the one liquor store in the whole country.  We plan to put it to the test tomorrow!  We've been ordering stuff from Amazon in the last few weeks, and it's all arriving... so now I have Ro-Tel and Velveeta and Bisquick in my pantry, I have a sponge with a handle on it for dishes (apparently not a thing here, can't find one anywhere!) and a crockpot is on it's way.  Just about got everything I need for a fully-functioning kitchen!

Work is good, I have begun to see students on my own and each appointment is a little better than the last.  Picking up the degree plans (I have good cheat sheets!) and the prerequisites and learning more each day... the students are really great.  They are unfailingly polite, and have all asked how I am liking Qatar, the campus, the job, and they are really curious to see how it compares with the College Station campus.  Some of them are surprised when they notice my Ring to see that I am an Aggie too. I've added some plants and my photos to my office, and the handyperson will be by to hang my diploma sometime soon.  (All our walls are concrete and have to have holes drilled with masonry bits, otherwise I'd have done it myself.)  I have a nice window that overlooks a courtyard with a pretty little pond and palm trees.   Speaking of which, it's a school night!  So I must say goodnight for now... type at you again soon!


Saturday, February 7, 2015

What a week it was...

T+26 days.  (I'm losing track, I had to count...)

OMG what a week the last one was.  We have made some new discoveries here in Doha...

1) PLANT SOUK.  Wow, this place was amazing.  We wanted some greenery for the apartment, and I'd already bought two small pothos ivy plants at Carrefours for way too much- but I needed to see green.  Our new friends Kerry and Eric, who have shown us a ton about the city, told me under no circumstances to buy any more plants at retail prices- and this place... well, let's say it put Lowes and Home Depot to shame.  It's about 20 minutes outside of Doha, near the camel racing track; it doesn't look like much to see, but once you get past the gatekeeper (no, really, a man comes to open the gate and let you in and back out) it's amazing.  HUGE greenhouses, full of all kinds of plants- indoor, outdoor, trees, succulents, flowers, greenery... and cheap.  We ended up with a large Chinese pine tree (looks very much like a Norfolk pine), a Chinese citrus, a huge mixed planter with anthurium, dracaena, and some other variegated foliage plants, more pothos (for my office)... and a tea rose.  Tyler girl gotta have her roses.  All of these were potted in nice, glazed clay pots that we would have paid a fortune for in the States- they were included in the price.  Our apartment now looks homey with the strategic deployment of greenery.  Happiness.

2) Oriental Carpet Company.  Y'all, I had NO idea about the beautiful, hand woven carpet tradition.  I'd seen the "Oriental" rugs, but those were machine woven with synthetic fibers and cheaply made.  THESE carpets are truly works of art, made by hand of wool and silk in Kashmir, Iran, Afghanistan- places that have an incredible tradition of carpet-making.  They're made in tiny villages, patterns and techniques being handed down for generations in the same families.  They ARE meant to be used as floor covering, to be walked all over, but I felt bad doing so because they were just so gorgeous.  We will be acquiring some as soon as we've saved up a bit (they are very reasonably priced, but not exactly inexpensive.)  AND- the store has a second floor with really beautiful handmade jewelry from some of the same areas, as well as handmade furniture and textiles.  Now you know I cannot resist the shiny, so I did walk out with a beautiful pair of sterling silver, handmade earrings.  They are so pretty.  And of course, when the shop dude said, "For you, I give discount- very good price!"... well, sold.  (It WAS a good price for sterling silver.)  We're going back there... soon.

3) Strata, the bar at the top of the Intercontinental Hotel (the City one- there's another one a little ways away on the beach.)This one's walking distance from our building, and Kerry and Eric invited us for drinks and dinner on Thursday evening to end the week.  The view from up there is incredible- fifty-five floors up makes you about even with the moon (or so it seemed that night.)  They also had good Happy Hour drink specials, so who am I to say no?  We then had excellent Chinese food at the restaurant on the second floor.  With good company, it was fantastic way to end a long week.

4) Sunrise on the Corniche.  Spectacular.  We both randomly woke up before 6 on Friday morning, so we walked over to the water to see the sunrise.  So peaceful.  If all mornings were like that, I just MIGHT turn into a morning person with enough coffee.  (Speaking of coffee- I don't really do fancy, just brewed coffee with hazelnut and cream.  Hard to find over here, so my best bet is an Americano with hazelnut.  No cream, but cold milk'll do in a pinch.  But they look at me funny when I ask for that...)

5) CAR SHOW.  OMG.  Cars I had only ever heard about and seen on TV were there.  Ferarri, Lamborghini, Maserati, Bentley, Rolls... and my favorite, the Bugatti Veyron.  World's fastest production car, which I'd seen a few times on Top Gear (shout out to Captain Slow!)  They had one there yesterday, and I just stood and drooled for a while... Of course, they also had cars the average person could purchase as well- Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Toyota, Honda, Chevrolet... they had a new 'Vette and a gorgeous new red Camaro that I looked pretty good behind the wheel of (got the pic to prove it!)  That was a fun couple of hours that made my Top-Gear-loving heart happy.  Now something like this in the States would have had a moderate entry fee- but this was totally free.  Even better.

6) Powerboat races.  Another free event, held two blocks from us on the Corniche.  It was the Qatar Cup Offshore Powerboat Races, and it started on Thursday and ended today.  Big speedboats, little speedboats, even jet skis (called "aqua bikes" here) racing around a course on Doha Bay.  So I got up and went down there this morning with my mug and my book and found a nice shady spot by the finish line and alternately watched the races and read.  Nice morning, really.   They use cranes to lift the boats in and out of the water, also pretty neat to watch.  Things like this happen all the time here...

Oh! Also, Christmas came early (or late, depending on how you look at it...) this week.  We had ordered things from Amazon, and Thomas' parents and one of my friends had also sent us care packages.  About half of the packages were delivered this week!  YAY!  Now we have Whataburger Spicy Ketchup(!), Honey Nut Cheerios, beef jerky, tortilla chips, and other assorted goodies in our cabinets.  So life is pretty good here...

We have a day off on Tuesday for Qatar National Sports Day, so more explorations to come... also, Thomas should have his temporary drivers license by tomorrow (please cross your fingers, this has been an extended process- bureaucracy!) so we're hoping to get out of the city and maybe to a beach next weekend!

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Is it really Feb. 1?

T+19 days.

Where did the rest of January go?  How is it already February?  Eeesh.

Let's see, last week's adventures... OK, here's a good one!  Even though we had bloodwork done in College Station before we left, certifying we were negative for TB, Hepatitis C, and HIV... we had to do another medical exam for the Qatar government.  It's part of the process to get our residency permits, and it's quite an experience.  Fortunately, the university and Qatar Foundation helped us thru the process by scheduling the exams, and getting us there.  The Supreme Council of Health governs this, and they give you less than 24 hours notice.  Not a problem, we got an email telling us where to go and when to get on the bus.  OK.  On the bus, three other people, all nice, off we go to the Medical Commission.  About a 20-minute drive, not bad for Doha traffic!  I told my boss when I left that I wasn't sure how long it would take, and she laughed and said she didn't expect me back that afternoon.  Oy.

So we get there and are met by a QF rep- for the men.  Women have a separate facility, and men are not allowed- so we have to navigate this ourselves.  Fortunately, there was another young woman there who had been thru the process previously, so she pointed me in the right direction.  Once in, we took a number, and when called we got in line to check in and pay (if needed- apparently mine had been prepaid.)  The receptionist took my paperwork, stamped it, and told me I needed a photo, it wasn't in the system, and to go upstairs.  Upstairs where?  Who do I see?  I tried to ask, but this is a very busy place and she had no time for a dumb ginger with questions, next please!  But the nice lady security guard overheard and pointed me where I needed to go, and so upstairs I went... to join the queue of about 50 men.  And me.  White girl.  Stick out like a sore thumb?  Maybe just a little bit.

Not long after I got in line, a man came out and started telling everyone to go back down, the servers were resetting and no more photos for a while.  The men started leaving, and I was all, "What did he say?"  I pretended I didn't understand, so I went to the door and asked him what I needed to do- and asked why the photo on my receipt and taped to my passport cover wouldn't work.  As we were talking, I could see the computer screen behind him- he took my paper, scanned the barcode, and what pops up?  My photo.  He says, "Is OK now, you go back."  OK, thanks, dude!  Off I go, back in line, hand in paperwork again, stamp, proceed to next station.  Whew.

First stop, blood draw.  Check in, another stamp, receptionist verified name and country of origin- and I think my red hair made her smile, her eyes were crinkly and friendly under her burqa and she laughed as she pointed where I should go.  The phlebotomist was a beautiful young woman in a really pretty hijab, and she was GOOD.  Had no trouble finding my vein, quick stick, done.  Best blood draw I've ever had- given that she probably does this 2-300 times a day, she's certainly practiced! Tiny bruise and a bandage, off to next step!

Which is the chest X-ray.  Herded into a small hallway, told to grab a gown and change... fortunately, in the email about the medical exam, it had been suggested I wear a sports bra so I didn't have to completely strip.  Gown on, hair up, jewelry removed, into line in the X-ray room, paper taken, scanned, stamped, X-ray, NEXT!  Redress, out the door, ask doc there where to next?  Apparently I was done.  All of this was about 20-25 minutes.

The medical commission is an extremely busy place, people were swarming all over that building and parking lot.  Every new entry to the country must have this done to be granted residency, and there are tons of workers coming in every day.  However, while everyone I dealt with was... brusque... they weren't unkind or flat-out rude- just busy.  And there were several who did answer my clueless questions, and a few smiles.  Thomas finished his process on the men's side about the same time, and we met outside to get back on the bus.

Did I mention that the transport mode of choice for large groups of people here is the white (always white) minibus? 15-30 passengers or so, and there were, no joke, about 30 of them in the parking lot.  Ummm... we just started wandering the lot, looking for ours.  Thankfully, our driver recognized us and found us and guided us back.  Everyone else was on the bus also, and the QF rep took our paperwork, checked it, and it must have been OK as he kept it to go on to the next step.  Sent us on our merry way back to Education City.  We were back by 3:00pm (again great for Doha traffic!) So, what we had been hearing about, and were kinda concerned about, was really relatively painless and fairly quick, all things considered.  One more thing checked off the to-do list and one step closer to our residency permit.

Now for the weekend... more on that soon!  We were introduced to Doha's version of Mexican food.  For now, I leave you with this...

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

New Normal...

**This was written on Saturday, Jan 24- but for some reason was marked as "draft" instead of published.  OOPS!  Sorry!
T+11 days.

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! : )


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Work, Interrupted

T+7 days.  We made it a week!

We had a nice day off yesterday for MLK Day- even in Qatar!  Since we are an American and Texas school, we get those holidays off too.  So we met some of our new colleagues- friends- for lunch at the W Hotel and had a really nice get-to-know-y'all session that we thoroughly enjoyed.  Also got to Skype with my parents (hope you're feeling better, Daddy!) and sister with nieces, so YAY!

One of the great things about our housing location is that we are within walking distance of lots of great restaurants (and bars) at the downtown hotels, as well as the City Center mall.  We've been there just about daily since we got here, and each time we discover new stores.  Yesterday, we needed to make a quick pit stop at Carrefour (the SuperWalMart of Doha) for an alarm clock, so we decided to stop on our way back from lunch.  We went in the main entrance, which we hadn't been in before- y'all, this mall is so damn big there is a freaking Toyota DEALERSHIP in it.  That mall really does have everything.  Clock acquired, along with twenty (each) passport photos on blue background for various paperwork applications.  Then we went home and moved some living room furniture into a better arrangement; back to the mall for a quick dinner and movie with new friends.  Go see The Theory of Everything- Eddie Redmayne is phenomenal.

And back to work!  So Thomas did the driving today, and you'd think he's been living here longer than a week.  His driving style fits in nicely with the locals.  We have one more week to be able to drive on our Texas licenses, then we're stuck until we get the Qatari ones.  I'm a bit more nervous about driving here, but I suppose I will need to do it soon- although, TBH, I'm content to sit in the passenger seat in the city.  We have a loaner car to use as needed until we get our resident permit.  Tomorrow we get to navigate to the American Embassy to have our FBI background checks notarized.  Yay.  More bureaucracy to navigate.

Anyway, I digress.  I spent a good chunk of my time today cleaning out office drawers and cabinets from the previous occupant(s).  Threw away a good bit of stuff, boxed bunches more for shredding, and attempted to file some more.  Marginally successful with the filing, but at least the office now looks somewhat organized.  Once I get my Box O' Stuff in, should feel a little more like mine.  Still don't have an ID badge or desk phone yet, but those SHOULD be taken care of tomorrow.  I hope.  Judging from some of the conversations I've had with some of the academic affairs crew over here, I think I am in for some culture shock, advising-style-wise.

Speaking of stuff, we got notification today that our shipment of household goods is now in the country.  They will come get our passports on Thursday to do the customs clearance, and if we are lucky maybe we can unpack this weekend.  I'm so ready for my stuff to be here, so maybe this won't feel so much like an extended holiday, and this apartment less like a very nice, large hotel.  Albeit, one with incredible views!  It does seem awfully empty without my dogs welcoming me home, though.

Weather has been fantastic, cool to the point of cold when the wind blows.  Yesterday I actually needed my jacket, and today I wore a sweater and long sleeves to work and was quite comfortable.  We even had some rain yesterday (one of the approximately three times it'll rain this year.)  Everyone has asked when we arrived, and they always say we came at a good time, "it's not so hot!"

As I write this, it's 9:30pm in Doha, so it's about 12:30pm back in Aggieland- which means most of my friends are going thru the first day of the spring semester on Main Campus.  I'm thinking of all you guys, and hoping it's going well for you.  I miss y'all.

Funny:  I moved halfway around the world, and found this today when I was cleaning out the office:

Another little reminder of home.  Made me smile! I was given a couple of these during my time in CEHD, but somehow managed to lose them.  Nice to have this one.  Full circle, I guess!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

First day on campus

T+5 days.

We started work today! Well, sort of... we went to campus and had a day full of meetings and a four-page orientation checklist to complete.  We are now swimming in information about how to get apply for permanent residency, get a Qatari driver's license, get YET ANOTHER document notarized from the U.S. Embassy here, get ID badges, campus access, IT orientations... and I probably missed something too.  But everyone was very welcoming, very kind- most of them have either been thru the process themselves or are used to shepherding new employees thru the very extensive paperwork.  There are multiple instances that will require us to temporarily relinquish our passports, which makes me extremely nervous, but I've been assured that they always come back.

Health insurance.  I missed health insurance, we had a meeting about that too.  (We will be thoroughly covered pretty much worldwide once all is said and done, for which I am extremely grateful.)

I also got to see my office space for about an hour this afternoon, and was able to log onto my computer and set up my office email.  So a couple of small things were at least accomplished before we left for today.  We are off for MLK Day tomorrow, so we get to take a breath and absorb some of this information, but we do have homework to do- we need 14 passport-sized photos on a blue background for various things- health card, permanent residency card, driver's license, etc, etc, etc.  We think we know a place close by to do it.

We've also been invited to a "get to know you" lunch with our respective offices tomorrow, to meet many of the coworkers we've not yet met or only in passing so far.  Looking forward to that.

Neither one of us slept much last night, both of us tossing and turning and dozing off and on.  I think we were both nervous, not so much for the jobs- we both know we can do those, easily.  But for the new people- would they like us?  Would we like them?  What about the students?  What about this? Had we really moved hallfway around the world?  What if they don't approve our residency permits, or what if they don't give our passports back?  We can drive for 14 days on our Texas DLs, but what if we have a wreck in the insane traffic?  Fear of the unknown is enough to keep you awake at night.  To quote Crash Davis, "We're dealing with a lot of shit."  Before we left this morning, I felt like a kindergartener on the first day of school: new bag, lunch, coffee (well, maybe that part was a bit older.)

Outside the office, we took a stroll down to the waterfront last night; there's a really beautiful park a couple of blocks from our apartment tower.  It's quite pretty when all of the buildings are lit up at night and listening to the waves wash the seawall is very peaceful.  I'm aiming to get up early to see the sunrise on the water soon.  The city really is stunning, and it actually rained today!  One of the approximately three days this year it will do so...

I have figured out the washer and dryer, so I'm off to finish a load before I crash! Night, all!