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!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Got to admit it's getting better, a little better all the time...

T+5 days.
That Beatles song in the title is running thru my head after this last couple of days.  We've been exploring our little area a bit more, and yesterday found the other market close to us, Monoprix.  Y'all, THEY HAVE BLUE BELL! Happy dance... they also carry Tostitos chips and salsa, Campbell's Soup, and Old El Paso Tex-Mex food.  So last night for dinner, we had tacos!

Today we went back to the mall, to the Qatari version of Bed, Bath, and Beyond.  We MIGHT have found our way to the CHILI'S for lunch... ( I KNOW, there's wonderful local food to be had.  And we will have it!  But for now, we needed this little taste of home.  And they had real iced tea.  First one I've found since leaving Texas.  Heaven.)  And I found a Starbucks to grind me some coffee beans -the coffee here is very different, it will take some getting used to.

We met another Aggie on our way in a couple of nights ago, and we invited him for dinner last night. We fed him in exchange for building information, advice, and general knowledge... plus all the campus insight that would be helpful to know.  We start work tomorrow, then we have a day off for MLK Day. (?)  We've been told to expect multiple meetings and appointments to get taken care of this week, for HR, for our permanent resident application, medical tests, etc.  Should be a busy week, and I expect there should be some training somewhere in there as well for the new job... I don't know that I will be seeing students this week, but I expect to fairly soon.  Eek!

Ummm, let's see, what else? We braved the unbelievable traffic (well, Thomas did, I just sat) to make a trip to Ikea.  We found a mattress topper and that has made a great deal of difference to my sleep- the beds here tend to be fairly hard.  Ikea was interesting, as you had Swedish translated into Arabic and English on all the labels.  Fairly international staff as well, but mostly friendly.  So each day we seem to be finding little things, little places that make it seem like we are not so very far away from home after all, and each day gets a bit better.

So keep your fingers crossed for us that all goes well this week as we begin the new jobs, and figure out how to navigate the campus culture along with the traffic.  We're off for an evening stroll around the waterfront and then back to Monoprix for dinner fixins... and maybe a little dessert!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

We're now ex-pats...

T+3 days.

Well, we did it.  We moved to Doha.

Monday, we finished a last load of laundry, cleaned the last few things in the house, and loaded up our luggage.  My parents took us to the airport, and hugging them goodbye was the closest I've come to calling this all off and backing out.  That was HARD on all of us, and I am not ashamed to say I cried.  A lot.  All thru check-in and security I sniffled, and when I saw them drive off I almost lost my shit.  Thankfully, the counter agent and the TSA people were very kind and understanding- yet again, let me say I love our little airport in College Station.  They even took special care of Big Dog, my stuffed pooch I've had since my first birthday and who has travelled everywhere with me.  Quick puddle-jump to Houston, then about two hours to kill before boarding for Frankfurt, Germany.  I'd told my sister the night previous that I'd call her before we boarded, but I was such a mess that I couldn't face it. So we texted goodbyes.  Still teary, boarded and got settled.  Then Thomas handed me my letter from Binnie, who'd told me to read it on the plane.  I cheated a bit, we were technically ON the plane.  More tears, but thankfully the boarding door was still open so I could text her too.  And then, Mom and Dad and a couple more friends cause why the hell not?  Couldn't cry any harder at that point.  Poor Thomas, he was stuck with me and he couldn't do anything to fix it- but he held me and promised he'd get wifi working as soon as possible so we could talk to our people.

I stopped crying finally, just in time to have a drink.  Yes, please to Scotch on the rocks (Glenfiddich! On the plane!  Never flying anything but Lufhansa ever again!)  After dinner service, I managed to curl up with Big Dog and sleep some.  Emotionally wrenching day.  Landed in Frankfurt, thru security again, to the lounge to wait some more.  Mostly not crying, but very tired.  Then finally on the last flight, to Doha.  Several more airline employees smiled  and commented on Big Dog.   Yes, I was a 37-year-old woman clutching a stuffed dog, WHAT?  Anyway, more drinks, more sleep, touchdown in Doha.

I don't mind saying that I was a little scared of passport  control, that something might be wrong with our papers... and maybe secretly hoping that something might be wrong and we'd have to turn around and go home.  Good news/bad news, nothing was wrong.  She didn't even look at our visas, just stamped the passports and waved us on to baggage claim.  Found our luggage, cleared customs (I always get nervous, even though I have no reason to be...) and found the driver and guide waiting for us.  They delivered us to our apartment tower, but our door key wouldn't work so we had to get the security guard to open it with the master key.  At this point, it was 11:00 and we'd been travelling for over 24 hours, so we were slightly pooped.  We explored the new digs, found our room, found the shower, and hit the bed.  Cried myself to sleep, but that was partly from sheer exhaustion.

So now we're here.  True to his word, Thomas DID go down first thing yesterday and get the wifi working, so I could at least chat with family and friends and let him know we'd made it safely. That was a good start to the day, then we had an "orientation to the city" tour.  It was a nice tour, but two hours in the back seat in stop and go traffic was not the best thing, first thing... slightly nauseated, I was glad to get out of the car when it was
over.  We hit a wall really hard after that, and a short nap turned into almost five hours...oops.  We are a block from the largest mall in Doha, and it contains a large SuperWalMart type store with everything so we walked over there to grab a few necessities and food for dinner.  We ran into some Aggies that also live in our building on our way back in, and they were very welcoming and kind.

After dinner, I was Facebook chatting with my Binnie and my Murdock, and that made my day.  Just being able to communicate with them was really awesome, and really lifted my spirits.  Then a chat with Mom turned into a "test" Skype session, and another with Daddy.  To see them and hear them really really helped and I went to bed much happier and feeling much better.  My sister woke me up with a Skype call this morning, and Macey called shortly after that... so the day started very well too. It's slowly getting better, and I am beginning to remember why we did this in the first place- for the challenge and the adventure, for the new experience.  Leaving the family and the old life was the hardest thing I have ever done, by far... but as we all know, "That which does not kill us makes us stronger."

I should be a freaking bodybuilder by the time we get thru this!  I know I can do this, I know I WANT to do this, but I am scared to do this at the same time.  Lots of things going thru my head and my heart, but so far today I have not cried!  Almost when I talked to my sister and Macey this morning, but I managed to keep it together.  And we haven't even talked about the dogs... I miss my furbabies so badly.  I brought a photo, but I couldn't bring myself to look at it until late last night, and of course, tears.  It's been weird the last two nights going to sleep without hearing them making their doggy sleep noises... Pudge's snores, Casey's dream running... but their new person says they are doing well, and even slept on the bed with her and her dog.  So that's good.

We have a couple more days before we start work on Sunday, so we have a trip to Ikea planned (we have got to get a mattress topper STAT.  Bed is a bit harder than I like...) and a few things like towel hooks for the bathroom, dish towels, small things we need.  Our shipment with the rest of our stuff should be here sometime next week, by their estimation, but could be longer depending on how long it takes to clear customs.  Right now, as nice as our apartment is, I am feeling like I'm in a hotel.  Once our stuff gets here, and we can personalize it a bit, I think we will start to feel like it's really home and not just a temporary place to stay.  We do have stunning views of the city, and the water between the buildings is really pretty.  So we got that going for us, which is nice.

So, TL;DR: we made it, we are settling in, I'm a bit homesick but muddling thru, and Ikea awaits.

OH! Yeah, also found the Mexican food section in the supermarket- small, but it exists!  Another thing that makes me happy.  And Vlasic pickles too.  Little things...

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Last day

T-12 hours.
It's a little after midnight. We are leaving in the morning- technically, later today.  Suitcases are packed.  My stuffed dog who has travelled everywhere with me is in my backpack.  Clothes are laid out.  Just some last-minute things to do before we go.

Daddy arrived today, after all the rain we've had in the last four days he practically swam from Tyler. I got to spend some QT with him at Chili's watching the Dallas Cowboys playoff game- just this once, I rooted for them.  Both of my sisters called, and I started the day with coffee with a dear friend.  One of my cadets came by for a hug and to deliver a long-sought outfit t-shirt, and one of my favorite students came to say goodbye as well.  My childhood friend drove from Austin yesterday for brunch.  Macey and Stephen have been here the last two days. I completely appreciate the time everyone has taken to wish us well and send us off.

My phone is on the charger, and my iPad will be too as soon as I finish this.  One of the dogs is asleep at the foot of the bed, and since it's our last night here I don't have the heart to kick him off.  Both of the dogs have picked up on the extra activity, and the comings and goings; they definitely know something is up.  How am I going to say goodbye to them?  It is heart-wrenching to leave them behind, but I know it really is best for them.  Sucks for me, but best for them.  My solace is knowing that they will be spoiled rotten by our friend who is moving into the house and that they are in excellent hands.

Shit, this is not going to be easy.  Once I get on the plane, I think I'll be OK.  I am kinda dreading the goodbyes at the airport though.  No makeup until I get to Houston, I'd just cry it all off.

I'm excited and sad and nervous and scared and happy... apparently, Ron Weasley was wrong: a person CAN feel all of that at once and not explode.

Good night, y'all.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Almost there...

T-3 days to go.

Still in the packing process, but we are almost done.  The movers came on Wednesday and picked up our shipped boxes- most of our clothes and household stuff has been sent over and should arrive the day after we do.  Just down to some clothes for the suitcase and some things to go in the attic or to our respective parents' homes for safekeeping.

Yesterday I had lunch with some close friends, and we had a really nice farewell from our regular Thursday evening drinking crew last night.  Today I have one more special lunch date, with two more close friends.  I am not OK with this being the last time I see all these people, but I think I am holding it together relatively well.

** Hold on- phone ringing- it's Daddy!  Just checking in, I've borrowed my mom for a few days of help and sanity.  He and I had a really nice chat about how handy knowledge of East Texas back roads is when a massive wreck brings I-20 to a standstill for 10 miles or so. **

So... where was I?  Oh, yes, friends.  The family you choose, and I must say I have excellent taste. Again, the missing of the people is what is going to be the hardest for me, and these folks I will miss something fierce.  Especially my Binnie.  I know there was a time before we were friends, but I don't remember it.  She's become my confidante, my sounding board, my "OMG can you believe J just said that?" IM buddy, my road trip partner, my conference roomie, my tamale hookup, and so much more. She has encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone, by example of doing it herself.  She has pushed me to be a better advisor, by being a damn good one.  Thomas is my hubs, but my Binnie is my soul mate and I am going to have a hard time not seeing her frequently.

And then there is Murdock.  Again, I know there was a time we didn't know each other, but those days are long ago Dark Ages.  I first met him at some work event, and we discovered that we share a similar (warped) sense of humor and a taste for good whiskey.  He has become not only my friend, but also my mentor.  And he is, despite appearances, quite modest about it- but he is one of those who leads not by words but by example.  Another I am lucky to have in my life.

(And when the three of us get together... better look out.  Shit gets DONE.  We are the very definition of "Power trio.")

And my book club girls, can't forget them- they keep me ever so entertained with their kid stories, and with their frank, down-to-earth, no bullshit attitudes.  They keep me grounded.  We've already vowed to have regular book club meetings via Skype.  Thomas always knew that when I said I was headed to book club, that I wouldn't be home before 10pm.  Hey, we hard important stuff to discuss; and can I just say, they have definitely expanded my literary horizons!

My paternal grandmother had her quote picked out and inscribed on her grave headstone forty years before she died (not creepy at all, Mamaw...); it read, "Her friends were her life."  And while I am a long way from dying (I hope) this quote is just as true for me.  I have been so richly blessed and enriched by the friends I have made here in this college town, people who  have really pushed me to be a better person, better professional, to follow my dreams, to show me a different perspective on life, who have opened my eyes and my world.  You guys better get your Skype acccounts set up, because you can't get rid of me that easily.

MUCH LOVE to you all.  You know who you are.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

One week to go...

T-7 days...
I'm typing as Thomas is packing boxes.  It WAS peaceful in here, 'til the tape gun was needed.

Our life here is now in boxes.  The movers come on Wednesday, so we are trying to get as much packed up to send with them as possible.  Since our new digs will be furnished, we really don't need to take much in the way of stuff- a few pieces of artwork, some throw pillows, blankets, photos and knickknacks to make it feel homey (though we're really not sure what the decor will be in the new place.)  I've always loved to display my treasures and photos, so it's been very difficult for me to edit what to take and what to leave.  (Thomas is a minimalist... he would just as soon I take nothing and get new stuff over there.  But Ikea can only do so much in the way of personalization.)
It's also been hard for me to see our memories stuck in a box and shoved up in the attic.  This process has been a constant stream of, "Remember when we did this... got this piece... took this photo...?" Most of the memories have been good, some a little less so but worth remembering nevertheless. Lots of life changes being packed up...

I would venture to say I have some pack-rat tendencies (SHUT UP, Thomas), and I have been trying very hard over the years to NOT keep stuff I don't need, even if I think it might come in handy someday... it rarely does and mostly ends  up taking up space, and I forget I even have it.  But they always have a time and place associated with them, an event or a person.  Y'all, it's HARD for an historian to throw stuff away! I've come across things I've inherited from grandparents and other family members, and have to force myself to not pack them.  Some of it has gone to my parents house for safekeeping, some I have really had to reassess if they were actually important to said relative in the first place (pack rats inherit those tendencies, we can't help ourselves.)  It has always been fascinating for me to visit someplace historical and see artifacts of peoples' lives... realistically, I KNOW our crap isn't important enough to be preserved, but I keep thinking the next generation is bound to have a few people like me who might find it interesting.  But given that this stuff isn't electronic or available online, I fear we are a dying breed.

We went to East Texas this weekend to see my family, and my sister and I spent most of yesterday driving around, hitting the "bucket list" spots where we spent time as kids. It was fun to see how places had changed; or, rather, how we had.  Locations that had seemed HUGE when we were little are now average sized, or even rather small.  Again, lots of memories, good and bad but worth remembering.

I'm so used to seeing my family frequently.  If I'm honest, this is the thing I am worried the most about. The missing of the people.  I know we've now got Skype and Facebook and emails and no excuse to not stay in touch, but hugs from nieces and nephews and parents and sisters... those are irreplaceable and I will miss them the most.  I saw my grandparents for the last time 'til summer, and I worry a little that maybe it was the last time.  As much as I hate to admit it, we're all getting older and health isn't great for everyone all the time.  And, as we Roberts well know, SHIT HAPPENS.  Life rarely goes as planned.  I AM really super excited about this opportunity for us to really step outside our bubble, but I am also scared to leave the ones I love the most and step outside our bubble.  (Hey, I warned you this would be cheap therapy for me.)  I've always been an easy drive from my family and could get there quickly when I needed them.  Now the process will be slightly more complicated...  My youngest sister just moved to Chicago- big step for her, and big encouragement for me.  If she can do it, I can.  Poor Thomas- he's been super supportive as I've cried, and he didn't send me a single "When will you be back?" text yesterday- he knew I needed the sister time.  Which is why it's so hard for me to get rid of stuff- I know it's just stuff, but it's associated with people I love and thus can't be JUST stuff.  (See, I did have a point to make after all.)

Family, I love you.  Jimmy and Marty and Andrea and Abbey and Chad and Audrey and Lilly and Liam and Wanda and Marvin and Gene and Martha and Sean and Sam and Heather, I love you.

(Friends, you get a separate post later.  I can't do it now, I'm already leaking from the eyes.  Baby steps.  You are important too- you're the family I chose.)

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Well, hello there, 2015!

So... it's been a bit since I've written, apparently.  It seems I managed to go all of 2014 without posting anything here.  Huh.  Shoot me, I was busy!

But there's another reason I'm writing again.  WAAAY back in February/March-ish, Thomas and I both applied for jobs at the Doha, Qatar branch campus of Texas A&M.  We'd been talking about it off and on for years, but never actually followed through for reasons.  Good ones, I'm sure.  This time, though, was different.  There were actually jobs posted in both of our areas, academic advising and IT.  There was a lot of uncertainty on main campus at that time, given what was going on with they TAMU System personnel audit, and some big, not-necessarily-good changes were expected.  So this time, we pulled the trigger and applied.  We figured the time was right, the jobs were right, we'd both wanted to live and work abroad, so what did we have to lose?
So, APRIL, I did a phone interview with the advising office.  Went well.
MAY, we did a dinner/interview with the advising manager who was in College Station on business, and we closed the restaurant down.  Went well.
JUNE, we get emails on a Thursday morning asking if we are available to fly to Doha on Saturday, for an interview and campus visit for Thomas.  So we said sure, we can do that, and by 1:00pm our travel arrangements were done (by them!) and we took a whirlwind trip to visit.  That was the last quick thing about this process. But, went well.
JULY.  Waiting...
AUGUST. Waiting... occasional emails...
SEPTEMBER. Job offers!  Finally!  Accepted and paperwork and relocation process begun.  We've been fingerprinted and background checked by the FBI.  We've gotten bloodwork and been immunized, and we've had our college degrees and transcripts notarized and authenticated by the TAMU Registrar's Office (thanks, Stephanie!), the Texas Secretary of State's office, the federal Secretary of State's office, and then the Qatar Consul in Houston. I swear, we really did graduate.
OCTOBER and NOVEMBER are packing and taking care of the house, making decisions about the dogs, wrapping things up.
DECEMBER.  Christmas parties and more packing.  Visas are approved.  Flights are booked. It is really happening. Last days at work, going-away parties.  Movers are scheduled to come get our boxes and ship them to Doha.  It's REALLY happening.
We leave January 12.

So, as a way to keep in touch with family and friends, and partially as cheap therapy for me, I've decided to blog about this new adventure we've embarked on.  Come along for the ride!