AWA Meeting

So a friend of mine, who is a wife of one of Dave’s colleagues asked if I wanted to join the American Women’s Association here in Qatar, and attend a meeting to sign up and become a member.

I decided to attend,  thinking it will be a fun way to meet new people, network, and explore more of Doha. The meeting was at the Hyatt Plaza, which is a fancy 5-star hotel in Doha, like so many others.

We had a nice buffet dinner, and then the US Ambassador to Qatar was the keynote speaker.  He had some interesting things to say, and it was neat to hear about his experiences over the past years here.  After that, the members of the AWA board talked about all the opportunities available to sign up for clubs and events, such as tennis, bowling, scrapbooking, etc. Also, they have some outings set up for a dinner at the Moroccan restaurant in the souq, a garden store, and the fruit and vegetable souq.

I decided to sign up for the evening at Tajine, the Moroccan restaurant.  I have had Moroccan food in DC, and it is so delicious! So I am excited to try it out here.  I will be there Thursday evening, so I promise to report back!

They also had a coffee hour yesterday morning, which I attended,  and it was fun.  I decided to sign up for Pokeno and a Travel Coordination Committee.  Pokeno is kind of a mix between Bingo and the White Elephant game, if you have ever played that. Apparently, each lady brings a wrapped gift, and then you play a round of Pokeno (a bingo card with playing cards on it instead of Bingo numbers), and if you win a round, you can select a wrapped gift. The next person to win the following round can steal your gift or select a new one to open, and so on and so forth. I will be playing it this Monday, so I will let you know how it goes! Now I have to find a gift to wrap!

So far, I am enjoying being a member of the AWA, and am glad that I signed up for it! It will certainly keep me busy, that is for sure!

Halfway through Ramadan!

(Sorry for not posting this sooner!) Ramadan has obviously ended, but this gives some good insight into the life we lived for a month with no food in public during the day, crazy mall hours, etc!

So we marked the halfway point for Ramadan this week, which is exciting for both ex-pats and Muslims! There is a celebration called Garango that is sort of like Halloween for the young kids. They get dressed up and go to malls/hotels and other assorted places to receive treats. CMU had a celebration that we attended and it was a lot of fun! They had treats for the kids, henna for everyone, and some other things.  It was a neat experience.

After that, I asked a good friend of ours about finding some good falafel, since I am recently addicted and have not had any since we got here. She suggested a place close to Education City called Petra, and we headed over there after the Garango celebration. We got there, and you order and pay first, then take your receipt to the cooks. We were amazed at the prices. One  falafel sandwich was 3 rials, which equals 0.83 cents. It was crazy! We could not believe how cheap and delicious it was! They even added hot sauce for Dave, so he was excited. Then they kept teasing and asking if I wanted hot sauce. 🙂 The falafel was green, and delicious! We will definitely be heading back to Petra 🙂

Ramadan has been an interesting month for us as we adjust to life here. It is strange to be out at malls during the day and see all the restaurants/food courts closed, especially when you are hungry! You cannot even bring food or water with you to eat/drink in public. You could get a ticket for having a bottle of water in your car and drinking from it!

Also, the malls are open crazy hours during Ramadan. Grocery stores remain open all the time, so that is helpful. However, most of the malls are open in the morning and close around 1ish, then do no reopen until after sundown and Iftar (breaking the fast meal) around 6 or so. And once it gets to be 7:30 or 8, the malls are absolutely packed! The one across the street from our house is the biggest one in the country, and it is ALWAYS busy in the evening.  People actually park on the street by our apt building, and then cross a 6 lane highway to get to the mall. It is insane.

We learned to never order anything during Ramandan. We ordered a TV from Carrefour, and they said it would be delivered between 6-10 PM on Sunday. (Sunday is a working day for us!)  I won’t bore you with the details, but I will tell you the TV showed up at 12:30 AM. And I had to drive to the mall to find them, and lead them to our apartment because they could not find it. It was a LONG night. So we decided never to order anything during Ramadan again! But the TV is lovely. Dave decided to splurge on a 50 inch plasma, and it is huge, but we definitely plan to enjoy it over the next few years.

We have been busy with many new friends that we have made, going out to dinner and shopping and all that normal stuff that people do. We feel lucky to have met so many nice, wonderful, social people to hang out with. It really helps us to start feeling settled and really at home here in Doha.

Dinner (Suhoor) at the Ritz Carlton

Wow, it has been awhile since I have blogged – where has September gone? Time just seems to fly here in Doha, and we have been pretty busy so I have not had time to update!

I am going to try and post about a few things we have done over the past month! So during the month of Ramadan,  Muslims break their fast at a meal called Iftar, right after sundown. Later on in the evening (sometimes as late as 10 or 11), they will have a Suhoor, which is more feasting since they fast all day.

We were invited to a faculty dinner at the Ritz Carlton’s Lagoon Bay restaurant  for a Suhoor. What an amazing dinner! The Ritz had a huge buffet with a pasta station, hot foods, salads, bread station, juice station, and of course a dessert station! We had the privilege of sitting with the Dean, his wife and many of our new friends.  The dinner is a welcome dinner for all faculty, so lots of Dave’s colleagues were there.  It was a lovely dinner, and we will be looking forward to next year’s!

Normal Things….

So while things in Doha may seem exotic and different, many things are similar to our life back in Pittsburgh.

For example, last night, we went to a friends house to play Rock Band, and sang fun American songs. Our friend has ordered the Beatles Rock Band, and so there will be more Rock Band nights to follow! We had falafel for dinner, drank soda, and snacked on chocolate candy bars.

When we are at the mall, I realize the biggest difference is the scenery, with numerous Muslim men in thobes, and Muslim women in their abayas. You also see women in saris, and then the Ex-pats in regular old clothes. There are many of the same stores here – Starbucks (2 of them!), H&M, Sephora, Gap, Nine West, Aldo, etc.

At the grocery store, I can still find things like pasta, tomato sauce, and lots of basics for food that I like to make for dinner.  We just had tacos last week!  Traffic is crazy and there are plenty of crazy drivers out there to rival Pgh drivers! (Although no Pgh lefts!)

We have friends over for movies, eat popcorn, pizza and soda for a fun night in. I think it is these similarities that are helping Dave and I to adjust so quickly!

Of course, there are some differences. For one, we are in the desert and it is HOT out!

While the mall may be the same, obviously the currency is different, and everything is labeled in both Arabic and English. And we are constantly trying to figure out what Qatar rials equals in dollars, to see if it is a good deal!

Um, No bacon. Nuf said! Also, no alcohol – at least until we get our alcohol permit!

No Steelers football 😦    The only exception here is that our friend has a Slingbox, so we will be able to watch it!

Roundabouts are a normal part of driving here, and they do take some time to get used to! It is just a matter of figuring out how to navigate it, and then you are entering and exiting rounabouts like a native Qatari!

These similarities and differences have been interesting to observe over the past month, and I am curious to see how many other things will seem similar to our life back in Pittsburgh as time goes on.

A day of fasting!

The month of Ramadan is quickly winding down, and Dave and I are more than relieved! Ramadan, for those who do not know, is a month where Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, bad habits, and sexual activities from sunrise to sunset.  In Qatar, all food places and malls are closed during the day, due to this month of fasting.

On Thursday, Dave and I chose to fast for a day, and celebrate with others that evening at a community Iftar that CMU held. (Iftar is the meal where they break their fast, which occurs after evening prayers, and sunset). 

Fasting was certainly difficult! We woke up at 6 AM and I could not have my usual morning tea and muffin for breakfast. I was shopping with a friend that day, and could not have any food.  We stopped at a bakery, and they tried to give me a free sample, and I refused due to fasting. I was surprised at myself! 

I also could not drink any water, even in this heat! Dave and I both found it difficult to get through the day. We both suffered some headaches from a lack of caffeine.  After a while though, you pass the point of hunger, but then start to get really hungry again as dinner time nears. (Sunset occurs in Doha around 5:30/6:00 PM).

I am honestly amazed that Muslims have the dedication and discipline to be able to fast for a whole month. Kudos to them!  One day was pretty difficult, and I can only imagine a month is much more challenging. I can see why Eid ul-Fitr, which is the holiday after Ramadan will be such a big celebration!

The CMU Iftar was wonderful! There was a wide spread of food, and students, staff, and faculty from both CMU and Northwestern attended! It was fun to celebrate with others as they ended their  fast for the day also. 

I am certainly looking forward to the return of normal hours for malls and food, as well as less traffic in the evening, with people rushing home to Iftar! It has certainly been a challenge surviving our first Ramadan, but we are almost there!

Here is more info if you are interested: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramadan.

Dinner at the Dean’s house!

So Dave and I were invited to dinner at the Dean’s house this past week, along with all the other new arrivals, and their Q-Crew buddy.  Your Q-crew buddy is someone who helps you adjust to life in Doha, and is available for any questions you might have. Our buddy also picked us up from the airport. Everyone has been incredibly helpful, but it is nice to have one person to go to if you have any questions about life here in Doha.

We got to the Dean’s house and it was beautiful! It is a 3 story villa, with 7 bedrooms and 7 bathrooms. The downstairs is set up like a traditional Qatari house because there are 2 entrances – one for men, and one for women. They would enter separately, and entertain separately. Also, the kitchen has no stove, because it is located in a different room, in order to not heat the house when you are cooking.

They have also decorated it with beautiful, handmade Iranian silk rugs that are hung on numerous walls, along with many camel decorations. (Apparently, his wife likes camels!). They also changed one room into their house into a Majlis, which is a room for sitting and relaxing. I did not take a picture of it, but have attached a sample picture of what a Majlis looks like.  Apparently, they went to the souk markets, and someone comes to measure the room, and then they make the cushions, and decide how many pillows and such that they will need. It was such a neat room!

http://www.saharygate.com/images/visual_majlis.jpg

Then we had a catered dinner from a place Dave and I have been wanting to try called Turkey Central.  It was amazing! They had numerous sauces and hummus and dips, along with many spinach and cheese pies (which were SO GOOD) and then a mixed grill and some kofta. The mixed grill was chicken and steak, and the kofta is a combination of many meats. It is hard to describe but delicious to eat!  If you come visit, we will take you to Turkey Central!

We spent the rest of the evening socializing with friends and just enjoying ourselves. It was a lovely evening, and we had fun, even after we got lost on the way home 🙂  Next week, we are off to the Ritz-Carlton for dinner, as another welcome dinner from CMU. I am excited for that! I promise to take a lot of pictures and blog about it 🙂

Residency Visa things….

Sorry for the delay in posting this….we have been busy!

On Thursday August 20th,  Dave and I got up at 5 AM to go get our blood tests done for our residency visa. It must be done the first week you are here, and there were numerous other new arrivals, so we got on a bus with about 15 other people from CMU and headed out. Dave and I had heard that the men and women are separated, and this turned out to be true. Thank goodness we had other people so we would not be alone!  So when we arrived, we were given our passports and 100 rial to pay for the fee. We went in, and lucky for us ladies, we had the new Arabic teacher with us, so she helped us around.

First, we were ushered by a stern older woman to a staff only area for women to process our paperwork. They asked me if I was married, and then asked numerous times if I was pregnant. (No X-Ray if so!) I told them no every time! Then we gave them the 100 rials, and they gave us a receipt that would be used for our tests.

After we all finished, we were taken to a room with an x-ray machine.  The older woman told us we could just take off our bras, not our clothes, but we all decided to disrobe and use a medical gown anyway. We waited in line, and then we each got our chest x-ray. It was very disorganized, and when it was over, they would just say, Jennifer, finished. And you were supposed to take that as a sign you were done and go get dressed. I was amazed as I watched them just  lift up baggy shawls of other women to see if they were wearing bras, and if not, they just sent them over to the x-ray line.

After X-rays, we had lost our stern older woman guide.  At this point, we were SO thankful for Zanib, our Arabic speaker.  We walked around the hallways until we found some one who could guide us in the right direction.  We were then taken to a place so they could draw our blood for the blood test. We had to get in line, register our receipt, and they handed us a vial with a UPC code on it. Then we waited in line with lots of other women.

It took awhile, but it was finally my turn! I was hoping that the blood test would go smoothly. Luckily, it did. My phlebotomist  spoke English, so we were able to chat while she took my blood. I was more surprised however to see her draw my blood without a turnaket at all! I just sat down, and she put the needle in, and I was done!

So after we had finished all this, we met up with the HR personnel. Turns out the men had been done for about fifteen minutes, and were waiting for us in the bus! There were only 5 women, and probably 8-10 men! Zanib thinks there was much more staff for the men, since they have a large population of migrant workers from other parts of the world.

Dave said his experience was not quite as good. He had no option of a medical robe for the chest x-ray, and his phlebotomist did not speak English, so that was not so great. Also, he ended up with a pretty bad bruise at the injection site a few days later 😦 The good thing is we survived, and will now officially be able to apply for our residency visas!

On Wednesday, we went to get our fingerprints. This was actually cool and organized! We got to enter at the VIP entrance (anyone who is associated with the Qatar Foundation is VIP I think), and we just took a number and waited our turn. It was not too long of a wait, and we were glad for that. They actually have fingerprint machines that require no ink at all! It was really fascinating.  The guy who was doing my fingerprints called me Jennifer Lopez, which was funny.  I would say fingerprinting was the most painless of the residency visa requirements!

This past Thursday we went (with about 8 other people) to the Traffic Department to get our Qatari driver’s license. We had heard stories of people who had to drive in a roundabout, so we had no idea what to expect. I have been doing all the driving, so Dave was a little nervous! After getting there around 11 AM, and waiting about 15-20 minutes, we were told they could not take us today and we would have to come Sunday morning.  (Due to Ramadan, they close in the afternoon).

So this morning, we got up super early, and headed to Education City, so we could meet the others who were going with us (again) for the license. Many of them had class at 9:30, so they were all anxious about being back in time.  We arrived at the Driver License Center at 8, once it opened, and our personnel director went into a meeting with some administration. Then we sat and waited, and waited, and waited. And waited some more!

At about 9 AM,  our personnel manager comes over to tell us that the director is not in, so we will have to come back. Well this is all ready our second time back, so we all made a firm stance that we were more than willing to wait for the director to arrive. So everyone canceled their 9:30 classes, and we continued to wait.

Finally, the director arrives, but we continue to wait some more. About half an hour to 45 minutes later, we are taken over to do a test on some of the road signs. There was a sheet with all the road signs, and they would point to one, and you had to say what it meant. Luckily, someone had given us a booklet with all the signs in it, so we all passed that part.

Then, we all had to drive just around some back roads by the traffic department. No roundabouts, which was a relief! Once we had all driven, we were free to go! (This was probably about 11 or 11:30!) Hooray! So we passed our tests and will soon have a local Qatari license. What a long day!

Also, our residency visas should go through today, so we will be official residents of Qatar 🙂 That is all for now! 😛