Thursday, August 7, 2014

Foreign Living

Unfortunately, blogging from China was harder than I thought it would be. We had so many issues trying to use the internet with any reliability, and even the VPN's we paid for had issues most days with blocked sites like this one. For some reason, this web site was very hard to reach (Great Firewall of China) and consequently it's been 10 months since my last post. I updated regularly on facebook, and that will have to be the place where my e-journal remains. I just went back over the past year in photos on facebook, and wow....what a ride. BIBA and Beijing and the year in China were...amazing....It was really challenging at times, and I made a lot of mistakes, but I wouldn't trade the experience for anything. Hard times like repeated floods in our apartment due to notoriously terrible pipes, as anyone who has lived there can attest to. Wonderful times like our trip to Guilin and Yangshuoa with our friends.
We made a last-minute decision to take a year off from life abroad. Instead I am having a Foreign experience right here in my own country, in the very same province where I did most of my growing up. Paul has put his Fitness career on hold to take a job here, in Fort McMurray, Alberta. And so now........we live here....!!!!....for now.....GULP!
Growing up, everyone has heard of Fort McMurray, but few have ever BEEN here. That is because it is very very very far NORTH of the capital city of Edmonton, another four hours on mostly single lane highways to get here from there. That makes it seven or eight hours NORTH of Calgary, and ten hours NORTH of Lethbridge, where I was a kiddo. The population is the same as Lethbridge was when I grew up there, but it doesn't seem like it at all. Maybe due to the topography, but definitely due to the demographics of the population, it seems very rural here. Unlike the prairie of my childhood, Fort Mac is up in tundra country. When I look out the window, I see acres of evergreen and deciduous trees. BEARS are apparently a common sight in peoples' yards. There is MUCH less retail here than I am accustomed to. A high percentage of the population is male. A high percentage of the population ALSO has a home in Calgary or Edmonton (or Newfoundland or etc.....) and likely shops and recreates there instead of here. So the mall is quite small and depressing, and there is no Costco (yet) or IKEA (boo hoo). There is one small and very old movie theatre, but I went to see Lucy there, and had a good time.
What there IS here that has impressed me so far, is a lot of modern and beautiful indoor recreational facilities. Mac Island, for instance is home to a massive multipurpose complex that is expanding all the time. It presently contains a huge, beautiful, modern gym, a track, an Olympic sized pool with diving tanks, hot tubs, waterslides, lazy river, and children's water park, an ice rink, courts for tennis, badminton, squash, and anything else you could swing your racket at, a library, cafes, a frozen yogurt spot, a huge empty space for trade shows or other similar events, and (currently under construction) a MASSIVE sports field that will host the first CFL game north of Edmonton in June 2015. They already have the t-shirts made.
Of course, all of these great facilities are made possible by the big oil companies; Shell, Syncrude, Suncor, and so on. Hypocrit no longer, I can no longer criticize the oil sands (out loud). Arguably, almost anyone living and working in Alberta can attribute their prosperity to the bloody oil industry, although it is much easier to pretend that's not true as a Calgarian living and working 900km from the oil sands, in the education industry. Now here I am. And I will confess, it is not easy. I am very grateful that my husband knows how to use these huge trucks, because we seriously need the cash, but when I visited one small site earlier this summer, it was shocking to see what this industry really does to the earth.
Now I know that these guys do all sorts of land reclamation and so on and work very hard on PR, but....I think the worst part is the cannons. You can't hear them when you're zipping along the highway, but when you stop and get out, they go off continually, warning birds and other wildlife to stay away from the water...the tailings ponds...toxic pools of biproduct and filth. Ultradepressing.

I am interested in getting to know this community. There are some cool things that give me hope, like a farmer's market every other Wednesday and a magazine highlighting contributions of women in the community (the mayor is female!). It also seems like the community wholeheartedly welcomes and needs those who want to contribute, so I am on the lookout for volunteer or similar opportunities. Just like living in Qatar, I am meeting a huge amount of people from Atlantic Canada. Like any large country, regional differences are glaringly apparent. Honestly, it is like getting to know a completely different culture, but it is not a bad thing. I am enjoying it a lot. I haven't spent much time exploring my own country, or its people, and this is a unique opportunity to meet people from everywhere in Canada by staying right here and reaching out.

This has been a long post, so I should wrap it up. I have lots more to explore on blog, because I really feel that I have come to yet another foreign country. So....more soon....ttfn...I will leave you with some stats. Check out that average temperature for January. Yes, that is a MINUS sign. As the AVERAGE. Whimper.

 At a Glance

  • Location:  435 Km northeast of Edmonton on Highway 63  
  • Population:  76,797- city and 104,338 - Municipality
  • Average Temperature:  January -19.8 C July +16.6 
  • Annual Rainfall:  334.5 mm 
  • Annual Snowfall:  172.0 cm
  • Hours of Sunshine/Year  2108.9
  • Elevation:  370 m 
  • Industries:  Oil sands, natural gas and pipeline sectors, forestry, tourism, retail 

Friday, October 25, 2013

I shouldn't make promises, should I? Last blog was in September. Today is October 25th. Oops. I just get caught up living my life and forget to blog, although that is not true, because I write great blogs in my head that I never type. Right now I have grade nine students in my room and they are deeply engrossed in creating a painting inspired by Van Gogh's Irises, or (when finished) designing and creating a Sugar Skull in honour of the Mexican holiday, Day of the Dead which begins on the night of Halloween, right at midnight, so technically on November 1st and goes until November 2nd. I love all the learning I get from teaching art. Besides just learning about technique, I am also constantly learning about artists, cultures, holidays, and traditions from all over the world. Above is the result of a Grade 5 project on Paul Klee's Castle painting. I use the Deep Space Sparkle web site all the time. I love this woman. I have no problem slapping down my credit card for her e-courses and lesson plans. I love them because they are exactly what I need right now. I am teaching at a school with California Curriculum (so does she) and I am TRYING to teach kids in Grades 4 - 9 who have almost no Art background, so her structured lessons that teach TECHNIQUE as well as allow me to teach about ARTISTS and ART MOVEMENTS and GENRES are invaluable. Once in a while, I throw in my own, such as my Pakistan Painted Trucks. I printed a street map from a city in Pakistan, the kids watercolor painted it. Then they designed their own painted truck, drew it and chose how to add the designs to it. Their class was studying Pakistan for International Day and it was my favorite of all the projects I did for that event.
Anyway, life in Beijing has been getting really REAL. We did our whirlwind tour to Calgary at the end of September to get our visas changed from tourist to residents. It was so nice to see friends and family but so exhausting. The jetlag was brutal and we wanted to pack so much in, but we were just dragging our butts all the time. Brody and I had to come back without Paul because he had a trip to India for CrossFit testing, and had to go straight there due to visa regulations before his return to China. So it was just me and Brody returning to China alone and worn out, and really NOT geared up for another three months of school before Christmas break. But we did alright. And Paul went to India, and came home, and PASSED his CrossFit exam and is now a CrossFit trainer too, so it was all worth it, though certainly not easy. I leaned on my new small circle here in Beijing quite a bit, as well as old friends who were encouraging, too.
The thing that challenges me most about living here is the LANGUAGE barrier. Every time we want to go anywhere, need to buy a light bulb, have something repaired, take a cab, order dinner, see a doctor, or leave the apartment, this is an issue. I did not expect this, for sure. I hear Shanghai is not this way, but I am surprised that for a capital city, Beijing has managed to stay...well...very CHINESE!! :) I sound like a stunned tourist, but I didn't expect it to be quite so challenging. It makes me VERY grateful that I did not ever opt to go to a 'smaller' outpost of say, only, 7 million. I can't imagine how lonely it would have been.
I conquered one small issue by recently purchasing a brand new tuk tuk. It is electric, red, and a little tin can, but it fits three plus groceries, and requires no licencing or other hoopla. We can take it around Shunyi successfully for meeting basic needs, which makes buying milk a hell of a lot easier.
The weather has turned in Beijing and the trees are starting to follow. The view out our window is now red, orange, and yellow, in addition to green. Most mornings are pretty chilly but we still get some lovely fall afternoons for playing in the park. The daylight is diminishing noticeably. These are things that I loved about living in Doha that I am missing a bit..the mild (nonexistant) winters and the balanced light situation throughout the year. But I am already researching warm getaways for Christmas that are really inexpensive, and it will be absolutely necessary EIGHT more weeks from now to get out and get some sun, sand, and surf. The next thing that is coming up that I hope to actually blog about is fullscale Halloween BIBA style. I can't wait to see how the Chinese and Korean students dress for the big day! I have to top myself each year. With a BURNING DESIRE to leave the wicked witch and Elphaba costumes in the closet with the other skeletons, I have a new plan for this year. In my head it will be fabulous. I made the mistake of forgetting about Halloween when I went to Qatar but I will not repeat that mistake again this year. I brought my costume from Canada and it is patiently waiting in the closet for the big reveal.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Little Star Magazine and Tian'amnen Square

I have to laugh. I got an email from Little Star Magazine this week, which is a publication that reviews schools in Beijing. They were in my class on the first day of school snapping pictures (at the time I thought he was a school photographer). They want to interview me about teaching art at BIBA. Now, in the Calgary Board of Education, such a thing would not be permitted without checking with twelve people first, but Marketing wants me to go for it. Oh dear. I have requested an email interview because I am such a bone head when on the spot. Wish me luck. I have no desire to do it, but the school is excited about it. Yikes.
We are being sent back to Canada to get our Z visas. Unfortunately, for anyone hoping to live and work in China, the process just got a whole lot harder. Everyone who is new and who was hired near the end of spring is having to go through a very challenging process to get everything done. A word to the wise, if you want to teach in China next year, get a job as soon as possible. Don't wait until the last minute, because it might not work out.
Paul, Brody and I decided to get out today. Paul made friends with a driver who speaks some English, so we called him and asked him to take us to Tian'amnen Square. I have been looking forward to is a really big deal for the Chinese people. Beijing is the capitol, and the Square is the center of it. It was PACKED. It was our first Crowded China experience. And right as we approached the entrance, an explosion went off. It was some sort of fireworks and paint prank, but it was pretty freaky. I was already feeling freaked, because of course, as a child, I watched the T.S. nightmare on TV and it was one of the main reasons that I USED to say that you couldn't pay me to go to China. Again, the universe is laughing at me since I live here now. Anyway, I have to say that it was actually kind of chilling being there and imagining that day. But other than that, quite dull. Also annoying as our blonde hair brings out every wacko who wants to be our guide for the day, sell us goofy umbrella hats, or insist on showing us the beautiful souvenier book. We took a side exit and ended up walking along what I think of as the moat that surrounds TS and Forbidden City. That was a much more interesting part of the day to me, as we saw  fisherman catch a turtle, wandered in the shade and near empty Boardwalk. After that experience we made it to Sanlitun for a bit of expat lunch and bargain hunting. Then called it a day and came home.
Tonight I wandered to Houshayu Market to see if I could find some gifts for home. After an "antique" dealer tried to sell me half a dozen trinkets for 2000 Yuan (350 bucks...totally insane, even for here) I decided that I had had enough of being an expat for one day, bought some eggs, and came home to make dinner.
Next week is a three day week and then a four day weekend for the Moon Festival. I hope we can make cool plans and do something interesting for it.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Heaven and Hell in China

The second week of school has just ended and TGIF...I guess. Last Saturday I spent the day chilling on the couch with Game of Thrones DVD's because I had a...cold?...flu?...Anyway, got well enough by Sunday that I was able to enjoy a beautiful trip to the Great Wall with friends. As you approach, the circus of stallkeepers starts, too. But the "ripoff" price for water at the Wall is STILL under $1, and everyone says, Oh, Canada, Friends!! It's cute. It was so surreal to be there. Never thought I would see it...and even walk on my life. You just never know. It was way cooler than I thought it would be, actually.

School is amazing. It is hard. There is sooo much to do, but I feel renewed. I feel all the motivation and excitement of a first year teacher, but with the confidence and skills of a Ten Year Vet. ;) There is always more to learn, and with eager and insatiable students, I find myself working harder than I have for a while. Time spent on school work is a pleasure this year. It feels as fun as "playing school" did when I was little. I love fussing over my web sites and lesson plans like I have not for quite a time. The motivation the kids have is contagious and I have caught the BIBA bug. Honeymoon phase perhaps?

My Z visa and work permit can't be processed yet. My paperwork has been DENIED twice. Had to get a THIRD police check. It was empty just like the first two. No crimes. Sorry China. Now they are confused by the last names. Keebler on my university degrees and birth certificate. Sedman on other papers. Evans is mu husband and stepson. They are VERY unhappy with all these names. So I spent six hours working on renewing my tourist visa today. Colleagues had to cover classes for me and the others who had to go today. There is ONE visa office in Beijing for foreigners, for Chinese who need passports and visas, and after waiting three hours in line, right before my turn, the computers at the visa office went down. So not fun. But it is done. Whew.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Wow, Did I Really Move to China?

It is hard to know what to write about first. There is so much to comment on. If I thought life in Qatar was wildly different when I first arrived there, it was nothing like the adjustment to life in Beijing, China. I will say that despite all the reading I tried to do and research I thought I was doing, living here is NOTHING like I expected it would be. 
I am very happy that I chose to come to Beijing. Beijing is one of three "municipalities" of China, which basically means that the city is so massive that it is its own province. I learned this when I was trying to order stuff on, the China Amazon (love it and hate it). I can't compare it to anywhere else really, but I can now see why I did not feel good about going somewhere smaller. This is a major urban center and it is still really hard to get some of your familiar creature comforts and equally as challenging to find a taxi driver who speaks any English. Now, I know that this is China. People speak Chinese. But that does not make it any easier. We have had many hilarious and not-so-hilarious mishaps already. Try doing any of the following in Chinese: a) set up a bank account, b) set up an Internet service, c) buy a sim card for your cell phone, d) tell the hairdresser what you want done to your hair, e) order food or even Diet Coke (and no, you can't say "cola" or "coke light" like you can in other countries...doesn't work) f) order a smoothie or bubble tea, g) get medicine for your stepson's cut leg, h) read the messages that get texted to you by the cell phone company, i) read notices on your door from the property management company, i) understand from the outside of a store what is sold on the inside, h) negotiate the price of your bike, i) explain that you want a drink without sugar, j) explain that you want a drink without alcohol, k) explain that you want your dinner to be peanut free, l) tell your cleaning lady what you would like her to do, m) understand the random person on the other end of the phone who just called you and is clearly enraged....the list, of course, goes on and on.
Brody got his head practically shaved. Paul got his side burns lopped off. Neither was planned. We tried to order a smoothie and ended up getting one bright green, one pure black, and one creamy tan colored beverage on ice. Paul still hasn't found a way to buy a damn sim card. The other day I walked into what I thought was a small store and found a family eating noodle lunch on the floor. Needless to say, each step outside your door is a challenge. So I am glad I am in a big city, where there are at least a few expats and English speakers around. It is always a nice surprise because survival in Chinese can be exhausting.
Utilities here are a struggle. You have three to four utility cards. One for toilet water, one for tap water (which you should not drink, so order a third type...bottled...instead), one for gas to cook and one for electricity. Much like a prepaid phone card, these have to be pre-loaded with money, then brought home and swiped through the appropriate machine that may be in your kitchen, in the main hallway of the building, or somewhere else. In order to load money onto the cards, they have to be EMPTY. So you can't add money if there is even a small balance. How do you know you need to add money? The specific utility stops working. So for example, you can be in mid-shower and the water will stop working. Then you have to go downstairs, grab your tap water card, put shoes and a robe on, go into the hallway, swipe your card to get the balance onto the water meter, then go finish your shower. Then go reload your card. The challenge is that no one reloads in the same place. We are lucky. We go to the basement of Building 1 to do tap, toilet, and electric. Gas is paid at a bank about six blocks away. But many of our neighbors have to go to the city grid building, and other banks to do the same tasks. So if your water runs out in the middle of your shower, you may have to go to the BANK. Crazy. This Is China.
It is fun to rant about these crazy things, but I have to say, for the most part I am SHOCKED at how much I love, love, love Beijing. I thought there was no way in hell I would want to live here, and right now I absolutely love it. The food is delicious and cheap. The food is only weird if you choose weird, like when Paul ordered frog, or last night when he ordered duck from a street shop instead of a restaurant and they included a lovely duck head that was barbequed to perfection. I thought it was the foot until I realized I was holding a neck and prying apart the beak with my finger in duck eyeball. I didn't eat the duck last night. In fact, I haven't had one animal product since the duck head incident. It may be a great while before I do. 
I love the green trees and grass everywhere. The streets are lined with elms and weeping willows and beautiful bushy flowering plants. The people, both here in our suburban area of Shunyi, and the ones we have encountered downtown are very polite and kind, unless they are driving. When driving, they rival the Qataris for pure crazy. I love the way people live outdoors in the summer and how people of ALL ages can be seen working out, jumping rope, doing weights, playing sports, walking, jogging, biking, and scootering everywhere and all day long. I love living across from a gorgeous city park where I can hear old men practicing their Indiana Jones whip, or ladies playing pipes, or someone on her karaoke machine, crooning away to some Peking Opera.
I love my school. I love how it is growing and expanding instead of hanging on with its bare teeth in a dying neighborhood. I love that my classroom is huge and bright and new. I love that my students are so sweet and polite and KEEN. I love that I have time before every single class to set up for it. I love that I have a couple of HOURS of prep time every day. I love that when we figured out how to buy medicine for Brody's cut leg it cost us 1 RMB, or 17 cents Canadian. 
I love the sound of the cicadas in the trees. Some people think it is annoying. It reminds me of being in the tropics. I love all the dogs everywhere...and NO, not to eat. The PET dogs everywhere that can understand Chinese way better than I can. I love that I am starting to understand things people say ONCE in a while. I love that there is so much to do here, that I don't know when I am going to get a chance to do it all. 
I love that I just baked chocolate chip cookies for Brody's lunch in my oven that is smaller than most peoples' toasters back home.
I was so freaked out to come here before I left and the first while was so hard. And there are lots of things that are strange and a few things that are frustrating, but overall, I feel excited, and happy, and pleasantly shocked and surprised. I hope the feeling lasts a while.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

this is really hard

and I miss the thing that made everything ok

and I had bad dreams last night

Sunday, August 4, 2013

First Post in China

Blog Journal

Friday, August 2nd

5:00 am

Houshayu, Shunyi, Beijing, China


I arrived in Beijing Capital Airport (PEK) on Wednesday, August 30th, after a disappointing Air Canada flight. After flying Qatar Airways in economy a few times, Air Canada economy makes you feel even more a peasant. The food is appallingly bad and it is a long voyage to begin with, but then just as we were about to land in Beijing, a lightning storm diverted us. We had to fly 90 minutes to Seoul, refuel there for 30 minutes, and then fly back to Beijing. When we arrived, four hours late, there was no gate, so another 30 minutes on board. Anyway, I had heard nightmare stories about this airport, but once I got off the plane, the airport itself was better than many. You walk a bit to immigration, which is fast and easy if you have done your visa properly and filled out your customs form. Then another walk to a fast shuttle train that takes you to baggage. Then you sail through the “nothing to declare” section, and you’re through.


When I arrived, there was no one to meet me, which was very distressing. As it turns out, the airline didn’t notify anyone of what was going on with the flight, even the arrivals board was wrong. So poor Andy, the Middle School Social Studies teacher, had gone to the airport once at midnight to get me, and then came back at 4:30 and waited forever for me to emerge, until the lovely Chandra got my sister’s frantic email that I was still at the airport and by 7:45 am, I was finally on my way OUT of the airport, with a very kind Andy guiding me to my new home.


I had no idea what to expect of the apartment. I have heard and read many stories and blogs of teaching in China, and many people have reported living on a postage stamp. Of course, I knew that it would be nothing like the large and spacious accommodations I had in Doha, where there is space, space, space to build. But I am happy to report that I am very pleasantly surprised with the new pad.


The first moment of delight came when Andy pushed the button for the top floor, Floor 9. I am going to include some pics with this blog, but here is a basic description of things I love about this apartment.

1.       It has many large windows in the kitchen, living room, and both bedrooms (in the bedrooms, they are floor to ceiling) which have a BEAUTIFUL view of the massive park across the street and have a view of both sunrise and sunset, as they are north facing.

2.       It has a decent kitchen, markedly inviting than my Calgary apartment. It sort of reminds me of a 50’s diner. It has stainless steel counter tops, a smallish stainless steel fridge with freezer on the BOTTOM (yes!) that I had to unwrap, as it has never been used. It has a two-burner gas stovetop, with a lovely and huge stainless steel hood fan. The cupboards follow the 50’s look, as they are glossy and painted, with brushed silver handles. But instead of the black or red colour that you might see in a 50’s diner, they are VIBRANT FUSCHIA. Like, wow. The kitchen is a bright and happy place. Floors and walls of the kitchen are a creamy tile.

3.       The light fixtures in here are hilarious. The living room sports a modern crystal chandelier with leaf-shaped prisms. Then each room has a patterned light cover. Stars, feathers, maple leaves…are just some of the patterns etched into the frosted glass.

4.       The bathrooms are small, but continue on the same theme, with plain white fixtures, except for a stunning accent of a bubble gum pink in the cabinetry. There is a half bath on the main floor where there is also a washing machine, and the one upstairs has a shower. As the bathroom is completely tiled, the shower is open…no divider of any kind…a concept that I always wanted to try in the house on Cedardale, but never had the cash to implement. That bathroom has an amazingly complex lighting system or heated and non heated lights that I have not totally figured out yet, but which I anticipate I will be grateful for when winter comes.

5.       The staircase up to the second level is a floating staircase…all the floors that aren’t tile are a pretty maple coloured laminate wood flooring. It is much kinder on the feet than a house full of tile.

6.       We have a king size bed in our room with a large Ikea-style closet provided, and a truly insane white fabric headboard, studded with rhinestones the size of a loonie. Brand new sheets were provided, and they are ultra-amusing and very comfortable. So nice to have had some bedding and pillows on arrival. The bedroom is painted…guess what…cupcake pink. I am surprised to say I don’t mind it too much. It is certainly an upbeat and happy colour. Unfortunately for Brody, his bedroom is also pink, so I will need to MAN it up a bit. He has a very cool pine bed frame though, that has “outdoorsman” written all over it. Both mattresses are brand new, thank heaven for blessing us. No bed bugs to worry about. The couch is brand new too. In fact, from the look of it, no one has lived in this apartment before.

7.       Stuff provided by the school that impresses me: large wooden kitchen table with four chairs, nice big, modern couch in grey,, silver, and fuschia, of course, a TV stand and decent sized flat screen, a water cooler, basics in the house on arrival like a few cooking items and dishes, some peanut butter, jam, bread, water, and two oranges. Toilet paper and paper towels, along with a face cloth, bath towel, and kitchen cloths. I can’t tell you how nice this was. The teachers who arrived here in prior years did not experience this kind of hospitality and they took it upon themselves to make it better for the next people that would come along. I very much admire and appreciate this attitude and I am VERY happy to be on the receiving end of their thoughtfulness.


The compound the building is in is called “Sugar Bay”. Quite a few of the teachers live here, and in a couple of other locations. We are a ten minute, and very pleasant walk from BIBA. I did the walk twice yesterday. It is a nice quiet sidestreet, and the whole way to the school is along the massive park I spoke of. The final street that the school is on when you turn off the main road is lined with enormous and beautiful willows. It is a gorgeous and quiet walk. The school is absolutely gorgeous. It is very clean and well organized, with a ton of play space, including multiple play structures (kindergarten gets their own), basketball courts, and an outdoor track. The elementary building is three stories, and contains its own music room, a MASSIVE art room, a science lab, computer lab, resource room, and an adorable little theatre that I came upon quite by accident. It is fully pimped out with sound and lighting equipment, a wooden stage, and beautiful red cushioned theatre seats.


The middle school building is next door, and it is…well…bloody SWANKY! The doors and interior walls are all glass and the rooms have a ton of natural light. It feels more like an office or a hotel than a school. My art room in that building is clean and organized and positively enormous. I have quite a bit of work to do, figuring out where things are and what I want to do with them, but there are so many possibilities. There is a ton of storage and I am excited to get to work.


The park I keep mentioning is really neat. It contains an amphitheatre, where musicians go and just play whenever. The other day someone was playing jazz and when I opened our windows, I could hear the music in the bedrooms. It also has basketball courts, outdoor workout equipment, lovely walking paths, and all kinds of other neat stuff, including an art gallery and a hot pot restaurant. At the opposite end of the park is a sweet market. It is a bit intimidating because I don’t a word of Chinese yet, but I am trying to get by with pointing. I force myself to go every day and get one or two things crossed off my list, just so that I don’t get shy about shopping. There is a huge butchery, a massive vegetable market, a fruit market, a couple of vendors selling peking duck, or noodles that you buy by the pound, nice and fresh, and take home to cook up, there are several clothing stores, some electronics stores, odds and ends stores, a fabric place, and quite a few small convenience stores that sell a variety of things from coke zero and green tea to laundry detergent.


Yesterday, Chandra took a few of us to Pinnacle Plaza, which is a westernish shopping centre. There is a Starbucks there, as well as a few yummy restaurants. Most importantly, there are two  exciting businesses there: an organic health food store, and Jenny’s, a very western grocery store, full of goods that are more familiar to us expats. I have been subsisting on whatever I could find, my one dollar dragonfruits, an egg and leak stuffed pocket thingy from a street vendor, and some cashews. So I was pretty excited to be able to buy coconut oil, organic brown rice, oatmeal (Paul is coming!), Meditteranean salt, free range eggs, mac and cheese for Brody, and some lemon mint juice for a little taste of Qatar.

Overall, I am so surprised and grateful for how things are working out. I have been offered four positions in China, and this is the one I finally decided to take. The pay is competitive, but still…I have heard so many terrible stories of peoples’ experiences in China…I have been very nervous of what might be awaiting us. I had no idea what to expect and I was so afraid that it would be a concrete jungle with throngs of people everywhere and that Paul would want to immediately turn around and go home. I know that there are parts of Beijing that will be like that.
Anyway, enough already. I am wiped. Back for another hour of snoozing...

Sunday, July 28, 2013

At a Loss

I love keeping track of what happens to students after I have taught them. Particularly as a drama teacher, the HOURS I spend with these awesome people makes me love them ferociously and for life. They just do amazing things in life. I have only been teaching for ten years, so the oldest of "my kids" is not yet approaching 30, so life is full of change and possibilities.

I am so sad to learn of the loss of one of these extraordinary individuals. He was a truly sweet, kind, patient boy, who wanted so much to do well, and did it. He gave so much of himself.

I heard him sing once while playing guitar and was so impressed. I "forced" him to play a lead character in our little show, "Into the Woods". He was a marvelous kid to work with. So fun and so good to the other kids. And what a great smile. He was always making us smile.

I have no idea what has happened, all I know is that he has passed on, and he is so young and was so truly good. It is tragic. Below is a self-written bio (written in 2011) I found on his university blog, right before I saw that as an Honours Philosophy student, he just won a research grant at Acadia. My heart, thoughts, and prayers are with those closest to him, including family and friends.

My name is Matthew Kohlenberg. I was born in Calgary Alberta in 1991 and lived there most of my life up until heading out to Nova Scotia to attend university. My main interests lay in the fields of English Literature and Philosophy which I’m currently double majoring in. My eventual goal is to take my Doctorate in one of these subjects and profess at a university. In my life I’ve been fortunate enough to travel a great deal, certainly for someone my age. I love travel and intend to continue doing so as much as I can throughout my life. Other interests are reading, guitar, ect. The usual stuff.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Freedom Post: Part 2

So here is the story, and I hope that this is the last time I am going to tell it, because I really want to put this behind me. But I have to put it down on paper. I would like it to serve as a warning for some. For others, it will hopefully just remind you to be grateful for living in a country where "fair", "equal", and "human rights" are phrases that mean something.

Brody began to go to school when he came to live with us in Qatar. We knew that in order for him to be able to attend, he would have to get the residency permit I referred to in Part 1. We immediately go in touch with Human Resources at my school and at CNAQ to figure out what to do to make that happen. Brody (and Paul) were living in Qatar on tourist visas, which had to be renewed every 30 days until the RP's were processed. This was a very involved process. Paul took a low paying job that promised to sponsor him so that he and Brody could get RP's. Brody's mom spent money on lawyers to get forms we needed. My sister went out of her way at 9 months pregnant to help us send birth certificate, marriage certificate, and guardianship papers to Ottawa for authentication and then to Qatar. With Qatar's terrible postal services, this was no easy task. We pinned our lives and our hopes on this advice that we were given, so that we could all stay together as a family, and live in Qatar.

At the beginning of June we notified the head honchos (directors of the school) that the paperwork we had been waiting for and sending them endless emails about would finally be forthcoming soon. At that point, they called the principal of the school and told her that Brody would not be allowed to receive my medical benefits or other benefits, including tuition to attend Qatar Canadian School. I was shocked and mystified. After all, we had been working for months to get Paul and Brody RP's done so that they could get medical insurance and so that next year we could all stay in Qatar. I asked for a meeting with these people to understand why there was suddenly a problem. The principal and vice principal were called to attend the meeting with me. I took a copy of my contract with me. In it, my contract explicitly states that dependent children, and it stated children OR stepchildren would receive my benefits.

At this meeting, the Financial Head Honcho brought his own, FORGED version of my contract, that did not list stepchildren as qualifying. Despite the fact that I had the original job offer email, the Director of the School and the Financial Guy refused to honour my contract, accused me of writing it, and said they had never seen it before. Everyone who was hired the same year as I was, had the same contract by the way, with this same phrase. They lied to me and said that stepchildren are not recognized in Qatar. This is an out-and-out lie. They told me "too bad" and I could take them to court.

I pointed out that my qualifications make me a valuable employee. They agreed. I suggested that they should find a way to make this work...maybe a raise to cover the tuition cost, for example. They said they would think about it, then three days later, said "no". This was on about June 6th. By June 8th I had found a new job in Beijing. The school there was willing to write directly into my contract that Brody will receive free tuition and fees. I gave notice that I would not be back.

On JUNE 16th, with less than two weeks to the end of the school year, I received a 16 000 Qatari Riyal bill for Brody's current tuition. This amounts to about 4400 Canadian. I flipped out at our HR lady at the school and said there was no way I could pay this. Why, I asked would I be charged tuition for a child that you say is not my son? After all, if he was, he should get tuition. If not, why would I be the one to pay his tuition?

The principal was called in next and put through a trying ordeal where she was told that she was too blame for this mistake. She went away expecting to pay the 4400 the next day herself. After driving her to the bank that night, I woke up the next morning determined that this was completely ridiculous. After all, the principal relied on the HR department of our parent company (CNAQ) to do its job.

On June 19th I sent an email to the Head Honchos that stated simply that it was immoral and unethical of them to charge the school principal for Brody's tuition. I erased the sentence that said what I really wanted to...that they should stop trying to EXTORT this money from me...or her...or anyone... Within two hours, Brody and I were commanded to leave school property immediately and not return. Then came horrible days. In Qatar, your employer is your sponsor. They decide if you get to leave the country or not. Ever. I had no idea what they would do to me if I did not pay this bill. As this was the first time that anyone had ever mentioned such a possibility, we did not have even close to that amount of money.

Eventually what they did was withhold my final pay to recover the 16000, which left me with a paycheque of 400 dollars Canadian for June and July. As I had only two days to catch my flight out of Qatar at this point, I had no choice but to accept this, and be grateful to be leaving the country. There were so many more lies told that I can't even stand to list them all. Brody was never allowed to return to the school, even after the money was paid.

Now I am living off the charity of my mother and friends while I wait for my new job in Beijing to start. Obviously my four hundred dollars is long gone. I had to renew my passport this week, which now costs 120 bucks.

Basically, the people who make financial decisions at QCS do not ever step into the building, and the ONE that does is just a spy and snitch. They freely admit that they do not care what happens there, and the only time they do shell out cash is when they are forced to in order to keep their "Alberta Accredited" designation. They short-change the students at the school constantly, who are good kids. They screw over the staff again and again, despite the fact that they are talented teachers who deserve better. And because the "sponsors" are nationals, and we are just expats, there is LESS THAN NOTHING that we can do about it, but accept being cheated and lied to. It is not uncommon at QCS for teachers to not receive promised pay at the end of the year, for example.

This story is even more complex than what I have described, but frankly, I could write a book about the corruption that exists in this place. We were even advised by good Qatari families, that what was happening to us was very wrong and shameful. I do not believe that all of Qatar is like this. A lot of people have great experiences with employers. But CNAQ and QCS are places to AVOID AT ALL COSTS as far as I am concerned. The head administrators are completely untrustworthy. They aren't running schools. They are running, what they hope to be, money MAKING ventures.

Ok, I am exhausted. I have many positive things to say in upcoming posts. We are all back safely in Canada and are eagerly awaiting our next adventure in Beijing.
In spite of the disaster that happened to us in Qatar, we all still would not change a thing. We met wonderful people, made close friends, and saw beautiful and fascinating parts of the world.

Travel you Fellow Teachers. Just do your homework when choosing an employer, and then check it again. And again.

I am grateful to be Canadian and to live in a land laws...and freedom, and people who believe that all people deserve to be treated with equity.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Freedom Post: Part 1

In case you don't know me or haven't read my blog before, a brief summary before I begin. I am 37 (eek) years old, and a Canadian. I love travelling, though I am not yet well-travelled. I lived in the United States for five years, and a few different places in Canada, including Montreal, but most of my adult life I have lived in Calgary, Alberta, where I taught high school for nearly a decade. Lately I have travelled to some dream destinations in the USA, like New York City and Hawaii. I have also been to Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Sri Lanka, Bahrain, London (UK), and most recently, Dubai (UAE). For the past ten months I lived and worked in Doha, Qatar as an art and drama teacher. I moved there alone last August, and shortly after I got married (2nd husband) this past December, my new hubby Paul joined me, followed shortly by his eight-year-old son, Brody.

I left behind a career with the Calgary Board of Education to accept a position at Qatar Canadian School for several reasons. Primarily, I wanted to travel and not just as a tourist, but live abroad to truly experience another culture. I was offered a few different positions, but the job at QCS seemed like the best decision for me. The benefits were good, the weather sounded great for a sun worshipper, and there were lots of school holidays that would potentially allow for even more travelling, to places nearer to that half of the globe.

Before I start to tell the sad part of my story in Qatar, I would like to explore what I gained from the experience, and why, in spite of everything, I would do it again. I believe that moving abroad is exciting but also incredibly challenging, even when you are moving somewhere like Qatar, where everyone speaks English to some degree. I identified stages that I went through, and that I saw others go through.

Stage 1: Excitement/Vacation Stage
When I first arrived in Doha, everything was strange, new, exciting, and cool. The light switches went the other way, the doors opened the wrong way, people were dressed strangely, and acted differently. I went around the area, exploring cool spots to eat, shop, and play. I went to the beach after work and congratulated myself for being daring enough to move to this strange land all alone and enjoy the exciting things I was experiencing. I took a bajillion pictures and splashed them all over this blog and all over facebook.

Stage 2: Oh my God, what have I done, I really live here!
Around the 45 day mark, I started to go through Stage 2. I was going to work every day, just like you would anywhere, and having less time for cool adventures. I was starting to find the same things that I had once enjoyed, really annoying, like the insane way people drive, or the rude way that Qatari's treat all other people like we somehow exist to serve them. Rather than eating out constantly, I was struggling to grocery shop in a foreign land where grocery stores are something of a mystery, and much of what I wanted was astronomically expensive, such as $60 for a small container of wild rice. I was starting to really miss my friends and family. While I had made lots of new acquaintances at work, I wasn't close enough to them yet to feel really bonded, and I was living in a hotel due to a housing problem. While it had a very beautiful view, I hadn't had the opportunity to settle and establish a home, and this did not help at this stage at all. I tearfully called my boss once, my fiancé once, and my mom more than once, to declare that I was coming home to Canada, only to change my mind the next day. This stage does not last more than a week or two IF you handle it the right way. I called up some of those new friends and went out to the beach and dinner, had real trusting heart-to-heart talks with new friends, and tried to have fun. This was an excellent solution and carried me to Stage 3. If you do not handle Stage 2 well, you will likely bail out and go home.

Stage 3: Acceptance
At this stage, I mellowed nicely. I began to enjoy my job, developed closer relationships to new friends, sent some notes to old friends, and started to think of Qatar as my home. I got a car and learned the city much better. I joined clubs and bought pictures for the walls. I had parties in my home that made it feel happier and found a nice balance between going out and staying in. I started to make decisions about the next school year, and plan and take vacations.

Stage 4: Love It or Hate It
This stage seems to go one of two ways. You either start to foster a deep and abiding loathing for your new home and vow to get what you can from the experience, but bail as soon as your contract is up, OR you decide that, despite its inconveniences and quirks, you are falling in love with your new home and can see yourself spending more than one year. I fell into the "love it" category at this point. By this point my husband and stepson had joined me in Qatar (he was going through Stage 2) and we had been given a villa in a compound where other families live. I realized one day as I walked around, saying hi to neighbours and friends, that this really felt like home and that, despite the annoying and dangerous drivers, the pollution of all kinds, the class system, the frightening nature of living in a kingdom state where your employer holds the key to your freedom, and the discomfort of wild sandstorms, I wanted to try to stay for at least another year, maybe longer. Due to my enthusiasm, and the support and love of our friends and colleagues, Brody also hit the Love It Stage really fast and Paul followed quickly as well. We decorated the villa and made more plans for trips and parties. We made plans to stay for as long as we could. Unfortunately, not long after, things went spectacularly to pieces.

One of the challenging aspects that you must understand is that in order to live in Qatar for longer than 30 days, outsiders must have a sponsor, usually their employer. This entity allows you to have a Resident's Permit. Without a Resident's Permit, you can not have a bank account, get a driver's licence, or even a SIM card for your phone. Basically, you do not exist. So when you move to Qatar, you immediately begin the terrible process of getting this "RP" completed. Besides having a sponsor who owns your life and decides whether, if ever, you get to leave the country, you also need fingerprinting, blood tests for AIDS and syphilis, blood typing (which they do wrong) and a chest x-ray. When Paul and Brody arrived, we began the RP process for them, which was doubly complicated because I am a woman. This is where the story begins to get juicy and ugly, so I will end this already long post for now. Part II will come on July 3rd, once Paul and Brody are safely on their way to Canada.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Seven months later

It has been such a long time since I sat down to this blog. December 1st. I was getting ready to go home for Christmas. So let's see...yep, I got married and Paul turned 40. I met his son, Brody, and we got along well. That was a nice surprise. I had a lovely Christmas with my family and found out that my sister was pregnant. I closed down my Calgary apartment and put everything in storage with the help of Paul, some of our friends, and my poor, loving mother. Then I came back.
Then, after some drama at the border, Paul came to Doha. That was pretty fun. I did lots of things I did when I first arrived, but did them again with Paul. January in Doha is actually chilly after you've lived through a summer and fall, but we made it through a crazy night of desert camping in a sandstorm with our friends who are total TROOPERS. It was a bit crazy, but none of us will ever forget the cold sand whipping at us as we attempted to ride camels, smoke shisha, and stay warm. One of the absolute highlights of this year for me, that one night, snuggling in an Arabian tent with my best buds, surrounded by tentsful of friends and colleagues.
THEN...I finally got to move OUT of Ezdan hotel and into an apartment in Al Sadd called "Y-building". I just loved it. It was new-ish, spacious, modern, and had a GREAT kitchen. It had bright windows and was situated in such a funky neighborhood. I got a car and finally tackled the Doha traffic. I've been in three car accidents this year...but I have learned to know the city like I never would have if I had cabbed it all year.
THEN...Brody joined us. Paul's little boy came to live with us in Doha. There is so much to say about that. It was so cool but so very, very difficult at first. My adult life has been completely self-focused thus far. Really, I mean, I try to be good to my friends, but all day and all night and all my cash has been always spent according to my own will and needs. I tried really hard and I loved Brody's little personality right from the start, but it has NOT been easy to adjust to being a stepmom. However, it is four months later now, and I have to say that I think Brody is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. At first it was really hard for me to become a family gal, but I feel really grateful to have so much love in my day-to-day living. Just as when I travel with students, I love to see the world through his eyes.
Because Paul and Brody have had to keep renewing their tourist visas every 30 days, we have had some wonderful trips this semester. Not so wonderful was Bahrain. We did find a very cool waterpark. But cabs were a fortune, the city was ugly and smelly, and there was taxes!! The picture above is from a delicious Indian restaurant that we went to twice on our trip. It was in our hotel and was delicious.
For spring break, we had an amazing trip to Sri Lanka. I posted pics all over facebook. It is so beautiful there. We stayed in Hikkaduwa and visited Galle. We played in the ocean and at farms with turtles from one day old to 100 years. We saw and even fed elephants, and went for Ayurvedic treatments. We stayed in an adorable hotel. It was inexpensive, beautiful, and relaxing.
Most lately, we did a quick trip to Dubai, which was so quick that it was a tease. I was very impressed with Dubai in the brief time we were there, and we had a nice time together as a little family.
Now it is almost time to leave the middle east. I will leave that story for another post. It is a juicy one, and I will send it from Canada when I am back in the land of free speech and so on...

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Countdown to the holidays and what's happened in between

In case you haven't noticed, I have not used the blog as much as I thought I might. I blame this largely on the ease and speed that facebook offers. I post pictures there for storage purposes, but also to share them with friends immediately, and as it is so simple to comment on who, where, and what, I seldom post pics here. As journals go, a public forum is not that effective either, so I tend not to use my blog as a journal.

Anyway, I do feel that "someone" ought to talk about what it is like to live and work here in Doha, Qatar, so I try to update when I can. Above is a picture of a very lovely day we had here on November 9th when CNAQ chartered two dhows. Dhows are traditional wooden boats. They were once used for pearl harvesting, but that industry has died out here, and the boats are now used to sail tourists and locals around the Gulf. We left on a Friday afternoon, and motored (NOT sailed) out into the water for quite a ways. There were dates and fruit on board. We chatted and enjoyed the sun. We anchored out in the water, the two boats side by side and dove or jumped or eased our way into the salty waters. It was nearing the end of comfortable swimming season for me. I am a wimp, and if it's not bathtub warm like it was when we got here, I am not too interested. The water was fun, and while there was swimming off the boat, there was chicken shawarma on the boat, all as the sun set. When the sky was starting to turn dusty orange, we headed back to the mainland. By this time, those who like to partake of the elixir of insanity did so, the music was brought up to the top deck of the boats, where cushions and carpets were pushed aside to make room for the dance floor. We boogied back to shore, and enjoyed gorgeous vistas of the Doha night sky.

Night is the time when the city comes to life. Perhaps it is due to the hot sun, or leftover habits from tribal tenting days, or a combination of both, but the pulse quickens at dark. People tend to sleep late, breakfast lightly, nap some more...Then at about 4pm, one to two hours before we lose the light, the city starts to yawn and sit up. Shops either open or reopen (some open in early morning hours, such as 7-10am and then close again). The souks and markets throw back the shuttered doors and lay out their wares. The intensely wild traffic starts around 3:30 and doesn't stop until...mmm...2...3...depending on the night. Malls are open til 10 or 11 or even midnight, so are many souks and smaller shops. There are movies that start well after midnight, and restaurants in the artsy Katara that don't even open until 8pm. Eating heavily and late is common. Children are always along for the ride, and it is normal to see them passed out from exhaustion on benches, in strollers, or wherever they can catch 40 winks while mom and dad party the night away. Children, after all, have to get up for school in the morning.

I have a love-hate relationship with my job. I love my coworkers and the demands, as I have said, are significantly less than at home. However, the pay is bad if you have to send money home to pay bills. It is adequate salary to support oneself, but the fantasies of saving tons of money are not likely to come true UNLESS you have your master's and can work at CNAQ itself, or another university or college. That is where the real money is in education in this country, not in school teaching. I also love the intimacy and community spirit of the small staff at QCS. Everyone takes care of everyone else, with only the occasional lapse into selfishness (as we all tend to do from time to time). The only thing is, that the school funding situation is mind-boggling. Money seems to always be an issue, just like at home, only worse, because no one tells you how much you are allowed to spend.

Two weeks from right now I will be arriving at the Calgary airport, if all goes as planned. I am so looking forward to the loving embrace of home and family. Time to go teach Junior High Art.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Doha to London

Eid Mubarak! This is the weekend of Eid, a religious holiday for Muslims around the world. Qatar Canadian School graciously makes this into an opportunity to have a midterm break. With the added bonus of the Emir announcing an extra holiday on Thursday, we have a full ten days off. It is a much-needed break. While my job at QCS is so wonderful, I (and everyone I talk to) am exhausted and badly in need of this time away. I think it is because everything we do in Doha seems to require way more effort and energy, even basic things like grocery shopping. The effort is what makes this experience an adventure, but it just takes way more energy to find what you need, get it, and then find a way to transport it, and you. Simply getting a cab can be a major ordeal.
So here I am, in London. Thursday I was in the desert in 40 degree heat, dune bashing in a 4x4, riding a camel for the first time, eating lunch and smoking shisha in a bedouin tent with my friends, and skedding down sand dunes. 24 hours later I was in London where it is around 5 degrees this week and raining, enjoying the sights and sounds of my first European adventure. I love it here. It is now in serious competition with New York for the space in my heart occupied by favourite city. Paul and I had a great first day. We enjoyed a small bus tour, got grossed out at the fun "London Dungeon", by far the best "haunted house" experience I have ever had, and saw the crown jewels at the Tower of London. Paul was jetlagged, so while he napped in the afternoon I spent a delightful few hours wandering up and down Charing Cross Road and Tottenham Court, visiting Trafalgar Square, where there is a huge NFL protest going on, and shopping. I bought Christmas cards, as I am not certain of the selection that will be available in Doha!! lol
The time is racing by. When I get back from London it will just be six weeks until it is time to fly to Calgary for Christmas, the wedding, and to see loved ones. Amber has worked so hard on the wedding, I am just so grateful to have such a wonderful sister who loves me and takes such good care of me. Better be off for now.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

dealing with doha qatar...good, bad, ugly

What else do I write about? How about what it is really like here. I had a tough weekend. I had great people around me who are becoming my very close friends and who are always kind and fun. I had a bad weekend anyway. On Thursday one of my really great high school students had said, "Miss, they trick teachers into coming here, promising culture, and then you get here and find out there is no culture." I laughed, but I had to think about that one a lot. I pulled out my empowerment staple, "Eat, Pray, Love" and thought, this is not what I signed up for. The thing is that it is almost impossible to learn another language here because everyone speaks English. And Qatari people are very private, so it is hard to get to know anyone but westerners. The city is so NEW, that there is not much even in the way of historical architecture.

I was feeling down. Then I realized a few things. This is the normal adjustment time for culture shock, and that is what I am now experiencing. Vacation's over. I LIVE here now. Opportunities for travel and culture have happened, and will continue to do so. I am going on a State Mosque tour Friday for good ness sake!
I got chased down the street by a man who wanted to take me for a ride, but people with more experience taught me what to do about that one. I am learning how to ignore the unwanted attention and use the blonde hair to my advantage when I really need a cab. I am learning to balance going out to eat camel or lentil soup or mystery curry, with evenings where I just stay home and read a book and eat buckwheat pancakes so I don't get too worn out.

School has been a little tough because the Supreme Education Council (pictured directly above) has commanded that we teach Islamic, Ararbic, and Qatari History. That, combined with the requirements to get the school accredited by Alberta Learning has caused complete upheaval and strain on the leaders and teachers and kids. But slowly and surely we are working it out. Now I team teach Grade 5/6 PE, teach 7/8/9 Art and 10/11 Drama. And I am the visual and dramatic arts resource person for elementary. And I like it. All of it. Each day is an experiment. The kids are good. The staff is good. The rest sorts itself out.

I was frustrated because I couldn't get my fingerprints to show up and thought my residency would never come. Now they have worked. Still waiting on residency, but one more frustration has passed. (New people: Olive oil your hands for days before you go...moisture is good). I was frustrated because I didn't know how to transfer money home. Now I do. The key is ETERNAL patience, and a sense of humour, and LETTING GO of things that I would usually classify as uber-important. The key is to be grateful for a fiance who I miss, a mom who I miss, a sister who I miss, and is home planning ALL the details of my wedding for me. I focus on gratitude for the fact that I have friends and family at home who send me messages of love and support. I am so blessed to have that. I am so lucky to have this experience. I need to enjoy every moment while I can. I had the opportunity to go home. And I turned my back on it. This is amazing. This is too good to miss.

Remember how fast university passed and then soon felt like someone else's lifetime? The present fades so quickly. We must cherish it.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Daily Life in Doha

Well, things have become somewhat normal at times, and I am adjusting to life here, which is good...and bad, at times. I have to be cautious with what I write in my blog because blogging is monitored for obvious reasons. All in all, this is a GREAT place to be. I especially realize this when I read the blogs of friends and colleagues in other countries right now. I then feel that I have nothing to complain about.

So this is what life is like. Sunday I get up at 4:30 and get ready for work. The air-conditioned coach-style bus comes to the lobby of this executive suite hotel every day at 6:15. Teachers at my school live in a few different residences. If you have kids, you automatically live in a large villa. They remind me of homes in Costa Rica, as they are gated on the outside and at each residence, and contain a large tiled countryard which can be used as outside seating or a parking spot, or both. These villas are in a gated compound and have a clubhouse and pool. Married people may live there if they can get one (and if they want to). Lots don't because the one drawback of them is that there is nothing else around there except other houses. People who live there often end up buying or renting cars to get out of the compound once in a while. The rest of us live in various types and locations of apartments within Doha. Those of us who lived in the apartment building in Muntazah neighborhood are currently without apartments, as we wait for new ones to be completed. Which will happen any day now. Whether a couple or a single, you get a similar apartment. They are furnished and quite large, though size varies slightly. There is no open concept living. Every room is its own room with a door, including living room, dining room, and kitchen (in most places). All have at least two bedrooms with large beds, tables couches, etc. They all have a stove and oven, fridge and washer dryer combo machine, which seem to always have issues. While I wait for my new apartment, I am living in an executive hotel downtown, just off La Corniche. It is very fancy and I get maid service and a view of the Persian Gulf. However, it is touristy and I miss my neighborhood for its local walking distance shops and services.

The best deal here is cabs. Cabs are sooo cheap compared to anywhere else I have been. And that is good because you need one constantly. Especially in summer, when it is hot enough to kill you outside. Doha is just like any city its size. There is a lot to do if you go do it. Maybe even better because expats form groups easily to explore mutual interests. However, if you choose not to partake, life here can be dullsville. So, I partake. I fill my days and nights with enjoyable activities and adventures.

School is great. Class sizes are tiny and the pace and demands are much lighter. However, the pay is random and makes no sense to anyone. Some people make lots of money. Some don't. It seems like they spin the wheel of fortune to determine your salary. It is very puzzling. But the kids at my school are tremendous and so is the staff and I am loving the new principal.

A lot of food here is pricey or the same as home because everything is imported. It is a desert. Nothing grows here but sand dunes. Smoking is hugely popular. So is eating. So is eating and smoking together. So is KFC and Pizza Hut. Seriously.

Anyway, after teaching a combo of 5 or 6 Gr1-11 classes per day, I come back, go to the gym and then do whatever. The beach. Sightseeing. A social activity. Learn something new. Then I chill, get ready, and go to bed.

Weekends I try to get out in the sun at the pool early in the morning and then find something fun or educational or both to do.

There is a lot of hooplah to get residency status here. It is important because without it I can't get a home phone or other services, a driver's licence, nor can I leave the country. With a week long break coming at the end of October for the holiday Eid, I would really like to get that. Blood work twice, xrays, fingerprints, a stack of documents to sign. Blech. It takes forever.

So far, I am thrilled that I'm here. I have very little to complain of, other than missing my loved ones. And the fact that people drive like maniacs. And that men stare openly and rudely constantly unless I wear a homemade hijab. So sometimes I do it, just so I don't feel like a circus act.