Thursday, January 31, 2008


. . . my single most favorite cereal. And believe me, I have lots of favorites. Why is it my favorite? Because when you add milk, sugar, and enough bananas to it, all you taste is milk, sugar, and bananas. It's the next best thing to a bowl of milk, sugar, and bananas, only it makes you think you're being healthier because it's "fortified" and I'm reaching that point in my life where I can use some fortification. And if you're having it for lunch, just add a little less sugar. And if for dinner, just make sure you have dessert afterward so you can really call it a meal.

When I was a kid, my cereal of choice was Lucky Charms. My mother never bought these, so I relied on my grandmother sneaking them to me on Saturday mornings with whispers of, "Shh. Don't tell your mother." And, okay, I admit it, I ate them in college, too. Kept a box of them on my desk and a gallon of milk in the mini-fridge. And alright, if you're going to push me on this, I've eaten them since I've had kids, switching to Fruity Pebbles on occasion for variety. But I don't buy them anymore. Honest. I was feeling bad about hoarding them, hiding in my room to eat them, telling the kids between bite fulls of crunchy marshmallows, no, you can't have these, they're only for grown-ups who have stopped growing and don't need the healthy stuff anymore. Same reason I get to drink Diet Coke instead of orange juice in the morning. Because, because, because.

Now I'm back to Cornflakes. And it's a good thing, too, because it's one of the few breakfast cereals the grocery stores here carry that isn't $7 a box or coated in chocolate or both. And, better yet, one of the "hypermarkets" (supermarkets) was selling promotional boxes: free bowl attached. You know the one: big, deep, and heavy with that colorful rooster (it is a rooster, right?) on it. That same bowl would run you 38 boxtops and $16.50 postage in the States. And then your four kids would fight over it until you hid it in a cupboard and swore you would make them eat nothing but plain oatmeal for a week unless they could learn to get along, be more generous, share with each other, and, daggone it all, put their dirty clothes in the laundry because don't they understand how much you do for them already without having to pick up their rooms as well?!? But here, you can buy 4 boxes of cereal, get 4 bowls, and--here's the best part--instructions on how to eat the cereal!

Yeah, that's right. Instructions. At another grocery store this week, I found a Nestle cereal that wasn't coated in chocolate. They don't sell it in the States, so don't run out looking for it. And, attached to this box, was another bowl, this one a bit smaller, but, hey, there are mornings when I want to eat my cereal out of the rooster bowl. When I put the new blue bowls away at home, I noticed some writing--English and Arabic--on the plastic bag it came in: "Fill to line, add milk, and enjoy." (I decided I wouldn't mind instructions on how to eat some of the foods here. Like, "Don't try chewing the hard thing in the soup" or "As a matter of fact, don't ask what the hard thing in the soup is.") Cereal is just not a common breakfast food here. What is common? Plain yogurt, olives, and bread.

We did have breakfast out the other morning at an Indian restaurant. I didn't expect cereal, certainly, or even eggs and toast or pancakes or waffles or French toast or good old Southern grits. But I didn't really expect dosas either. Yummy, just not a first-thing-in-the-morning kind of food for this American stomach.

So I'm sticking with my Cornflakes. Then I'm packing my bowls carefully and bringing them back to Pittsburgh with me because nothing says souvenir like a cereal bowl from a country that doesn't eat cereal.

And, by the way, of course I let my kids eat the Lucky Charms. What kind of mother do you think I am?

Monday, January 28, 2008

The kiddies

Four weeks into being here and I think we're settled into the routine of it all. So for those of you interested, a kid update:

S: He'll be 11 on Friday. Before we ever came here, he said he didn't want a birthday party until we go back home. Now he's not so sure. But he doesn't want school friends at the party. Or compound friends necessarily. That leaves his loving family, right? Not so fast. "I just don't know, Mom!" he keeps moaning. "I don't know what I want to do! I'm sorry!" "Don't be sorry. Just let me know when you decide." Time's a-tickin and still no decision. He's in agony, as are the rest of us who have to deal with his exTREME mood swings lately. It's homesickness, I'm sure. But oh. my. gosh. "I miss my friends." "You have friends here, too." "No one I feel comfortable around." Five minutes later: "And when I leave here, I'll miss these friends!" "What friends?" "The friends I might have." Five more minutes later: "And then when we move again, I'll miss my Pittsburgh friends, my Doha friends. and Jordan (who moved away 3 years ago!)." "Be glad you have friends," I tell him. "Some kids are too poor to afford them."

Oh, wrong lecture.

Friday was the "worst day ever" for him. He accidentally laughed at the little guy singing in the car and when I caught him laughing, he started crying all over again. I said, "It's okay to be happy again." "No," he groaned. "I really am sad!" Then Sunday was his best day ever. Then yesterday was even better (his first game of rugby during recess; he enjoyed the bloodshed). Until last night when we were at dinner and he had a meltdown because he thought he was full, then realized he wasn't, then wanted more food, but the spices were killing him, which upset him even more. "I don't know what's so spicy. I don't know." It wasn't the heat that got to him, it was not knowing the source.

And back to my comment about him not wanting us at his party, I say that not because he has told us, but because he has shown us. Were my parents an endless source of embarrassment to me this early in life? Do boys go through hormonal changes like girls do? Are Ron and I really as socially backward as S thinks we are when we're out in public together? (Don't answer that.) I don't remember crying over my dosa last night like--ahem--someone else did.

The sad thing is, just this last summer, S came on a mini vacation with my mother and I. He held my hand everywhere we went, so much that I started to feel suffocated the first day. "Appreciate it now," I kept telling myself. "He'll be embarrassed of you before you know it." And, yes, it's before I know it.

As for the other kids? They're not nearly as hormonal or homesick or embarrassed of us.

O is happy, healthy, a tad more emotional than usual, but that just means his temper flares 18 times a day instead of 16.

E is really changing here and I feel like I'm getting to know a brand new little girl. She shares a room with O now and I got her a Princess rug for her side of the room. In the evening, she spends time organizing her toys around it, brushing her mermaids' hair, color-coordinating her outfits and hair accessories. She's become obsessive about keeping things neat and it's kinda freaking me out a little. But she's in heaven here. She plays every afternoon with two little girls down the street who are her age, skips or jumps rope there and back, her usual bouncy self. We still get the occasional outburst, typical 5-year-old temperament, but as long as she's happy more often than not, I'm happy, too.

The little guy is the same as ever: wild and happy. He's in preschool 2 mornings a week and wishes it were every day. We got him a tricycle the first week here (my first experience haggling with a shop owner) and he's a madman on it, keeping up with the kids on scooters. He longs to go swimming, but we've had a cold spell here (60s), so I've managed to keep his clothes on.

And there you have it. Aside from their moments or days of homesickness, they hardly seem to notice they're in a foreign country or that none of their classmates are from America. They don't stare at people or ask rude questions (yet). I suppose seeing everyone in abayas and thobes is less disconcerting to them than seeing one person in one in the States would be. Boredom on weekends when everyone else seems to disappear is a bit of an issue, but that's why we have a Wii. And books. And a birthday party to agonize over.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Touching taboos

Ron and I just spent the morning and part of the afternoon driving around town with the kids a bit--finding a nice family park (as opposed to the women-and-children-only parks popular here), taking E to a birthday party, having lunch out at a pizzeria (no crushed red peppers to be found!!), and then a little shopping.

First comment: I think we'll be sticking to "local" food fare from now on. It's cheap, it's authentic, and . . . it's cheap.

Second comment--or comments--or the remainder and purpose of this post:

Affection. Specifically, public affection.

Now, I've never been one to hang all over my husband. We rarely even hold hands in public since with four children, at least the younger two will be wanting to take custody of our hands when we're out. Making out in public has also never been on my to-do list, not even in dark movie theaters.

However, PDA is so taboo here that, although I've been told we can hold hands (I'm assuming that means without being arrested), you'll get a number of dirty looks if you do. So, okay, no hand holding. But we also can't hug, give each other a peck on the cheek, or rest a hand on the other's arm (that's "prolonged touching"). Ron reached out to give me a quick squeeze around the shoulders in one store, and the saleswoman (Asian, not Middle Eastern) gave us a warning look and then a quick smile when Ron backed off. Although I still insist I don't cling to him when we're out, I'm more affectionate than I realized.

I was speaking to a woman from the UK last night who said things are much more relaxed in the UAE. "They can have pork [that seemed to be her top reason for preferring that country--seems to be a lot of people's top reasons; frankly, "the other white meat" is no loss for me, especially when you realize how poorly treated pigs--also the most intelligent of the animals we consume--are . . . but that's a soap box I'll climb on another time . . . and out of brackets, which are much too disruptive to readers] and they can be affectionate in public." She said she can't imagine these strict guidelines are going to be good for expats when they return to their countries: "No. No. Don't touch me. Not allowed." Ron tends to believe it just makes affection in the home mean more. Don't be fooled: he's not generally a glass-half-full kind of guy.

Although hand holding between couples is frowned upon, it's perfectly acceptable for men to hold each others' hands and for women to do the same. I see more men doing this than women. However, homosexuality is flat out illegal here.

And while we're talking about laws: running a red light will cost you an automatic month is jail and/or $3500. And, yes, even with fines like that, driving on the roads here is still a bit harrowing . . . especially if I inadvertently rest my hand on Ron's knee for a moment and someone with a bigger SUV than ours peaks in.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Q&A Part II

Arabic culture: how exposed are my kids to it?

Hardly at all.

We have satellite TV, so we get Disney, Animal Planet, Discovery Science, etc. A few channels broadcast American TV here: Oprah is here, but not Jerry Springer. We get "Law & Order" but not "The Shield." The filtering system seems to be a little inconsistent, though. The kissing scenes in Disney animated movies are cut, but flip through the channels and you'll find plenty of non-animated kissing (American soaps) and swear words, their Arabic translations subtitled. Haven't seen any sex scenes yet. Haven't been looking. Honest. As a matter of fact, if we ever move off of "Boomerang," it's a rare occasion. (How can I deny my children reruns of "The Jetsons" and "Captain Caveman," "Deputy Dog" and "Mighty Mouse"?!)

Our first week here, before we had satellite, I was mesmerized by an Arabic station one afternoon . . . honestly couldn't tear myself away from it. The show had a mustached man singing in Arabic, a single guitar player backing him up. It was a fairly upbeat song, but nothing I was ready to run out and buy. He looked bored, as though singing himself to sleep. But then the cameras panned around the studio and you could see men lined up against the walls, a few in thobes, but most in casual Western dress. And two Arabic women, the only two women in the studio at all, were dancing along to the music. One was wearing jeans and a black shirt, nothing remarkable--looked like she had just walked in to deliver lunch to her husband or something and got recruited to dance. She was probably about 40 or so, very soccer-mom looking. But the other woman dancing is the one that confused me the most. She was likely around 20, had heavy makeup, long hair in cornrows, alternating blond and brown. Her clothes were even more bizarre: knee-length shorts with suspenders, a tight low-cut, midriff t-shirt, and knee socks with high heels. Whereas the soccer mom (excuse me: "football" mom) was dancing more traditional Arabic dance, the other was dancing like she was hoping for tips: shimmying, spinning in circles, lots of hip gyration and thrusting, whipping her hair around like Bo Derek had she been in "Flashdance." Just. Bizarre. And again, they all looked bored. After about 5 minutes or so, I realized I would never figure out what was going on, and by then the older boys were watching as well . . . and laughing. So we moved on to good old American TV, where you can at least expect low brow and not be confused by it all.

As for the Arabic cartoons the kids have caught split seconds of? I'm guessing cartoons are the same all over the world: slapstick. Unless it's Bugs Bunny, you don't really need to know what they're saying anyway. And then you just have to hear the dialog, don't you?

Only one radio station here is English speaking, and the variety of music annoys me so much I would rather listen to the little guy's "Lion King" cd over and over again. One song will be Greensleeves, the next techno dance, the next hard rock, the next punk. And then Alicia Keys to top it all off. The Arabic stations play only Arabic music, which doesn't interest me. I can't say I can imagine ever developing an ear for it either--no more so than I will ever develop an ear for Black Sabbath or Britney Spears.

Speaking of which, I do love that when the TV is on and happens to somehow slip past Boomerang, it's a beautiful thing to not be blasted with stories of what's going on in Hollywood, what star marriage just ended, who just had botched plastic surgery. If we ever give up the television entirely, our return back to the states will be the perfect time.

But don't expect me to actually do that. I readily admit to a lack of culture, especially when it comes to certain "variety" shows that will go unnamed . . . lest I embarrass my family.

Thursday, January 17, 2008


A friend in Pittsburgh asked me about my exposure to Qatari culture, religion, etc. I've hesitated commenting too much on either so far because, frankly, living in a compound with mostly Westerners, my exposure has been pretty minimal.

When we decided to come to Doha, all the reading I did beforehand pointed to the fact that I might get a glimpse into Arab culture, but not specifically Qatari culture or Muslim culture, particularly since we're here for such a relatively short period of time. After 2 1/2 weeks, I can make a few observations, but I may need to revise those before we leave. Or perhaps I'll just be able to add to them.

This is a fairly liberal country when you compare it to Afghanistan or Iraq. But conservative when compared to the UAE (Dubai in particular) or Bahrain (so I hear). By liberal, I mean Westernized. Granted, there are Western malls here with Western shops, even a few bars. But the store dummies in those shops are modestly dressed and public intoxication is against the law. There is only one liquor store in the entire city, and how much you can buy in a month is determined by your income. You can't drink more than a certain percentage of it, so your "pay stub" is required when purchasing alcohol.

I've been to several of the malls here, and most women are in abayas and men are in thobes. The store employees are not in traditional dress, so you can assume they're not Muslim (generally Indian, Filipino, or Sri Lankan). You'll see the occasional woman in black dress with only a head scarf, but I'd say 99% wear the full hijab. (The Qatari women in Ron's class at school all wear theirs.) Back in Pittsburgh when I shop, I avoid the malls. I get a crowded-in sense there, this mass of humanity all pressed up against itself--even when it's not crowded. Shopping here is quite a different experience for me, a very isolated one. When the women around you have all but their eyes covered, it's hard to make contact with them. Are they looking at me? Are they smiling? Sneering? Curious? Annoyed? And the men, although their faces aren't covered, obviously avoid looking at you as well. It would be improper, if only to nod and say hello.

Now, if I were to say I like the sense of modesty, like not seeing flesh dripping over low-rise jeans or people spilling out of too-small tank tops or bubbling out of too-short tees, I'm afraid I'd sound ready to sign up for forcing women to cover up all over the world. I know some women in their hijab loathe the dress and yearn to break free of it. I know for many--whether here or elsewhere--it's a sign of oppression and a too-strict religious code that's gone beyond what their scripture requires, which is to cover their hair. But to see 12-year-olds in the U.S. dressing like strippers funded by their own parents? I can see why many Arabs loathe the thought of Western so-called culture oozing its way into their countries. An Iranian friend here doesn't believe Doha will ever be as open to the West as Dubai is.

As for the religious culture here, the biggest indication that people are guided by their Muslim beliefs--aside from their dress--is the call to prayer, sounded five times a day. I was talking to a neighbor shortly after we first arrived. She's Muslim and her family is from Kuwait, having left there after the war began. We heard the evening call to prayer while we talked, after which she excused herself to go inside to pray. The nearby mosque is directly behind our compound, so we hear it loud and clear each time. Here's a link to what the call to prayer sounds like. There are loads of places online where you can find it, but this one is closest to what we hear. Just skip down to the bottom of the blogger's page and click on the video.

Listening to this, you can see why O nearly fell out of the bed in fear the first time he heard it. It was 5 a.m. our first full day here, and when it woke me, I realized I'd forgotten to warn the kids and ran to the bedroom O and E share, sure they'd be frightened. To be 8 years old in a new house in a new country and to hear this in a tile-floored home that echoes like the Grand Canyon was a pretty terrifying experience for him. I told a neighbor about it, and she said that when she and her family arrived, her children--8 and 10 at the time--woke up as well and ran to their parents' room, convinced the house was haunted. Now my kids all sleep through it, although I don't. But I don't mind either. It's a nice reminder to me of where I am. This country lives its religion. It's not a peripheral consideration during the day; it is their day.

Monday, January 14, 2008


I was reading a friend's blog about his family's visit to Hawaii--paragraph after paragraph (in a good way) of beautiful descriptions of the island. Having spent a summer there years ago, I almost felt I was back there.

And I thought, I need to include more descriptions of the scenery in Doha. So here it is:

(1) Lots of sand--but not the smooth sand you think of at the beach (although, I admit, I haven't been to the beach yet; perhaps the sand is nicer there). This is a gritty sand made of crushed coral (or so I've been told). It rained for several days straight here, and when I picked my kids up from school yesterday, the parking area had become a cement pit. And since sand isn't particularly absorbent, particularly gritty sand, the drainage is sloooooow. The roads, understandably, have no drainage system either, so driving is hazardous when it rains, and I'm grateful for a huge Trailblazer to get me through the ponds.

(2) Lots of construction. Lots and lots. Old buildings being torn down; new ones being built up. Roads dug up left and right and, too often, directly in front of you.

(3) Palaces. Lots and lots. I've mentioned these before, but let me add that virtually every one I've seen looks like it's not quite done because the area surrounding them are . . . sand and construction. I can't see inside the walls, however, and don't expect to. But I imagine within them are trees, grass, lovely landscaped courtyards.

Traditionally, as in anciently traditionally, homes for the average person in the Middle East were extremely modest--even the wealthy families--particularly by today's standards. You slept inside, but that was about it. You cooked outside, socialized outside, *lived* outside. Arabic culture also demanded extreme hospitality. You didn't lock your doors because any time, day or night, strangers were welcome. Arabic people are still famous for their hospitality, despite what is going on in so many Middle East countries today. I'm learning more about manners here than I ever expected to and hope my kids are, too.

Interestingly, most of the Qatari are descended from Bedouin tribes, which didn't completely settle until the 1970s. So this creation of magnificent homes is a truly recent thing that accompanied the wealth generated by the oil industry. It's amazing to me that men and women in their 60s and 70s have seen such a dramatic shift in their country's wealth, evident in the houses, the Land Rovers, the shopping malls, and so forth. Problems obviously accompany such new wealth, particularly for the younger generation (teens and twenties): disregard for road laws is the most common complaint, thus the recent institution of outrageously high fines for traffic offenses. And even if such behavior is inexcusable, it is as least understandable.

I spent the morning running errands with the little guy--my first real excursion without Ron at the steering wheel. We managed just fine, thank you very much--even with scary drivers all around--and I'm building up my confidence to go to a 10 QR store this week (like a dollar store, but closer to $3 at this particular one). I'm feeling rather elated at the moment, since, as most of you know, driving was my biggest anxiety about coming here. Freedom means a lot to me here . . . as well it should.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Goin' to the zoo, zoo, zoo

You know the Raffi song, everyone sing along...

The one thing my youngest wanted to see at the zoo was camels. He's been talking about them for the last two days, and I've used the promise of him seeing them as bait to get him to settle down for naps or bed. But after a full tour of the Doha Zoo, we left without spying a single one. He was fine; he didn't even notice. He was happy with the lions, tigers (no bears), zebra, elephant, hyena, baboons, chimpanzees, etc. We'll have to make a trip back to our friend's neighbor's house or out to the edges of town where I imagine plenty of camels can be found.

I told a friend here that I felt like we were at the zoo where Curious George got in trouble for feeding the animals but then saved the day by finding the parrot that had escaped through the hole in the netting of the new rain forest exhibit. (If you know the Raffi song I was talking about earlier, you know the book I'm talking about now.) The animals were all right there, virtually at arm's reach if you dared. Only 3 or 4 feet, a low fence, and a wire cage kept me from the lions and tigers. I had visions of Ivan climbing over that fence to pet them while my back was turned and was glad, if only for the few minutes we were near them, that he insisted on me carrying him most of our visit.

The geese are allowed to breed as they wish and there must have been at least 100 or so of them. My first thought was how ridiculous it seemed to have that many geese at a zoo--strange to have geese at all, really, when you consider how plentiful they are in the States. Then I realized (a) we have camels at our zoos, so why shouldn't there be geese here; and (b) of course, they should be allowed to go forth and multiply. You want a natural habitat? Let them lay those eggs by the dozen if they want to, as long as its their idea.

But then we got to the baboons and it was like that scene in "Tarzan" where Jane is attacked by an entire troop of them. (Forgive the allusions to all things children.) I don't think there could have been fewer than 60--babies, adolescents, adults--dozens upon (sometimes literally) dozens of them. And with swollen rumps galore. It's easy to feel like the superior primate when you're watching these animals. But then I read this this evening (from Wikipedia):

"Baboon mating behavior varies greatly depending on the social structure of the troop. In the mixed groups of savanna baboons, each male can mate with any female. [okay, still feeling superior]. The mating order among the males depends partially on their social ranking, and fights between males are not unusual. [hmm... getting closer to us in the evolutionary chain]

"There are however more subtle possibilities; males sometimes try to win the friendship of females. To garner this friendship, they may help groom the female, help care for her young, or supply them with food. Some females clearly prefer such friendly males as mates." [clever little things, huh? more clever than a lot of men I dated]

But, you know, at least we can say we don't fling our poo, right?

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Around and around and around...

We got our car on Sunday and decided to head out as a family last night for dinner and grocery shopping. Thank heavens the food was worth the trip, because the hour-long car ride home (which was supposed to only be about 10 minutes) nearly sent me over the edge. Maybe "nearly" is too generous a word.

The restaurant was amazing--the food, the service, the setting. After taking my kids out to dinner for nearly 11 years now in the States, I've gotten used to patrons and servers alike glaring at us as we walk in, regardless of how well behaved the children might be. Good, bad, doesn't matter most of the time. You're still an imposition in a restaurant if you dare bring in your children. Have you noticed that? How once you give birth, you're expected to frequent only McDonald's as a family? I don't mean to imply we should all be taking our kids to quiet little, expensive restaurants, but places where there are highchairs??? Then by all means, I'm going to assume that means my kids are welcome.

But after last night's dinner here, I'm convinced we got even better service because of the kids. This is a very child (and elderly people) friendly society, and the servers were so attentive to us that I almost wanted to hug them in gratitude afterward (if not for the fact that PDA is frowned upon here and even illegal on some levels in many Arabic countries) for reminding me that not everyone cringes at the sight of a child entering their eating establishment. And, as I said, a meal so good I wanted to order it all over again when it was gone didn't hurt the experience either: baba ganoush, hummus, chicken kebab. I'm embarrassed at my pathetic efforts to make any of that now that I've had the real thing.

We went grocery shopping afterward, which wasn't quite as rewarding. No eggs, no butter (just tub margarine), no cumin for crying out loud. And I have to apparently grate my own cinnamon. But I ended up with enough suitable substitutions that I'm going to actually make chocolate chip cookies this afternoon . . . if I can find a neighbor with a cookie sheet.

Then our little night out quickly degenerated into chaos when we headed home. When you get directions here, you need to get directions there and then back again, because inevitably, you can't count on just retracing your steps. They don't have detours here: that would be too helpful. They have diversions, which, in essence, is saying, "Oh, sorry, this road's not open any more. Good luck finding out how to get to where you meant to go. We don't plan to give you any hints." And roads close for construction with no advance warning. none. What's open on your way to dropping your husband off at work may very well be closed when you return home 5 minutes later. Maps are basically printed only so other drivers can laugh at you as you struggle to read them in the dark with your car's interior light on. And street signs? Maybe one in ten streets are labeled, so you drive several blocks out of your way until you realize you missed your turn and need to start all over again with more diversions, more unmarked roads, and more dead ends.

And all the while, the kids were in the back of the car fighting. I keep having these deep, meaningful talks with them about how we're only here for 4 months, how they need to remember how to be each others' best friends, how I need them, for the sake of sanity, to just love each other and enjoy each other's company. Finally, after 45 minutes of listening to nonstop bickering ("stop touching me," "stop humming," "stop acting like you're going to touch me," "stop touching him"), I turned around and yelled at them, telling them I wasn't liking any of them very much at the moment. I'm so proud of the example I set for them of how to just get along and love their family members. Another deep, meaningful moment for us all. Then E promptly fell asleep, so her little brother didn't have anyone else to pick on. S was busy thinking about the friends he was missing, and O got bored. At least the last 15 minutes of the ride were quiet if not pleasant as we finally matched a picture on the map with a small tower at a roundabout and made our way back home sweet home.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Cooler weather

The weather is turning "cold" here... signs of oncoming rain, I hear. Today's temperature was only about 69, which, for the kids, was still warm enough to swim--at least while the sun was out. This next week, the highs will be in the low 60s.

We still don't have a car, so we ventured out to the neighborhood "shopping center" (in quotes because this was no strip mall: see the picture I'm hoping Ron will post soon), which consists of a dry cleaner (shirts cleaned and pressed for 60 cents; labor is the cheapest thing here), a small grocer, a juice shop (large, fresh fruit smoothies for about $2.00), and a bakery. We bought steaming hot, fresh pita bread, 4 for 35 cents. The bakers all laughed when we expressed shock at how inexpensive it was. Now we just need to find good hummus to go with it. I don't imagine that will be too difficult.

Just some more trivia for the area: None of the workers here in Doha are Qatari. Even the middle-class Qataris don't "need" to work and have homes that would rival any Malibu mansion you could possibly imagine. (Remember this is the richest country per capita in the world.) We ventured out last night with a friend to see a Qatari's private herd of camels (used for the purpose you imagine... one of the three baby camels was "missing"). Surely, we thought, the home was a palace meant for multiple generations of the same family. No, our friend told us, that was one man, one generation, and many servants. Even the fully furnished tent for the servant who took care of the camels was big enough for a large family and had a satellite dish. As for our family? We're more or less lower class here, regardless of Ron's position as a professor. We're simply another brand of hired workers. Which, considering how nice we have it here (despite our current lack of a car!!), isn't such a bad branding, really: a large villa (5 bedrooms, 5 1/2 baths); a pool, tennis courts, and playground behind us; and a clubhouse complete with pool table, ping pong table, satellite tv, saunas, and a well-equipped workout room. No, not a bad lower-class life here at all.

That's not to say there isn't poverty. It's just that we're literally closer to that level than to middle class. Trite, but true, it's all relative.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Settling in

We're here. That being said, I'm still feeling a bit like I'm in limbo... between two worlds. I don't know how long it's supposed to take the typical expat to feel at home, but I'm guessing longer than four months.

A friend/neighbor took me shopping yesterday: a few rugs for the tile floors were a top priority for me to feel like we're not living in one huge bathroom. Don't know when we'll have our own car, although I can't say I'm particularly eager to get out and drive it anyway. The traffic is every bit as intimidating as I thought it would be, although I was glad to find out the school is only 2 roundabouts away and the nearest grocery store only 1 away.

And I made dinner last night--nothing exciting, but I needed to do it so I would feel in control a bit, kind of like when I would go grocery shopping as soon as I could after each of my kids was born, taking all of them with me as they accumulated. Right after we finished dinner, a neighbor dropped by with a hot pan of food for us, so I'm off the hook for tonight. It looked tempting for breakfast. My stomach is still confused over which meal it wants, not quite recovered from the jet lag yet. Fresh baked goods are plentiful (and cheap) around here, but I haven't ventured out yet for anything more than a loaf of French bread at the grocery store (less than $1 for a huge, thick baguette). Since most of the food I found was more expensive than in the States, it's good to see that if we're willing to live on bread alone, we won't starve. Eggs, on the other hand? About $1 a piece. Apparently, Qatar used to get most of its eggs from Saudi Arabia, but the country had to slaughter all of its poultry b/c of the avian flu and the supply is still down.

Time to go find the boys and drag them home for lunch. They've already made a friend right across from us. He's between their ages and was over here ringing our bell first thing this morning. I plan to take the kids swimming later (which means walking out our door and behind our building), but the pool is otherwise empty. It's in the low 80s here, which is too cold for people used to this climate. The water is actually heated right now but is cooled when the weather gets really warm.

I hear it snowed in Pittsburgh???