25 November 2015

I've Moved to Doha: Loving the Middle East, Big Time!! #qatar

I am writing today on one of the four rainy days I have witnessed since living in the desert. It has been raining since yesterday morning and this is crazy to me . . . In a good way. Remember how much it rained in Singapore? It poured almost daily. So now when it rains, I rejoice! Because it only happens like once every two months or so! It's fabulous!

Except for that today, there was flooding. And a lot of it! They even closed down my school for the afternoon. It was a mess . . . But I was sick at home and safely tucked into my covers, doped up on DayQuil. Thankfully all of my friends were able to get home from school. It took almost 2 hours for them to actually get to school this morning! 2 hours!!

But generally speaking, the weather is beautiful here! It was so hot when I arrived. Every day I looked at my weather app, and generally the temperature averaged between 109 and 111 degrees fahrenheit (that's like 42 - 44 degrees celsius). And I kept thinking: whoa, this is like hotter than Austin during the summer. But then someone told me that the weather would change. 


About two or three weeks ago--just out of the blue--the temperature dropped. It now averages between 68  and 75 degrees fahrenheit (20 - 23 degrees celsius). The skies are completely clear and the brightest blue you could ever see! (Well, not today, because of the rain. But normally.)

I have been living in Doha, Qatar since August 16th. It's been three and a half months, and I absolutely love it!

Of course I say this now . . . Three and a half months later. Moving to Doha has not been easy, but now I'm sort of falling into a regular schedule and a group of friends that I really adore.

For the first month that I was here, I lived in a hotel. It's a hotel that you can also rent rooms as apartments. It's not that much cheaper than finding a place out in the city, so I ended up finding a place in Al Sadd.

Al Sadd is a nice little neighborhood that feels more authentic to me, like I'm living in another country. Well, authentic if you choose to look past the Toys R Us on the corner and the Applebee's down the street. (I really wish chains from the US would stop invading the world.) But other than those things, it's great. I can easily walk around my neighborhood and I absolutely love my apartment.

There is no public transportation in Doha, meaning no trains or subways. I mean they are in the process of building their metro rail. I think there is a bus system, but I don't see the buses on the regular. And cabs are extremely difficult to find. There is Uber, but come on . . . Everyone has a car here. Everyone. And all of the cars are always on the roads all at once, all the time. The traffic in this city makes Houston or LA traffic look like a walk in the park. Every day it takes me 45 minutes to get to work. I stand on the corner, show some leg, and one of my friends picks me up in her car. It's 8.2 km to school. That's 5 miles. It's takes us 45 minutes to travel 5 miles! I'm laughing now, as I write this. But at 6 in the morning, it's not so funny. And walking? No. I mean, I walk around my neighborhood. But Doha--again like LA--is not a walking community. I miss the walking and biking I did all the time in Singapore. I'm seriously debating getting a car in February. We shall see . . . 

My apartment is great. It has three rooms and 3 bathrooms, and it's perfect for entertaining. I have one room for my studio, one room for me, and one room for guests. It's so great! It's older than my place in Singapore, which I love. Feels more vintage-y. It's filled with wood trim and grey tile floors. And I very rarely have to turn on the air conditioner. It holds in the cool really well! The ceilings are tall and there are windows in every room.

Of course I lived here for a full month before my furniture arrived. I was very disappointed with my movers this time around. They moved my items from the US to Singapore, no problem. But coming from Singapore to Doha was a real headache. Somehow I ended up paying more. I had to pay for storage because the items arrived from Singapore during the week of Eid. And they didn't bother delivering my things until 9pm on a school night. And they refused to unpack things because "it was late". And they threw away one of my sculptures that a friend gave me. It was a nightmare, actually. A real pain.  When one pays close to $10,000USD for door-to-door shipping, there should not be any extra charges and the movers should unpack everything without question. (Insert angry face emoji of your choice.)

I love the people I work with. The teaching staff at SEK is so great! Immediately upon arrival, we all just kind of started hanging out together. This was not the case in Singapore. I loved the people I became friends with in Singapore. But it was pretty lonely during my first year there. But, here? Instant support. It's fabulous! We hang out on weekends together and occasionally go grocery shopping together, ride to school together and have pool time together. It's awesome. In two days, 20 people are coming over to my house for a day-late Thanksgiving dinner. I can't wait! My first international hosting experience, and I am definitely looking forward to it!

As for the sensitivities of living in the Middle East, I haven't found any. I mean, there is a 1000QAR deposit to be able to buy alcohol. And when you pay it, you have to show a letter from your employer stating how much money you are allowed to spend on alcohol per month. It sounds like a lot to deal with. But honestly? The amount they've allotted me, I will never spend per month. Ever. Who can afford to do that? It's a substantial chunk of my salary for Christ's sake! 

And clothing-wise, there's really no difference. I wear the same things here that I wore in Singapore. I just can't wear my dresses to school without wearing pants or leggings with them. But when I go out with friends or hang out at the Souq, I wear whatever. It's no big deal. People stared at me before I moved here. People stare at me in Baltimore. In Singapore. Wherever. So, I feel no different here. 

The only ridiculous thing is that I was asked repeatedly to change my hair color. I had maybe 5 blue streaks in my hair. I told them I would change it within a month's time. And I did. I felt instantly sick to my stomach about it, but I changed it. No worries! In two years time, I will be able to have whatever color hair I want again! Hooray! (Just recently a friend posted a picture to me on FB of the Art Teacher of The Year in her state: fully blue hair. Like, unicorn/mermaid blue hair. She was wearing knee-high Doc Martins, tights, a short skirt, and a long-sleeved sweater. Cute as pie!)

I've found a really wonderful community in VCUQatar, Virginia Commonwealth University's Qatar location. I will be working on some projects with them in the spring and early next fall. And I'm so pleased! So incredibly pleased with the people that I've met there. All different types of artists, from all over the world. And I even got to see my most-favoritest-artist-ever-on-the-planet-of-artists at their campus. And sit on the front row of his lecture. And run up to him, in a not so subtle way, and tell him how much I loved him and how his work changed my life. So, yeah: VCUQatar is pretty much the #lovebomb! 

About a month and a half ago, a friend took me to the beach. He picked me up around 8am and we drove for about an hour and a half down the highway. Straight North. It was weird and oddly quiet. We were in the city, then suddenly out of the city. Then, suddenly in the desert. Then I felt like we were on a set for some Star Wars movie, and then we were somehow at the beach. The beach was called Fuwairit Beach. And it was beautiful! And relaxing, so relaxing. It was probably my most favorite day that I've had in Doha since I moved here. We hung out on the beach for a few hours and then we drove through some of the small villages nearby. We talked to some crabbers and ate lunch at the most amazing little authentic Turkish restaurant. The food was incredible and there was so much of it! 70QAR for so much food. That's $19USD my friends. Wooo! 


And speaking of food . . . I have now made the mistake twice of going to brunch in this fine city. While the alcohol and food are amazing (my champagne glass was never empty, yet I was drinking nonstop), it certainly isn't how I want to spend my time. Not on a regular basis, that is. The first brunch I went to was at the Kempinski on The Pearl. The Pearl is this neighborhood in town that sort of feels like a mini-Singapore. It's very fancy and colorful and there is grass everywhere. It's nice to look at, but it's not really my thing. The brunch cost close to 500QAR. It was my first weekend in town, so I didn't know what I was getting myself into. 500QA = $138USD. No. Not for a meal out, evers. Nope, not for me. And yet I did it again! Gasp. At the beginning of this month, I went to a brunch at the W Hotel. It cost 410QAR (about $115USD). Again, no. We went to see a friend play in his band, but he ended up being at the other restaurant. It was so crazy! But we had a good time. Both brunches were great times, but I probably won't be doing it again unless President Obama or Madonna come to town and they want to take me out.

The last thing I'll say about Doha is that I love the city's timing. Everything starts very early in the morning. My school starts at 7:20am, so I am there by 6;45am every day. Our school ends at 1:30pm everyday, and I leave campus by 3:30pm daily. And the sun goes down almost every day by 4:30pm. It's beautiful actually, because from my bedroom I can hear the prayer calls. Each of the five times that they ring out, everyday. It's kind of comforting. Sometimes it's speaking and sometimes it sounds like chanting. And there are cats everywhere. I'm told at some point Doha had an overabundance of rats. So, someone decided to bring in cats. Now there are no rats, but lots of cats. And sometimes, along with the chanting in the mornings, I hear the howl of two cats arguing. It's hilarious and surreal, all at once.

Carry on, Doha! I love you! Oh yeah! And follow me on Snapchat . . . It's super fast and fun! See below!