Living in Limericks

poetry and experiences of a multi-cultural family


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When Life Gives You Lemons, March With Lemon Bars

Feeling strong and feminine

We add the juice of a lemon in

A bowl of sweetness

And mix to completeness

Cause there IS room in the inn

Dear Maya,

One chilly January evening, as our salmon dinner was baking, and your Auntie was over for a visit, you proved, once again, to be quite perceptive.  At first, I failed to notice you removing all of your clothes in the middle of our living room, as my eyes were fixated on the TV. Barak Obama was giving his farewell speech, after eight years of presidency. It wasn’t until I heard the rip of your diaper being torn off that I turned my head. Slightly confused, I watched, as you galloped toward the TV, lifted your arms and shouted “Thank you so much!” I smiled, grateful for your spirit, as you gracefully turned and pranced toward the stairs, laying down on one side, staring at the floor in silence. You captured my mood perfectly. You have my heart.

Yesterday, someone new became president. There is a lot of confusion going on in many people’s hearts right now. I think that you are sensing that, although we are trying our best to be mindful of how much this all affects you, my sweet girl.  Instead of watching the TV that day, we baked. Lemon Bars. Ferociously, like wild women. I have a lot to learn myself, as your mama. How am I going to talk with you about race throughout your lifetime? How will I protect you from the discrimination many people are facing right now? What will I say, when all I want to do, should do, is listen? Knowing that I’ll never understand what it feels like to have your beautiful brown skin, how can I validate what you feel? How will I respond, when I witness prejudice, direct or indirect, happening because of the color of your skin? The questions every white mother of a black child is asking themselves right now. The questions we should all, as Americans, be asking ourselves right now. I am sitting still with this uncertainty, praying that I will have strength to always speak up, and to make good decisions about how to educate myself, in order to respond in ways that lift you up throughout your life.

Today, millions of women and men march peacefully for human rights, worldwide from Ghana to Germany to Antarctica!  Diaper bag stocked with fishy crackers and Elmo stickers, Nike’s laced up, we are out the door, ready to head to the Seattle March, when I notice the driveways of our richly diverse cul-de-sac are full of parked cars. I pause. Perhaps our day will have just as much meaning, if not more, if we pay visits to our neighborhood families instead. So, Maya, you and I proudly march  137th Place, with pink hats atop our heads, bringing smiles and lemon bars to our neighbors. You have no idea the impact of your smile. But I do, and proudly witness it today.

Paper plate of lemon bars in hand, you march right up to the home of Maria and Luis, a friendly Mexican couple with two daughters away at college. On their front porch, you say hello to a large statue of Mary, who is surrounded by bouquets of flowers. When Maria opens the door and sees you standing there holding the treats you made for them, her face lights up. The Golden Oldies are playing and the smell of bacon and eggs floats in the air, as we are invited in for coffee. It isn’t long before the conversation turns toward yesterday’s events, and our smiles straighten as the worry lines between our eyebrows define themselves. Luis finds it confusing how a person who speaks so cruelly about women, could become our president, as he glances towards a photo on the wall of his two daughters. Maria finds it confusing how a person with a history of bankruptcy and dishonest business practice, let alone no experience, could become president. But then you smile and wiggle on the sofa, and La Bamba plays, lifting our spirits. We talk about planning a Block Party this summer for everyone living on our fabulously diverse street, before marching onward to the next house.

He is outside with his brother-in-law, five cars in their small driveway, and another parked against the sidewalk nearby. It’s a side job, fixing up broken cars and selling them, so he can afford to give his family a decent home, food, education. Ali’s brother owns the house. We met him when we first moved here, as he ran across the cul-de-sac to help unload a refrigerator into our garage. But he’s in Iraq now to be with their father who is dying of cancer. Ali smiles and gratefully accepts the lemon bars you hand him. I’m just as grateful, that he is not afraid to discuss politics with me, an American blondie standing in his driveway with foreign baked goods. Ali finds it confusing how a person who defines all Muslims as terrorists, could become our president. His soft-spoken brother-in-law finally shares what is on his mind, that radical groups are killing his people too, and why don’t Americans realize who started the whole mess in the first place? I assure him that after living in the Middle East myself, and keeping myself educated with as much unbiased information as I can, I understand. His face relaxes a little bit and I get a smile. I explain the saying “When life hands you lemons..” as they nod in agreement, when suddenly the brother-in-law’s eyes light up. “Lemons? You like lemons? Wait here, I have for you.” He disappears behind the cars for a minute and returns with two orangey-lemoney- looking fruits. He’s not sure what they are called in English, but explains how to eat this Iraqi fruit, purchased at an Arabic shop in Everett. Cut it into small pieces and sprinkle some salt on top, he explains proudly with a toothy grin. You reach for the fruit and try to bite the peel, but we all tell you to wait until you get home to eat it. Happy with our lemon-exchange, we march on, a little more connected.

Barb, maybe because her house is pink, or because she let you come in to see her Christmas village collection, or because she smiles a lot- you love her. Barb works for a trucking company, is easy to talk to, and enjoys getting to know her neighbors. She opens the door and invites us in right away. Her friend is sitting on the sofa, their weekly visit before they go to church together. The house smells sweet; she’s made a “practice cake” for her parents 60th anniversary party she will host in a couple of weeks.We talk about your cute outfit, Daisy the dog’s toy collection, my job teaching from home, and the amazing turnout of today’s marches. Barb and I find it confusing how someone who makes fun of a person with a disability, could become our president. You talk in an excited squeaky voice about all the little pieces of Pam’s Christmas village. A few more kisses from Daisy and we’re off.

Marching up a few steps, we knock on the door of our neighbors who have come to live here from Ethiopia, a mother and her son Abel. Abel answers the door wearing a shirt that says, “Someone who loves me very much went to Israel and brought me this t-shirt.” He immediately grins and holds your hand, scrunching his face toward you says, “you’re so cute!” You give him a little smirk. He takes the treats you’ve made, and tells us his mom is in the shower, so we trust he will share those lemon bars, and tell him we will see her later.

We march to the house of Herman, who you call Snowman. An African American man, he greets us with a jolly “hello!” and let’s us know he’s got to run to a meeting. I tell him, “We made you these, in light of recent events, because when life hands you lemons…” he interrupts in a loud voice with a big smile and a an even bigger wink, “You make lemonade!” I am awfully certain that Herman finds it confusing how someone who childishly dismisses the bravery of African Americans during the Civil Rights movement, could become our president. He thanks you, Maya, for the treat and we march on.

Our Vietnamese neighbors who live next door are not home, so we leave a note with their treats on the porch, and march home. When participating in such events, it’s important to rest. So, at home, we join Miyu and Sibyl, for some lemon bars of our own. As international students living with us from Japan and China, your “sisters” are hearing a lot in the news, at school, and their parents shake their heads as they talk about yesterday’s news over Skype. Their families are worried, because they don’t know what our new president will do. They explain how Obama met with Japanese leaders, to pray together at Pearl Harbor.  But they worry about what will happen now. You lounge on the living room floor with pillows and blankies, snuggled between your sisters, making their lives sweeter just by being there.

When Daddy gets home from work, you run to him for a hug and demand a game of “Set and Go!” where you race around the kitchen together. The kitchen. The place where you started a movement by simply turning lemons into lemon bars.

As you lay upstairs in your cozy bed dreaming of Maria’s laugh, Daisy the doggy, and Ali’s lemony-orangey-fruits of Iraq, I sit here at my computer feeling a teeny tiny bit of regret that we didn’t join the millions who marched in solidarity today. But then, I realize, that’s exactly what we did today, in our own little community. And I’m proud of us. And of all those who marched today. Thank you, Maya Lesedi, for bringing so much light into this world. You are our hope.

All My Love,

Mama

*Dear Reader: Thank you for being here, for engaging in this post, especially if it made you feel uncomfortable. I hope we begin to reflect on and ask ourselves, what it might feel like right now, for each individual person in our family, in our neighborhood, in our country and world. I welcome thoughtful discussion that seeks to learn and connect, rather than prove and divide. March on!


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Starting Again

How could there ever be

A more influential degree?

With the chancellor’s nod

After thirty years odd

She’s a bona fide UW Husky

It’s been three years since my last post, and I’ve got every excuse. I started a new job. Had a baby. Moved countries again. Embraced full-time motherhood. Felt too tired. Moved again. Started another new job. Adjusted to life as a working mother. Overwhelmed at the thought of how to pick back up in one single post after all I’ve experienced in the past three years, this dusty old blog has been deserted. Until, something inspired me last summer.

A world-traveler, cook, mother of seven, seamstress, business-owner, a witty, intelligent, motivated, compassionate, warm person received her BA in English from the University of Washington, after a 30 year hiatus as she raised her family. She could have made all the excuses not to finish. But she crossed that UW stage with grace, style, humility, a little spring in her step, tassel swinging confidently. As I stood in the corner of the lecture hall, camera eager to capture a memory, a tear rolled down my cheek as if to say, “Stop trying to find the perfect angle, and let this sink in.” Tiny goosebumps rose on my arms, each one arriving to point out that this moment confirms something important. I let my camera rest by my side, wiped the tear, and smiled as the auditorium swelled with applause. Sheila proves the value in doing what we love, no matter life’s circumstances. And if we stop, for whatever reason, great joy and fulfillment can be found in starting again. I figure that inspiration is what brings me to my laptop this morning, to get back to what I enjoy.

Just as crash diets don’t tend to last, I expect crash-blogging wouldn’t either. Easing back into this, I begin by sharing an essay which my sister Sheila submitted as one of her assignments. It’s about a little trip she took to Qatar to visit her younger sister…

“My flight landed at two in the morning and my curiosity kept me wide eyed as I worked my way toward the customs passage. The sprawling ultra-modern airport was teeming with people at this ungodly hour, and the juxtaposition of my light hair and blue eyes among a sea of dark worried faces was one of many scenes in this country that just did not click. This is Qatar; a tiny speck of a country in the Arabian Peninsula whose citizens have so much new wealth they don’t know what to do with it. So they spend it building luxurious homes and buildings, and, since the Qataris themselves are above physical labor, they hire immigrants. Lots of immigrants. And these were the people I recently found myself melded with only a few months ago as I visited my young sister who was expecting her first child in this intriguing, desert land.

I settled into the comfort of my sister’s air conditioned flat but was startled from my sleep by the monotone humming of the early morning call to prayer. It was a haunting sound that I could not recognize because it was in Arabic and it was from the Qur’an; both of which are foreign to me. A click of a microphone signaled the end of the prayer and I realized this was not a recording. Hundreds of mosques throughout the city of Doha invite a man to climb to the top of the minaret (mosque tower) and sing passages from the holy book of Islam. This happens five times throughout each day, interrupting television, radio and any other activity as a reminder to pray to Allah, and it is adhered to by devout Muslims everywhere. Qatari culture is significantly influenced by Islam and the five pillars of faith: give testimony of faith, pray, give to the needy, fast during the holy month of Ramadan, and make a pilgrimage to Mecca, if possible, during one’s lifetime.

Considering the third point, giving to the needy, Qataris must get creative since there is no poverty in their country. Wealthy Qataris invite people into their homes to share a meal and their culture and this is where I found myself one Saturday afternoon. I was invited to the home of a friend of a friend where we joined about twenty others for a meal of roasted goat and rice served on a huge tray set out on cloth spread over the carpeted floor of a great room. Guests reclined and scooped up the meat and rice with their hand. We listened to our host reminisce about his first love, which was forbidden, and how he has not forgotten his German sweetheart twenty years later. He showed us to his camel coral and to a barn where falcons were posted up. There was no talk of religion or politics to spoil the mood, just a lovely afternoon in the company of people from all parts of the world.

The warmth of the Arabian sun was not comforting at all and the heatwaves appeared like tiny specks floating over my eyes. There were few trees to break up the monotony of the grey-white cement from the streets that climbed to the houses and buildings and blended with the dust filled sky. Yet somehow Qatar was beautiful. The buildings were architectural wonders of blue steel and turquoise glass to match the scintillating waters of the Persian Gulf. Men in pristine white thobes (robes) and headdresses roamed in designated pedestrian areas and women gracefully walked about covered head to toe in black. But these women were not weighted down with heavy black robes. They were draped in flowing black chiffon, edged in gold thread or tiny sparkles of diamonds and rubies. Their heads were stylishly covered and their eyes were hidden behind chic sunglasses or exposed through slits in their veil. They walked skillfully on designer heels, as they kicked the flowing cloth from beneath their feet. The blend of modernity and antiquity left me puzzled.

The country was a spectacle and I often found myself shaking my head and smiling at the same time. I witnessed camel racing, with robot jockeys controlled by remote from the camel owner who paced alongside his camel in his shiny SUV on a separate track. I braced myself in the chaotic traffic as Escalades recklessly merged across six lanes of traffic at a roundabout, carrying a falcon or cheetah in the passenger seat. I stared in wonder as women lifted their face veil every time they wanted just a sip of water. Even the days of the week were altered. I attended Catholic Mass on Friday, which is Mosque day, and members of other faiths could attend a service of their own denomination in “church city.” Strategically placed near “church city”, was the lone place in the entire country where non-Muslims could buy alcohol and pork for home consumption. I also attended there along with hundreds of other non-Muslims who looked for some semblance of their own culture. Saturday was a day for shopping and leisure and the thirty eight malls were packed as people escaped the heat and dust and flocked to the shops. I lost myself in the maze of colorful stalls at the outdoor Souk: the best place to barter for fabric, prayer rugs, ceramic pottery, falcons and gold. Sunday the work week began again.

As my stay progressed I wondered at what possibilities each new day might bring. I had left the freedoms and beauty of a five-month stay in Spain only to find myself reminded that I must dress modestly, not consume alcohol publically, not blaspheme against the ruling Emir or against Islam; any of these crimes would be punishable by a sound flogging. I happily abided yet found myself wanting to know more of this Qatari culture. I knew of the injustices that existed regarding modern-day slavery, but on my short stay I chose to focus on the good. So I climbed a magnificent sand dune and listened to it sing when I bounded back down as great mounds of sand shifted beneath my feet. I wandered through a museum filled with a Sheiks personal collection of weapons, cars, religious artifacts, a reconstructed Syrian home and a camel boiler. Plenty of times I strolled through the market in search of unusual food to try but drew the line at camel meat. I drank as much refreshing iced lemon mint as I could. I cloaked myself in an abaya (black robe), covered my head and respectfully entered the women’s section of the State Mosque. I learned that Muslims would not presume to compete with God’s creation so their art was not copies of people or nature but intricate geometric shapes and elegant calligraphy of versus from the Qur’an. I also learned that Qataris are very much devoted to family and that life is cherished from the unborn to the very old.

My very pregnant sister was revered wherever she went. Two weeks overdue, she responded, “Any day now” to endless inquiries from friends and strangers. Her response prompted, “Inshallah” (God willing) from the locals, which was their outlook to the things in life that are out of their control. Finally, Baby Maya, an American, Botswanan beauty came into a world of smiling Hindi doctors, Muslim nurses and Catholic parents. That scene will always remain with me as a spark of hope that the world can coexist in peace. Inshallah.”

sheila


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One month and two hundred bottles of water later…

After a month I can say

This tan is not one of spray

Residence visas

Delivery of pizzas

We’ve got that all squared away

I don’t know whether it was all the runny noses in my classroom or this dry desert air, but most likely a combination of the two left me with one red eye and a fever last month. The doctor prescribed eye drops and told me to drink three times as much liquid.  After two days of laying on the sofa and chugging through several large bottles of Rayyan mineral water, it was time to tackle a unique experience: obtaining a driver’s license.

American’s get the special treatment when it comes to getting a license here in Qatar. All other nationalities simply walk up to the counter, present their home-country license, and are handed a Qatari one right then and there. But due to some incident a few years ago (either a Qatari had a hard time getting his license in the States, or some American offended a Qatari here in Doha; there are a few stories floating around about this), now all Americans must pass a two-part test. First, we go into a room, ladies separate from men, and wait our turn to be called into another room with two Qatari men who bring up symbols on a screen, which we must identify. The most difficult part about this is the language barrier: If I say “yield”, that is wrong. It’s “give way.” Fortunately, the gentleman was interested in seeing all of us pass and accepted our answers if we could explain them. I was given 5 symbols, which included animal (camel) crossing and do not enter…

The following day, we Americans returned for the much anticipated drive test, and it was just as the rumors describe it: Ladies are told to board one van, and guys another. Both vans plus one sedan take off at the same time and pull over next to each other  alongside a road with minimal traffic. Men get to go first, which means one guy gets out of his van and into the sedan where there’s an instructor sitting in the passenger seat. Once our American friend begins driving, the “test” lasts about 20 seconds as he goes around one small roundabout and pulls over to the side of the road. Then he gets back in the van, and the next guy goes. Keep in mind, during this entire scenario, the two vans are following the driver in the sedan. If you’ve ever seen the Soup Nazi episode of Seinfeld…this was quite comparable! When my turn comes, I walk out, say “hello” to the instructor, adjust everything, buckle my seatbelt, and follow his directions to merge onto the road.  As I’m driving he looks over at me with a bit of a glimmer in his eye and says, “You speak Arabic?” Um, no! He laughs, I sort of laugh; He tells me (in English) to complete a U-turn in the roundabout and pull over, so I do. He makes a few marks on a sheet of paper and says “Test finish.” We both (sort of) smile, and I take my paper. That was that.

But every time it seems the final step is complete and we’ll now have that license, permit, key to our home, key to our car, whatever- I end up needing to remind myself: Inshallah it will happen.  After we had all passed our driving test, we found seats in the waiting room. This is a lot like the DMV I’m used to. Except there are mostly men, and a few praying on carpets near the door.  Otherwise, much the same. We were waiting  for our licenses to be printed and to pay the 250 riyal fee along with it, when a man with a gorgeous moustache marches forward in full uniform to tell the man from our school who has taken us through this whole process, that we should go and come back tomorrow. Actually, he yelled it, and a few other words I think I’m better off not understanding. He went on and on shouting with hands flailing in the air, about how we were talking too loud in the waiting room. Then he marched stiffly over to his desk, picked up his tea, and began sipping quite elegantly with his pinkie out. For some reason, I found this entertaining, and it eased my nervousness about whether or not we’d actually get our licenses.  In the end, the guy with the mustache took his tea and left, and about a half-hour later, we took turns paying at the window and receiving licenses. Now time to find a car…

To make a long story very short, we bought a CRV off an expat. I drive and Joe navigates. He’ll get his license once his residency permit is printed. Being under my “sponsorship” since I signed my contract first, his paperwork is processed a few weeks after mine. Inshallah he is being very patient! Driving is not as bad as everyone says, and the best part of this entire story so far is: It cost 50 riyal to fill our tank from empty. That’s about 13 bucks.

Next adventure: the liquor/pork license. Out near the industrial area lies a warehouse full of beer, wine, liquor and pork products. On the second floor, I applied for a permit to purchase these rarities, by showing my residence permit and a letter (which was applied for in advance) from my employer stating my salary and marital status. A woman took my photo and a refundable 1,000 riyal, and handed me my permit. I went inside, bought a bottle of Columbia Crest wine, a six pack of Corona, a bottle of Captain Morgan’s rum and a package of bacon. This is the only place in Doha to purchase such products, and you are allowed to spend no more than a third of your monthly salary here. I don’t see that being much of an issue for us- I’ve been enjoying sparkling water in the evenings more and more.

Another expat-y thing we’ve done is find the Catholic church. Our Lady of the Rosary is located out in “Church City,” a plot of land on the edge of Doha allocated by the Emir to house churches of various denominations. The outside looks very plain, but inside is colorful with a large mosaic behind the altar. Masses occur every day of the week, at various times, and in different languages. There are several priests, mostly from India. The large congregation is a mix of European, Indian, American, Nepalese, Lebanese, and probably many more. Around the corner is a gift shop with rosaries and books, a chapel, and an outdoor shrine to Mary. For a split second, I felt we were back in Ireland. But then I started sweating and realized we were far from it. We (carefully) lit a candle at the shrine (which has a fire extinguisher next to it), and prayed for health and happiness of our family and friends, and a positive experience for us here in Doha. I also prayed  for my survival this year teaching 2-year olds…

It has been quite an adventure shifting from a Kindergarten-mindset down to two and three year olds! My class is full of energy, enthusiasm, poopy diapers, spilled milk, paint, tears, laughter, and lots of hugs and kisses. I’ve picked up a few Arabic essentials: Shukran (thank you), Ijlis (sit down), Shuey Shuey (slowly, slowly, or be careful), Habibi (sweetie), Na’am (yes), La (no), Taal (come), and I can now count to 5 (waahid, eethnayn, thalaatha, arba’a, khamsa). I am also learning the variations of English words for things as I work alongside British, Australian, South African and Irish educators: nappies (diapers) and buggy (stroller).  About half the class understands what I say in English, but it really comes down to body language, tone of voice, facial expressions and very simple phrases. Our centre, myself included, believes that learning begins at birth (or even beforehand), but not in the “sit in your desk and listen to what I tell you” sort of way.  The EEC has adopted the Reggio Emilia approach, which is an educational philosophy dating back to World War II. It was started by a teacher and parents of the villages around Reggio Emilia, Italy after the destruction from the war led them to believe that it is in the early years of development that children form who they are as individuals. The approach focuses on observing the interests of each individual child and planning meaningful activities for them. Environment plays a major role, so we design our rooms and outdoor areas quite intentionally. Like any job, there are pros and cons to my new position but I choose to focus on the positive: my students are adorable and quite capable really, my teaching team is fabulous to work with, and I’m enjoying the two hours of planning every afternoon.  I also enjoyed the gigantic sheet cake given to us a few weeks ago in honor of International Teacher Appreciation Day. Thank you, Qatar Foundation; cake always makes me feel appreciated, no matter how many nappies I had changed that morning.

Aside from work, Joe and I have been enjoying life in Doha.  Our favourite activity so far is running along Al Corniche, an oceanfront paved walkway.  As the sun sets on our evening runs, old wooden boats adorned with coloured lights leave their docks and cruise out onto the water. Families gather to walk or relax under palm trees, the sea breeze blows tiny particles of sand into my eyes, and the city skyline illuminates Doha’s modern-side. Not a bad way to train for a 10K, which is happening here in November.  Except for the sand in the eyes part; I wear sunglasses all the time now, to avoid the red desert-eye look.

Oh, the things we learn after a month in Qatar…


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Marhaba مرحبا Welcome to Doha

The air couldn’t be much hotter

Where gas is cheaper than water

Hummus on pita

A man’s pet cheetah

So new to this globe-trotter

Stepping off our Qatar Airways Dreamliner and into Doha, the temperature proclaimed its presence like an Emir in his palace.  While trying my best to take in a normal breath of air without panting too obviously, I noticed there seemed to be a layer of smog lurking far and wide- which I quickly realised was just “hotness.” In fact, most outdoor photos I have produced so far will appear to be overcast, but that’s just my lens fogging up as it is shocked by extreme heat each time I turn it on.  As soon as we entered Doha’s busy airport, though, Joe and I  nearly froze on a account of the air-conditioning. Qatar Academy staff greeted us warmly outside customs and showed us where to purchase new SIM cards right then and there. We were driven to a temporary home (our permanent one is nearly done being built), a lovely, furnished two bedroom apartment with a bidet in the bathroom, and some Red Delicious Washington apples in the fridge. While the bidet hinted how far away we are from all things familiar, the apples, picked in my own backyard, made me feel right at home. Too excited to sleep at 2 AM, I rummaged through packets of information from school, a book about Qatari culture, and unpacked shoes before finally drifting off to the sound of the call to prayer, amplified from a nearby mosque.

Next morning, a van collected several of us newbie teachers and dropped us at the Landmark Mall. Dust-covered cars filled the parking lot. Men dressed in white robes and Ray Ban sunglasses lounged in plush seats, sipping lattes and smoking cigarettes at Starbucks. Women covered in black, carrying designer handbags strolled in and out of the Gap, Nine West and H&M.  The food court smelled of McDonalds, KFC, Baskin Robbins and, wait for it….Cinnabon.  At Carrefour (a European grocery chain), we stocked up on bottled water, fresh produce, yogurt and toilet paper. I discovered more American brands there than I’d ever found in Ireland: Tide laundry detergent, Kraft Mac n Cheese, Kikoman soy sauce. I imagine that, one of those days when I miss the comfort of home, it will be a relief to snuggle up in a blanket smelling of Tide Original Scent, over a warm bowl of mac n cheese, in our air-conditioned (freezing cold) living room.

The following day, Joe and I attended a luncheon for new teachers and families. We were greeted with kisses, handshakes and hugs, and while feasting on a grand buffet, we met folks from Wisconsin, the UK, Portland, Australia, California and Ireland. That afternoon, my teaching partner, Berna, invited Joe and I to her home and treated us to dinner at a fabulous Lebanese restaurant, the Shisha Garden in La Cigale Hotel.  Joe and I tried apple flavoured shisha (or hooka as we call it), traditional Lebanese salads, hummus, meat and dessert: fresh cream with honey and sliced banana. On the way out, Joe and I stopped to rest on a bench made of thousands of Swarovski crystals. We really are trying not to get carried away amidst all the luxury, this place is incredible!

On Saturday, Berna and Riad invited us to their home to relax at the pool. After a short while, the heat urged us to return to shade and AC, so we went home, cooked a stir fry and crashed early. Time to start adjusting to some very early mornings…work begins at 7 AM here.

 In Qatar, like other Arab countries, the workweek is Sunday through Thursday. So on Sunday, we were all bussed to Qatar Academy for the first day of orientation. Highlights of the week include:

  • receiving a brand new Macbook Pro (with a keyboard that includes Arabic letters)
  • walking into the Early Education Centre to find that it is more like a children’s museum than a set of classrooms
  • discovering the spa, coffee shop, theatre room, olympic sized pool, prayer rooms and gym-all on campus
  • getting to know a group of enthusiastic educators from around the world (Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the US, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Lebanon), and many who are coming from previous international positions (in Thailand, China, Bolivia, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, South Korea…)
  • experiencing “medicals”- having blood drawn and chests x-rayed at a clinic (I suppose that wasn’t a highlight but it’s all part of the experience!)
  • enjoying daily lunch hour in the cafeteria: a buffet of salad, hummus, a variety of meats and sides, fruit cups, cakes and juices
  • listening to a presentation on “Driving Safety”: the slideshow included two slides about how to navigate the round-abouts, etc. and about 40 slides showing fender-benders and wrecks, which could be due to a number of issues. My favourite is the man driving through a roundabout with a pet cheetah in the passenger seat, cigarette in one hand, cell phone in the other.  I have yet to see this for myself, though.
  •  enjoying evenings out at the malls and Ikea
  • learning about Qatari culture and how to thrive as an expat here, as well as how to deal with culture-shock. We learned about the differences between monochronic (focus on individual, independence) and polychronic (focus on group, interdependence) cultures, and ways to communicate. For example, where I’ve grown up, time is linear and future-oriented. While here in Qatar, time is circular and focused on the present. So, while I might want to leave a party to go home and get a good nights sleep before work the following day, a Qatari individual might stay and enjoy their time with family, not worrying to much about the next morning.  To some degree, it makes sense why we are the way we are: In it’s short history, the US has fought for independence, and now look at how many of its citizens are independent, self-reliant people. In the desert, people have had to work together to survive; if you went off and tried to live independently, you would die. And now look at how many Qatari’s thrive when it comes to working with others collectively.  Qatar (pronounced more like ‘Cutter’ than ‘cuh TAR’) is the fastest-growing country in the world. Due to oil, and mostly natural gas, the economy is booming and construction is everywhere.  According to the presentation, it wasn’t until the 1950’s that cars and electricity began to exist. Now there are Escalades, Lamborghini’s and Ferrari’s in abundance (as well as Hondas and Toyotas), and it costs a mere five bucks to fill one’s petrol tank. Just ten years ago, there were only a couple of buildings in the city centre. Now here stands a massive skyline.  As we expats dine at Applebee’s and purchase new designer jeans because the ones we brought with us don’t fit anymore (because of the Applebee’s), we should keep in mind that Qatar wants to modernize, not westernize. They want to sustain their unique culture, amidst a massive increase of expats each year, understandably so.

On Friday (the beginning of our weekend- so, Saturday to you) a few of us shared a car ride to the Clubhouse, which all QA teachers have free access to. After a jog on the treadmill and a dip in the jacuzzi,  we ate dinner poolside that evening. Grilled fish, veggies, fries and pineapple juice were accompanied by sounds of laughter, splashing and the call to prayer (of which there are five a day, and you can hear it from just about anywhere in Doha). Later on, while paddling around in that palm-tree-outlined pool, I couldn’t help from being amazed by the big sky above us as it changed colour from baby blue to lavender to a deep purpley-royal-blue within just an hour. Qatar’s skies sure do seem to be transforming just as rapidly as it’s earth.

The following week would be the second week of orientation for me, so Joe spent his days visiting the Aspire Zone Sport Academy, figuring out how to receive our shipping (which we did!), and reading articles for school.  In the Early Education Centre (EEC), we put together our classrooms and interviewed parents whose children we’d be teaching. Berna and I encouraged families to please arrive at 7 AM, on time, not 7:30 or 7:15.  And just about every family smiled and said, “Okay, 7 AM, inshallah.”  Inshalla, my new favourite word, translates to “God willing.” It is used regularly here, in many different contexts. “Yes I will have that on your desk by 3:00, inshallah.” “See you tomorrow, inshallah.” “Inshallah your housing will be ready by the end of the month.”  “I will write a blog every week, inshallah.” Takes some of the pressure off, doesn’t it?

Last weekend, those of us in “temporary housing” (who I feel I can call family already), helped me celebrate my birthday at Picasso’s tapas restaurant in the Radisson Hotel. All 21 showed up, which I think had something to do with the fact that the restaurant served sangria, beer and wine.  I had a marvellous time and felt completely loved. The following day, staff from the EEC met for lunch at our principal’s home. They sang “Happy Birthday” in both English and Arabic, as I made a wish and blew out candles. One thing is for certain: I will have plenty to write about this year. Every day, I am surprised, amazed, challenged, astonished, stimulated, inspired. I will write again soon with more experiences to share, inshallah.


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ch ch ch ch changes

There appeared a fork in the road

“Which way?” said the frog to the toad

They could see to the right,

Their future looked bright

In the 974 country code

In his song Changes, David Bowie wrote “Time may change me. But I can’t trace time.” One could interpret this a few different ways, but whenever I listen to the lyrics, I feel inspired to accept life’s changes, big or small. And I end up thinking: why wait for something to happen in time, when it could right now?

Teaching internationally is something I have wanted to do for years. And getting a PhD is something Joe is passionate about achieving. Living in Ireland has been a grand adventure, but unfortunately there aren’t many job prospects for us here at the moment. An opportunity presented itself back in the spring, and after much thought, we decided to go for it: in three days, Joseph and I will be leaving Ireland and moving to Doha, Qatar.  Joseph will conduct research, continue working on his PhD and coach soccer, while I will teach in the Early Education Center at Qatar Academy. To answer a few questions I know you’re thinking: Yes, Qatar is a safe country (ranked #12 in the Global Peace Index). No, I am not required to wear a burka there. Yes, I will be allowed to drive. No, it doesn’t rain there like it does in Ireland, not at all actually. In fact, today it is over 100 degrees (yes, everything is air conditioned).

Our bags are packed, our visas are printed, and we celebrated a last night out on Friday. We are definitely going to miss our friends and the beautiful scenery and atmosphere in Ireland. And at the same time, we are so excited to experience living in Qatar. I promise to keep blogging and post lots of photos- see you in Doha!


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Seattle Summer, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways…

I love thee to the height of Mount Rainier, 

To the depth of Lake Union’s deepest tear.

Your summers, brilliant

Your inhabitants, resilient

Cause you’re depressing all other months of the year.

Neither Joe or I would neglect spending this summer in Seattle. Joe coached his Supang Skill Training soccer camp on Whidbey Island, with his sister Maria. And he put up a fence around his families garden, and worked at the farmer’s market. If you haven’t been, be sure to try out Lesedi African Food at the farmer’s markets on Whidbey. Say hello to Joe’s mom Dorcas, and she’ll serve you up a hot samosa and some mango lemonade, delish!

As for me, I made it home just in time for Rachel and Anthony (my niece and nephew)’s graduation parties. And enjoyed doing all of the routine things I’ve missed being away: yoga class, dinners in Mom and Dad’s back yard, playing with Mojo and his snaggle tooth, running around Greenlake, spending time with family and friends. We celebrated my sister Gina’s 50th birthday, my Dad’s 77th, and my godson James’ 8th.  …went camping on Moses Lake, spent a weekend with friends in Portland, ate several bowls of pho and plates of Mexican food, caught up with friends, visited Joe’s Grandma and Grandpa in Sequim, went boating on Lake Washington, skipped rocks on the Snoqualamie River. I frequented Burien’s Tin Room, catching up with pals and family, to the point where the waitress started saying “Bye, see you tomorrow.”

Until next summer, Tin Room waitress….


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Sláinte!

A true friend will travel far

To meet in an Irish bar

Crossing the planet,

 I bet that gannet

Would fly all the way to Qatar

Allow me to apologize for the lack of blogs these last few months- we’ve just been having way too much fun.  Backtracking to May, our dear friends Oscar and Laura visited us from Seattle for a long weekend on their way to London. We showed them around Limerick, enjoyed a night out on the town, and took a road trip west to see Lahinch (a chill surfer town), the Cliffs of Moher, and then to Doolin for live trad.  The word of the weekend (besides “brilliant” “grand” “lovely” and “great craic”) was definitely “Sláinte!” as we raised multiple pint glasses to being together in Ireland.  They left us for a stop in Italy, where Oscar proposed to Laura at the Vatican- Congratulations to an awesome couple, Sláinte!