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.