Living in Limericks

poetry and experiences of a multi-cultural family

One month and two hundred bottles of water later…

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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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