24(ish) hours in Rome

I jumped into one of the white taxis waiting outside Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci International Airport, laughing a little when I heard “Thriller” come on the cab radio. On the short ride to the hotel, with the taxi driver’s very bad English and my very bad Spanish, I practiced some very basic Italian:

Me: “How much.. como se dice?”

Taxi driver: “How much.. quanto costa.”

Me: “Okay, quanto costa … and, hello is ciao?”

Taxi driver: “Ciao, hello!”

Me: “Goodbye means…”

Taxi driver: “Goodbye, arrivederci”

Me: “arrivedkfjasli … Thank you?”

Taxi Driver: “Grazie”

Me: “Grazie … “

I met J at the hotel, and we immediately took the bus downtown in search of food. With sleepy eyes and growling bellies, we then walked for what felt like forever, before finding The Mirror pizzeria.

forking river on the way to forking food

forking river on the way to forking food

The Mirror Pizzeria

The Mirror Pizzeria

We squeezed in to a table in the back of the restaurant which was stuffed to the brim with loud, chatty customers, and hungrily devoured tomato bruschetta and two pizzas: diavola (spicy sauce) for me, and pepperoni for J. One bottle of smooth, Italian Chianti later, the waitress easily convinced us to split the tiramisu. The desert was extra yummy due to the fact it wasn’t lacking the coffee liqueur that’s almost always missing in the Doha version! Come prepared with small cash for a tip, as they conveniently did not have any change.

tiramisu for 2

tiramisu for 2

After dinner, we found the iconic Trevi Fountain. We had visited the fountain once before, on J’s/my/our first overnight trip to Rome. However, that first time, we neglected to throw coins into the fountain. Legend has it, throwing a coin into the Trevi Fountain ensures you will return to Rome. We had already returned to Rome, even without donating to the fountain, but still made a point to (very quickly, when the cops weren’t looking) chuck in a coin. This happened after stopping for a scoop of gelato first, of course.

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Fontana di Trevi

Since leaving Rome this second time, I discovered the coin is supposed to be thrown from your right hand, backwards over your left shoulder (no peeking!). Also, there are supposed to be 3 coins thrown: 1 to guarantee returning to Rome, 1 for a new romance, and one for marriage. I’m not sure where we stand on the Trevi Fountain coin tossing scale, but at this point it’s fair to say that myth is BUSTED!

The next morning, we woke up in time to catch the (free) hotel bus to the City Center, then took a taxi from there to Vatican City. For a variety of personal reasons, I swore up and down I would never visit the Vatican. As with every other time I’ve said “I’ll never…”, I did.

Down the street from the Vatican, we crammed in to yet another tiny, filled-to-max-capacity Italian restaurant, Wine Bar. Because J had to fly an airplane in a few hours, we didn’t get to indulge in any grape-y delight. The place was off the beaten path, and the numerous priests dining there made us feel like we had hit a local jackpot. Sharing a small table with 2 other restaurant patrons, we savored a simple caprese salad, followed by a sausage pizza for J, and spinach-ricotta cannelloni for me. Olive Garden will never be the same!

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Wine Bar

After lunch, on our way to the Vatican, we walked by a BeDazzled Smart car. What could be more worthy of five seconds of internet fame than a BeDazzled Smart car?!

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BeDazzled Smart car

Happy Travel ticket scalpers were all over Saint Peter’s Square, trying their hardest to sell tickets for tours of Saint Peter’s Basilica and some other nearby sights. I think they were charging 35 Euro per person, and maybe that’s worth it if you really want a 4-hour-long explanation of everything you’re looking at, by someone whose first language is not English. We neither had that kind of time, nor wanted to spend that kind of money. Also, admission to Saint Peter’s Basilica is FREE! The line in front is not to buy a ticket – it’s a security line that moves fairly quickly, and you have to stand in that line even if you’ve already been ripped off by Happy Travel salespeople.

Saint Peter's Basilica

Saint Peter’s Basilica

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Looking up inside Saint Peter’s Basilica

One of numerous dead Popes in Saint Peter's Basilica

One of numerous dead Popes in Saint Peter’s Basilica

Next up was a short walk to visit the Vatican Museums, home of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel.

Sala Rotonda ceiling

Vatican Museum – Sala Rotonda ceiling

Vatican Museum - Gallery of Maps

Vatican Museum – Gallery of Maps

FYI: NO CAMERAS ARE ALLOWED IN THE SISTINE CHAPEL, NOT EVEN WITH THE FLASH OFF! We had walked all throughout the Vatican Museums, snapping flashless photos here and there, so I was totally shocked and very embarrassed when a guard angrily informed me that no pictures are allowed in the Sistine Chapel. I’m sure there was a sign somewhere, but I somehow missed it and, as a result, felt about 2″ tall for the next hour! Accidental Asshole in the house Sistine Chapel! Learn from my mistake!

By the time we finished exploring the Vatican Museums, it was dinnertime! I know it sounds like all we do is eat. We definitely don’t miss any meals. I don’t think I need to justify enjoying a meal (in Rome of all places – or anywhere else, for that matter), but this expat lifestyle is temporary, and the days really are numbered. We try to make the most of every opportunity, and eating pasta in Rome is the opportunity of a lifetime, so that is what we did.

The rustic looking, cozy feeling, dimly lit restaurant we ducked into was empty except for one other couple. It’s always interesting how much cheese is in American Italian restaurant food. Cheese, cheese, cheese – say when! Because really, who doesn’t love cheese!? Here, it was just a light dusting on top – the perfect balance, and something I will try to remember to do at home. Less cheese meant being able to taste the delicious tomato basil sauce.

tomato & basil spaghetti

tomato & basil spaghetti

We don’t usually have desert after every meal, but when in Rome…

There was cream filled cannoli with our names on it!

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dolci to the right

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dolci to the left

How we made it out of there with only one piece will remain a mystery.

We took a cab to the area near the bus stop, and were dropped off at Piazza Venezia, across from the Altare della Patria.

Complesso del Vittoriano (I think)

Complesso del Vittoriano (I think)

We popped in to the Gran Caffe Roma to get out of the “cold” (40or 50F – cold for having come from the desert!) while waiting for the bus. J got his caffeine fix with a frothy cappuccino, and I sipped on an incredibly sweet Italian hot chocolate. It was so rich, I could only drink about half of it, but it hit the spot and warmed my fingers.

I’m excited to try this easy Italian hot chocolate recipe on my parents when I go home… TOMORROW!

How to Make Italian Hot Chocolate
This recipe is by Paula Jones and can also be found by clicking this link!

What You Will Need:

  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate 70% or higher
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons corn starch

What To Do:

  1. Into a saucepan over LOW heat add chocolate and a smidge of milk. Stir with a wooden spoon until melted.
  2. SLOWLY add remaining milk until it’s well combined. Add sugar. Mix to combine. Whisk in corn starch.
  3. Continue cooking over LOW heat until it becomes thick, creamy and coats the back of the wooden spoon.

My First Massage Ever: Bulgarian Hotel Basement Style

The day before Halloween, I caught J’s flight to Sofia, Bulgaria!

Hotel view

Hotel view

Stepping out of the airport and into Sofia’s cool autumn air was immediately invigorating. The stuffiness of the hot, dusty desert was nowhere to be found.

I should have been satisfied with the crisp, feel-good air. But no. After we checked into the hotel, I decided I wanted a massage.

I had never received a real massage before. The top two reasons for this are 1.) I don’t like being ripped off (paying to be touched feels very rip-off-esque to me), and 2.) I don’t like strangers touching me. Strangers touching me makes me very uncomfortable. I’ll talk all day with someone I’ve just met, but that someone had better stay out of my bubble.

Since J gets a discount at the hotel spa, I figured it was time to try this massage thing I hear so many people rave about. We called down to the spa and scheduled our 45 min massages. I’d be the Guinea pig and go first, then come back up to the room and get ready for dinner while J got his.

With only 15 minutes to get ready, I had no idea what to wear. I decided on black work-out capris (the ones that have seen more time on the couch than on a treadmill) and a t-shirt. I waited anxiously in the glass elevator as it descended from the sunlit top floors of the hotel to the underground darkness of Floor -2.

The elevator doors opened across from a contemporary looking, dimly lit sitting area with a counter. Nobody was at the counter, so I waited around a minute before being greeted by the only spa employee I would see that day. The dark haired, middle aged lady was dressed in what appeared to be white spandex leggings and an equally tight, white V-neck shirt. I’m not sure what kind of attire I was expecting the massage therapist to be wearing – maybe scrubs? maybe a polo shirt and slacks? maybe something a little more professional?

She handed me a big, blue bathrobe and a pair of disposable hotel slippers, pointed to a dark room and told me to go change. Through the dark room, I found a changing room/bathroom, where I changed in a hurry and wondered if it is only in America that we worry about the privacy aspect of things like etched glass doors with no locks – or maybe it’s just me?

Holding the beltless bathrobe around me, I shuffled back to the spa counter and The Woman in White led me to the massage room. It was a very small, very warm room, dimly lit, but not dim enough that I couldn’t see the Bulgarian lotto scratch-off ticket next to the massage table. Is that normal!? Are these things normal?! I tried to imagine a scenario in which a massage therapist brought a scratch-off ticket into the massage room. Did she really not have enough time to scratch it off on the way to work? Not even at the front desk? Was it somebody’s lucky day in the massage room!?

Then, The Woman in White wanted my bathrobe. I kind of thought she might turn around to allow me some privacy, but obviously this was my mistake, because she wanted the robe and she wanted it now! I hesitated, and she laughed, asking me where I’m from. I thought about saying, “I JUST CAME FROM A MUSLIM COUNTRY WHERE I AM NOT SUPPOSED TO SHOW ANYTHING BETWEEN MY KNEES AND SHOULDERS SO CUT ME SOME SLACK IF I’M A LITTLE SLOW TO GET BUCK NAKED IN FRONT OF YOU!” but I just said, “USA.” The Lady in White laughed and said, “You look like Italian lady!” It seems there really is no place outside of the US where I will ever look American…

Before handing over the bathrobe, I tried explaining “breast implants.” Yes, I have breast implants. No, I don’t like to lie on them. Why not? Because ew gross, and I am afraid they are going to shoot out my sides, and ew gross again. Anyway, “breast implants” does not translate very well, so there was a moment of comical hand gestures and awkward laughing and I finally just gave her that stupid blue bathrobe and got on the table. She gave me a few towels to stack up and create an “airbag moat,” and the massage – the one I waited 27 years to receive – began.

The sweet scent of citrus oil was overshadowed by what sounded like a classic adult film soundtrack  playing in the background while The Lady in White smacked her gum from the top of my head to the soles of my feet. For all I knew, there was a giant bowl of Rice Krispies flying around the room, snap-crackle-and-poppin’ as loud as The Lady in White pushed hard, much like a car with a stereo playing louder the faster it goes. Porno jams and Rice Krispies eventually teamed up with a squeaky booger, so that 45 minutes later, The Lady in White informed me I never really relaxed and maybe I should just get a head massage next time.

When I got back to the hotel room, I laughingly told J about my experience, and wished him luck in his 45 minutes of Bulgarian bliss! When he returned from the spa, I asked him what he thought. He reported, “I’m glad it was cheap… she looked like Bubbles from Trailer Park Boys… I just, I dunno… I dunno if I like massages any more…”

Although I won’t likely do it again, I’m glad to have finally tried a massage, even if it was in a Bulgarian hotel basement.

What is the craziest massage experience you’ve had?

Driver Boss, Jack-o-Lanterns & Camel Chocolate

Yesterday went like this:

J got home from work (flying to Dubai – or was it Abu Dhabi? and back) around 8:00am. I had my driver (he’s not MY driver per se, but the one I always call – “Driver Boss” for the purpose of this blog) take me 30 miles north of the city for my second interview at an international school. I have been toying with the idea of working full time here instead of just part time. The interview went well, and this particular school is quite nice and seems to be very Western.

After my interview, I had Driver Boss stop at Subway. I ran in and ordered 3 sandwiches: 1 for me, 1 for J, and 1 for Driver Boss, who had waited in the car an hour while I was at the school. While the Filipino man behind the counter prepared our sandwiches, an old Qatari man came in and waited behind me. The Dhuhr call to prayer (around noon) came on over the restaurant speakers and could be heard from area mosques. The local man cheerfully whistled along with the whole thing, then ordered his sandwich. I have never heard anyone, let alone one of the locals, whistle along with the call to prayer! It was pretty cute.

I love hearing D Boss describe India, so a portion of the drive back we talked about his home in Kerala – the nature, the houseboats. Most of his family still live there, including his mother, wife and daughter. He doesn’t know when he will move back to Kerala, and says it’s not too bad being here because he gets to go back to his family every 3 months. His older brother, an equally kind, soft spoken gentleman, lives with him here in The Country and drives one of the fleet’s five cars. Even so, D Boss preferred Dubai, where he lived and worked for 12 years, enjoying more freedom and luxuries than there are here.

We talked about religion, one of my favorite topics with D Boss and his drivers. He told me how his mother traveled all the way from Kerala to Mecca for The Hajj, and that he hopes to do the same one day. I asked him why men and women don’t pray in the same area at a mosque, or masjid. Women pray in a separate room from men. He explained how the men line up so close to each other while praying, that their arms actually touch. He went on to say it would not be right for him and someone else’s wife to touch while praying. Regardless of my own beliefs, I understood.

In preparation for Halloween, we broke out the Shuns and got to work on the Lebanese pumpkins we acquired the night before.

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I love pumpkins!

Amazingly enough, the pumpkins were the only things to get sliced (I keep a few bandaids under the Shun knife block just to be safe).

We both walked away from our glorious jack-o-lanterns with all fingers, toes, and everything in between 100% intact.

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Lebanese Jack-o-Lanterns + Cheesy Poof

Trying to get the Cheese monster to pose for a picture with our jack-o-lanterns reminded me of Mixy’s old pumpkin head “costume.” Mixy is my cat who is temporarily residing with my parents back in KC. Mixy wore that pumpkin head and she wore it well, although I can’t find the pictures now. Anyway, I brought Mixy’s pumpkin head “costume” all the way back to Qatari from Kansas City. Here is Cheese Louise in all her pumpkin head glory:

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Lookin’ good, Cheesy!

After royally pissing off Cheese, J and I headed to a gourmet cafe for some camel chocolate.

That’s right, “the first and finest camel milk chocolate.”

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Al Nassma camel chocolate display

Although cheese is my downfall, I opt for organic soy or almond milk instead of cow milk when eating cereal. I really try my hardest to avoid leather products, and of course I don’t eat meat. The thought of camel milk chocolate was pretty disturbing at first. I wanted to try it, because 1. I love trying new things, 2. when else will this kind of “crazy” opportunity present itself?!, and 3. I suspect camels are treated pretty damn fabulously compared to American dairy cows. Does that mean I was up for trying the $24 camel burger on the menu? Eh, no.

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Thanks, but no thanks!

So, what was the verdict in the trial of the camel chocolate? According to J, who absolutely did not want to try the stuff, “It was good! It was better than I thought it would be.” Indeed, it was a very smooth, very creamy, very delicious milk chocolate.

Even so, I don’t think I’d eat it knowingly again, as I couldn’t get the image of a camel being milked out of my head…

…especially not after watching Mike Rowe milk a camel at San Diego’s Oasis Camel Dairy!

What do you think – would you eat camel chocolate?

Turquoise Taxi Talk

I love meeting people from all over the world, and hearing about their unique life stories. With foreign expats making up over 80% of Qatar’s population, there are infinite opportunities for such exchanges to take place.

Unfortunately, small talk is not my forte. Chit chat, the skimming of the surface that occurs after every Sunday church service, is just not my thing. It’s like testing the water with just one toe; something a clumsy, Accidental Asshole like myself does not do well. I tend to stumble on my words before completely falling in headfirst. Luckily, that flaw has resulted in some of the most interesting conversations I never thought I’d have.

While J flew to Moscow and back, I met up with my favorite Swede. We shopped around yet another mall in hopes of finding winter wear for our December trips home, and stopped for coffee at Krispy Kreme. After going our separate ways, I jumped in one of the turquoise taxis waiting outside the mall.

“How long have you lived here?” I asked the driver. That question, coupled with, “Where are you from?” are my icebreakers of choice.

In no time at all, I had the taxi driver, *Aadarsh, telling me about life in Qatar from his perspective. Although many of the taxi drivers here have incredibly poor English, Aadarsh’s English was pretty good. I reveled in the opportunity for a comprehensible conversation with someone experiencing a whole other side of expat life.

A native Sri Lankan, Aadarsh learned English as a child in his school near Colombo. He’s lived in Qatar for about 4 months, but this isn’t his first gig in the Middle East. Before coming here, he spent 3 years living and working in Saudi Arabia. He said the traffic fines are not as bad in Saudi as they are here, but the people there are much worse. His wife and 4-year old son are back in Sri Lanka. He signed a 2-year contract with the taxi company here, and expects to return to Sri Lanka as soon as his contract is over to be with his wife and son, as their son will begin school at that time.

My own personal beliefs aside, I find religious devotion fascinating. In Sri Lanka, Aadarsh explained, people are “Buddhist (70%), Hindu, Muslim, then Christian.” He said he is Hindu, because his father is Hindu. We talked about eating meat, and agreed Buddhism would be good for me, because I’m vegetarian! He thought it was pretty funny that I don’t cook meat for J. I told him J gets all the meat he ever wanted outside our home!

I asked how it was to work for the taxi company. He described 16-hour work days, beginning at 6:00am and ending at 10:00pm. He has 2 days off each month. I asked if he knew before he started the job that he would only have 2 days off each month. He said no, adding that another company in town gives its drivers 1 day off each week, but, unfortunately, his company does not. Continually referring to his company’s “scheme,” he explained how he pays the equivalent of $82 each day to “rent” the taxi he drives, in addition to paying about $95 each week in gas. At the end of a 16-hour shift, after paying for gas and renting the taxi, he takes home about $27.

Curious about all of the claims I’ve read about worker treatment here, I asked him where his Passport is. He said the company has it. I asked about his living accommodations, which are provided by the company. He reiterated what one of my building staff members had previously told me: 8 men share one room. I asked about their kitchen. He said they don’t have a kitchen, but they are provided food at the “canteen” (cafeteria).

Finally, we reached my building. I thanked him, tipped him nicely, greeted my building’s nighttime concierge as I headed upstairs, and opened my apartment door to an enthusiastically meowing Cheese Louise McFlufferstein.

We have it so damn good.

Intentional Assholes – Mall Edition

If I had to pick the number one thing that grinds my gears, it would probably be Intentional Assholes.

Intentional Assholes come in all shapes and sizes, are all skin colors and all ages. Their population is growing faster than a Jumanji vine, and we’ve all known at least a few. That guy that won’t let you change lanes even when you’ve had your blinker on for 190,348,109,234 miles? Intentional Asshole. Your ex who would take your car keys with him to work so you couldn’t leave the house? Intentional Asshole. Rush Limbaugh and Fred Phelps? Intentional Assholes.

Intentional Assholes should not be confused with Accidental Assholes. Accidental Assholes say the wrong thing at the wrong time, insert-foot-in-mouth, didn’t really mean for “it” to come out “like that,” are genuinely sorry after the fact, care more than they don’t. Most people fall into the Accidental Asshole category at one point or another, because, well, accidents happen.

Tonight, I had a run-in with some Intentional Assholes.

While shopping for some new black pumps in one of Qatar’s many malls, I passed the Haagen-Dazs store. I strolled by, thinking mmmmm ice cream, when suddenly I smelled cigarette smoke. The locals here rarely abide by “no smoking” signs; many of them are viewed (by themselves and others) as being above the law. Even so, few things make my blood boil like people INTENTIONALLY IGNORING THE “NO SMOKING” SIGN ON THEIR TABLE WHILE THEY SHAMELESSLY PUFF AWAY ON THEIR CIGARETTES.

As luck would have it, that is exactly what 2 local men were doing at Haagen-Dazs – just puff puff puffing away, blowing stank ass cigarette smoke on every man, woman and child that walked by, with zero regard for the NO SMOKING sign in the middle of their table.

(Keep in mind, it was only about a year ago that a mall fire here killed 13 children and 6 adults. While that fire wasn’t caused by a cigarette, surely people can respect NO SMOKING areas at family friendly establishments, if for no other reason than to be mindful of fire prevention!)

I approached the Haagen-Dazs manager, telling him there were men smoking at a table that was clearly marked NO SMOKING. He acknowledged they were smoking, and explained that his superiors instructed him to allow Qatari men to smoke indoors, and to give them ash trays. He admitted even the mall security officers would not apprehend local men for smoking in no smoking areas. While this isn’t news to anyone who lives here, it is nonetheless MADDENING.

I thought about walking away, I really did. But GOOD GOD I HATE CIGARETTE SMOKE AND INTENTIONAL ASSHOLES. The combination was too much to bear.

So, I went up to their table. I plastered on a big, fake smile and said something along the lines of, “Excuse me, there is no smoking here.” Whether they understood me or not, I really am not sure. I got the impression they thought I wanted a cigarette, which would not have been the first time I was offered a cigarette when asking a local man not to smoke in a no smoking area. Exasperated, I just turned the sign on their table toward them. “No smoking!” Two and two suddenly made four, and Intentional Asshole #1 reluctantly dropped his cigarette into their water cup ashtray. Intentional Asshole #2 continued to smoke, so I smiled and asked them where they were from, knowing damn well they are from here. Indeed, they confirmed they were local, so I said something about what a nice country they have and how they ought to take care of it. Finally, Intentional Asshole #2 dunked his cigarette. I thanked them and walked away, feeling very small and insecure under a facade of confidence.

The Haagen-Dazs manager, presumably having watched the whole ordeal, apologized to me as I was leaving. I told him not to worry; I understand they can lose their jobs for saying the wrong thing to the wrong person.

Unfortunately, I did not find a new pair of black pumps tonight. I’ll have to return and face the wrath of Intentional Assholes at the mall another day!

Conversations with Young English Learners (Part 4)

This week, I worked my first shift at the tutoring center since leaving almost a month ago. I have had kind of a sour attitude since returning to Qatar, and was not particularly excited to go back to work. On the way to the tutoring center, J and I were briefly stuck in traffic at one of the many, many roundabouts. I looked at the vehicle next to us just in time to see a kid, maybe 7 years old, hanging out of the passenger side window, presumably to get a better view of the truck full of sheep on the other side of the street. Suddenly, a fugitive sheep bolted by with a little Indian man right on its heels. It was funny for a split second, this dirty sheep making a break for it, crossing multiple lanes of traffic, little brown man in hot pursuit. The scene was straight out of a cartoon. Then, like a ton of bricks, the reality of it hit: a lone sheep desperately trying to escape the path to slaughter, the futility of its attempt, the fighting of the inevitable. I wanted to cry, could have cried, but was dropped off at work just moments later.

It didn’t take long for the students to cheer me up. I don’t think they knew I needed cheering up, but their contagious charisma had me all smiles in no time. I missed working with them more than I realized.

One local boy’s assignment involved writing about his hobbies. Initially, he wanted to write about playing Call of Duty: Black Ops. I encouraged him to pick a different hobby. After careful consideration, he decided to write about sports. Soon, we were discussing different types of sports, how silly it is for Americans to call soccer “football” when it’s played with feet, and how the Indians “stole” cricket from the Brits.

Later, the same student had to write about his favorite season. It quickly became obvious he was not familiar with the four seasons. Another local student helped name the seasons: “winter, spring, summer… I know it starts with A!”

I wanted to exclaim, “Why, it’s only autumn, the BEST SEASON EVER!” I wanted to give them pumpkin pie with whipped cream on top, tell them about Halloween and trick-or-treating and apple cider, and walk them down a street lined with bright yellow and red Maple trees. Instead, I said, “Yes, autumn! Sometimes, we also call it fall.”

He decided his favorite season was winter, because of the cold weather, snowball fights, and snowmen. I told him winter is also an excellent time to drink hot cocoa (as if it’s not good year round!), and as soon as I said “cocoa,” he burst into laughter. I’m not sure if “cocoa” sounds like a bad word in Arabic, if I had something on my face, or if maybe, just maybe, he was really that excited about a season he has never actually experienced…

The next day (yesterday), I had an eager little 2nd grader at my table. He was reading through a list of new vocab words. He got to the word “rich” and exclaimed, “I like that one!” Before our hour was over, he confidently explained to anyone who was listening, “When a boy eats a lot of junk food, he turns into a girl!” I asked if he was sure about that, and he said he was, because his sister told him so!

Since a new school year has just recently started, there are a lot of new faces at the tutoring center. As one newbie cautiously sat down at my table, I asked him where he was from. He mulled over the question for a second, then responded, “Where was I born or where am I from?” I said, “Both!” He informed me he was born in America, but from a Mediterranean country. I love expat students! He wasn’t particularly interested in his assignments, but I’d bet his multiculturalism will benefit him far more than any degree. God knows that in retrospect, I wish I’d invested a fraction of what I spent on college into world travels instead.

I ended my shift listening to a local hijabi describe how she makes her nanny buy her tickets to scary movies, and how upsetting it was when she didn’t get to go to Bath & Body Works during her last trip to Dubai (which reminds me: I’m all out of body cream!). She moaned that now she must wait until she goes to Japan to go to Bath & Body Works. The agony!

I am happy to be picking up more hours tutoring this week, and always look forward to the unexpected things these kids say!

“What do you do for fun?”

One of the most common questions I get asked when I go back to the States is what we do for fun over here.

For starters, we go out to eat pretty frequently with friends. It’s not always easy coordinating the guys’ schedules, but having a social life here is a huge key to happiness. And by happiness, I mean not getting totally depressed and bailing. I eat at restaurants more often now than I have ever before in my life. For me, sharing a meal with friends is a sort of group therapy, a source of familiarity found in the closest individuals to family on this side of the planet. Of course, every opportunity to be with friends is like this, but sitting around a table “breaking bread” especially so.

Chain

Name that chain!

This one is easy...

This one is easy…

Mom & Pop (Thai)

dinner at our favorite Thai restaurant

We like going to the local shooting complex. Maybe I should say, we have liked going there, because we’ve only been twice so far. Now that it’s getting nice out (below 100F), we hope to start going more regularly. Pistol ranges are reserved for the national teams and military forces, but expats are allowed to shoot skeet with 12 gauge shotguns. Cost per 25 shells, with “equipment” and “assistance” runs $27.

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take your pick

This is me, getting ready to miss the target!

This is me, getting ready to miss the target!

Sunset on the way home from the shooting complex

January sunset on the way home from shooting

We go to the movies. While we are lucky to be expats in a Middle Eastern country progressive enough to have public cinemas, there is still blatant censorship in the movies here. For example, the back side of a statue in Django Unchained was blurred out. In Kick-Ass 2, “Mother F*cker” became “Melon Farmer.” Suggestive scenes are simply cut out, and new releases are not released during Ramadan. All censorship aside, the caramel popcorn that’s sold at the concession stand, and the reasonably priced concession items, are always a nice treat!

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Django Unchained (uncensored version pictured)

Halle Berry in a custom made bikini cover-up

Halle Berry in a custom made bikini cover-up

Salty for J, sweet for me!

Salty for J, sweet for me!

We hit the beach! For being a desert country, there are an awful lot of beaches around here. Last January, we rented 4-wheelers for a few hours, and played in the dunes. We weren’t technically at the beach, but we were close. This should happen again soon, since the weather is decent now (and when it does, I want to ride a camel!). This week, we went to the private beach area in a friend’s subdivision, where we kayaked through the Venetian inspired waterways. Previously, we kayaked through The Country’s mangroves: an area with so much vegetation, it seemed like a different country. When it’s not too hot, we can walk to our “neighborhood’s” residential beach. Unlike some of The Country’s beaches, bikinis are allowed there.

Sea from ATV

Sea from ATV

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Private beach area

rainbow kayaks

rainbow kayaks pre-mangrove tour

Bring your resident ID to this one!

Bring your resident ID to this one!

We hang out at the Souq! It’s a shopping and dining area, designed to resemble a traditional marketplace. We prefer to go here when it’s not too hot, since sitting outside to smoke shisha, browsing the many outdoor souqs, or shops, and getting some cheap henna is much more enjoyable when not on the verge of heat exhaustion! There’s something for everyone at the souq.

A waiter takes a break next to the shisha pipes at the souq's Syrian restaurant

A waiter takes a break next to the shisha pipes at the souq’s Syrian restaurant

fabric

fabric

lanterns

lamps

souvenirs

souvenirs

falcon souq

Falcon Souq

Getting from Point A to Point B, finding out basic information (contact info, hours, cost, directions, etc.), might take twice as long (or longer) than it would back home, but there’s no denying there’s always something to do here. We manage to stay pretty busy.

What do you do for fun?