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.


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.


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:


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.”


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.


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.

Warsaw Revisited

I lucked out.

I really, really lucked out.

I was able to leave 100+ degree temperatures in The Country, with all of its stores closed during the day for the Holy Month, and return to wonderful Warsaw!

We landed around 6:00am again, napped for a few hours upon reaching the hotel, then awoke in time to knock out one of the five things remaining on my Warsaw Bucket List; a Sunday afternoon Chopin piano recital at Lazienki Park!

Before heading to the park, we stopped in nearby Marrakesh Cafe for some sandwiches to go. I had no idea it was a vegetarian/vegan joint. It just happened to have the best takeaway menu of the restaurants closest to the hotel. J and I ordered falafel pita sandwiches, coffee (soy cappuccino for me, Americano for him), and went on our merry way.

We arrived at Lazienki Park’s Chopin monument around 3:30pm; nearly half an hour before the second (and last) concert of the day was to begin. I recommend arriving at least that early, to secure a seat, or bring along a blanket to sit in the grass. We made ourselves comfortable on a nice bench to enjoy our sandwiches and coffee in the magnificent park.

Guilt-free sandwiches + music + nature = Heaven

Guilt-free sandwiches + music + nature = Heaven

The park began to fill with people, and by the time the concert began, there were five of us crammed onto a bench that was probably only meant to hold three.

Chicka chicka boom boom! We relocated to a set of brick steps before our bench met the same demise as a certain coconut tree.

Chopin himself appears to supervise the recital

Chopin himself appears to supervise the recital.

Pianist Kacper Toloczko played beautifully. I kept thinking, my dad could do this! and teared up a few times, wishing my parents could have been right there right then. Although my parents are musicians, and I took years of piano lessons, I was embarrassed not to have recognized the music from that afternoon’s program. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed every second, and highly recommend the free event to all Warsaw visitors.

At the conclusion of the concert, we left Lazienki Park and walked until we found ourselves at Park Ujazdowski. While being smaller than the previous park, Park Ujazdowski was so picturesque with such lush greenery, I wished we could have stayed for a dinnertime picnic there!

Fabulous foliage!

Fabulous foliage!

Note to self: Bring picnic blanket to Warsaw.

While reading through a Warsaw visitor’s guide, I came across a 2-page advertisement for Zapiecek. I figure anywhere that can afford two entire pages in a travel magazine must be doing something right. Maybe I’m just a sucker. Anyway, that is where we went for dinner and it was AH-MAZING. Another must if you are in the city.

pierogi perfection

pierogi perfection

We feasted on “fried dumplings served in the hot pan”: dumplings with meat (for J), dumplings with spinach leaves and cheese, and dumplings with lentil. J also tried the chicken, which he said was some of the best he has ever had. I was pleasantly surprised with the cup of dried fruit compote, which sounded not-so-nice, but was actually sweet, smooth, and refreshing. For a most sinful dessert, we savored blueberry dumplings, served in a hot cast iron plate, and topped with sweet cream. By the time we were done eating, I was seeing dumplings, breathing dumplings, and was definitely feeling like a dumpling.

The next day, we woke up early – and I mean EARLY (5:00am The Country time; 6:00am Warsaw) to make it to the Warsaw Uprising Museum, the Orange Balloon Station, the Nespresso Boutique, and to find a Polish cookbook in English. We had to be back at the hotel by 1:00pm, so we really did not have much time.

We walked from the hotel to the Warsaw Uprising Museum, just under a mile away. Unfortunately, we did not realize the museum doesn’t open until 10:00am during the summer.

No big deal. We figured we would  just take the train to the Orange Balloon Station, then return to the Uprising Museum afterwards. We boarded the #22 train (#24 will also take you there) and everything was a-okay, until we got off at our stop near the Narodowy Stadium. Of course, since we got such an early start, the giant orange helium balloon wasn’t even up and operating yet, so we couldn’t even see in what direction we were supposed to be walking.

Thank goodness I had pączki z różą for the road.

Thank goodness I had pączki z różą for the road.

Along the way, I dragged J into a very strange flea market-y place that reminded me of las pulgas in the Rio Grande Valley.

Mexico, is that you?!

Mexico, is that you?!

I didn’t find any bootlegged DVD’s or bags of chicharrones de harina, so we continued walking.

Chicharrones at the pulga

Chicharrones at the pulga (2010)

Thankfully, neither one of us needed a bathroom break, but just in case we did, there was this:

Cute name, cute heart, still not goin' in there!

Cute name, cute heart, still not goin’ in there!

I’m pretty sure we walked around in a ginormous circle before finding the Stacja Balon, which was GROUNDED FOR WEATHER ANYWAY.

So sad. So very, very sad!

So sad. So very, very sad!

By that point, we had wasted a ton of time, my feet were hurting, and I was ready to cry. We didn’t make it back to the Uprising Museum, but we did make it to the Nespresso Boutique, where we loaded up on our favorite capsules which are SOLD OUT in The Country!

Nespresso Rainbow

Nespresso Rainbow

We passed numerous flower stands, which I love.

The lady working at this stand yelled at me for taking a photo.

The lady working at this stand yelled at me for taking this photo.

The lady working at this stand neither minded I took a photo, nor wanted the 2PLN I offered!

The lady working at this stand neither minded I took a photo, nor wanted the 2PLN I offered.

I have yet to find a Polish cookbook in English, and remain far from a master Polish pastry chef. Hopefully with time, I am able to cross off the remainder of my Warsaw Bucket List!

Warsaw Bucket List (Revised):

* Admire Warsaw from the Orange Balloon Station (Call first to inquire about weather! +48 510 316 660)

* Visit the Warsaw Uprising Museum (Opens at 10:00am Monday, Wednesday & Friday in the summer)

* Find an authentic Polish recipe cookbook (If all else fails, look online)

* Become a master Polish pastry chef (Make everyone a guinea pig!)