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Souq Waqif in Qatar

September 16, 2015

Souq Waqif Qatar

You can almost step back in Qatar time by visiting Souq Waqif. Souq in Arabic means market. Waqif means to stop or to stand so it can be translated to the Standing Market. (I was so proud when I heard my tour guide in Jordan tell the driver Waqif, waqif and I knew what he was saying without even thinking about it.) Over the years, Souq Waqif fell into disrepair, and much of it was falling down. Then in 2006, the then Qatar Emir, and his wife set about to restore Souq Waqif. Realizing that the past is important, they opted to keep the traditional feel of the old souq and the current buildings are made in the traditional way with mud and wood. If you were visiting from the past, you would only notice that the souq is no longer on the waterfront due to the land reclamation and that cars and camels no longer go down the main street. The first hotel in Qatar is in Souq Waqif and is still there today.

Souq Waqif

In Souq Waqif, you can buy almost anything you could possibly want. There are luxury goods, such as hand-punched metal lamps from Egypt, and there are everyday items, such as kitchen supplies. You could cloth your entire family in the ready-made clothes or buy fabric to make your own. I think many Qataris do their grocery shopping there as you can buy spices and other foodstuffs in Souq Waqif. There is a bakery that sells fresh Arabic bread made in the souq for 1 riyal for five pieces. 1 riyal is about $0.27.

Souq Waqif Qatar

Not only all this, but you can eat almost any cuisine you desire. They restaurant selection is amazing, and new ones are always being added. The night I was there, I had Iranian food. My friend and I couldn’t decide between that and the Syrian place. There is also Egyptian, Italian, Thai, Qatari, Belgian, Lebanese, Moroccan and so many coffee shops you could stay caffeinated forever! Many of these places are open 24 hours a day, so you will never go hungry in Qatar.

Souq Waqif Qatar

Animals are also available for sale in the souq. Unfortunately, most of the animals sold as pets are not well treated. People in Qatar have tried to get a better situation for the pets in the souq with no success. As a result, I refuse to visit that part of Souq Waqif. There are some animals who get special treatment in Qatar including some that get air conditioning! Falconry in Qatar is huge and a still practiced sport. Falcons, falconry supplies and even a Falcon hospital are all on offer in Souq Waqif. The Falcons are the ones getting the air conditioning, by the way. There are also horses and camels in the souq, but I am not sure if they are for sale or even why they are there.

Souq Waqif Qatar

Souq Waqif

On weekend nights in Qatar, which is Thursday night through Saturday, Souq Waqif is a popular place for Qataris and expats. During holiday time, festivals and parades happen down the main street. My favorite thing to do at Souq Waqif, during the cooler months, is to get a table outside one of the many restaurants and just watch people go by. Since Qatar is a tourist destination for other Gulf countries, I enjoy seeing the other nationalities in their national dress and try to guess where they are from.

Souq Waqif Qatar

Souq Waqif Qatar

Souq Waqif Qatar

Things you should know before you go. There is underground parking available.  It is paid parking, but it is very cheap and much easier to use than circling the souq tons to find free parking. The souq is open all the time, but not everything is open all the time. As I mentioned earlier, many of the restaurants are open 24 hours a day. However, most of the vendors will only open in the afternoon around 4 pm and on weeknights close around 10 and on weekends they might stay open later. Very few things will be open during the day or in the morning, but if you want to catch the souq with no one in it then, go early and avoid the heat and crowds. Because this is a place Qataris frequent, you should be appropriately dressed, meaning shoulders and knees covered. Also, do not take close up pictures of locals without their permission first, particularly women.

Have you been to Souq Waqif? What is your favorite place there?

Expat, Travel

My Original Travel Buddy: A Remebrance

September 9, 2015

Travel Buddy

Last week the hardest thing that has happened to me while being an expat, my beloved cat died in the U.S. while I was here in Qatar. I realize that many people are going through things you might consider harder or worse than this, but for me this was heart wrenching. Sophie and I have been together since 2001, and she was my original travel buddy.

Sophie was a birthday present to myself that year. I returned the sweater my mother had bought me and bought Sophie instead. Please forgive me, I was in college and buying a pet was perfectly acceptable to me at the time. I had also lost a kitten that summer due to a “kennel cough” and wasn’t ready to trust the shelter again. She was a mix of stray cat and purebred Himalayan. She was the friendliest of her litter. I gave it lots of thought and even slept on it overnight before going back the next day to get her.

Immediately, I started taking her on trips with me. I was in my second degree at college, so these were mostly road trips. Sometimes these trips were just on errands around town. I was determined that she wasn’t going to mind riding in the car. As long as she was not confined to the cat carrier she loved it. Going home for Christmas that first year was the real test, as that was over a six-hour drive. Luckily, I had a car that the back seat laid down. Her carrier, litter box, and my suitcase loaded into the back and off we went. It didn’t phase her at all. She sat on top of her carrier to see out the window or slept in the front passenger seat.

When I moved to New York, the trend continued. My Dad and I drove from Texas to New York City with a cat in a moving truck! She loved every minute I think. There were times she slept on the dashboard. Yes, I know we weren’t very safe with all this cat moving about the car thing, but you drive for two and half days with a cat howling in her carrier.  Most of the time, she was asleep in my lap and I enjoyed watching her reactions to the world whizzing by outside the window.

The adventures continued when I would fly home for the holidays from New York. It was much cheaper to fly her in the cabin with me than it was to board her. For many years, Sophie flew home with me. Now lots of people fly with their dogs, but I know that not many people fly with their cats! Going through security was hilarious. I was required to send her carrier through the x-ray machine and carry her through, but for my piece of mind, Sophie was always on a leash, which set off the metal detectors. Sophie also had her own plane ticket. It is just too bad she didn’t earn frequent flier miles! In the terminal, I would let her out of the carrier on the leash so she could stretch her legs while we waited to board. That alway elicited lots of stares and questions. Sophie was a beautiful cat and everyone commented on the length of her whiskers. On board, she was under my seat until take-off and then I would usually put her carrier in my lap, so that way she knew I was there and I could pet her. Not once on any flight did she ever cry. The flight attendants would pet her after the food service was over. This all ended when I had lady get very upset that she was flying next to a cat that she was allergic too. Sophie was not able to come out from under the seat that trip and I decided that wasn’t fair. Luckily, we moved back to Texas not long after this and she went on another epic road trip that last five days.

Sophie was almost 12 years old when I moved to Qatar and had not been well before I left. I always knew that she would probably pass while I was living here, but my plan was always to be home when that time finally came. I am a control freak and thought I would have control over that too. I figured she would decline slowly and that I could make it home and be there with her. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen. Whatever it was that took her, it took her quickly, which was a blessing. We are pretty sure it was cancer, but keeping her alive till I could get there was not fair. It wasn’t till I saw how bad she was doing on FaceTime that I knew putting her to sleep was the right thing to do. It didn’t make it any easier. I cried for hours and am pretty sure my body was in shock as kept shaking.

While it is just been a week, I am doing better now and can actually talk about it. Sophie was my best friend. She always knew when I needed a cuddle or a laugh. She gave my parents great joy by living with them. I also know that I made the right decision to leave her at home when I moved to Qatar. She enjoyed going outside and pretty much having free reign of my parents house for two years. When I would come home to visit, she would come running when she heard my voice, but after few minutes, she would run off. I am pretty sure she was afraid I was there to take her back to living inside all the time, so moving to Qatar for Sophie was never an option. Hopefully, one day I can accept that making that decision was right and the best thing for Sophie. Now I will take Sophie on all my trips by keeping her memory with me always.

The lovely photo of Sophie is courtesy of my Dad.  Thanks, Dad!

Expat, Qatar

My Qatar 2 Year Anniversary

August 7, 2015

2 Years in QatarTwo years ago today, I landed in Qatar. The small details of that night are a blur, but I do remember that my jeans stuck to me from the humidity as I walked down the stairs from the airplane. Then I was driven through the night to the wrong apartment, and it was only realized after most of my very heavy bags had been hauled up the stairs. After I was taken to the grocery store, I was desperate for a shower, and when I got out I couldn’t find my hair dryer in the six suitcases I had brought. The air conditioning was so cold, and I had no idea how to turn it up or off. I put on one of the few winter sweaters I had brought and hoped I wouldn’t get sick. Despite the rough first night, I have made Qatar my home.

I have been thinking all week about what I want to say about being here for two years. Being in Qatar has taught me so much about the world and its people. I am not sure if I have the right words to describe my experience has been as an expat, but I will do my best to share my thoughts and experiences.

Being an expat is to be on constant learning curve and I love that. I can see why many people in some countries go on a gap year. It opens your eyes to so many things to move to another country. I immediately jumped in and started to experience the culture of Qatar. The second weekend I was here, I was at the Inland Sea, which borders Saudi Arabia. Both at work and in social gatherings, I met people from all over the world such as Lebanon, the Philippines, Italy, Austria, Egypt, Ireland and the list goes on. You could travel the world without ever leaving Qatar. Each person is willing to share their story and the story of their country. Everyone is proud of where they are from and I want to know about it. My favorite thing is when I go out to eat with my friends here and I am the only American. The rest of them are from somewhere else. One time this led to a discussion on what kind of road kill is common in their home countries!

Being an expat requires you to adapt. Things don’t work the same way that they did in your home country. Buying a car for example, in the U.S. you could walk into the dealership and walk out a few hours later with a car. Here, it took about two weeks. Not a problem and the process was simple, but different. Most things are standardized here so getting car insurance is easy because the price is the same everywhere and I bought this year’s car insurance at the traffic department. However, I was the only western woman in the building and the Qatari women there were working. No one is allowed to pump their own gas here, so you are reliant on someone to fill your gas tank and they also only take cash. Slowly you learn how things work and you adapt and accept. Some expats never adapt or accept and that makes their life hard and they usually don’t stay very long. The serial expat though has become the best adapter and in some ways probably thrives on it. I like change to some degree, so some of this hasn’t been an issue. Although, I still have only gotten a haircut once in Qatar because I have heard horror stories from too many people.

Being a single woman expat is a challenge. I would actually say being single expat is harder than being a woman expat. Especially here in Qatar. Qataris and some other nationalities find it hard to fathom that you are here alone. Based upon the looks some have given me when I tell them I am here alone, I think they think my family must not like me or I have done something wrong. It also makes life a bit harder. For example, when your car breaks down and you just leave it because your friends can’t come jump the battery until later. Or when you take a cab to the emergency room because you know everyone is already in bed asleep. Being a woman is another thing entirely. Eventually, you get used to men (and some women) staring at you because in their culture it is normal, and there is no harm in it. As a blond in a city of brunettes, I am the “exotic” one. You learn to stand up for yourself when getting a car repair done or getting the car washed, even more so than in your home country. But you also are relieved to know that if you have a flat tire on the side of the road, several Qatari men (and other nationalities too) will stop to help and you don’t have to worry about being attacked or kidnapped. I know that I can walk through a parking lot at night here, and no one will bother me. After my car battery had died, one of my male Arab friends brought me a portable car battery charger so I wouldn’t be stuck again or dependent on someone to help me. I think he knows me well. What all this has taught me is that I am stronger than I realize and the moment may be hard, but I can handle it.

Being an expat has made me want to travel even more. Learning from the other expats about their home countries has led me to add countries on my must see list. I have also had the great experience of visiting a few of these countries with these friends. They fill you with a great appreciation of their country that visiting on your own could never achieve. Being in Qatar has also made me realize that to truly know a place you have to visit for more than a week or a month. Being an expat is the ultimate in slow travel. Too bad I can’t live in every country for two years.

Being an expat changes you. When you go home, you realize your life experience is never going to mirror any of your peers’ experiences. Unless you happen to have a ton of expat friends, but even then their experience will be shaped by the country or countries they lived in or where they are from originally. This is not a bad thing, but some people will find it hard to relate to you or they will smother you with questions. Other cultures have now shaped your thoughts and beliefs. It even comes down to simple things like you are always shocked to see people in so little clothes during the summer in other countries because everyone is covered here. You may also be behind on things going on in your home country. For example, I don’t know who all has declared their run for President. I am sure I will pay more attention once we get closer, but until then I will remain blissfully unaware about who is slinging mud at who.

I wouldn’t change any of this. Yes, I miss my family, friends and my cat back home. Yes, I know I may have a hard time moving back to the U.S. one day, but to have experienced this is something I will never regret. I understand different cultures better, I know world politics, I have friends in multiple countries and am traveling to them and all the while learning even more. I will not die saying I wish I had gone…

Expat, Qatar

How I Got Here

May 27, 2015

Qatar Expat

I was commenting on World of Wanderlust’s blog a few weeks ago on her post about 20 Best Jobs for People Who Love to Travel about what I do in Qatar. It dawned on me as someone asked me in the comments that I haven’t explained to you all how I got here! People in Qatar are also asking me why Qatar, so I’ll tell you my expat story.

We have to go back to 2009. In 2009, I took a volunteer job in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Not only did I fall in love with the island, Grand Turk, but I was also mesmerized by all the expats I met living there.  They had lived in all kinds of places and were from all over the world. I thought to myself, “You’re doing life wrong!” Meaning I should be living abroad and having all these wonderful experiences. I had always wanted to travel, and this seemed like the best of both worlds!

Now the real issue is that I have a fairly obscure day job. I am an archivist, and there just aren’t a lot of jobs for us in the U.S. and even less so abroad it seemed. Not only that, I mainly only speak English. My Spanish is in a sad state. Another hurdle to overcome was being American. Being American limits you in what jobs and countries you can work in. I guess the reason is many countries have their own economic crisis, and the U.S. is still doing okay compared to some. Some countries will let you come if you meet certain requirements and have a job offer. So the hunt began. I applied almost anywhere. Most of the job applications I filled out never went anywhere. I never heard so much as thanks for applying from some.

At first, I never considered applying for this job because I didn’t think it was a good idea for a single woman to move to the Middle East. About a week after I saw the job posting, I attended a webinar on International Librarianship. One of the speakers featured was working as a librarian in Qatar. As you can imagine, I asked a lot of questions about being a woman here. She was also single and had lived here for a long time. She said she loved it. It was then I decided to apply. For a long time, I didn’t hear anything, and I thought it was another dead-end. Eventually, I was called for a phone interview. This did not go as well as I had hoped. Part of the reason being was that it was at 7:30 am so the people in Qatar could attend. I am not a morning person at all.  Through a bit of luck, I was invited for an “in-person” interview at the home campus in the US. The waiting began!

Then my dream job offer came along! No, it wasn’t the job in Qatar. There was a job in the Caribbean! My ultimate dream location and probably my future retirement home. The job was perfect, and the person I would be working for was great! Trouble was the pay was just too low considering I was still paying off my student loan debt. At this point, I was very confident I was getting the job in Qatar. I also knew that the pay and benefits would be better in Qatar, plus I could travel which was a huge draw. Traveling from the Caribbean is not so easy.  With pains in my chest, I said no to the job in the Caribbean with the hope that the job in Qatar was coming through. The very next day, I was told I was being offered the job! And almost two years later, I am still here and loving it!

How did you end up where you are?

 

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