Someone jokingly mentioned that I was about to hit the two-month mark living in Doha... and that everything will get worse from here on out. He was referring to the fact that ex-pats have the hardest time adjusting to living overseas during months three thru nine. The first two months are the honeymoon... everything is new, people are helping you out a lot, and you are constantly exploring your new home. But after two months, you start noticing the faults... people aren't that nice, you can't buy the deordorant you like, someone keeps leaving the toothpaste cap off the tube, etc. The little things start to bother you as you settle into your routine. There are things like that happening to me, but so far they are far less worse than when I was in Houston. Traffic is bad, but the city is so small so who cares? The bureacracy is maddening, but show me one that isn't? All in all, I'm really liking it here. But there are things that are making me a little homesick... I'm missing my Baby...
I do wish I could do something to make my home more... homey. I can't paint the walls (cannot find paint), and I can't stand all the white and brown. All - take a look at the pictures of my place online, and give me some suggestions!
I have found myself longing for a few things that you just cannot get here. Mainly, pork. Everyone, go to your fridges and eat some pork for me... because you don't know what life is like without it. I have great respect to the religion and cultures of the region... but no pig?? The food here is great, but always a little dry, and nothing comes with a sauce of any kind. Why?... no pig fat to cook in. BBQ here just means cooked over a grill with some seasoning. It's hard to find a true BBQ sauce, and when you do, it's ungodly expensive. Most meats are eaten in shwarma or minced (not ground, minced into a fine meaty powder) so ribs or pulled beef is out of the question. I ate chicken hot dogs last week. And I don't care what they say... beef bacon is not bacon... ever.
A big question I had before I came here was "what is the food like?" I was trying to find out what was the cuisine of the middle east, since you rarely see middle-eastern restaurants or dishes in the west. Well, I finally have my answer... there is no middle-eastern cuisine. None. Sure, they eat dates and palm, love their citrus, and have a healthy appetite for camel, but nothing stands out. I asked some of my students what would be Qatar's signature dish... and no one could come up with anything. The food here is an amalgam of other cultures... particularly Turkish, Indian, and Lebanese.
Turkish and Lebanese are very similar, and probably comprise more than half of the restaurants in Doha. Lots of rice, hummus, fresh unleavened breads, pickled vegetables, kebabs, mixed nuts, roast chicken, and minced lamb or beef with eastern spices. My favorite place, so far, is a Turkish restaurant nearby that sells meat, veg, and egg pies shapes like boomerangs... sooo good for about a buck each.
Indian food is another large subgroup. Not that many Indian restaurants (although they are all fantastic) but their influence with spices and tajines (cooking in earthenware dishes... think crockpot) is everywhere. Honestly, I always liked Indian food, but was never a huge fan... I always ended up eating a dandelion pod or some unknown clove that ruined it for me. Turns out I was eating crap... 'cause the Indian food here is nothing like you've ever had before! The bread alone would be worth the price of a plane ticket. Most of the Indian food in northern style... more refined and crafted. Some places do serve the southern style of mixed curries and burn-a-hole-in-your-soul spices. Me... I like them all.
I need to clarify when I talk about Indians... I'm talking about the sub-continental Indians... from India. If you say Indians here, there can sometimes be a communication gap... just like in the states. Lots of people here call all east-asians, from the Indes, "indians." So Phillipinos or Pinay are also called "indians." Just making sure we're all on the same page.
I still don't have my car... little snafus with the paperwork and timing. I should get it tomorrow... cross your fingers. I ended up buying a Nissan XTerra. Always like the styling, and surprisingly affordable when your company gives you a car stipend every month. I probably won't be able to bring it to the states when I leave due to manufacturing codes. The standards for safety are not as stringent here as they are in the states... even though my car was made in Mississippi. The XTerra is safe, four-wheel-drive, offroad capabilities, plenty of room for me, and comfortable. There's only two things I don't like about the car... the gas mileage and the color. It's gas mileage sucks... but when you're paying about 70 cents per gallon... who cares? As for the color, I wanted either black, blue, maroon, or red. Turns out you don't want to own a black car in the desert... as the dashboards tend to pop out of their supports with the heat, and the dust and sand causes scratches and turns the black paint gray. And the blue and maroon were only for the top-of-the-line models with sat-nav and custom leather interior. Why anyone wants sat-nav in a country that you can drive all the way across in half-an-hour is beyond me. As for the red, they purposely don't import that color to Qatar. Red SUVs are reserved for the ruling family's (al-Thanis) private security force... the CID. That leaves the standard choices of all automobiles in Doha... white or silver. In fact, about 95% of the cars here are white or silver... and at least half of those are Toyota Landcruisers (the choice of all Qataris). Problem is, I can't stand white or silver cars... never could. They're just boring and plain and ugly... especially here since that is all anyone owns!! So, I took it a step further than normal... I got the yellow one. Turns out, the XTerra, a staple in the US, just arrived in Qatar this month. And I bought one of two in the entire country. Can't wait..
The bowling league is supposed to start play this week... but the guy in charge is out of town, so there might be a delay. But that didn't stop me from preparing, oh no... I bought a bowling ball... and it glows in the dark!! I got the finger holes drilled today and played a quick game... 121. Not the best, but still OK.
Speaking of sports, this was an all-sports, all the time, weekend. Went to the TAMUQ basketball game on Thursday night versus Weill Cornell Medical College. Blowout, TAMUQ win. Bad news though, one of our bench players went down with a blown knee with only a minute left in the game. Hope he's well.
This past week I was joking with my students about how much I hate soccer, "football, Mr. Ben... it is called football". Of course here, soccer is the national sport and everyone plays it. So I promised some of my students that I would go watch the football match on Friday. I went out Friday afternoon (remember, my weekends are Fri and Sat) and watched the game. How excruciatingly boring!! I just don't get the excitement of it... the constant falling down and feigning of injury. And they do it so poorly!! The best part of the game was when a player (not ours) was yellow carded for a penalty. He then started to argue with the ref, and was given a red card... meaning he was thrown out of the game. Well, this little firecracker was having none of that!! Instead, he sat in the middle of the field screaming that he had done nothing wrong, and was not going to leave the pitch. That's right, he was throwing a temper tantrum. And everyone seemed OK with it... and he sat there for twenty minutes while everyone argued. No wonder I would rather eat a soccer ball than watch it.
On the other spectrum of sportsmanship, I was invited to watch the league cricket championship on Saturday from some of my sub-continental Indian students. Sure, I said, it'll be interesting... but I brought a book, just in case. This afternoon (beautiful day) I took a chair out to a large parking lot in Education city and watched my first cricket match. I loved it!! No, I don't understand all the rules, and no, I couldn't keep track of the score... but it was so much fun! The students were explaining the game to me, there was actual excitement both on the field and with the players on the bench, and they were gracious sports when they lost the championship to the med school. 134-133 with six bowlers remaining... tough break. The students were very curteous in explaining everything going on... I think it was because I was the only spectator!That's right... championship game... and I, someone who knows absolutely nothing about cricket, was the only person rooting for my team. Gig em, Ags!
We're not done with sports just yet. After the game, I went to the bowling alley downtown to get my ball drilled and to bowl a game. All good fun. On the way home, I saw that there were a ton of cars lined up and down one of the major streets that I live off of. Then it hit me, the ladies tennis tournament, the Qatar Open, was going on. We have two huge tennis centers in Doha, and everyone was parked to see the semi-finals... or they wanted to see Maria Sharapova. But who doesn't want to see Maria Sharapova? So, I pulled over and went to take a look. Most sporting events here are completely free to go watch, and this was no different, but you did need a ticket to get in the gates for the reserved seating. But it turns out that if you walk quick and act like you belong inside, the ticket officials won't stop you. And there I found myself... standing in the tunnel of the stadium, watching Sharapova beat Radwanska in two sets. I didn't stay for long, as security was wondering why I wasn't going to my seat. But it was a cool experience, anyway.
In one weekend I went to a basketball game, a soccer pitch, a cricket ground, bowled ten frames, and watched a tennis match...
And I barely broke a sweat...