Courtesy of Internations

New Zealand places 6th and Qatar 54th in the line up of the best destinations for expats out of 64 countries included in the survey. In summary, Qatar is described as “peaceful but boring” with limited social activities available, takes longer to settle into the culture, working hours can be long (although I don’t find this to be the case!), and costs can be high and not reflected in quality. New Zealand is great for families, easy to settle into, good work-life balance, but expensive.

Qatar:

New Zealand:

See the full list here

Note that this is based on a survey of Internations members, so will be impacted by how popular the site is in those countries. Pinch of salt ‘n all that.

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Two and a bit years on, Qatar is beginning to feel a little same same. We’ve seen the Sheep & Goat Festival come and go, the dhows in the harbour for the pearl diving competition, Ramadan, Eids, and the summer haze. It’s time to shake things up and see what else is going on in Qatar.

I present to you, the A to Z Challenge of Qatar!

a-to-z-graphic

A friend and I will complete one new activity per letter to complete the Qatar alphabet in a period of approximately 6 months.

Add your ideas to the comments!

A Aerial Yoga; Arabic; Air Hockey

B Ballet

C Camel Racing

D Dragon Boat Racing; Dhow Cruise; Dune Bashing

E Example & DJ Wire

F Fencing

G Girls Night

H Horse Riding

I Indonesian Cooking; Ice Skating; Ikebana; Internations

J Jewellery Making

K Kangoo Jumps; Kitesurfing

L Latino Tonic

M Makeover; Make Up Class

N Night Photography; Networking

O Overnight Desert Camp

P Paragliding; Ping Pong

Q Quiz Night

R Roller Skating

S Salsa; Skydiving (Dubai)

T Thai Boxing

U Ukulele

V Volunteering

W Wing Walking (not in Qatar); Wahm at the W

X X Marks the Spot (Geocaching)

Y Yoga

Z Zumba

We’ll be providing regular blog updates and photos on our experience and progress. We’re looking forward to months of fun!

Special thanks to a friend (you know who you are) for the idea, hope you can attempt this in NZ too.

image

Feijoas are currently available in Qatar!
Sure, they cost a fortune, but get them while you can.

Inserting myself into a new country and culture has had its ups and downs. Here’s to the good stuff!

1.       Lifestyle

Life in Qatar feels similar to life in New Zealand. You can live a sleepy life or you can hunt out loads of weird and wonderful things to do. Take up opportunities as they arise, say yes more often, and just try it. I’ve seen far more sport, classical music, ballet, opera, and Tom Jones than I ever thought I would. There’s more to Qatar than shopping.

2.       Change

SO MUCH CHANGE. Everywhere you look – infrastructure, new buildings, new strategies, systems, processes. Qatar is trying to squeeze what other countries have done over the course of decades, if not centuries, into a few short years. We are pioneers in the land of change.

3.       Culture

I am fortunate in this land flooded with expats to work with a large percentage of Qataris. It’s amazing to see their passion and keenness to take on new challenges in areas never experienced before. The locals are not afraid of speaking up or complaining directly to Ministers, and expectations of services are high. You soon get used to seeing and recognizing people in abayas, niqabs and thobes, and understanding and respecting their religion and morals attached to those.

4.       New Friendships

Entering into a strange land, knowing only your partner forces you to meet new people. We’re in a strange category of people here; not party-goers, nor parents, we seem to be the lost group. To make new friends you must put yourself out there, go to things when invited, and invite others. We’ve made a few good friends over this last year, and 2014 has brought a fresh batch of arrivals keen to experience all Qatar has to offer!

5.       Tax Free Income

Depending on your tax obligations elsewhere, your salary is your salary, with no one taking a cut before it going into your bank account. And money can mean FUN THINGS. Or GROWN UP THINGS like saving for important life stages. It’s all a bit easier when someone else isn’t taking a giant bite of the pie.

 

Looking forward to more fun experiences and challenges in 2014.

My first year in the Middle East has flown by. While some days it seems I struggle through, the year disappeared far more quickly than expected. What I can say is that I have definitely learnt a thing or two!

 1.       No Expectations

High expectations may only lead to disappointment. Keep an open mind, set your expectations low, and enjoy the highs while learning from the lows.

 2.       Tenure

There are two categories of expats in Qatar – those who will be here a few years maximum, and those that have been here for a long time. When you meet someone who has lived here for two or more years your jaw will drop, then you meet those who have been here over 10 and it astounds you. All the while you’ll just be pushing through to adjust and survive your first year!

 3.       Simple Difficulties

Everything is more difficult than it should be. Need to open a bank account? You need a letter from your sponsor. Need to exchange your driver’s license? Another letter is required. Getting your car serviced? Yeah, that will take weeks. You’ll soon come to understand (and expect) that everything will be slightly harder than it should be. Which leads me to…

 4.       Nothing Quite Works as it Should

As above, this can make life more difficult! Come to expect the unexpected.

 5.       Death Defying Driving

Every outing on the road will be a death defying experience. If you do drive, drive with the attitude that everyone on the road is trying to kill you, that way you will never get too relaxed and will pay attention at all times.

Roller derby is awesome fun. It feels like you belong to some underground society that only a select bunch know about. Games are held in YMCAs, halls or gyms and have an amazing atmosphere with cheering supporters.

In teams of five you try to block the opposing team’s ‘jammer’ who is trying to barge through to score points for their team, while also trying to assist your own jammer to get through, all while rotating around the track.

Male friends seem to be fans too, and I’m sure it’s purely based on the sporting aspect rather than the tight lycra shorts and fishnets.

London Roller Girls vs. USA in Newham, September 2012

London vs. USA in Newham, September 2012

I’ve decided that derby could be for me. You get to be angry and shove people around, and race through to score. Derby is in both New Zealand and the UK, so it could be an option when I move from Qatar. It looks as though great friendships are built and if you’re good enough you can travel and compete overseas.

One problem: I can’t skate. I tried once, my boyfriend at the time was trying to teach me. I fell over, on top of him, splatting onto the concrete. He never tried again.

It’s also not really a sport in the Middle East.

Not to worry! While in Qatar I can learn to skate, so then, when moving back to wherever, I’ll be ready to go pro. Right?

I’ve asked Santa (aka Hubby) for roller skates and safety gear for Christmas. He has declined as he is concerned for my welfare and is struggling between wanting to support me to do fun things and enabling me to harm myself. My coordination is his main concern. Despite this, he has said he will supervise if required, while battling his internal conflicts and perhaps wondering why he married a childish clutz.

Photo Credit: meanmissmustard.com

Photo Credit: meanmissmustard.com

The key to success, as I understand it, is your derby name. London Roller Girls have Grievous Bodily Charm and Goregasm amongst many others. If I use my time now to work on that, the rest will surely follow. So folks, what derby name ideas have you got?

If you’re interested in derby check out:

Auckland Roller Derby [The NZ season finished in Sept, so keep an eye out for events next year. Tickets are usually around $15, and totally worth it!]

London Roller Girls

Derby Rules & Info

This is what I expect to look like soon!

This is what I expect to look like soon!

In our local supermarket there is a section entitled ‘Indian Vegetables’ where you can play a matching game between the vegetables on display and the picture board above. Often the vegetables are unlabelled and do not look like any of the pictures, leaving us unable to identify the majority.

Obviously the only thing to be done is to take a punt, buy something odd-looking, bring it home and either figure it out or try cooking something and hope it works!

Hubby proudly came home one day with his odd pick. Now, I had come across this strange variety during a trip to Snowbombing (a music/snow sports festival) in Austria. We didn’t know what is was, nor how to use it. Resulting in the following:

KohlrabiMan

Our friend, Kohlrabi

Posting the above online the mysterious vegetable was quickly identified and thus I was able to act knowledgeable this time around and pretend I knew all about it.

Kohlrabi is “a perennial vegetable, and is a low, stout cultivar of cabbage” (Wikipedia), selectively bred by us to be the vegetable you see above (face optional). It’s common in German speaking countries (hence our Austrian find) and southern India (hence the supermarket location). Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts are all relatives, and it’s reported to taste like a combination of cabbage and broccoli. It’s versatile too, since you can use it raw or cooked. Don’t eat the outer layer though as it can be waxy and fibrous and may ruin your entire kohlrabi experience.

I should also caveat this post with the fact that I am not a cook at all. A bit of this and a bit of that was combined to make the below, so mix it up, add things, change things, go crazy in the kitchen!

Kohlrabi Fritters

You need:

  • Kohlrabi
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Spices (I used Paprika, Cumin Seeds, Tumeric, Garam Masala, Chilli Powder)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Egg/s
  • Flour

And then:

  1. Peel the kohlrabi, grate, and throw into a bowl
  2. Chop an onion, smash the garlic, add to the kohlrabi
  3. Add spices to taste
  4. Add an egg for binding
  5. Add flour and mix, a bit at a time, until combined to a thick batter-like texture. You may want to add another egg at this stage if you think it needs it
  6. Heat a pan with oil and spoon the mixture on in fritter-sized portions
  7. Flip and fry until golden on each side
Nom Nom Nom

The finished product – Kohlrabi Fritters

Nom Nom Nom!

I’m back on the blog wagon after an unplanned break away. Gosh time flies doesn’t it? Suddenly it’s nearly the end of August and y’all must have been wondering where on earth I’ve been.

                                                                                                

Ramadan falls in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, beginning following the sighting of the crescent moon, and lasts around 29-30 days. Ramadan is observed through a month of fasting daily from sunrise to sunset. Prayer increases and more time is spent reciting the Quran.

I am not Muslim thus this was a completely new experience for me. What I didn’t realise is that fasting means you cannot eat or drink anything, water included. As Qatar is an Islamic country, these rules apply to everyone in public, and also in our workplace. Cafes are no longer open in the days, meaning no more coffee runs at work, you cannot chew gum, sip water, eat outside or in front of people. The desire to do a jig on the street had to be promptly quashed as music, singing and dancing was no longer allowed. The country also becomes dry, with the only alcohol centre closed for the duration, along with bars. Restaurants could open specific hours, but no alcohol was available.

Suddenly this underground society opened up to cater for those not fasting. Restaurants had their blinds down, hidden from the masses, and are only open to those who know they are. People began sneaking into dedicated ‘eating’ rooms just to sip water. Coffee was being hidden in travel cups, wrapped and sealed in plastic, tucked into handbags and smuggled in. Martini Mondays moved from the Four Seasons to our apartment, catering for Westerners desperate for a taste.

At work we basically began fasting ourselves, it was easier to avoid anything rather than hiding things away and being sneaky, worrying that someone might see you and be upset or disappointed, or even worse, complain. In reality, this meant that we were eating dinner around 7pm, having some water before bed at 9.30pm, then not eating nor drinking until we arrived home from work the next day at about 3. Even with my cactus-like conditioning going a long time without food or water was difficult in the hot condition of the desert. Before Ramadan began we were warned by Muslim colleagues that the quality of their work would deteriorate during the period, as they would not be able to concentrate due to the lack of food and water. When I explained how we were eating/drinking I think they were shocked. Yes, I was getting a decent amount of sleep in comparison, but my fasting was ending up often longer than theirs – in Qatar you can break your fast with iftar (breakfast) at sunset (6.30pm or so, much earlier than the UK), and eat suhoor after evening prayers at around 3am, before sunrise.

Jumping in the car after work we’d quick grab a sweet and shove it into our mouths while pretending to cough or yawn as it is still very much frowned upon to be seen to be eating, even in the relative privacy of your vehicle. Racing home we’d grab a sugary drink and eat something light. Thus beginning the cycle of Work –> Eat –> Nap –> Eat –> Sleep.

Ramadan also meant we had to be much more aware of cultural values and dress more conservatively. Arms, legs and chests had to be completely covered. The previously bearable 40+ degree heat suddenly became more difficult to manage while fully attired and layered. Due to the difficulty and limitations in wardrobe choices, the other girls on my team opted to wear an abaya, the black gown of traditional dress that goes over your clothing meaning that underneath you could wear a light summer dress and no one would know.

Ramadan did bring with it some positives. Our working hours decreased by 3 hours (in reality we were still doing nearly the same most days), and the slightly later start made us feel a little more normal. People started disappearing on their summer holidays to go somewhere cooler to enjoy being outside in the summer sun. But the best thing about Ramadan was Eid.

Eid al-Fitr, Feast of Breaking the Fast, is a celebration where Muslims show unity. In Qatar we heard rumours that this special time of the year was rewarded with up to 10 days leave, granted by the Emir. However, such leave is only confirmed at very short notice, and with the recent change in leadership people were unsure if the new leader would be as generous or hoped he would be even moreso! And thus, on the 3rd of August, the Emir announced that 10 days leave would be granted to government employees beginning 6 August.

We’re back at work on normal hours now, but the summer holiday feeling is still very much there, with many people away until September.

We survived our first Ramadan. And you know what? It wasn’t as bad as we anticipated.

To Porsche or not to Porsche, that is the question
Whether it is nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune…

After a couple of months of suffering in direction-less taxis we quickly came to the realisation that we needed a car. The rental market is huge here, and finding one wasn’t a problem. However, the monthly cost was more than what we anticipated as anything larger than a car is roughly double the price.

Hubby was convinced on the need to buy and researched the options. It’s a strange car market in Qatar, with small 4WDs rare to come by, and cars have to be relatively new (circa 5 years) in order to get full insurance. I was setting my sights on a 2 door Pajero, while Hubby aimed at more ambitious (outrageous!) options. His ideal: a Porsche Cayenne.

I’ve dreamt of a Porsche for many years. Let me be honest now (because I think I can be honest with you, Internetland): there is nothing sexier than the 911’s arse (mmmmmmmmm *drool*)

:}~

Sexy Piece

And in my older years I dream of rescuing and doing up of these beauties:

1958 Sexy Piece

1958 Sexy Piece

The hulking great V8 Cayenne was never on my radar. I thought these ‘Remuera/Chelsea Tractors’ were a little ridiculous. Un-Porsche like. And, why would you? They don’t have an arse to die for, they are not sleek and sultry.

Porsche Cayenne S

Porsche Cayenne S

I pursued my more realistic dream of a practical small 4WD, while Hubby kept pressing forward with his Cayenne desires.

Due to the rarity of small 4WDs on the market they charge a premium. There’s a large gap between ‘smallish’ to Land Cruiser and GIANT AMERICAN TRUCK. Hubby did not want to consider car options for fear of DEATH AT ROUNDABOUTS.

This really does happen!

This really does happen!

So he looked. I argued. He continued. I denied. He hunted online. I looked too. We trekked Salwa Road in a wind-whipped sandstorm seeking other options.

The question: how can a Porsche be cheaper than a Pajero?!

With more Cayenne’s on the market, with all of the internal options in comparison to basic Japanese models, why wouldn’t you? My answer, obviously, is because it’s RIDICULOUS. That was my only reason. The quality was there. The cost. Meeting our basic needs and requirements. The niggling voice saying “but it’s a Porsche 4WD” needed adjusting. Soon changing to “but it’s a Porsche” to “but it’s a PORSCHE!”. Hubby had won. He had broken me down.

Yesterday we brought our baby home. We have now peaked in terms of cars, and never ever in our lives will we be able to afford another car like this. It’s a 4.8L V8 and purrs, PURRS like a contented lion. It has buttons aplenty, many of which we don’t know what they do, and we have plenty to learn.

It cost 80 Qatari Riyals to fill up. That’s £14 or NZ$27.

We will never be able to afford this again. So we’re doing it. We’re living the dream.

[Next car: 911?!]

Six months have passed since we signed up to living our lives together. It all happened very quickly: a wedding planned from decision to marry to wedding day within 7 weeks. Crazy? Perhaps. Did we pull it off? With some compromises we did it our way and had a brilliant time.

Wedding

Wedding Day, 2012

Following a wonderful wedding marriage weekend we returned to our separate flats and work on Monday.

I left my job [that I had to quit on my first day to move to Qatar] just before Christmas, and spent my first Christmas with Hubby’s family. And my first with a husband (it still hadn’t clicked that I was in fact married). New Years came and went.

I packed up my life into taking, storing, and ditching/donating piles, and briefly moved in with Hubby and flatmates.

It wasn’t to last long before I disappeared alone to Vegas to surprise a wonderful lay-dee (aka lubbkin) who I hadn’t seen since I left New Zealand’s fair shores. Being the accomplished gambler that I am I doubled my money ($5 into $10), was told I did Vegas wrong, but still came out a winner!

Vegas, Baby

Viva Las Vegas

I returned to the UK, spent a couple of days together with Hubby in the London snow, and then I disappeared again.

Snow Day

London Snow Day

This time I was loaded onto a plane with large suitcases, and with a tearful wave, said goodbye.

I admit, it was a strange introduction to married life, having only spent a few days together before I left. I’m not saying it was easy, nor would I recommend it to anyone else. Some of the most stressful things in life are moving house (and, uh, continents?), relationships, and work – and we were experiencing massive changes in all three at once.

Hubby of course joined me a month later, and we’ve been adjusting to the change from a few nights a week together to EVERY SINGLE DAY. He needs his man time (i.e. Martinis and X-box) and I potter around and do whatever (i.e. nap), leaving him to it.

We’ve travelled to New Zealand, seeing friends and family and have oh-so-much more travel planned in our minds.

Dinners out, new experiences, new friendships. Arguments, discussions, and business cases. Balancing who does what (a much shorter discussion when in a serviced apartment) and who drives when.

And before we knew it, six months of marriage had passed.

It hasn’t always been perfect, but we’re living a pretty privileged life, and so far it’s pretty damn good.

Thank you Hubby, for your tolerance, acceptance, and cooking. For your humour, caring, and cuddles. Here’s to the next six months and beyond!