Category Archives: Travels

No Longer Living the Confused Expatriate Life?

No Longer Living the Confused Expatriate Life?
by Ms. Hala

Last summer, I repatriated back to my hometown of San Francisco after living the confused expatriate life in Qatar for five years. As I prepared to write another rant entry, I realized something. I’ve documented some of my experiences of being an expat and a repat but never really on the logistics of leaving. Many have asked for tips and advice on the process of relocating and I’ve got to say, preparedness is everything.

Peeps, if you’re living the confused expatriate life, you have to be ready when the time comes. Sometimes the expat life isn’t guaranteed and sometimes, even when you plan everything out, you realize there are laws and rules you need to follow through on first.

I sat down and made a list of everything I had to do. Moved some things around, checked some things off and before I knew it, I was home. What do I advise? Here’s a few I hope you find helpful.

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Time Can Be My Friend: Many expats, willingly or unwillingly, find themselves relocating either to a new country or back to their respective home nation. Whether it’s the end of our employment contract or it’s just time to go, we need time to get our things together and in order. Seeing many of my friends almost rushed out of Qatar, I knew I needed as much time as possible because things in Qatar do take time. I made sure I communicated with my employer, who sponsors my residence permit (RP), on my flight dates so as to not have my RP canceled until that date. The last thing I needed was to be fined for overstaying a canceled RP. Expats in Qatar have seven days to exit the country from when their residence permit (RP) is canceled or expired before they are fined for overstaying on a daily basis.
A lot of logistics take much longer than necessary and thankfully, time was my friend. I was able to request about three weeks which was a good amount of time for me. If all else failed, and because I’m lucky enough to be from the long list of nations allowed an on arrival visa to Qatar, plan B was to actually fly back. Thankfully, that extra trip and expenses were averted. Using those savings for my summer trip to Italy, woohoo!

Law and Money: As part of the requirement of working in Qatar, you’ve got to open a bank account and have your salary direct deposited every month. Easy! Qatar is also very strict on not allowing expats to exit before clearing all debts. Borrowing in Qatar can be very tempting with low interests but many forget that it’s got to be cleared once before they go. Yikes!
I actually took a loan to finish off paying for my car but cleared it sooner rather than later so that wasn’t a problem for me. I did have a credit card (which I got a bucket load of Qatar Airways miles from!) so that had to be cleared with my bank. Banks will hold your last deposit, usually a lump sum including your gratuity, for a minimum of 48 hours until you are cleared. Some banks take longer and I’ve seen friends freak out for days before whatever they owed was deducted and they were allowed access to their account. Yikes!
Lucky me, I just walked straight to my bank and had everything cleared. I still had 150 Qatar Riyals on my credit card I totally forgot about. I shuddered thinking my last salary deposit would be frozen for days over 150 QR. The bank provided me a signed and stamped letter confirming I was cleared for extra assurance. I hear other countries can be even stricter or have a longer process so I’d advise expats to make anything related to money the number one priority.

You Used To Call Me On My Cellphone: Many expatriates don’t know how long they’ll be in a given country. Some will go with a prepaid plan, easy to handle but over time, can be costly. Once I realized I was going to stay longer, I immediately got a monthly phone contract and cut my costs almost in half. Of course, now that I was leaving and my RP was going to be canceled, I walked into the Ooredoo store and switched my lines to prepaid. I also had to set a cancelation date for my home cable and internet and prepay any costs. Again, the last thing I needed as I exited the country was to be stopped for any debts I hadn’t cleared.

Get Out My House: Unlike most expats, none of the companies I worked for in Qatar offered a company accommodation. Even if they did, I’d probably opt out of it anyway. It sucked finding apartments but I had heard enough eviction stories from fellow expats that I was glad I was in a place in my name when it came time to leave. I even got lucky that my landlord OKed my extra three weeks stay in lieu of my security deposit.

My bigger hassle was my furniture. I’m talking major kitchen appliances, two bedrooms, and a living/dining room. Yikes!
If you’ll be shipping your furniture, this is your second priority, find a shipping company that can at least pick up your packed furniture and handles all the exporting tasks for you. Be on top of it, I had to deal with three shippers for large pieces of luggage I didn’t want to lug around with a pet during my layover in Los Angeles. For whatever reason, moving in the summer causes shippers in Qatar to take their sweet time. So unprofessional! Luckily, I was not planning to ship any of my major pieces of furniture, thus posted my items for sale online and whatever I couldn’t sell, I reached out to a couple organizations to take them as donations.

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Not Without My Kitty: This might have been one of the simplest of my relocation tasks, which I still don’t understand why it was made to be such a hassle. I was asked why I would go through the hassle and costs of taking my cat with me to California. First off, this silly girl here adopted me when I least expected it. I even named her Ms. Doha, after the city she followed me in when she was barely 8 weeks old. She was a large part of my expat life in Qatar over five years. So it was a given, she’s coming home with me!
That meant, I needed to get her documents in order and her spot on the plane booked. Kindly note, not all airlines will take your pet, and I’m not sure why. I had to request and pay the difference to my employer since they were booking my flight home (Qatar Law requires employees terminated or contract completed to be flown home by their employer). Qatar Airways is the only airline allowing pets on long-haul flights into the US. This was a 16-hour direct flight, so I booked my kitty as a medium rather than small sized pet cargo so I can have her in a larger crate to give her enough room to stretch and move. I only got put multiple liners but was misinformed about someone feeding her since it was a long flight. I used an open water and food feeder bowls, which I do not recommend. Especially the water, my poor baby was thirsty when I picked her up in LA.
The US doesn’t actually charge you any fees for importing your pet dog or cat from another country. All that’s usually asked for by most countries are vaccination records, microchip number and necessary importing fees paid upfront. So Ms. Doha wasn’t vaccinated in a while so had her vaccinated, given an antifungal bath and confirmed her microchip scanned at least a month before I left. I also had to take the records to the Animal Resources Department of the Ministry of Environment. There, I paid 10 QR for approval documents. Ms. Doha was on her way to the USA!

I’m not judging but not everyone can relocate their pets with them for whatever reason. Should that be your case, I BEG YOU to PLEASE re-home them before you leave. If you leave them out on the streets, like many expats in Qatar do, you are guaranteeing their death as many domesticated pets don’t survive. Your pet was part of your family, all they gave you was love, and that’s all they ask for in return. Dumping them in the streets is not loving them in return. Be kind and re-home your pets before you leave, PLEASE!!

Click here to read up on tips for expats in Qatar, written exclusively for ILoveQatar!

My Truck Is No Junk: Again, unlike most expats, I owned my car. A sweet 2013 Honda Pilot. This can be a smart investment if you are staying long term in Qatar or anywhere with limited public transportation. However, selling a car in Qatar during the summer is extremely and utterly brutal! I had to not only lower the price at least three different times, I couldn’t sell the car before I left. I can’t keep it in my name when I exit nor was I planning to ship it back home either.

Immediately posted the car for sale and I’d make this a top priority for most as this can be a slow process. Qatar doesn’t have a “Kelly Blue Book” so had to check classifieds on ILQ and QatarLiving amongst others to get an idea of what my car’s value should be. I was cautious if taking it to the dealer as they’d do a buyback for so much less in order to resell it for a profit.

Shipping your car is an entirely different and long process and I’d only do it if it’s worth the time and money. A couple friends did ship their cars from Qatar and even after all costs, the car value was worth it. I’d advise that if you’re hiring shippers for your furniture, make sure they can also handle vehicles. You should be able to ship your car and furnishings in a 20×20 container for around $3,000-$5,000. Obviously, the bigger the container, that costlier it’ll be. Should the process take longer than your time in Qatar, as was the case with me, you’ll need to transfer the car out of your name in order to be able to exit the country. I was lucky enough to have a friend willing to put the car in her name and handle the final sale logistics when it was sold, four months later. I hope everyone is as lucky as I to have trustworthy friends by their side.

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This Is Not Goodbye: Leaving Qatar so quickly after being there for five years was not an easy task. I grew as a person, made lifelong friends and saved a decent amount of money despite student loan payments (grrr!). I didn’t tell anyone this but when the plane took off, I went to the restroom and cried bittersweet tears. I was happy to be going home and sad to be leaving. Apparently, this feeling is quite common amongst expats. Many have told me repatriating or even expatriating elsewhere can be hard, it’s starting all over.

However, I think if you keep a link with your expat life in the respective country you were in, it makes it a little bit easier. The Global Foodie Group on Facebook and Whatsapp I started are still buzzing. I speak to my friends in Qatar on almost a daily basis. I’m also looking at visiting Qatar later this year. I’m thinking of it this way really, it’s never a “goodbye forever”, it’s just a “see you later, Insha’Allah!”
I hope my experiences provides you with some tips and advice should and when the time comes for you relocate. What was your experience leaving a country where you lived your expat life? Do share in the comments below.

Travel Link Up – My Travel Wishlist for 2018

Travel bloggers come together monthly for the Travel Link Up, a fantastic way for bloggers to write about a particular travel theme while reading and sharing each other’s posts. This month’s theme is one’s travel wishlist for 2018. This rant will be my first with the travel link up, finally!

IMG-20170909-WA0034-01.jpgOne of my goals for 2018 is to travel more than I did last year. This, in part, is sparked by two things. One, my plans from last year was put on hold because of my repatriation back home. And two, this year’s destination wedding season is in full swing and I couldn’t be happier! This is an opportune time for me to revisit favorites as well as discover new places.

So here’s my travel wishlist for 2018:

San Francisco Bay Area, California

I’ve been playing a tourist in my hometown since repatriating last summer. There’s so much for me to rediscover as I eat my way through the city and the Bay Area as a whole, really. Like trekking the hiking trails in Sausalito, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge on foot, checking out the latest exhibits at the Asian American Museum, observing the marine animals at the historical Monterey Aquarium and show some love to the businesses reopening in the Napa Valley areas.

New York Tri-State Area

DSCN0211-01.jpgI’ll be heading to the New York area in the early summer for my cousin’s wedding! After dancing the night away, I’m going to try to cross a few things off my list that I didn’t get a chance to do during my last visit. Like, go see a Broadway show. I mean seriously, how have I been to New York City so many times and not see a single Broadway show? Preposterous! This year, I must see a show and I’m spoiled for choice with new ones coming out as early as March 2018, wow! I’d also like to head to Hoboken, New Jersey. It’s been on my radar as I hear they’ve got a booming food culture there.

Sicily, Italy

IMG_20160723_131933-01.jpegLater in the summer, I’m heading to the magnificent island state of Sicily for my dear friend’s wedding! I’ve been through most of Italy in 2016 but not to Sicily. Thus, my friends and I are planning to stay about a week to check it out in all it’s glory once we’ve recovered from dancing all night or two long. I’m being told that Mount Etna is a must when visiting Sicily. This should be a good way to work out all the food I plan on eating.

Dubrovnik and Fort Lovrijenac, Croatia

Another trip missed last year was Croatia. As a history buff, I’m anxious to see the ancient coastal city of Dubrovnik. Of course, I can’t be in Croatia as a huge Game of Thrones fan and not head to Fort Lovrijenac, where it’s the setting for Kings Landing. The scenery alone is a great backdrop for this historical fantasy. Here’s to taking a seat on the Iron Throne!

Luxor and Aswan, Egypt

IMG_0180-01.jpegSince I won’t be far, seems a short trip to the Middle East is in order. It’s been a good number of years since I’ve been to Egypt and of the few times I’ve been, I have yet to visit Luxor and Aswan. As a history buff, these historic provinces have so much to offer and I’m still making a list of all the things I need to explore. I do plan on going with a tour guide of sorts as to not miss out on anything.

Bali, Indonesia

I was so close yet didn’t get a chance to go as planned for my birthday last year. I’m hoping to make it this time around and explore the bounties the island has to offer. Fingers crossed there won’t be another volcano eruption, otherwise, I’m checking out Mount Agung and the surrounding towns.

Paris, France

This country, specifically Paris, is a coin toss for me because as much as I’d like to go, the fact that hijabs and niqabs are banned in its many public places doesn’t put me at much ease. I’ve almost never had a problem outside of airports during my travels but that’s not the expectation I have for Paris. However, I’d do anything to just sit in one of the eateries facing the Effiel Tower and eat my heart out.

Do you have a travel wishlist for 2018? Do share!

A Tourist in My Hometown

A Tourist In My Hometown
Repatriating Ain’t Easy
By: Ms. Hala

That feeling when you realize repatriating ain’t easy. Not close to how easy I thought it would be at least. Then again, neither was my first year as an expatriate when I first moved to Qatar back in 2012.

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I know I need to give myself a little more time to adjust to life back home. Yet the longer it takes, the more anxious I get. Looking for a new job in a competitive market isn’t making anything easier but I’ve managed to keep my sanity with a few side gigs.

Since repatriating back home to the great city of San Francisco, where I was born and raised, I’ve come to find myself playing tourist. Unlike the times I’d visit home for a few weeks a year, I’m finding myself rediscovering a city I once knew like the back of my hand. So much has indeed changed, gentrification is in full effect here, yet much has stayed the same. And with this post begins my new blog series on my life in repatriation mode.

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I can’t deny that the first month or so of playing tourist has been a whole lot of fun! I encourage all my peeps reading to come visit this city of mine and explore its wonders. I’ve already had out of town friends and family come visit so it’s been nice to explore a few corners of this city with them.

Click here for my ILoveQatar article on the top things to do in San Francisco!

Discovering the great gastronomic culture I’ve grown up with has been an adventure in and of itself. It’ll also require me to quickly join a gym if I’m going to keep eating all this good food. Until then, I need a taco fix, pronto!

Ciao Italia!

It’s finally here peeps! Hopefully, this is the first of a handful of rants on my amazing trip through Italy last year. I learned so much and want to share as much as I can, from the towns I strolled through to the amazing food I ate along the way. Your thoughts and feedback are highly appreciated! =)

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It’s one thing to read and hear about Italy, it’s another thing entirely to experience it!

In the short time I was blessed to spend in Italy, I was able to discover a great history preserved for thousands of years thanks to it’s proud people and their friends. A country diverse in culture, tasted in it’s cuisine and enjoyed in it’s many stories. I was not just a tourist, I was an admirer finally fulfilling a travel dream I’ve had for years… and I mean YEARS!

As it was our first time in Italy, my friend and I decided to find a group tour to travel with. We came across Gate 1 Travel, a tour company out of the US. This company does multiple tours throughout the world, including right here in the Middle East. I have to say, as this was my first group tour, it was an amazing experience. I meet great people from different parts of the states and felt right at home. I would highly recommend using Gate 1 Travel for your next group tour, especially to a country or region you aren’t familiar with.

Simone Vitti, was our wonderful Italian tour guide who took care of us like we were his visiting friends from out of town. This young man is truly passionate about his country and worked with others in the field that had the same passion when they showed us around their towns. Let me rephrase that, Simone wasn’t our tour guide, he was our Italian professor. He literally gave us a crash course on Italian history, culture, cuisine and language. A few of which I hope I’ll be able to relay in my rants, but sadly, not with Simone’s beautiful accent.

Our 16 day trip started in Como and zigzagged through Italy until we ended in Rome. Below are my thoughts and highlights on some of the places we visited. I’ll go into more details on a few of these towns after I finish sifting through about 5,000 photos and videos from my portable Nikon and lifesaver of a Nexus 6P phone.

Alrighty then, andiamo!

Como, Lombardy – The main city of Lago de Como (Como Lake) in the state of Lombard, about a 40 minute drive from Milan airport (MXP), is a beautifully cozy town. Walk any which way, there’s plenty of green, mountains and water. If you’d like, you can take a train and cross the northern border to Switzerland or hop the trams to visit near by small towns atop the hills. This town literally felt like it had everything within walking distance. We stayed at Hotel Metropole Suisse, which was small but extremely charming. I didn’t pay extra for a lake view room but I think any room in this hotel has a magnificent view of the lake and the lively town square. Stay for a few days, walk everywhere, take a boat through Lake Como, shop the boutiques, visit the Volt Museum and eat everything! Final Thought: One of my favorite Italian cities, highly recommended for at least a few days.

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Bellagio, Como, Lombardy – Deemed “the pearl of Lake Como”, this small town can be walked all around in about an hour or so but there’s so much to discover within it’s smaller streets. Beautifully built homes, boutique shops, lake views from the hilltops… so much so, a day trip in my opinion was not enough to absorb it all. I wish we were able to check out the Gairdini di Villa Melzi D’Eril (Gardens of Melzi D’Eril’s Villa) which was closed during our day trip. The view from every angle was breathtaking, the hills were not difficult to navigate on foot and the people were very welcoming of the massive tourist crowds. And the street pizza we got for 6 Euros was delicious! Final Thought: A town not to be missed! Highly recommended for at least a weekend stay.

Verona, Veneto – From a far, it’s very much a Roman town with many of it’s marks still visible. Once inside though, it’s a whole different story, especially for those seeking love. Everyone comes to Verona for Casa de Giulia (Juliet’s House). Why? Because Shakespeare – who never visited Italy by the way, let alone Verona – used it as the setting for his fatel romantic tale, Romeo and Juliet. Smart Italians then turned the town into the “city of love” and replicated the house Shakespeare dreamt up for Juliet. Everyone swarms there  to stand in Juliet’s balcony and rub her statue’s breasts for luck in love. This fan of Shakespeare didn’t find it appealing at all, especially with the claustrophobic inducing crowds. Instead, I waited for our group outside and checked out some of the really cute craft shops nearby. The craftsmanship of this city is under hyped and deserves as much attention as Juliet’s stone breasts. Final Thought: OK for a day trip or to attend an event, nothing more.

Venezia, Veneto – I found this city of 118 islands to be quite lovely, but extremely overrated. I’ve never seen such small spaces so crowded in my entire life. We stayed at the Hotel Carlton and Grand Canal which is off the grand canal of central Venice, just breath taking! And we were warned that some activities, like the musical gondola rides along the canal, were straight up tourist traps. We took a boat bus through most of the grand canal in about 40 minutes for 7 Euros. Head to Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square) and be taken back to the fascinating history the square encompasses. Go to the smaller islands like Murano where many world class glass factories reside. Final Thought: Overhyped romanticism, OK for a weekend but please avoid Venice in the summer.

Firenze, Tuscana – After my time in Venice, I was worried this otherwise overhyped city of Florence would disappoint me. I was wrong! As a huge fan of art and museums, this city truly captured my heart. Of course we couldn’t be in Florence, even for just a day, without standing in front of the magnificent marble statue of David. The work, the details and the history behind Michelangelo’s original intention is awe inspiring. The museum and art academy was a breath of fresh air, I just wish we had more time to spend to see the other exhibitions of both historical and modern artists. Since we love shopping, we headed to the many leather and silver factory shops lined up all over town. Be careful during tourist season though, their prices are ridiculously “discounted”. Final Thought: An art lover’s dream city! Definitely try to spend a few days here, one day was simply not enough.

Siena, Tuscana: This was an additional tour that I decided to go on and I’m glad I did. A medival town holding on tight to traditions and a great historical significance, especially to the Catholic faith. A young lady by the name of Catherine dedicated her life to serving the people and the church. She’s the reason behind the return of the Vatican state to Italy from France. Dying at the young age of 33 due to her continued “fasting”, she was later deemed a Saint, with parts of her showcased at the Basilica di San Domenico (aka Catherine’s Basilica). Final Thought: A great day trip! The summer heat can be brutal as this is a walking city, not much aside from bikes roam through this town’s many alleys and small hilly streets.

Sorrento, Napoli, Campania – This is a small town with larger than life vibes. It was used as our “pit stop” for a few days while we visited other nearby towns. We stayed at the lovely Grand Hotel Vesuvio atop a hill overlooking the coast. The lively town square at the bottom of the hill was just a hotel shuttle ride away. I found Sorrento to be a perfect town to take in the sights, eat great food and dance the night away. I highly recommend dining at L’Antica Trattoria just a few feet from the town’s main square. I had the honor of meeting the chef after his staff took note of my excessive food photography and questions. Final Thought: This town is very Naples central, highly recommended to check out during a good few days stay in Naples.

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Capri & Costiera Amalfitana, Campania: The only thing I disliked about Capri Island is that I went in the summer, the crowds were brutal. Everything else, even the drive on the Amalfi Coast in an oversized charter bus driving on the edge of the earth, was wonderful. Take in the coasts and get on a boat tour around the island and inside the caves, AMAZING! Did I mention shopping in the local shops? Great finds, got most of my gifts from these lovely shops for decent prices. And for the citrus lovers, this is the heart of limoncello, so drink up! Final Thought: Do not visit in the summer and do not spend less than two days in what I believe to be the most beautiful coast and island of Italy!

Pompeii, Napoli, Campania: Fans of history will appreciate this historic and practically abandoned archeological town. Practically frozen in time by the volcanic ash of Mount Vesuvius that erupted over 2,000 years ago. Some sights can be fascinating while others can be quite disturbing. It bothers me a bit that the town is more famous for it’s historical brothels than it’s preserved roads, sculptures and architecture. The people of Pompeii were smart and had they lived on, I can only imagine what they would have contributed to our modern day society. Final Thought: A great day trip! Please be sure to wear comfortable shoes and clothing. I’m embarrassed to say I ripped my pants climbing up one of the massive steps. Yikes!

Roma, Lazio: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” And so I attempted to do just that in the few days I was there. We walked underneath the city to discover it’s hidden treasures after spending a morning walking through the coliseum’s disturbing past.  The Egyptian part of me lost count of the many artifacts the Roman Empire just “happened to find in their ships” when they returned home. The Spanish Steps aren’t Spanish but the embassy across the square is. I’d seen enough churches during my Italy trip but the Major Mary Church was spiritually beautiful, it’s believed to house a piece of the wooden cross Prophet Jesus (pbuh) was crucified on. Threw in a few coins in the Fontana di Trevi (Trevi Fountain) for good luck and headed to the Tiber River’s summer festivities for international cuisines, music and games. Rome is truly a city like no other! Final Thought: This city is alive and kicking, not a dull moment. Do all the tours you can, there’s so much to do and discover in this city!

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Until next time, ciao bello mios!

Treat Yourself on Your Birthday!

When my family called me from back home to wish me a happy birthday, I was either on the plane or half asleep on the beach. We got to talking about how we don’t treat ourselves enough and how happy they were that I was treating myself with this trip to Muscat, Oman.
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I had a pattern of always working or studying on my birthday. Moving to Qatar and celebrating my first birthday alone in the midst of the roughest year of my adult life put a lot of things in perspective.

I started treating myself as often as possible, especially on my birthday. Every year, I’ve taken my birthday off from work (paid or otherwise) to enjoy a spa day, shopping spree, fancy meals, complete utter laziness and this year, headed on my first semi solo trip.

I took a short trip to Muscat, Oman where the first two days was spent between getting pampered or sitting on a private beach basking in the glory that God created. When my gal pals landed, we head off to a full day of sight seeing villages, beaches, sink holes and canyon walk/climb. When the hell have I ever freaking walk up a canyon peeps? That was exhausting so we ended our long weekend on the beach and a birthday cake filled lunch before we said “ma elsalama Oman”.
Treat yourself peeps because you deserve it… Alhamdulillah.
I promise my Italy rants are coming up as well as my birthday weekend in Oman to follow soon after. =)

Public Response to Lacy Morris’ Huffington Post Article

If most of you have this odd love/hate relationship with the Huffington Post as yours truly, I’m sure most of you read Lacy Morris’ latest article in HP’s Travel, 30 Things Travelers Must See and Do Before They’re 30. Aside from making me feel slightly under accomplished at 31 (Thanks a lot Lacy), I felt the urge to share my comments publicly for each of the listed items Lacy listed. I’ll only post the list (bolded) but you can click here to read Lacy’s full article.

1. Jump off something.
Right after you Lacy!!

2. See one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
Accomplished! =) I’m from the great city of San Francisco so I’ve been blessed to have enjoyed some of the modern wonders like the Golden Gate Bridge amongst others on a regular basis, Alhamdulillah. (I miss you SF!) When I was 19 years old, I worked two jobs (yes that’s 2 jobs, 7 days a week!) to save and pay for my Mama and I to go to Egypt in April of 2001 where I experienced the longest surviving wonder of the world, the Pyramids of Giza. I went again in 2011 after the revolution and experienced history in the making… another world wonder in my book.

3. Party in Las Vegas.
Unless you’re paying for it Lacy, I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on a slice of Sin City.

4. Take a vacation that isn’t Spring Break.
Accomplished! Never did a Spring Break type deal so my trip to Egypt (see number 2) counts.

5. Attend at least one large celebration.
Accomplished! Every year I attend Ramadan gatherings and Eid prayers. Trust me, it’s a fabulous celebration with clothed, sober people! I invite you Lacy to join us in SF when I return for a visit from Qatar to celebrate Eid! (You’re also welcome to experience Qatar and add it to your list!)

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Enjoying San Francisco’s Ocean Beach, covered up, in 2009.

6. Hit up a nude beach. I laughed to tears at this number! One, I’m from San Francisco, home of Baker Beach and never even considered checking that nudity out. Two, I’m a happily covered-up Muslim so the idea of going out without my hijab, let alone naked is extremely laughable.

7. Spend several days with only what will fit in a backpack. Lacy, let’s hear about your days with only what will fit in your backpack.

8. Swim in the ocean.
I can’t swim but I’ve visited several beaches during my travels so… semi-accomplished!

9. Sleep somewhere where you have to light a fire to stay warm.
Lacy, YOU sleep somewhere where you have to light a fire to stay warm!

10. Do some sort of adrenaline sport.
I moved to another country at 30 on my own dime… doesn’t that count Lacy?

11. Hit up one of the Caribbean islands.
Are you going to pay that for Lacy? If so, let’s go and it can be “31 things I can do before I’m 32!”

12. Take one ultimate road trip.
Accomplished! I’ve done several road trips from SF to LA and back, the last one being when I was 29.  When I was 24, along with my Mama and sister, we road tripped from NY to the Carolinas and back. I do not recommend anyone to do that drive… ever!

13. Go somewhere alone.
Accomplished! My first flight alone was a training in Michigan at 20 then getting paid through my freelance work throughout California and parts of the US before I traveled and moved to the Middle East. I emphasize that those trips within the US were paid for by a third party otherwise I wouldn’t have ever been able to afford it as a college student. I doubt anyone under 30 can travel alone without a friend who can at least help split the costs of hotels and food.

14. Take a train somewhere.
I’d like to take the Trans-Siberian Railway (across Russia) like in Paulo Coelho’s Aleph. Let’s go Lacy, your treat! 😉

15. Go to a music festival.
I love music and have organized a few concerts but I’ve had dumb drunk people ruin one too many shows for me. You want me to go to a  music festival where drunkenness is encouraged? No thanks!

16. Have one iconic Americana experience.
I’m a Muslim Arab American whom has traveled through USA airports… if that ain’t enough “Americana” experience then what the hell is?

17. Go to at least one of the Smithsonian museums.
Now that’s on my list but I haven’t set an age deadline for it.

18. Summit a mountain.
San Francisco Twin Peaks, that should count… and I know how to get myself back down too!

19. Be able to name your top five dream vacations.
Wait, I thought this was a list of travel experiences we should have accomplished before 30, not draft them out. I’m confused Lacy…

20. See a game at a classic ballpark.
San Francisco turned the classic Candlestick Park into Monster Park (a football field) before I could afford to start going to cheer on my world champs, the SF Giants.

21. Visit a neighbor to our north or south.
Yea I would’ve, really, but no one wanted to pay for it.

22. Do something so adventurous that it requires a doctor’s visit.
Accomplished! Took my Hep C shots at 19 before my trip to Egypt. (How sad is that?)

23. Save pennies to go somewhere you really want to go.
FYI Lacy, it cost more than 200 pennies to go down the street.

24. Go to New York City.
Semi-Accomplished! I have family in New Jersey and NY’s Staten Island so we’ve done the ferry rides and walked some parts of Manhattan. I have yet to stand in the middle of Time Square or eat from NY’s famed Halal Food Trucks/Carts. I did bus it between Brooklyn and Staten Island, but no subway rides.

25. Sleep under the stars.
Never done it but during trips to NJ, my grandparents had a nice front lawn where we gathered during those hot summer nights over good conversation and star gazed before the mosquitoes kicked us out.

26. Eat an iconic city meal.
I’m from San Francisco… all the iconic meals come to us damn it!

27. Know all of the best places to take tourists in your home city.
Accomplished! One place tourists should go to in San Francisco aside from the 49 mile scenic drive is a small lovely corner in the heart of the city called Maiden Lane where some really nice spots to eat are located! You’re welcome Lacy!!

28. Have one close encounter with a wild animal.
I have three brothers, one sister and 3 cats split between two countries… that’s enough wild animal encounters for me.

29. Do something you can’t tell your parents about.
No comment… my Mama reads this! =P

30. Know a dance well enough that you could keep up with the locals.
Accomplished! When I was in fifth grade, I was part of the cultural dance troupe where I learned Chinese Ribbon Dancing, Irish Celtic Step Dance and traditional East African Tribal Dances to name a few… I still carry and remember everything I learned in that troupe to this day… best year of my elementary life!

8 1/2 (maybe 9) out of 30… not bad, huh Lacy?

Welcome to Egypt, This Way Please

This is the first of many rants from my private journal on my trip to Egypt last year. Learn more about the series here.

Baba and I landed in Cairo on the evening of May 19, 2011.

Baba’s requested wheelchair service was waiting for him right outside the airplane door, not the gate door like in Germany (for our layover), the airplane door which put my overly anxious father at ease. To be honest, the gentleman had an extremely professional and friendly demeanor unlike what I was expecting. He guided us through customs, “this way please”, where the officers were oddly polite following typical procedures with their questions. Then he guided us to baggage claims, “this way please,” where I remembered the one bag that wouldn’t show up.

I was maybe on 3 hours of sleep, exhausted from packing and repacking thanks to the odd agreement amongst airlines that believes you are well off on a long international trip with about 100 pounds and one carry-on. (To the people that come up with these stupid standards, good shoes and toiletries are not light!) I’ve been packing for over a month and somehow until the last minute I was still off by several pounds. The best part, I wasn’t just stressing over packing for myself, it started with stressing over shopping and packing for Baba too!

At SFO, there was a good 20 minutes of misinformation because Lufthansa was convinced I was going to Europe and not the Middle East so I should have LESS luggage… WHAT?! After that, was another good banter over one of my carry-ons being one too many. Really? Lufthansa asked for $250 if I wanted to have it checked! In the end I had to part with it because I usually take a while to get through security because of my hijab and Baba wasn’t being helpful at all. It was a tough decision to have to leave it behind even as Mama said she’d ship it too me. All I could think about was my favorite pair of heels I had packed in that carry-on specifically so they don’t get messed up in the handling of my luggage (I know, first world problems). For those who may or may not know, despite my ungirly dislike for shopping, I have a thing for shoes!

Back at the new terminal of Cairo International Airport (seems its only for EgyptAir flights), the gentleman handling my father’s wheelchair was kind enough to help out with our luggage, let me use his cell phone when my T-mobile international roaming decided not to be turned on per my request weeks in advance and wait before Baba’s nephews were able to get through security outside the airport to receive us.

The last time I was here was April 2001. I had an interesting experience, both good and bad. I enjoyed meeting new people and exploring Egypt’s treasures while putting up with constant verbal cat calling at the presence of my family members in public. I wondered then if Egypt would ever improve, change for the better.

I didn’t have a great first impression when after landing in Cairo’s airport then, everyone was harassing Mama and I to handle our luggage and be tipped for just offering to help. Customs were rude, acting like they were doing us a favor by letting us enter the country. Employees were plain rude if you weren’t deemed “important” or refused to tip for no reason. Bombarded by drivers fighting over offering you a ride even after you’ve said you were not interested.

This time was different.

No one touched our luggage unless we specifically requested it. Drivers only asked once, politely, and wished us well as they flashed a smile after we said “no, thank you.” The gentleman handling Baba’s wheelchair was a married man with kids, working this job because he actually enjoyed it. He didn’t once mention anything about getting a tip. Baba and I of course insisted on tipping him and taking down his number so that we can connect with him when my father was to fly back to California alone two months later.

On the hour or so drive to Baba’s farming country town of ElManzala where he grew up, I wondered if that airport experience was enough of an impression to judge if Egypt has changed for the better, different after the great revolution of earlier that year. Some streets were clean, others were not. Drivers were still driving crazy at one in the morning, yet they used their turning singnals. Homes were still being built, clothes were hung on clothes lines across balconies and roofs. Mosques and churches alike were colorfully light up. Cairo was wide awake, it never slept. And not one picture to remind the people of who used to run this place.

That put a smile on my face.