Our family has an ongoing tradition: we decorate the house and find any excuse to exchange gifts. This year was no different. My five year old nephew Salem anxiously awaited to rip to shreds the gift wrappings and freaked out in excitement over every single toy and book he received. I mean, just geek out at the sight of one of his favorite Avengers.
And being the birthday month for both my stepdad and I, we get extra lucky when it comes to presents. This year being my second holiday and birthday home, I totally lucked out by getting a few things off my wish list and a few gag gifts like my fresh set of Golden Girls shot glasses to add to my collection (thanks Mama!). Yep, love the girls and have seen every episode at least 10 times!
However, we all agreed that my sister Heba won with the gift giving this winter season. She made both my mom and brother cry with her freaking awesome sentimental gifts. For the record, I never win in this family but I’ll keep trying. hehehe
On Christmas Day, most of us have the weekend or at least the day off. So, as per tradition, our extended family gets together over delicious seafood thanks to my hostess with the mostess cousin, spoil the kids rotten and laugh to tears, literally.
This year, I learned that as an older auntie, I have to get my nephew a car when he turns 18. Thanks for setting that in motion to the universe my dearest cousins! hehehe
Our Muslim (and interfaith) family may not religiously celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah but what our family does celebrate year round is life, love and togetherness. So if we get a day off or a long weekend, we’ll be together. It’s as simple as that!
To all my wonderful peeps reading, may you and yours have a joyous and blessed holiday season! Here’s to the same in 2019, God Willing.
Living the Confused Expatriate Life, Part 2 By: Ms. Hala
I am not married. I am not engaged. I am not in a relationship. I am single. It has followed me around to no end, even when I’ve moved thousands of miles away, to a conservative Arab country.
When it comes to my status here in Qatar, I’ve come across two reactions in people.
The first being the cheerleaders. They are the ones with nothing but kind and positive reinforcements. It’s even more astounding when it comes from those I least expect it from. For example, the older Egyptian gentlemen whom I work with that are always encouraging me. In the last four months that I’ve worked with one of the managers, not a day goes by without him always complementing my strength and determination, especially during some of the challenges we’ve faced at the office, for doing what I do. With limited internet access in the past few months, when I do log on, I find a good number of emails and messages via social media from young people whom have noted how they follow-up on my latest Qatar adventures with inspiration. Some of them, already here in Qatar, have blessed me with their friendship.
The second being the haters. They are the ones with nothing but stupid, stereotypical, and just plain envious words because I can’t find any other reason for their bad energy. These are the people that feel the need to say one of three things:
“You’re here, alone? No family? No husband? But why? You poor thing.”
“I could do what you’re doing now but most men don’t like women like that and I really want to get married.”
“I wish I was you! You’re doing everything I’m too dipshit* to do on my own! People talk you know.”
After my third month living in Qatar, I just stopped trying to answer to these people. Yes, I’m here alone with the blessings of my family. However, that’s when I came to realize that there are very few people like me in Qatar and most young ladies are living here either with family or a spouse, not alone. I miss my mom.
Please, don’t tell me of how you could do things for yourself if your life revolves around someone else. You people are more irritable to me than those whom keep trying to set me up with this “great guy”. Please realize that not all of us are living up to some odd standard of husband hunting. Some of us actually live for ourselves, have more meaning to life than adjust to how someone may accept us. I mean you want to get married, great, but life doesn’t need to revolve around the idea.
And for crying out loud, if you want to do something, just shut the fuck up and go for it. Trust me, when you don’t do nothing, people will have something to say about it. When you do anything, guess what? People will have something to say about it. Funny thing though, most people don’t give two shits about what you are (or aren’t) doing so I’m still trying to figure out why you even care about the opinion of those people.
As of last month though, I’ve come across the third reaction that has started to get under my skin.
The third being some of Qatar’s policies. Before I go on a rant here, I want to state that I understand why some of these policies are in play, to prevent human trafficking and prostitution. However, there’s got to be some kind of line of reasoning, understanding, common sensing (Is that even a word? Well it should be.) around here. And here’s where my rant begins.
Exhibit A: In order to obtain my Qatar Residency Permit (RP), I had to go through a medical screening. Mainly an X-ray of the chest for TB screening and two different blood tests. For those sponsored by an employer, the company pays in advance for the fees or refunds you for it while all others usually pay upfront during their appointment. If you are born in Qatar, you don’t go through this lovely experience.
The Medical Commission that I was blessed to attend through my place of work was the most disgusting place in Qatar. It starts out nice, divided into a section for the ladies and a section for the men. Or so I thought, until I drove towards the ladies section to find swarms of men waiting outside the ladies’ only entrance. I entered alone, passing the many odd stares and glares. Once inside, there were two lines, those pre-paid (employees) and those needing to pay (spouses). The pre-paid line was empty. Showed the lady at the counter my blue passport, got the up and down look before the lovely question, “You’re here through work? You’re here alone?”
“Yes,” I answered back smiling sarcastically and annoyed. She kept rolling her eyes as she processed my papers and directed me to the x-ray room. After the lovely experience of being herded like animals and watched by others as I took the x-ray, twice. I picked up what was left of my dignity and went to get my first blood test. Upon looking me up on the computer, the lovely lady at the counter made stupid remarks about me being work sponsored before handing me a few documents plus a little booklet.
Not paying attention, I walked towards the exam room where a kind nurse was assisting me in getting my blood test. Having small talk and looking at the booklet because I hate needles (don’t ask me how I got my lip pierced), I realized what the booklet was, “Prayers for the Dead”. Really? Bitch gave me a prayer book for the dead? Kind nurse laughed at a comment I made as she instructed me to go to a private clinic for my second blood test. I gave the bitch the booklet back stating, “I’m not dead”.
Throughout the short drive to the clinic I kept thinking what the hell was her intention giving me that booklet? Am I as good as dead? Or did she just run out of “Prayers for the Living” booklets?
Deeply annoyed sigh.
Exhibit B: I finally found a nice little apartment, comfortable for myself and my little devil child, Ms. Doha, in a brand new gated community. Upon registering and signing, it was brought to the attention of the gentleman handling my application that the contract would be under my happy name.
“Ma’am, are you registering under your name?”
“Yeeeeeees. I’m the one whom will live here.”
“Do you have an ID?”
“Yes! Here’s my Qatar ID and my passport as well.”
“Do you have a letter of employment verification?”
“No, I wasn’t told I needed one when I inquired over the phone.”
“You need a letter of employment verification to complete your application.”
“Why? My Qatar ID specifically states my place of employment as my (residency) sponsor.”
“Yes but you’re special.” He joked politely seeing my disapproved reaction. I’ve been told that reaction scares a lot of people. Not sure if that’s a good or bad thing so I tried to make a curious face. It didn’t work. Poor guy continued with his charming self, “Company policy requires that you bring a letter of employment verification because you’re a single lady. We’ll extend your booking time and follow-up with you, don’t worry.”
I just stared blankly, watching other people register without a hitch. The gentleman assured that the apartment was mine and that he would follow-up with me but to please bring that letter from my employers. I left a little disappointment and fearful I was going to lose this nice place. I had to move out of my place and my lifestyle choice was the reason for the delay? Akh!
I have to say that the lovely people of our HR department were understanding and produced the necessary documentations for me within the hour. The apartment company did continuously follow-up with me until I showed up with the letter later that evening. They were generous enough to expedite my move-in date upon knowing my circumstances. People here are helpful towards a single lady, especially if she’s willing to follow company policy.
*Disclaimer: none of those whom made that statement actually called themselves “dipshit”, but I think they should have.
Thank you all for your kind messages after noticing my absence for the last month. It’s been rough living with limited access at my place and working hard to prove myself at this new turn in my career. I have been writing a lot, believe me! I’ve written a few parts about my expatriate life in Qatar. Let’s start it off with the piece I wrote about identity…
Living the Confused Expatriate Life, Part 1
By: Ms. Hala
I have lived the expatriate life here in Qatar for over 8 months now. There are still a few bumps in the road to smooth out but overall, life is good. I’m enjoying my very busy and challenging job in a new industry. I’m apartment hunting for a third time now that my temp rent will be up soon. I’m following my 2013 resolution to a tee thus far… so life is good! Oh, did I mention I’m a legal resident of Qatar now? Oh yes baby I am! Got my residency permit a couple of weeks ago, now I can do stuff like get a monthly mobile phone service… hehehe Yes, mobile not cell… I’m catching on to the popular Euro lingo here. 😉
However, living this expatriate life comes with a couple of interesting confusions. Maybe I just lived in this wonderful tolerant city that is San Francisco for so long to have to deal with this identity confusion that I’m dealing with now. I’m a Muslim Egyptian American expatriate who talks in a lovely California accent but “looks” and talks Arabic like an Egyptian. Confusing much? Apparently so!
When I first took on my new job, the grapevines of the office announced there’s an American among them. Aside from the fact that everyone thought the American was getting paid a bazillion dollars (that’s another entry, I promise you!), no one could tell whom the American was. Many didn’t realize until I started talking to everyone, introducing myself and getting the question, “Where’s your accent from?”
I reply, “I’m American”.
“Yes, I’m from California.”
“How long did you live there?”
“Born and raised.”
The major problem in Qatar is that everyone here is labeled based on their nationality. Even those born and raised in Qatar don’t even get a Qatari citizenship. They do get treated like Qataris with regards to “Qatarization” but aside from that, they are not legally recognized as Qatari.
There’s this thinking that one or the other has a look, has a personality, has a way of thinking or a way of doing… and everyone’s judging you based mostly on those tropes and stereotypes. There are so many ridiculous notions about every ethnicity out here, it’s unbelievable.
Let’s start with being an American girl and how exhausting it is to overcome the terrible stereotype that comes with it. What’s the stereotype here about American girls you ask? Drum roll please… American girls have non-stop wild parties, get drunk all the time, and the rest is flushed down a toilet in the morning. Mind you, many conservatives here have come to this conclusion from the many movies and television shows that “always show you American girls drinking and having crrrazy parties.”
*sighing and shaking my head*
Finding an apartment under the American girl banner has simply been the most annoying experience of my life, twice! Having to do it so many times now is just torture at this point. I’m repeatedly asked where I’m from and have to answer with “Egypt” just to get a viewing appointment. Once they see my “Egyptian look” but hear my “berfect ingelesh”, I get asked, “Where are you from, exactly?” After going through an identity explanation, I have to further explain that the idea that us American girls are drunk party animals is just plain false. I’ve even had to emphasis that family will be joining me in Qatar permanently just so that they don’t think I will be in fact living alone and using this “extra space” for my wild parties.
During my time as a temporary English instructor, I was asked to take on a group of young children. To my hesitation, I accepted and on the first day, disaster. One of the parents whom signed up his very disrespectful son only signed him up because it was exclaimed that the instructor was an American lady. Seeing that I wasn’t up to par, the Egyptian expatriate bee lined it to the director’s office exclaiming false advertisement. What did he expect? A tall blonde woman like the Americans he sees on television. Upon hearing this, I rolled my eyes and walked away before the ghetto San Francisco girl in me came out to bitch slap the stupid outta him!
I’m trying my best to overcome this stupid ideology that I can only be either Egyptian or American. I had an argument with an Egyptian fellow a while back over a remark I found quite offensive. He went on to say, “oh, is your American switched on? I forgot you don’t get some of our jokes.” I didn’t even know we could switch between our bi-cultural identities… WTF? Apparently, there’s a stupid stereotype about bi-cultural Americans, especially Arabs… Those whom hold an American citizenship think they are better than everyone else, act like they don’t get some traditional lingo and will use their American identity for beneficial purposes. As a first generation born Arab American, this stereotype is so far from the truth, you’ve got to wait for the six o’clock train to get there! Half my family from both sides hold an American citizenship after immigrating from Egypt in the early 70’s and 80’s. They’ve all worked tirelessly, raised their children and grandchildren, paid their taxes, contributed to the American society just like any other immigrant family from any corner of the world. They all deserve the same respect as every other American out there.
I’ve learned over time that I’m not alone in this odd confusion. The citizens of Qatar themselves are also in this weird situation where stereotypes about them isn’t only false, but many act upon it to the point of disgraceful. The stereotypes about Qataris… they are extremely conservative, snubby, spoiled and unkind individuals seeing all others as second class citizens. Not only is this stupidity far from the truth, but many dress in traditional Qatari attire in an attempt to act upon these stereotypes and intimidate others. Yes, this includes bullying people on road to outrageous behavior towards others… just disgraceful!
On New Year’s Eve, a Qatari lady was discriminated against for, get this, looking and dressing Qatari… WTF? According to Doha News, a Qatari lady was not allowed into a hotel restaurant on the said day because it was deemed inappropriate for Qatari ladies to attend. Again, WTF? Sadly, this this happens a lot across Qatar.
I must say however, for the most part, Qataris are the complete opposite of these stereotypes just like any other ethnicity being treated according to whatever stereotype is drawn up of them. Qataris are quite polite, kind and generous. They may be wealthy but not many act like it’s their forsaken right to the wealth or OK the ill treatment upon others.
An interesting example I see all the time: in Qatar, you are not to fuel your own vehicle (similar to the law in New Jersey), you are to stay in your vehicle or go to the many shops at the station while an station employee fuels your vehicle. On any given day, as I sit comfortably while another fuels my car, I’ll see a Qatari gentleman step out of his vehicle, have a small talk conversation with the employee fueling and washing down his car, before tipping and driving off. Every time I see that scene, I see the employee with a huge smile on his face. Many of these employees can use the extra tip for phone cards to call home or even save up for an occasion.
Other times, I hear of stories of how someone had their tires blown out and a Qatari pulled over in their designer attire to help out hands on. That I’ve personally experienced personally when I had my car accident. Yes, people from various backgrounds pulled over and offered to help but I gotta say, the Qataris were the ones whom stepped out of their vehicles, yelled at the rude police officer on my behalf and moved my car because, “She’s a lady and should be treated with respect.” Chivalry is still alive and kicking! Even the Qatari police officers at the police station gave it to the non-Qatari police officer for discriminating against me because I was American. “That doesn’t matter, she’s still a lady, have some manners brother!” Thank you. =)
I do have to admit that my identity has brought up many a funny conversations.
At an event a few months ago, I was blessed to meet some wonderful people. One of them was an elder businessman whom owns one of Egypt’s first timeshare businesses. We got to talking business until I mentioned how the timeshare business in the USA works. Once I stated that yes, I was an Egyptian American, he just stared at me. “And you wear hijab?” I couldn’t stop laughing before it was like, man you just opened Pandora’s box! I went on and on about the wonderful community that is the Muslim American community; from the San Francisco Islamic School where I volunteered to the advocacy work of CAIR to the masjids where I’ve prayed at. I had to stop myself at one point because I realized I was missing my community to the brink of tears.
I know Qatar is trying really hard to create a tolerant, diverse and welcoming community. I know it will not happen over night and not by one feeling superior or the other feeling intimidated. I see the problem in Qatar as people coming from the many corners of the world with ignorant, close-minded and/or just confused and conflicted as I am. The thing is, it’s going to take a long time before the ignorant to be educated, the close-minded to be tolerant and the confused to take it all in one day at a time.
I’m in the process still of taking it all in, one day at a time.
Early this weekend -Fridays in Qatar of course- I came home from Jummah prayer craving an Egyptian style breakfast like the one my mommy and I used to make back in San Francisco, California. Take a moment to grasp this global sentence before I continue. =P
I’m still learning to cook for one without leftovers for two! It’s a work in progress so I posted the final results from my 20 minute cooking adventure on my Facebook and Twitter pages (still debating Instragram). Now by request from my fellow Qatari inhabitants, I’m not only sharing the recipes but a few of my ingredient finds. =)
Egyptian Fava Beans with Diced Tomatoes
So if you aren’t in Egypt where you can get the freshest of the fresh fava beans at 5 in the morning, this amazing canned product from California Fields is really the next best thing! We’ve lived off this in San Francisco and when I found it for the first time in Carrefour, I did a little happy dance in the aisle. You can also find this at Al Merra for the same sweet price!
There are several ways to make fava beans with various ingredients, oils and butters. However, the one I made here with just three ingredients is my absolute favorite! In a sauce pan, cooked one can of fava beans on medium heat (using a gas stove, high heat for electric).
As the beans started to bubble around the edges, I added a sliver of butter (about a quarter teaspoon at the most). I ran my cooking utensil through the beans to soften them a bit. I wasn’t trying to puree it, just want a nice and chunky texture. Diced a tomato and added the pretty red squares to the fava beans letting it cook for about two to three more minutes. This let’s the tomatoes cook enough while still holding itself. Then season to taste with salt and pepper… DONE!
For my dieting readers, fava beans are high in protein and very filling without the bloating… score!
Feta Cheese and Seasoned Tomatoes
I think my Arab brothers and sisters can relate to this dish because you seriously can’t go wrong with tomatoes and feta cheese seasoned and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil! For feta cheese, I’ve so far enjoyed Pride’s feta cheese from Al Meera as it’s similar to the one I used to get in San Francisco. This one is a nice solid with so many ways to serving it.
Here, I sliced a nice firm roman tomato and plated it. Than seasoned it with salt, pepper and lots of cumin. I scooped out a good tablespoonful of feta cheese, crumbling it in big pieces onto the plate. Then I drizzled about a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil onto the entire plate. This, some toasted pita bread and mixed pickles… OH SO GOOD!
For those needing that extra calcium boost, this is the perfect dish!
Sauteed Balsamic Eggplants
If some of my readers haven’t noticed by now, I LOVE eggplants just as much as I love tomatoes and potatoes! This dish is one of my favorite eggplant dishes and there’s so many simple ways to make it your own with all kinds of eggplants. A few days ago, I found these nice mini eggplants at Al Meera that I figured would be perfect for this dish.
Sliced two mini eggplants into about quarter inch (half a centimeter) disks and in small sauce pan on medium to high heat, sauteed them until they browned on both sides with a bit of extra virgin olive oil. Take the sauce pan off the stove and while the pan is still hot, added about half a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar for flavor (being very careful as the vinegar does react to the heat).
After the eggplants rested and took in the oil and vinegar for about 5 minutes, I start plating. Topped them off with sliced green onions (or chives), salt, pepper and drizzled the plate with a bit more of balsamic vinegar for taste… DELICIOUS!
Sided my dishes with salt and peppered boiled eggs, toasted pita bread, Egyptian mixed pickles found at Carrefour for about 12QR, fresh sweet orange slices and some sweet tea with low fat milk and I had myself the best Egyptian breakfast in Qatar… and so can you!! Bel hana welshefa =)
My Qatari Inhabitants
Us expats here really do have an amazing variety of main staples such as oils and vinegar to be tried and tested! For extra virgin olive oil, I’ve so far liked the flavor of Serjella. It just cooks well unlike a few others I’ve tried including the “Spanish Oil” everyone’s raving about here. I’m still looking for a good regular olive oil to cook with more regularly so if you’ve tried a good one, pass it along. Now for my favorite vinegar, the versatile balsamic, was a bit tough because I’ve yet to find an aged one like the ones I’m used to from Trader Joe’s. However, I have to say I appreciate the one by Yamama. Even though it’s not aged, the flavor is very appealing and went very well with my lemon lime apple salad. I found both from Carrefour for less than 15 QR each.
I took all the pictures in this rant with my BlackBerry Curve 3G before I realized I have a real camera! Still pretty good for a 2 year old phone, right?
Please put down the microphone, turn around and walk away from the music industry forever.
This catastrophic song of yours (from an even catastrophic movie, Mr. and Mrs. Awees) has now put you in the I’m-not-a-descent-musician category alongside Tamer Hosny and the 4cats.
It’s because of stupid, uncreative, unimaginative Arab artists such as yourself, Egyptian artists have been put to shame! We can no longer pride ourselves in the arts like we once did. Can you imagine if the Egyptian greats Oum Kalthoum or AbdelHalim Hafez stole another’s vision and made it their own? Even back then, they could claim ignorance and would’ve apologized for it.
You on the other hand live in the shared information and internet era so you can’t even claim ignorance on this when (and I’m so praying this happens) Nickelodeon sues you and your productions company for rights infringement! Isn’t it enough that these stupid Arabic television stations air the amazing show that is SpongeBob SquarePants with the worst possible Arabic dubbing EVER?! Then you come along and add fuel to the freaking flame with this pathetic thing you call music! Akh!
For those of you unaware of the song I’m speaking of, watch this video at your own discretion…
Hamada Helal, I used to like you, I really did, you know, when you were a sad, depressed artist. Seriously, I couldn’t even defend you when you became all happy and started singing cheesy happy songs. It got worse when you decided to act and develop entire soundtracks for every movie you’re involved with… from the stupid one where you lead a gang of thugs (really, you a thug?) to the one about that sad boxer (You as a boxer? Despicable!). I thought for a moment you came back to your senses when you released a few decent songs during Egypt’s revolution last year (except for Martyrs of January 25, terribly written!) or the one about Prophet Mohamed (pbuh).
However, as a huge adult fan of the amazing SpongeBob SquarePants, it was just too much for me to take! You are NOT SpongePOP, you are not as “yellow as cumin” and you always dirty yourself when you plagiarize! I beg of you, please just go away… Go under a rock or something because it’s over… It’s Over!