Tag Archives: California

Picture of the Day

Throwback Thursday to accidentally on purpose finding sweetness at a classic spot in Burlingame. Royal Donut has been around longer than many of the eateries on famed Burlingame Avenue. Grab yourself a chocolate old-fashioned today!

My Public Letter to Mayor Bryan Cadogan

Good Day Mr. Cadogan,

I hope this letter finds you doing well.

 

I’ve read the SF Gate article from this past summer on your efforts to recruit people to move and build a home in the town of Kaitangata (Clutha District, New Zealand). After researching a bit about the beautiful town and seeing the the need for a stronger population and the unemployment rate of two people, I just had to sit down and write this letter to you.

Has your town considered taking in some of the many highly educated and experienced individuals whom have found themselves in refugee camps in many parts of the Middle East and Europe?

I’m by no means middling in New Zealand’s immigration system nor do I understand how it works in such a situation. My country’s immigration system has failed the refugees with ignorant, discriminatory and Islamophobic politics.

I’m not asking you to solve the refugee crisis nor am I shaming you into taking refugees into your town. I’m just curious that a town in need of people has not pushed to take in people in need of a town.

I’m a product of immigrants, like many of my generation in America. My grandparents and parents immigrated from Egypt since the 1960s to California, New Jersey, North Carolina and New York. I have watched them work hard, pay their taxes, vote, speak out and volunteer to support the local communities. This is the same scenario with almost any other immigrant family from any part of the world.

No one takes welcoming, humane open arms for granted.

I’m sure this is what Kai is looking for. Amazing, hard working families going above and beyond because Kai welcomed them in with open arms after the suffering they have endured in the last several years.

Thank you for your time and God Bless.

Signed, Ms. Hala

The Masks They Wear

It’s always entertaining when a rant of mine strikes a few nerves. In my recent rant on what I’ve learned over the past two years as an expat, I wrote, “Don’t be surprised that there’s just as much fake people as there is fake designer wear floating around.” Why?

Ever since my decision to move to the Middle East, it hit me hard how fast people can change on you. People are not what they appear to be. I can no longer take people at their face value. I can no longer judge, trust and love people so easily. Only in good times and bad, in distance and closeness, in richer and poorer did I know whom my friends really are.

I have literally gone through a social detox several times over the last two years. (And no, cleaning Facebook friends doesn’t count, although it does help, because Facebook is a digital high school… am I right?) My most recent detox was during my last visit home this past spring. So many people went out of their way to see me. To err is human and in the back of my mind I wondered about those I cherished that didn’t even bother to send their regards. I spent some quality time with family and friends that made my trip so memorable. Even as I heard the lovely rumors about myself – from how rich I was, to my new found snubbiness and everything in between – this was a bonding yet eye opening trip to say the least.

Landing back in Doha was no different. I was determined that after what I had been through back home, I needed to reevaluate the company I kept. I let the “please, please let’s remain friends” retract the request without hesitation. I let the negative energy from the whining and complaining about the blessings taken for granted drift away. I didn’t save the wrong number of the “call me if you need anything”. I did not accept the digital apologies as I preferred human contact.

Its the only way I can remain being the family and friend I want to have.

Sometimes one needs to step away from the theater for the actors to remove their masks during intermission. Then return to the theater before they have a chance to put the masks back on and continue the act. Sometimes the masks are necessary to show the world strength when there’s weakness, confidence when there’s uncertainty and a smile when there’s tears. But not all masks were design with the same hands. One must then decide whether or not the masks they wear and what’s underneath is acceptable.

Is the person real or as fake as the “fake designer wear floating around”?

Living the Confused Expatriate Life

Note: After writing this difficult rant, I was hesitant to publish it publically. I decided to keep this rant private and only after four years, to share it publically.

Living the Confused Expatriate Life
Part 4 of a Few… The In Between
By: Ms. Hala

Ever have a feeling you couldn’t figure out, understand or map out? And when you do, a bit of guilt creeps up on you? This is the feeling I have right now as I fly back to Doha from San Francisco.

My two weeks home after a year away had brought up a lot of mixed feelings and emotions I’m having a hard time figuring out. I couldn’t wait to go home, my happy place. I purchased my tickets so in advance just to be sure I was going to be home in time for Eid ElFitr.

It was absolutely amazing to once again break my fast with my family after two and a half Ramadans spent either in Egypt or Qatar. Eid was a spectacular holiday weekend, from the prayers to the nice get-togethers allowing me to see family and friends I hadn’t seen since I moved to Qatar.

However, this trip made me realize that I’m now in the in between.

I was back in my city, my town, my home yet felt odd and a bit out of place. A lot of things changed in the last year and being that I wasn’t part of that change brought upon this odd feeling within me. Every day I heard a story or two about this and that happening during my time away.

I was received at the airport by my sleepy nephew whom smiled the entire time. Didn’t cry once when I held him for the first time and kept him in my arms for hours. I swear, this child’s presence made it easy on me when I found out that I no longer had two happy cats waiting for me at home.

My boys got sick a while after I moved and it was decided that they should be given to a vet for better care. I was upset, even wept because a part of me had hoped that I’d come to find everything as I had left it, the normality of coming home to kitties greeting me at the door like I had never left.

Some found my hurt over my lost kitties amusing while others sympathized with me. Those that found it amusing didn’t understand how I expected things to stay the same for a year.  Those that sympathized were once in my shoes, came back home to find that things had changed too. Based on the illness my family described to me, I now have a sinking feeling that one or both my kitties may have passed away. I just don’t have the heart to call the vet and find out.

Aside from this sad news, I did having a good break. I stayed home the first few days with a lot of mixed emotions to deal with but happy to be home, nonetheless. I watched everyone sleep, go to work and go about their day. I cared for my nephew and watched him laugh, cry, enjoy his bottle and sleep like an angel. This child is such a blessing to our family, especially to me. With little Salem around, my mother had officially stopped asking me to make her a grandmother (that year at least).

Two weeks flew by like a mere few minutes. A long happy flight brought me to San Francisco and a longer somber flight is bringing me back to Doha. Before my departure, everyone felt the need to ask when I was moving back home. I had already survived a year as a confused expatriate and I’ve committed to another year when my contract either ends or is renewed.

A part of me wants to stay longer as there is more to discover in this part of the world. A part of me wants to go home

I’m now in the in between.

Confused yet focused. Lost yet in place. Determined yet unmotivated. Strong yet weak.

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!)

OnTheBeach
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 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 a 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?

Living the Confused Expatriate Life – Part 1 of a Few

Dear Faithful Readers,

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 of a Few… Identity
By: Ms. Hala

I have lived the expatriate life here in Qatar for over 8 months now. There’s 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 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?”

Say Whaaat?
Say Whaaat?

I reply, “I’m American”.

“Really?”

“Yes, I’m from Calfornia.”

“How long did you live there?”

“Born and raised.”

“Wow…”

“Uh huh…”

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 Qatar citizenship. They do get treated like Qataris with regards to “Qatarization” but aside from that, they are not even legally 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 mostely on those ideologies 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 that terrible stereotype. 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 conservative expatriates 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.

*sighing angrily*

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 turned on? I forgot you don’t get some of our jokes.” I didn’t even know we could switch between our bicultural identities… WTF? Apparently, there’s a stupid stereotype about bicultural 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.

I Have No Regrets

Last night, I sat at the Cornishe Marina in Doha waiting for something to happen at the strike of midnight. Some fireworks, some bangs, something! I was with friends whom were nothing but good and supportive of me since I’ve been to Qatar. I called my parents and siblings back in California to wish them a happy new year, discussing my brother and his wife blessing our family with a grandson/nephew.

In the odd silence of the evening, I found myself reflecting on my adventures and challenges throughout the past year. I realized that of all the things I experienced – from working on my first national sports event to moving to Qatar – I learned about dealing with people the most. It reminded me of a quote I read recently,

“The worst regret we have in life is not for the wrong thing we did, but for the thousands of right things we did for the wrong people!” –Anonymous

Despite all the good, bad and ugly I came across in people this past year, the said quote for me remains untrue. I would rather continue doing the right things for the wrong people then any wrong thing to anyone at all.

Personally, I have no regrets. I’ve learned from the wrong people so that I can continue to be the right person. I’m learning everyday on dealing with people in a world where many cultures and ideologies collide. I thought of those people, of what I’ve experience and of what I’ve learned.

With those, I knew what my 2013 resolutions would be:

Socially: While doing the right things by them, I need to push away the negative people aside to keep the positive people closer. I simply can not waste my time (and breathe) on people whom in the end do not care about anyone but themselves. I’ll be a little busy surrounding myself and supporting those that support me regardless.

Career Wise: I’m going to be doing something different and slightly outside my comfort zone. I already took the big step last summer so now, I just have to take the bull by the horns and run with it. Not to fear the challenge to come ahead but to face it head on. I’m up to it. I know I am!

Personally: I plan to continue what I started in 2012, living by the lovely Italian theory of “L’arte d’arrangiarsi”… the art of making something out of nothing. Start by doing something fresh and different every month, every week, every day.

Midnight struck and nothing happened. No fireworks, no bangs, nothing at all. Friends quietly wished each other a happy new year as everyone started heading home. I was a little disappointment but then again, I didn’t come to Qatar for the fireworks or the bangs.

I have no regrets.

Happy 2013!