Living the Confused Expatriate Life

Has it Been Five Years Already? – My thoughts on what I’ve learned as I hit five years of expat living in Qatar.

Living the Confused Expatriate Life
Has It Been Five Years Already?
By: Ms. Hala

On June 30th, 2012, I landed in Qatar thinking I knew what to expect. I had never lived in another city in America before, let alone another country so… of course, I was wrong! I thought I was only going to be expat living for a year, a year and a half tops. Of course, I was wrong. I thought I was going to make a dollar out of 15 cents, gold out of dirt, something out of nothing. Of course, I was wrong.

 

It has been five years –FIVE YEARS– since I got off that plane and was hit by the summer’s humid air, freaked out when the cold water taps were boiling hot and learning to sleep with the AC on full blast. I have learned to expect the unexpected and struggled through those last five years to make something out of myself.

 

Along this journey, I’ve made life long friends, laughed my heart out and experienced things I don’t think I would have staying at home, or anywhere else in the world for that matter. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, the world is so grand but our bubble is so small. If I learned anything, anything at all, from being living the expat life, it’s to go beyond the bubble, even for just a moment and live a little in this grand world. Despite it all, for the things I’ve learned, it’s so worth it.

 

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“Qatar” – image courtesy of @ftmalthani

Qatar has an odd charm to it, flaws and all. The expat life here is not perfect but it’s a blessing to experience. As I start packing, not knowing how much longer I’m staying in Qatar (more on that later), I’m at peace. Alhamdulillah, I worked hard, surrounded myself with good people, ate some delicious food and discovered as much of the region as I could.

 

My time in Qatar will always be unforgettable. I can’t image having the experiences I’ve had else where. I’ll always pray for God to continue blessing this beautiful nation and the people within it that make it up it’s beauty. Qatar may be small but mighty and come to think of it, so am I.

Iftar @ Streets of Arabia – A Snapchat Story

Streets of Arabia Ramadan Tent - Doha Marriott Hotel Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato Inspired by the success of Street Food Doha, the lovely Doha Marriott is at it again for the second year with Streets of Arabia. Dishes from all corners of the region, such as Sudan, Morocco and Qatar, are the stars of the streets. I started with the Moroccan harira soup and was tempted to go for seconds but there was much to discover throughout the restaurant gallery turned street food galore.

Headed to Sudan for stew, Egypt for hawashy, Lebanon for grills, Qatar for majbous, Turkey for kavurma and India for dahi vada. I was not disappointed in the least bit! Desserts were good, the qatayef were a hit for me. I just wish they had them in serving sizes rather than “serve yourself” type setup, people get a little too excited around desserts. #JustSaying

Service, as always, was professional and friendly. I just wish some of the serving staff were more knowledgable of some of the dishes they were serving. The setup is simple, nothing over the top, but nothing plain either. It’s a very chill and casual space for iftar, my kind of chill to be honest. It’s so chill, even the famous Ramadan camels, Bashoosh and Sahara were just chilling in the warm breeze outside the hotel with their new baby girl, Samara. Yep, it’s a girl! Woohoo!

Ladies’ Night @ Trader Vic’s – A Snapchat Story

In case you missed it, here’s my Snapchat story from last week’s Ladies’ Night at Trader Vics!

Trader Vic's - Hilton Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato In case you didn’t know, every Wednesday night is Ladies’ Night at Trader Vics, Hilton Doha! Unlimited drinks and bites for two hours for 100QR! Even us hijabis and/or non drinkers can join in on the fun!🍹

You can read my review on Zomato and watch the full Snapchat story below!

 

Note: I’ve been to Trader Vic’s for Ladies’ night a few times, both as a guest and customer. My opinions on my blog and social media are strictly my own. Please contact if you’d like permission to share/repost this content.

W.I.S.S. – The Word “Spinster”

spinster [spin-ster] Disparaging and Offensive. a woman still unmarried beyond the usual age of marrying.  Arabic: عانِس، عوانس

Being a 34 year old lady, I’m again reminded of the word “spinster”. I’m convinced that the word must’ve been phrased by a very bitter person back in medieval times (be it in any language). The fact that the word is almost only applied to ladies makes me hate the word even more. It’s sexist, hurtful, divisive and discriminatory on so many levels.

The first time I heard the word “spinster”, I was 19 years old. It was said to me by an older lady with limited education whom wanted me for her son so he can move to America. I didn’t pay much mind to her at the time. Maybe because I knew what her intentions were. Or because I was too young to understand that word at the time.

That word really didn’t hit me hard until a couple of years later when it was said to me by someone I once liked and respected. From then on, I heard that word more often than necessary. When I decided to go to graduate school, I was told I would never find a husband. When I decided to travel, I was told that I wasn’t making an effort to find a husband. Every time the subject of marriage came up, I was reminded by random people to stop being picky because I was becoming a spinster.

This all happened before I turned 30.

As much as I try not to let it bother me, it bothers me. It’s derogatory and very offensive, more so to those whom actually are looking for someone to share their lives with but haven’t. I’m not alone on this as per my conversations with people between the U.S., Egypt, Qatar and beyond. Whom decided what age a lady (or a man) should be married? Whom decided that if you don’t have children before a certain age, your prime has come to an end? Whom decided that men only want to marry a lady within a specific age group?

I have relatives in Egypt that have passed this unbeknowth marital age for one of many reasons. One cousin has dedicated his life to his work and found it difficult to find someone from the humble country town whom would share and support his passion. Another cousin in the same town and of the same age sided with her demanding parents of unrealistic expectations which has caused a hault in suitors coming through the door.

Even though the culture in Egypt asks that both parties’ families share in the financial costs, there’s this pattern of making it more difficult than necessary to get married. Anything outside of marriage is haram but the halal way has been made to be so difficult, it’s almost near impossible. And those whom wait too long to be able to go about it the halal way? They’re now spinsters.

In Qatar, I’ve met people whom remained single simply for financial reasons while others were divorced but still paying back some hefty marital related loans. Unlike in Egypt, men here are burdened with all the finances to get married and start a family. As the culture here is very tribal, there’s this “keeping up with the Jones” mentality. If one family did something, you had to do the same if not better. Even if you couldn’t afford it, you borrowed for it. I know at least two of my friends whom have been divorced in under 5 years of their marriage just over financial troubles. They got married like the Jones, but they couldn’t LIVE like them. And those that choose to wait, refusing to be a statisic? They’re now spinsters.

In the U.S., it’s a real mixed bag between the cultures but the mindset of spinsterhood is still there. People are in awe when a 40 year old celebrity gets married. Did you see the rukous over George Clooney “finally getting married”?

However, from my personal experiences within the Muslim and Arab community back home, some of this ideology exists. If a man marries a lady beyond the age of 30, it’s as if he performed a charitable act. If a lady marries a man beyond that age, it’s because he’s rich or she couldn’t get someone her age. It can’t ever be because two people loved each other, God forbid.

Sigh.

And let’s back track for a second here, is it just me or do those that barrage us with “get married already” comments the ones whom are completely unhappy in their marriage? Seriously, I have yet to be approached by a happily married person, aside from my mother and aunties, about my marital status. Maybe it’s because those happy in their marriages know what it takes to be in a happy relationship. It doesn’t happen overnight. You don’t just marry the first person that crosses your path.

Maybe it’s because those happy in their marriages are happy because they actually lived their lives, learned to care for themselves before they were ready to share it with someone else. Maybe the happier you are, the happier your relationship. If you happiness depends on someone else, you will in fact be miserable in that relationship. Sometimes, one is not destined to be married with 3 kids living in a house with a white picket fence by the age of 25.

I can’t image being married at 25. Hell, I can’t image being married at 34!

At 25, while many of my friends were ready to join the marriage club, I was taking care of my family while starting graduate school. I was no where near ready to be married let alone even date at the time. People go through different phases in their lives at different ages. There really is no structure or time frame for one of the most important commitments in one’s life.

Let’s be honest, when the time comes, it’ll come. People nagging us into something you aren’t ready for doesn’t help. Using the word “spinster” only makes it worse.

So ladies, when a miserable hater comes at you with, “when are you getting married already?”

Just tell them, “I’d rather be a happy spinster than a miserable wife.”

Tarrington Spinster
image c/o  grave-mistakes.blogspot.com

#QatarLinkUp – My Favorite Restaurant(s) in Doha

Every month, bloggers across Qatar come together for what’s called #QatarLinkUp. This is a fantastic way for bloggers to write about a particular theme, read and share each other’s posts on the theme. This month’s theme is, “My Favorite Restaurant in Doha.” My first blog for the link up and I’m already struggling. How can I pick just one? Have you met me? I’m always hungry!

Since I’m an equal opportunity foodie, I decided to go through my Zomato collections and randomly pick a few restaurants to showcase. They are in no particular order other than being under the collection I have them in. Here’s a sampling of what makes Doha the great gastronomic city that it is.

When I had snails & loved it! via Instagram @MsHalaCo

Best Eats, Qatar Edition

IDAM by Alan Ducasse is literally the most luxurious dining experience you will have in Qatar. On the fifth floor of the Museum of Islamic Art, the architecture, the view, the decor, the service and of course, the fusion of French and Qatari cuisine is an experience to be had at least twice in Doha. And any place that has me craving snails, has done something right!

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Parmesan truffle ravioli! #JustDrooling

However, when we aren’t spending up to 1,000QR ($275) on a meal, there are a plenty good casual spots I enjoy going to on a regular basis. For Italian, try Papermoon and go for the truffle ravioli. For Indian, Caravan Bukhara has some delicious curry dishes. For Egyptian, Layali Al Qahira always hits the spot for me.

Just want the basics? Flavorful sandwiches, salads and good coffee can be found at Monte’s or Shades Cafe in West Bay. For the best hazelnut chai latte in all of Qatar, the drive to Coffee Time in Wakrah is totally worth it. On the other side in Al Rayyan? Al Shafi Street has you covered and is accessible despite all the Metro construction happening.

My favorite quinoa salad is at Shades Cafe! via SnapChat @MsHala.co
My favorite quinoa salad is at Shades Cafe. via SnapChat @MsHala.co

Hungry yet? I promise there’s more! *sips coffee and types faster*

Small but Mighty, Qatar Edition

Places like Gokul Gujarati and Thai Corner make you not only appreciate the diversity of cuisines in Doha, but the hidden gems throughout the city.

Seriously, who would’ve thought that a thali of vegetarian dishes can be so drool worthy. Or that delivery/take out from a store front in a plaza parking lot would be delicious and sufficient. Seriously, don’t ever doubt the small guys!

For My Sweet Tooth, Qatar Edition

Oreo flavored popcorn from Let's Popcorn
Oreos flavored popcorn via Zomato @MsHala

Qatar has an abundance of dessert shops with the perfect recipes for that sweet tooth of yours. From the ones that remind me of visiting family in New York to the innovative Qatari start ups, you really can’t go wrong here. Magnolia Bakery of New York has some great selections of cakes and cupcakes, especially in the fall when pumpkin pie is in season.

For the popcorn lovers, you will get addicted to Let’s Popcorn! My favorite from the shop has to be the Oreos flavored popcorn. Also try the caramel or even the nacho’s if you are keen on the spicy side of things. Again, it’s very addictive, you’ve been warned!

Hungry yet, because I sure am now. Then again, I’m always hungry!

*gets up to eat*

St. Regis Doha – Ramadan Tent Review

St. Regis Doha – Ramadan Tent Review
June 20th, 2015

The “Ramadan in Doha” theme setting of the St. Regis Doha – Ramadan Tent

My friend’s and I tried the St. Regis Doha’s Ramadan Tent for iftar yesterday and it was wonderful!! Here’s my take of the evening:

ST. REGIS DOHA – RAMDAN TENT

The decor in the hall turned tent was a typical “Ramadan in Doha” theme. With makeshift bird huts surrounding the dessert section in the center and lots of lights hanging around the celling. The tables were setup nicely, with space to walk around without bumping into anyone. All in all, I thought it was a beautiful setup.

Service was great! We didn’t know if we had someone specific for our area but anyone we asked to help us did so with a smile. They were all dressed in matching, beautiful cultural outfits, befitting of the theme. There is a prayer area just outside the hall, not far from the well maintained restrooms.

Of course, I’m always pleased with free valet parking which was made available at the lower entrance of the main hotel building. Please, don’t forget to tip the lovely guys taking care of your ride out in the heat!
This is what I call a chandelier! Part of the Arab sweets offerings in the dessert section.

IFTAR OFFERINGS

The setup was in six sections, five starters and entrees around one end of the tent and the sixth being the massive dessert section in the center. You had multiple offerings such as sushi, salads, Indian dishes, pastas, Mediterranean dishes and a butcher section. I tried my best to have a little bit of everything!

I started with a small bit of salad and some of the Indian offerings. I loved the wheat aloo pratha, the “chips” (I have no idea what they are called but they were addictive!) with all the side dips including the mango yogurt. I even tried what looked like a potato samosa but it was spinach and I really hate spinach.

The pasta options were few but you were given the option to take from either the ready made pasta dishes or request one done right there at the station. I did not try the pasta but I watched as one of the station chef was making one for a guest, looked and smelled amazing! We took a walk across the main wall where the Mediterranean dishes were set. On either side you had the leg of lamb over rice then varying rices, potatoes, stews, chicken, kofta and fish dishes. I tried the saffron chicken, the fish with brown rice and what looked like baked potato wedges, which were pretty good.

Went the red meat & carb route… so far, so good.
Craving red meat, I bee lined to the butcher section to come across cheese sliders, beef cuts with bell peppers, lamb shanks, a carving board with what I presume to be a beef roast, lamb bites in pastry and Yorkshire pudding or what I famously called “cheesy bread” to my British friends!

The cheese slider was a bit pink for me and the yellow chedder cheese was not melted but flavourful. I didn’t finish my beef cuts because it was too rare for me. The lamb bites were good and of course the Yorkshire pudding was amazing!

I wanted to go back for more but we decided to head to dessert since it was already 7:30pm. Dessert selections were a variety between Arabic and western. One side of the circle had a long ice cream que which I refused to stand in when there were so many other options. The opposite side of the circle had your Arab sweets with someone helping man the kunafeh table which also had a long que, however I couldn’t blame them as those were straight from Al Aker!

And on either sides of those long ques, were two chocolate fountains, one milk chocolate, the other dark chocolate with a selection of cakes and fruits to dip in. Alongside those fountains were varies mini cakes, parfaits, pastries, whips and mousses.

I tried the mango tiramisu, coffee panna cotta, puff pastry, ghurayeba (sugar cookies) with pistashio, dipped chocolate cake in milk chocolate and some fruit. Everything was good but my favorite was the chocolate cake, absolutely good. My friends dipped their fruit cake in milk chocolate and ran for second helpings before the buffet was closed.

OVERALL

Aside from minor details, I wish there was more live cooking stations especially for the Mediterranean section. I also wish that iftar lasted a little bit longer than an hour and a half. Yes the tent is open at 6pm but iftar doesn’t start until Maghrib time which is at 6:30pm, with many of us needing to pray either right before Isha which is at 8:20pm or as soon as we break our fast.

All in all, we really enjoyed ourselves last night! I highly recommend giving St. Regis a try sometime during Ramadan where both iftar and suhour are served. Iftar is at 230QR a person, which is well worth it for the variety of food and unlimited drinks. There are also vouchers available if you have the Entertainer App.

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Living the Confused Expatriate Life

Living the Confused Expatriate Life
The Art of Being Humble
By: Ms. Hala

 

It wasn’t a difficult decision to present my resignation as I had accepted an offer  I simply couldn’t refuse. It was nonetheless, bittersweet. The automotive industry is a very tough and challenging industry in all of the Middle East. I faced some of the toughest challenges in my entire career and take great pride in what I was able to accomplish during this time. However, I was truly blessed to have worked in this company. Not for the money, the status que or even the perks that come with working in this industry. I was truly blessed because I worked with some genuinely good people, people whom expected nothing in return from you no matter what it may be. I consider many of the people here friends, if not family.

Just this past weekend, I had an appointment to get my car serviced. The perk of being in the automotive industry is the support you get throughout the process. However, it’s always way more than I expect when it comes to my fellow colleagues! Our main workshop, like many others in Qatar, is located in the Industrial Area, a good drive from Doha. After taking my car in, my colleague picked me up from the workshop and dropped me off at the office as I had to get some work done. Afterwards, one of our fellow drivers at the office dropped me off to where I needed to be. Another driver from the office went to the Industrial Area and picked up my car so that I didn’t have to make that trip via taxi. My colleagues at the workshop, after calling to explain everything to me, emailed me the invoice so that I can make my payment conveniently at my office the next day.

None of them had to do this for me, especially our drivers whom have a packed schedule on our busiest day of the week. Yet none of the drivers would take a single riyal from me as a “thank you”. What can I possibly do to show my appreciation?

Everyone at the office knows I love the American classic, Dunkin Donuts. Having a branch located so close to the office (and all over Doha) has not been so great for my hips but it hasn’t hurt my wallet to say the least. However, the same doesn’t apply to our fellow drivers. It isn’t the best paid job here and something as simple as Dunkin coffee and donuts is a far fetched luxury. Knowing this, from time to time, whenever we’ve had a rough or good month, I’ll walk in with something for the team. Dunkin is their favorite.

Light bulb!

Earlier this morning, and why I’m writing this rant, I was reminded of the blessing I had of working with such selfless people. It literally takes a minute for someone to just educate you on an art form many in this day and age of accepted selfishness and narcissism have forgotten.

“Madam, thank you so much! You bring us cakes and sweets, so good!” One of the two driver’s exclaimed to me this morning.

A bit surprised, I said, “For what my friend? THANK YOU! You helped me out big time yesterday, this is the least I can do.”

“No, no. Thank you!” and he walked away giving me the biggest smile.

We take a lot of things for granted in life and sometimes forget to be humble about it. If I was taught anything by my fellow colleagues I am bidding farewell this month, it was how to be humble, be grateful for the small things and listen empathetically for in more ways than one I am truly blessed. For that, my fellow colleagues at DOMASCO, I thank you.