Thursday, June 28, 2012

Henna Tattoo

Last week, a friend of mine suggested a few of us girls should go and get henna tattoos. She had been to a henna salon here in the city and recommended it.  I was really excited because not only did this sound like an awesome cultural experience but I also would be able to leave the house without a stroller, diaper bag, and my two lovely childrenJ.

I got a ride from a friend to the henna salon. It took us a little while to find the salon, as it was behind a huge building, in a small shopping area that was tucked away in a little parking lot.  We were meeting a few other friends at the salon but since we were already late we decided they must be inside waiting for us. We stepped inside the small shop and there was a partition in the doorway blocking it from the rest of the room. As soon as we stepped past the partition and into the room there was suddenly complete silence. Everyone in the salon stopped what they were doing and turned to stare at the only fair skinned women in the room, my friend and I! It was, in fact, so awkward that we both started slowly moving back behind the partition to rethink what we were doing.

The entire city here is very much a melting pot of people from many surrounding countries. There are actually lots of people from the UK and New Zealand, even America. In the mall, seeing people in thobes and abayas is normal but yet there are lots of people who look like and are dressed just like me. But, in the henna salon, the only women present were about 15 women in black abayas. The girls working in the salon, were mostly all Indian, and wore pink uniforms. It was just a little culture shock for a moment.

My friend said “well, we’re here, we might as well get started.” I sheepishly said, “ok”. Back out from the partition we went. I followed her right up to one of the girls working as she asked if we could get henna tattoos. They said, yes, have a seat. The room was full of red leather couches. There were rugs and a few mirrors as decoration on the wall. The floor and couches had lots of black bits and pieces scattered about. We had four girls working with us. I paid 60 riyals for the tattoos on my feet and my friend paid 100 riyals, as her tattoo was larger. The girls asked us what kind of tattoo we wanted and we just said, they could do as they like. It didn’t take long at all for them to draw a beautiful and quite intricate design on our feet. The henna was in a tube, like toothpaste, with a small tip. It was amazing how fast they worked and how detailed the designs were.  They went to school in India to learn how to tattoo and then came here to work. Once they finished we had to sit very still and let it dry.

It stayed really quiet in the salon. My friend and I kept saying how we wished they had a little music playing while we waited. I am not sure if the women felt shy because we were present or if they just prefer to get their tattoos in awkward silence.  When the henna dries it cracks and falls off or you can gently scrape it off. That is why I saw lots of black pieces of dried henna on the floor. The women in the salon had their robes pulled up on their arms and legs as several of them were getting the tattoos up both arms and up to their knees on both legs. I think if you wanted the tattoos in other places than your arms and legs you could go upstairs and be more private.

As our tattoos were drying the other friends that we were meeting finally showed up. They didn’t show any hesitation and came right into the salon, commenting on everyone’s tattoos. They even started taking pictures of some of the tattoos. I had brought my camera but felt entirely too weird snapping photos like a true tourist. Of course, as soon as I got brave enough and took a photo one of the girls working asked me not to take pictures of her face and wanted me to delete it. So that was the end of my photo session.  Our friends ended up getting tattoos on the far side of the room behind a mirrored wall. They left soon after their tattoos started to dry. My friend and I stayed for two hours waiting for ours to dry. No wonder some of the other women had fallen asleep on the couches! We gave up waiting and asked if one of the girls could scrap off the henna for us. No one seemed very interested and so we decided to leave anyway. Mine did smudge a little on the side from my sandal but it isn’t too bad. All in all it was a really neat experience and after this one wears off (not sure how long that really takes) than maybe we can plan another girls night out at the henna salon!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Lemon Mint

I was in the produce section of the grocery store a few days ago. They have a small section of fresh herbs you can purchase at a very inexpensive price.  I didn’t plan on buying any because quite frankly my cooking skills are just not quite at that level yet! But, I got a whiff of something that really caught my attention. I kept sniffing until I found it, mint leaves! I think the smell grabbed me so quickly because my mom had mint plants growing in our backyard for years. She would send me out to pick some for her tea in the summer.  As you might have guessed, I bought a huge bundle. 

A friend of ours, here in the neighborhood, has a lemon tree in their backyard, I am so jealous! One evening at her house she served mint lemonade and it was delicious. I thought I could try it; surely it would still be pretty good even with lemon powder from a can. Turns out it is amazing!

I urge you to go to your local grocery store now and get some of your own. Then just put the washed leaves in your blender with a little lemonade and bam! Lemon Mint Drink! Little hint, make sure you blend well or it gets a little grass like in your teeth when you drink…

I have noticed that it is sold at most all restaurants as fresh juices are very popular here. I have a favorite juice stand where you can get the juice in layers, so good! I usually get avocado, strawberry, guava, and orange all in one cup. Who would have guessed avocado would be great in a drink. I guess sugar can do wonders for anything right?

I am also currently hooked to drinking guava juice at home as well as banana juice. The Guava juice is so sweet and is a little thick, reminds me of pears. I have to give our friend who came to visit props on the guava juice. He came back from the grocery store each day with a new juice to try.  Lime Kiwi and Orange Carrot were a few close runner-ups. 

Monday, May 14, 2012


It is very common for people here to have live-in help.  We just had a dinner date with a family nearby who do have a live in housekeeper. It was like we were at a restaurant. The family did cook the meal, but only because they enjoy cooking. The housekeeper came around and collected all the dinner plates and cleaned the kitchen while we continued to socialize. Our friends went on and on with how great it was not to worry about little details like cleaning their car or walking the dog, changing out the towels or sheets. This is all taken care of and they don’t even have to tell her when to do everything. It is just done for them.

So why don’t we have one? I guess I feel a little uncomfortable with someone else actually living in our home I don’t know. It just seems weird to me. Odds are I would also have trouble communicating with them.

All of the hired help here are from another country like, Sri Lanka, India, Philippines and we would have to “sponsor” someone to work for us and live with us in order for them to enter and stay in this country.    The live in housekeepers and Nannies are all women. There is a huge population of men here from neighboring countries as well. They are the true workers of the country, doing landscaping, construction, truck driving, cashiers, you name it, and they are working here doing the job (even when it is 120 degrees outside). Many of these “workers” are here without their families. They leave their families behind to come here and earn money to send home for whatever reason. I hear often of them sending money for health care and to also build a new home for their families. You can see the look in some of these workers eyes when they see our daughter and then say, here is a picture of my daughter, she is far away.

This is all a huge explanation for an interaction I had with a housekeeper we met last week that I can’t get out of my mind. She asked if she could come by later that evening to ask my husband questions about her son’s visa.  He had helped her a few weeks ago by looking up information on the internet. I felt so bad because with the language barrier, I couldn’t totally understand her story. All I know is that she is trying to get her son here and can’t for some reason.  She was sure my husband could help and understand. I assured her she was welcome to stop by and speak with him anytime. Then she said the line that has inspired me to write this entire blog entry. She said, “I am weak, you and your husband, you are American, you are strong, you can help me”. 

 I am pretty sure not every nationality thinks we Americans are so strong; they probably have some pretty crazy thoughts about us. But, it was so humbling for me to hear from someone who hardly knows anything about me, that I am so strong, just because I am American. Honestly, I never went around during my daily life in the states thinking that “thank goodness I am American and so strong”.  We get so busy in our daily lives in the states that we are more likely to say things like, that meeting went great, or I got an A on this test, or I nailed that project for work, that we have forgotten the big picture. All this housekeeper knows about me is that I am American and that was enough for her to ask for help.  I think until she said that I had forgotten some of the freedoms and rights I get just being American.  Literally, just being an American, even an American woman, my life has so many opportunities. I am thankful someone reminded me of that and most importantly, I am thankful for anyone who fights or supports American dreams, ideals, and lives. Not only do I appreciate it, but other people throughout the world do too.  

Monday, April 30, 2012

"Nitty Gritty"

I’m back, or should I say, we’re back, plus one. You haven’t heard from us since October and that is because I chose to return to the states to have our second child. Now I am sure questions are just reeling through your mind right now about the entire situation. I will try and answer them. First of all I took a break writing on the blog because I thought my “readers” would get bored hearing about my life in the states, everyone knows what that is like, since most of you live there or once did. Maybe I should have written anyways, but the time has past so I will just give you an update. We have a beautiful baby girl now. I have two wonderful daughters to take care of full time. I am ecstatic! Really I am.

Rewind to November of 2011. I decided to have our second child in the United States. Is the health care horrible here?  I don’t think so, but to me giving birth to a baby is huge and I just didn’t feel comfortable here.  I would ask around for information about the experiences of others but I got very mixed stories. Literally every other story would be bad. I do have trouble communicating with anyone who has a strong accent of any kind (Read my “repairs” post if you need a refresher on my language problems). Between the bad stories, my language barriers, and the trauma of child birth I felt it best to return to the land of comfort and familiarity.  Who knows, it could have been the best childbirth experience of my life or the last experience of my life….depends on whom you ask.

I had to leave my husband here. That was the hard part. Not only did I have to leave him here but I also had to take our daughter with me. Separating father and daughter is not fun to say the least, but I did it. The upside was that our child and soon to be second could have a time to bond with extended family while we were in the states. That time was very special and we created  many warm memories.

Being 7,000 miles from your husband and home, while being 30 something weeks pregnant is not for the weak!  Thank goodness for Skype. Don’t forget that includes being away for Christmas as well.

My biggest fear was that I would give birth without my husband. Fortunately, he arrived in plenty of time as I had to be induced…she just didn’t want to come out! We tried everything. I even went spelunking to try and coax her out in a cave! I thought for sure I would give birth in a cave…but no luck. Our birth experience in the states was wonderful and without complications.

After her birth came the really difficult part. Saying goodbye to my husband yet again, but this time with a 2 year old and a newborn. Nothing like that hormone infused, reality driven roller coaster ride I was on. It was also a lot of extra work to get birth certificates, passports, and visa for a newborn trying to get overseas. Most “normal” people don’t try and leave the country with a newborn to live overseas. This was oh so obvious when we try and take passport photos, apply for passports, get birth certificates expedited, all that stuff.  Because you know, you can’t get a passport without a birth certificate, and you can’t get a visa without a passport. It is a vicious cycle.  Just a little difficult for a sleep deprived mother of a 2 year old and a newborn to try and explain our situation over and over hoping to get paperwork completed quickly. Thank goodness for grandparents and a great husband!

So fast forward a little, we did finish all the paperwork for travel. The question of the day is….how does one mom survive a 12 hour plane ride with a 6 week old and 2 year old alone?  Well, I don’t really know the answer, because I didn’t come back alone. I had a wonderful, fantastic friend who chose to fly back with me to visit us and Qatar at the most convenient time! Yay! Could I have managed alone? Maybe, but I am so grateful I didn’t have to try.

Now, I am sure you are wondering how I survived jet lag with two kids. It wasn’t so bad actually. It is a 7 hour difference from the states, but really the kids adjusted well. Our little baby is sleeping through the night now! We had a wonderful time visiting with our friend and hope that more people are brave enough to hop the pond over into the hot sands of the Middle East with us. It is just a visit; you don’t have to live here.

Am I settled into mommy hood now? Yes, for now I am quite happy just to be a family again, I don’t really care where we are just as long as we are together. As cheesy as that sounds, it is totally true. If given the choice to go back to the states again, knowing what I know now about the experience, would I have still left anyways? That is hard to answer. I chose to leave and that is it. There were tough times being away from my husband and also really great moments in the states with family.  I can’t spend time right now thinking about my past choices when there so many new experiences to enjoy in the present.

 I have been thinking about my blog a lot lately. Where do I start? How do I continue? What is most interesting to my readers? I think I have posted a few blogs that are truly personal experiences of our lives here. But, some posts are more about tourist attractions, although they are very real to me, you could also read about it on the internet.

While in the future, I am not going to write about how many times my new baby wets her diaper in a day or how I had to pretend to be a bunny or princess for my two year old, I am going to get down to the “nitty gritty” of our lives with you from here on out. We are after all, a family of four mapping the globe.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Chocolate anyone?

Several of the malls here have mini amusement parks for children. Some malls are very fancy with ice skating rinks and roller coasters while others include a carousal and arcade games. We were invited to go to the fancy mall for some play time. The area we spent our most time in is a huge indoor play area with lots of soft padding and slides. My daughter and her friend were having a wonderful time playing and I was enjoying watching from the sides. All of a sudden I noticed my daughter had something small, round, and brown in her hand and you know what I am thinking it is. She moves it towards her mouth and my eyes start to bulge. She pops it right in and I started running, jumping over the side gates to try and stop her. I being six months pregnant was running like a quarter back, I was surprised I could even move that fast! By the time I reached her she had of course swallowed the item. I said..."what was that?", "why did you swallow it?" Her response was "Mommy, its ok, it's chocolate!" When I shared this story with my husband he said he would have dug whatever it was out like a golden nugget. I said...well, it was a little too late, whatever kind of nugget it was, it's gone now!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Souks

Last weekend we went to the Souks. This is a very interesting place to visit as the local life come here to shop but it is also tourist friendly.  They have designed a huge building to look and feel like a market would have in the older days. There are tons of winding little alleyways which have small shops where you can buy any and everything. There are also lots of restaurants and sometimes concerts or events. It is a very busy and exciting place to go in town for a taste of authentic life as well as a look at the many cultures that are a part of this city.

The shops are so tiny with merchandise packed from floor to ceiling.  Another interesting part of shopping here is that you can try to get a bargain and barter the price down. It is tacky to pay sticker price as they expect you to ask for less. The owners will stand right on top of you as you look; I think that is because they are watching me but also because it is so small inside. I find bartering to be pretty intimidating and so I just wanted to go buy something, at least until I see how bartering is handled. I went in one little shop and was just looking around. As I looked at a small, wooden camel,  the shop owner came up right beside me, like right beside me. I looked at the sticker, 50 Riyals, so I put it back down. The shop owner picks up the camel and says "Madam, this is a hand carved camel from wood, I give to you for 40 Riyals." I was, ok...and I put the camel back down and looked some more. He said, "Madam, I give you camel for 35 Riyals". This time I was really looking at the camel thinking wow...this is getting better and better and I didn't have to say a word! Before I knew it the camel was 30 Riyals and I was shopping for more items. The more I looked the cheaper things became! I was loving it. So as you might have guessed I ended up with the camel and several other things. I even looked more official when I had to go back outside and ask my husband for more cash. (These stores are even too small for strollers most of the time, especially strollers containing a two year old with very sticky little fingers.)

The evening we shopped the place was packed with people! I was trying to take pictures without offending anyone. I think I have enough for you to get a good idea of what it is like. Anyone coming to visit us will definitely get a chance to shop here! Hint, hint...come visit us!

There was an entire section of the souks devoted to animals. It was a little strange to see baby chickens with their feathers the color of Easter eggs. People were purchasing animals. It was a very populated area of the souks with lots of children becoming pet owners quickly.

There were a lot of rabbits. In fact, a salesman picked one rabbit up by the ears to hand to my daughter. Fortunately, she declined the invitation and I quickly followed with a no.

There were many different kinds of birds for sale here. Cages just full of them, especially pigeons. I have heard that falconry is big here but we didn't find any of those in the souks. My husband is quite disappointed.

Kittens and baby hamsters. There were puppies too. At this point I was getting a little heartsick for all the caged animals for sale and didn't take pictures of the puppies. They only had long haired cats for sale. That must be more valued here than short haired as all the many strays are short haired cats.

Baby Turtles

The shops had pedestals out where you could pet and handle the animals. This was a combo with bunnies and a bird!

I should have asked how much this guy costs.

Musical instruments.

These were Hookahs for sale. Many of the native people would lounge on couches at restaurants, smoking Hookahs and reading or looking at their cell phones. Anyone could use one at the restaurants, not just the natives.

Shoe Shop


Golden nicknack's and perfume bottles

A little bit of everything shop

Candy Shop

Bulk spices

Very extravagant baby cradles

Incense was burning all over the souks.

Toy Shop

This is a great example of the small shops for purchasing fabric. They are super tiny but absolutely filled to the top with fabric. Most of the shops will offer you books with swatches of the fabric they have put together. When you find what you like in the book the shop owner knows exactly where to find what you picked out. It is for sale by the meter and you can also bargain with these prices.

Throughout the souks there were elderly men that appeared to be working. They all had wheelbarrows which they were moving around, sitting in, or standing beside. I didn't see them moving much around but they appeared quite busy. They had little bells on the handles for people to move out of the way I am supposing. My husband and I weren't sure as to whether they are staged there to create atmosphere or really working for money. We hoped it was staged.

On one street corner several native women were selling homemade foods and craft type items. I am not sure if this is just a section for women to work as the rest of the shops were only men working.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Chicken Shawarma

We had our first taste of the famous shawarma this week and it is delicious. It is a very light flour tortilla, with meat, lettuce, and some type of white sauce. I think there are different toppings you could choose, we went with basic since it was our first try. We also tried the bread dipped in freshly made hummus. I believe the meat on ours was chicken. It is a lot of meat stacked on a pole that is continuously roasting. I was skeptical of eating a shaving off the stack, but it was actually quite delicious, we will be back for more!