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Hey everyone, Tony here, so Jenna spent our entire vacation in Sri Lanka sick– so I’m taking over for her for a bit to write about our trip.  When we were looking for a Christmas trip we wanted to go for something fun, relaxing, and easy and Sri Lanka was just that.  I’ll be breaking up the next few blog posts up to go over the different aspects of our trip.

The first 4 days of our Sri Lankan vacation were spent in the coastal resort of Mount Lavinia.  Mount Lavinia is a beautiful resort just south of the capitol city of Colombo and while it is only about 60 km from the airport, the traffic was so bad that it took almost 3 hours for us to get there!  Traffic was crazy in Colombo, and that’s saying something coming from Doha.  When we got to the resort it was great, the hotel is over 200 years old and is mildly reminiscent of the Overlook Hotel in the Shining (not that we saw ghosts just that kind of feel).  There were several wonderful restaurants at the resort including one that had the best seafood we’ve ever had.

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The lovely pool and deck

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View from our hotel room balcony- Lovely to hear the waves at night!

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The lobby

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The second day we were there we had to take a train into Colombo to buy train tickets for the second leg of our trip a few days later.  The train ride was super fun! First the train was about an hour late and when it did get there it was so jam packed full of people that we had to stand right next to the open door.

Mount Lavinia train station

Mount Lavinia train station

Fortunately for us it was only about a 30-minute train ride. We got to the busy terminal in downtown ColomboDSC_2097 and had to stand in a room that was well over 110 degrees for a while to get the tickets for trip up to the center of the island. After spending much longer in the train terminal then we thought, we finally caught another DSC_2111
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train back to Mount Lavinia. The rest of that day Jenna spent the afternoon relaxing on the beach and I walked around the area taking photos.

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DSC_2117The next day disaster hit…The third day was planned to be Jenna’s “beach day”.   I’m not much of a beach person myself, I get bored after about ten minutes of doing nothing but all Jenna wanted out of this vacation was some relaxing beach time and a chance to unwind from work in Doha. Unfortunately, that afternoon started the crappy part of the trip for Jenna as she got food poisoning and some other flu-like disaster sickness.

DSC_2129While she spent some time on the beach and by the pool, the majority of the day she spent feeling like crap in the hotel room.  I stayed close by in case she needed anything but each morning and evening I spent taking photos of the beaches and the people of the area.  Fortunately relaxing in the room was good for Jenna and she was able to get feeling a little better for a while. We then left Mount Lavinia and Colombo and headed for the mountains and Kandy.

*Tony doesn’t write with as much detail as I do, but we were able to spend our time at Mount Lavinia with our same friends we traveled with in Nepal. I will just add a bunch of extra pictures of these first few days. :)

Fancy dinner :)

Fancy dinner :)

Corinne and Jared at dinner

Corinne and Jared at dinner

Fancy dinner night

Fancy dinner night

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Marpha- and a little Jomsom

The town of Marpha from the road

The town of Marpha from the road

Our favorite city in Nepal, although we only spent a short time there, was the town of Marpha. Marpha is an amazing town, it is built with rocks and set up on the hill side. No cars can drive in the town because the walkways are too narrow.

The dining area at our guest house

The dining area at our guest house

 

 

It is a smaller rural town that has many apple orchards and specializes in apple products.I do not even like apple juice, but the apple cider I drank in Marpha was incredibly delicious! We arrived late at night and luckily our driver knew some friends who run a hotel/guesthouse in the town. The man who owns the rooms walked the mile down to the road to lead us back to his place, which we never would have found in the dark! He was even gracious enough of a host to start the fire back up in his stove and make us a late night, utterly delicious, spaghetti dinner.

Marpha street

Marpha street

Marpha Nepali boy

Marpha Nepali bo

Marpha trees

Marpha trees

Marpha- our room was the one in bottom left corner- this is the view from the courtyard.

Marpha- our room was the one in bottom left corner- this is the view from the courtyard.

Our rooms in the hotel were much better than we anticipated. They had two small twin mattresses/pads set up on a raised box platform with on-suite bathrooms. There was even “hot” water. Hot being a loose term, but when the air temperature gets down to 20 degrees at night, a little better than luke warm feels just fine. After we slept (cuddled in our sleeping bags cause it was cold!) we woke up to a beautiful Himalayan day.

We were told that the hike up to Jomsom (the town with the airport), was only about an hour hike. Maybe this was a fair estimate for really awesomely intense Neplai hikers, but it took us nearly 3 hours. Granted, we did stop a lot, as usual, to take many photos and it ended up being a fairly warm day. The hike was fun, maybe a bit dusty if cars drove by, but the mountains were stunning so we really could not complain.

Random small town between Mapha and Jomsom

Random small town between Mapha and Jomsom

View while hiking from Marpha to Jomsom

View while hiking from Marpha to Jomsom

more river view

more river view

Dusty, kind of yucky local bus. It was CRAZY crowded!

Dusty, kind of yucky local bus. It was CRAZY crowded

Once in Jomsom we talked to the airline people to try and get tickets and then we grabbed lunch at a small hotel or guesthouse. It was a nice relaxing day, but we decided not to hike back, so we took a local bus instead. The bus was insanely crowded, very dusty, and quite uncomfortable. This is when I knew that Tony and I would be finding Dhan again the next day if we could not get a flight (No way was I spending over 10 hours on the slower, more unsafe, way more uncomfortable bus to get back to Pokhara).

Jomsom- an expedition just coming through town

Jomsom- an expedition just coming through town

Jomsom- the main road through town.

Jomsom- the main road through town.

Tony decided to hike back to try and get some sunset pictures with the mountains. I was worried when it took him so long, but he was stopped on the way back by a little group of kids that just loved getting their photos taken. Tony said that the kids thought it was the coolest thing to get their picture taken and then be able to look at it on the LCD screen.

Nepali kiddos

Nepali kiddos

Annapurna area, small town between Marpha and Jomsom-- close to sunset

Annapurna area, small town between Marpha and Jomsom– close to sunset

Cute Nepali girl Tony saw on his hike

Cute Nepali girl Tony saw on his hike

Cute girl in Marpha

Cute girl in Marpha

While Tony was gone I of course did some shopping. I was able to talk to this woman who lived in Marpha and handmade jewelry to sell. I watched her work on a piece and it was pretty incredible. The jewelry was made out of bone and horns from mountain goats. She would shave and cut the horn into beads and then hand paint each one. It was really nice to buy something 100% authentic and not “made in China”.

As I said, we did not get nearly as much time as we wanted in Marpha, but I will let the photos of this area and this quaint town speak for itself. Tony and I can’t wait to go back to Nepal. Next time, however, we will have more than just 10 mere days and we will get some real trekking in. :)

Annapurna

Annapurna

Getting around Nepal

Well it is pretty obvious that blogging consistently is not my calling. Sorry- I have no excuses and no more promises. Tony and I have been on four more vacations since Nepal and now I am VERY behind. Unfortunately I am one of those people who must go in order. I cannot simply just stop where I am at in Nepal and pick up with say our Paris trip from last month. So- I am determined to blog more frequently, but- no promises J. I will be enlisting Tony to help me catch up, so now you will get to hear from both of us. So- let’s start where I left off: Travel in Nepal.

We were fortunate enough to use every mode of transportation available in the small country of Nepal. Jeeps, taxis, airplanes, buses, motorcycles, canoes, and our own two feet! I guess this is not every transport available because we never did ride a horse, but I would say we did pretty well. In Nepal you are not allowed to rent your own vehicle, so from Kathmandu to Pokhara we hired a jeep to take us the 6 hours through beautiful country. It was fun to see the different Nepali towns as we drove.

Sweet bridge we found while driving- it was fun to check it out!

Sweet bridge we found while driving- it was fun to check it out!

Small town we stopped at to stretch our legs for a bit

Small town we stopped at to stretch our legs for a bit

The roads we took were paved, but much skinnier than we were used to. Luckily we only got in one accident, which was not our fault. It actually shouldn’t even count as a real accident because we barely hit the car in front of us because there was a scooter in the road just stopped and the car in front of us could not stop quickly enough. There was a lot of yelling involved between the two cars and scooter drivers and after about 2 minutes every local person in the area walked over to see what was going on. We all got a lot of interesting looks and I guess I felt a little bit like a zoo animal on display. All went well and we were off in only about 15 minutes. I have no idea what was decided in the end, but everyone drove off- so I assume it all worked out okay.

In Pokhara we used several taxis, many of which I was worried wouldn’t quite make it up the hills and of course our canoes on the lake. In our original travel plans we had booked a small plane to take us from Pokhara to Jomsom, a high elevation town in the Anapurna range. We arrived to the airport early and were told that our flight was delayed. The word “delayed” is never good when talking about small planes flying into big mountains. The super early flight had not left yet and we were told that due to the very high winds in Jomsom they could not risk landing any plane up there.

the runway at Pokhara airport

the runway at Pokhara airport

Baggage system at Pokhara airport-- high tech :)

Baggage system at Pokhara airport– high tech :)

Pokhara airport

Pokhara airport

Of course, they figured the wind would die down and we could just wait a few hours and still be able to fly out. As with most airline delays, this was of course not the case. We ended up spending almost 6 hours at the airport before they cancelled all Jomsom flights for the day and refunded our money. Unfortunately all flights for the next day were booked and we would not be able to fly out for another 2 days.

hanging out at the airport

hanging out at the airport

This is the time when I advise you to always have a back-up plan. If you ever travel to Nepal- do one of two things 1: have a back-up plan in case your travel arrangements do not work out. Research something else you can do in the area that you may enjoy just as much as your original idea. –or- 2: Go to Nepal with several more days than you think you need. If you plan on doing a trek and you think you need 10 days, just plan 13-15 days. This way you can stick to your original plan and enjoy your vacation to the fullest, even if your travel plans are changed.

We did not have a back-up plan and we did not have extra days. After we left the airport we were tired and desperately needed lunch. We wandered around a bit and talked in circles about what we should do. Finally, after much debate, we decided to try and make our way up to Jomsom by car or bus. I think we had our hearts set on getting up to the small mountain towns even though it wasn’t entirely practical for us to do so at this point. We were able to hire another jeep to take us up the mountain; unfortunately we had no idea what we were really getting ourselves into and it cost us much more than our plane ticket.

the road- un-paved

the road- un-paved

Our driver Dhan was awesome! He was a safe driver and made very good time (all things considered). Let me start by describing the road. For about 90 minutes we had the “luck” to be on paved roads. Paved is a loose term; we still crossed many streams, pot-holes, and loose gravel sections.

The trick is I had no idea that was the good part! After this 90 minute journey through the Pokhara valley and beginning of the Annapurna range, we started on the “no black top” canyon road. We could not go over about 25mph the next five and a half hours. The road was, needless to say, terrible.

the road behind us

the road behind us

Terrible and somewhat terrifying. The canyon road was quite skinny with lots of curves and always going up. There were always larger buses passing us going down and sometimes there just wasn’t enough room for both. The best part of the trip came when we came upon a line of stopped jeeps and buses on one of the passes. Up ahead the next bend there was an SUV with a broken axle. Yup, a broken axle and he was taking up so much room no one could pass on either side. Good times.

So- all the men in the buses, Tony and Jared, and other SUVs got out and basically lifted the broken car up and pushed it up farther onto the side of the mountain, so there was just enough room to get by. This worked well, but it was a little tricky getting all the cars past because there were so many of us stopped, not to mention it was pitch-black nighttime. (Unfortunately because it was so dark, we don’t have any pictures of this event that you can really see, but it was as close as the above photo- from earlier on our drive). We finally made it to Marpha, a small town just south of Jomsom with headaches and sore backs, but we didn’t fall off the side of the mountain, so all in all it ended well.

Yes- Passing this close happened several times on our drive.

Yes- Passing this close happened several times on our drive.

The next morning we hiked about 2 hours to Jomsom to try and book flight back to Pokhara for the next day. Unfortunately they only had two available spots, so we let our friends take the tickets and the next day we went to the airport to try and see if someone might miss their flight. We did not have another 3 hours to hike from Marpha back to Jomsom, so of course we just paid some boys in Marpha to give us a ride on their motorcycles. Riding on a motorcycle while wearing your overnight back during the sunrise was quite the awesome experience! It was a little scary on the dirt roads, but very exhilarating and in some ways even a little peaceful. Actually, and I think Tony would agree, it was one of our favorite experiences: Riding on a motorcycle during the peaceful sunrise in the Himalayan mountain, quite surreal.

lunch!

view from lunch

So another morning was spent in a tiny little airport and of course everyone showed up and Tony and I went to hire Dhan for our jeep ride back down. I think that driving in the day was a much better plan. It wasn’t nearly as scary when you could see and we were able to stop along the way and take a lot of pictures and eat lunch in a fun little town.

a small school we drove past

a small school we drove past

On the way down we were able to get to know Dhan a little better. Two fun facts(aka FFs): 1- Dhan used to live and work in Doha as a security guard (he didn’t like it), small world huh?! 2- We asked Dhan “So- do buses ever fall off the cliff?” (thinking it would be reasonably rare) and he responded “Oh yeah (as if it weren’t that big of a deal), Like 20 a year.” WHAT?! Good thing we were on our way down and almost out of the canyon…. Also good thing we did not go cheap and ride the bus. In the end I would say we actually enjoyed the jeep ride back down because we were able to appreciate the scenery and enjoy the mountains we had come to spend time in. Luckily for us, we were able to fly out of Pokhara back to Kathmandu and we could say goodbye to long car travel for a while (at least until Sri Lanka in December). Here are some scenery photos from our day-time drive…..

Once we came upon two buses in a row--- look at all the dust they left behind!

Once we came upon two buses in a row— look at all the dust they left behind!

Scenery from the road

Scenery from the road

Scenery from the road

Scenery from the road

More scenery

More scenery

All in all our travel experience in Nepal was just part of the adventure. It was not like traveling or driving anywhere else in the world. I think that is part of the charm of the country. It is something to be patient and very flexible about, but also something to be enjoyed. It makes a fun story, and good memories.

Pokhara

Sorry for the wait….. I will be more consistent, I promise!

Pokhara, Nepal. This was a very fun little city and trekker trap. During our trip we were in Pokhara for 2 days and then an extra day and a half before flying back to Kathmandu, we ended up spending more time here than we originally planned due to some cancelled travel arrangements (stay tuned for that story in a few days).

Sampada Inn

View from the terrace

View from the terrace

We arrived in Pokhara by jeep from Kathmandu. After a 6hour ride, we were ready to rest up. We were lucky to stay just off of the main road, Lakeside, in an awesome hotel, Sampada Inn. The beds here were much more comfortable than the ones in Kathmandu, and we had a fun view of the city and surrounding mountains. It didn’t hurt that the staff was kind and very helpful as well.

Pokhara street Pokhara Street2  Lakeside is a fun street with shops, restaurants, and trekking offices everywhere! No matter which way you started walking you could easily find all types of food (in fact most restaurants served a very wide variety), lots of souvenirs and hand made Nepali crafts, and all the knock-  off NorthFace trekking gear your heart could ever desire. We had so much fun wandering the street to shop and eat, it was very relaxing.

True to its name, Lakeside is next to…… you guessed it….. a giant Lake! Beautiful mountains surround the lake and it wasn’t full of jet-skis or large boats pulling water skiers.  One evening we decided to rent a canoe for several hours and we paddled our way across to the other bank to try and get a different angle to take pictures of the sunset. Where we could actually land our canoe our view of the mountains was blocked, so we ended up going out to the middle of the lake to get some photos and enjoy the evening light as it faded behind the mountains.

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copyright: Tony Murray Photography

copyright: Tony Murray Photography

copyright: Tony Murray Photography

copyright: Tony Murray Photography

Although the shore was crowded with people and shops along the shore, as well as several canoes in the water, it remained peaceful and somehow serene.

Another enjoyable thing we did in Pokhara was the Sarangkot sunrise. There is this small mountain that looks over the lake on one side and the breathtaking Himalayan range on the other. We hired a taxi to drive us up to the small town on Sarangkot. After he dropped us off we hiked for another 30 minutes or so to reach the top. On the way up you hike on this trail that goes past small Nepali houses and huts. It is so dark you can’t see very far and you wonder how many more “stairs” you will need to climb and how much further you really need to go.

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After hiking by flashlight for about 20min a gray light starts to cover everything and its just enough for you to see ahead of you, but not enough to see what is off the side of the mountain. Close to the very top there is a small Buddhist shrine and the only about 50 stairs left. At the top of the stairs there is this fantastically old arch, and the scene behind it was breathtaking. All this time hiking in the dark I had no idea the mountain were that “close”. It was incredible to have your view through this arch be fully encompassed with mountain, no sky, no ground, just huge giant mountains. As you finish the hike and find a spot to sit on the viewing platform, just in time, the sun starts to peak up over the hills and light the Himalayas in an incredible way! It was beautiful and I am actually happy I woke up early to see it.

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On our extra day in Pokhara, before heading back to Kathmandu we actually did Sarangkot again for sunset. We didn’t go all the way to the top, but found a nice little field off behind this man’s house that he let us use. It was again, beautiful to sit and take in the scenery as the sun went down.

copyright: Tony Murray Photography

copyright: Tony Murray Photography

Later that night we began our shopping. We didn’t want to buy anything on our first 2 days in the city, because we didn’t have much space to carry souvenirs in our overnight backpacks, and we did not want to have the extra weight for any hiking we might do. So—we crammed all shopping into the evening and next morning before our flight. It was fun to look for scarves, jewelry, art, etc. We were able to buy several fun/good quality things for not too much money…. Unlike the souvenirs in Mexico- that always feel cheap and half of them are made in China ;) It was nice to buy some things that were truly locally made by Nepali people.

Overall, Pokhara is a fun town to shop and dine. Although we had more time here than anticipated (and maybe didn’t do as much hiking as we wanted) it was a good place to spend our time and we thoroughly enjoyed it!

*I promise to blog again in 3 days! Up next Travel in Nepal- scary and harrowing jeep rides through unpaved canyon roads…..

Kathmandu

It has been a very long time since I have written. Sorry about that! I must say, it has been with good reason. At the end of October we were lucky enough to go on holiday in Nepal. We spent 9 days in the country and it was beautiful! We absolutely loved it. It was a long enough trip that I won’t be able to fit it all into one blog post. So- I will write several different posts on what we learned during our time in Nepal.

For this first segment I will write about Kathmandu. We spent the first and last nights of our trip in Kathmandu. It was a whirlwind, but very interesting! Kathmandu is a fun mix of lots of cultures and people. The most prominent seemed to be Buddhist, Hindu, Indian, and Asian influences all mixed into one city.  The city does not really have any skyscrapers, but covers a large area and is very compact. Many streets were more like dirt alleyways and some buildings seemed to be built on top of one another. It is important to note that Nepal is a very developing country- as such, Kathmandu did not seem very organized and it was quite dirty. It didn’t seem like there was any government-run trash collection or maybe it was just the culture, but there was trash everywhere! Littering is obviously not against the law.

So- on our first day in Kathmandu we checked into a great little hotel. The mattresses were hard, but the room was clean and we had our own bathroom. The hotel also had an adorable little courtyard and fun character. You know you are in a different country when the lock on your hotel room is a padlock with accompanying key. We took the red-eye flight into Kathmandu, so the first order of business was a nap! It was very tricky to sleep with the sounds of the city (not something we are used to in our quiet Doha neighborhood). Also- it was festival time in Nepal, and I am pretty sure a parade went by our hotel at some point- at least I don’t think I was dreaming that-.

The main stupa

Rumored to be 365 steps to the top…. I didn’t count them

After a nap, we got a cab to take us to the famous Monkey Temple, also known as Swayambhunath. There are several entrances to get to this temple because it is located on a very large hill. My calves were burning by the time we climbed the stairs to the top! On the way it was fun to see the monkeys climbing all over the different statues and trees. These monkeys are considered sacred and they definitely run the show. Once we reached the top the view of the city and surrounding mountains was incredible.                                                                                                         I particularly loved seeing the colored flags that are synonymous with Nepal. A “practicing monk” told us that the colors stand for the elements and that prayers are written on them. The flags are then hung as a constant prayer that is meant to be spread by the wind as a benefit to the surrounding area and all people.

I say “practicing monk” in quotes because we are not entirely sure he was. Our little friend offered to take us around the entire Temple to practice his English and work on talking to different people as part of his “training”. Haha! He was a very nice boy and ended up walking us to places we most likely would not have wandered to on our own. At the end, he asked us to buy some milk and biscuits for the kids staying at the monastery. Of course we would help buy food for the children! Unfortunately that particular powdered milk and old cookies must have been the BEST in all of Nepal! The man tried to charge us silly Americans $40 a piece—yes 4,000 rupees!! Hahaha We of course said no, but ended up giving them $20 anyways. I blame the red-eye flight and lack of sleep…. But what is a visit to a developing country if you don’t get taken advantage of?! Ha ha. Anyways- back to the temple…..

Long Life and Wisdom

Around the Stupa there were these spinning prayer wheels. We were told that you always visit the temple and spin these wheels in a clockwise direction. Spinning the prayer wheel is meant to be the same as saying or reading the prayer. Our “monk-in-training” friend said that the prayer wheels around the Stupa at the monkey temple were prayers for a long life and wisdom.

We really enjoyed the cultural uniqueness of the monkey temple and seeing all of the different types of people who were there to visit it. Did we get attacked my monkeys? Almost. Did we get swindled by our “practicing monk” friend? Of course! Did our taxi know where our hotel was to take us back? No. We did, however, have a good time and it was nice to see a little bit of Kathmandu.

At the end of the trip we came back to Kathmandu after spending a fantastic time away. It was just as dirty and the driving was just as bad! We stayed in a different hotel that was truly fantastic! The Kathmandu Temple house was amazing. The architecture was stunning and they were an establishment that cared about being eco-friendly. Mineral water was provided in every room and bubblers were located in the lobby for us to re-fill our water bottles. (This seems silly, but when you read the rest of my posts you will see how this is incredibly unique). The food here was delicious, and the courtyard was a quiet, clean oasis apart from the rest of Kathmandu.

               

That night, Tony and I took another scary cab ride from this hotel to visit the Hindu Pashupatinath Temple. This is a significant Hindu temple where they perform religious cremations, have many holy men, and it contains many significant religious structures. It was interesting to see, but not as beautiful as the Monkey Temple from the first day of the trip. The holy men were funny and, for a donation, loved to get their picture taken. It is always interesting to see how different cultures practice their religions. This Hindu temple was very different. It had many ancient structures and amazing little buildings, but it was very dirty. It was hard for me to feel a sense of peace (like I associate temples with in my mind) when there is smoke rising in the distance from a current cremation and women are pressing me to buy jewelry. I must say, it was nice to return to our little hotel oasis and have a well-prepared meal and a good night’s rest. In the morning we were able to have breakfast and then time to explore the hotel. We made it up to a roof-top terrace where we were able to bid farewell to Kathmandu in a proper way.

     

Stay tuned for Pokhara, terrifying jeep rides, and Jomsom/Marpha!

Awsaj Academy…. where I work

Awsaj Academy is, so far, a great school that is trying to do A LOT of things here in Doha. We are basically a college prep school for kids with learning challenges. We have 1-12 grade students and our classes are capped at 10 students per class/period of the day. In the Elementary we have 3 classes of each grade with a teacher and instructional assistant. Our younger grades have quite a few kids with high needs, but our teachers are Amazing at working with each student on their individual level.

Currently the school is working on expansion. What does this mean? Sometimes this means growing pains. Anyone in education understands the effort it takes to create systems change. Two years ago the school had enrolled under 100 students (for all grades), this year we have close to 250. Additionally, right around 30 new staff were hired this year with me. For the most part this has been amazing! We have been able to bond together and learn together as we go. Of course, that means we also are all trying to figure out exactly where we fit in, how things work, and make it through lots of training time!

The school building was finished last year November and it is beautiful! Here is a fun photo tour

As with starting any new job there is stress and confusion, but I am lucky enough to work with a fantastic staff that truly has a love of teaching. Everyone works so hard to help their students achieve and it is fun to be a part of that! Also- the kids are adorable! They are so fun. My favorite is when certain first graders tell me a story. They get so excited that the first two words are in English and then the next 2 minutes are told in really fast Arabic (which I cannot understand at all). Then they look at me all smiley with wide eyes waiting for some kind of confirmation, praise, information….. not really sure. I usually laugh and tell them “great job” and “I’m happy they told me about that.”  Ha ha ha ha so awesome!

I’m sure there will be more bumps in the road and we have a long way to go as far as putting systems in place, but I see a lot of progress in the students every day and that is what it’s all about!

Doha Drivers Ed…..

WE CAN DRIVE!!! First things first, we must back up two weeks.

The entire process of being allowed to drive in Doha starts with an eye test. Our van to this test was the best ever! We crammed about 11 people into this very old van with very little air flow, not to mention very little air conditioning. This made for an especially pleasant ride. Anyways the eye test was hilarious and consisted of a projected image that was both blurry and shaky. Luckily, we all passed. Whew!

Hot, Hot, Hot!

A few days later we all got to be 15 years old again to attend drivers ed!

Did you know there are 13 triangles to safe driving?!

Nothing makes you feel like a     teenager except for pictures of car crashes… Cars upside down, cars smashed up against a pole, cars split clean in half. Motto of the day- It’s the driver that is safe or unsafe, not the car. (Hmmm I was certainly never aware of that before!) We talked about following other cars at a safe distance, using turn signals when over taking (passing), how to give way (yield), and what a stop sign looks like. Then we got to practice driving. It was probably the best 6 hours of my life. It was good to know that after one month of not driving myself anywhere I still had all the mad driving skills I had before….. shocking, I know.

Later that week we got to go take the actual driving test. All the women in the very early morning and then the men in the evening. Here is a breakdown of my day:

No, we did not get to ride on this little toy…. drat!

Broken down buses at 4am are NEVER fun!

I woke up at 3:30 in the morning to catch a bus at 4:15…. at 4:25 the bus broke down…. at 5:05 we were split into three cars to go to the driving school…… at 5:20 one of those cars got lost…… at 5:35 we made it to the driving school…..6:05 we got on a bus to “take our driving test”…. From 7:24 and 35 seconds to 7:26a I drove in the car with the instructor……. at 7:30 we were taken back to the driving school to await our results….. at 7:40 we found out the good news, we all passed!……at 9:11 I had my temporary license in hand!

If you noticed the timeline, my driving test consisted of close to 1 minute and 25 seconds in the car. I drove on a straight road and then pulled over. I also passed my sign test, good thing I still recognize my stop signs and traffic light colors! (I joke, there were some signs specific to the area, but nothing too difficult). Luckily Tony also passed his driving test. Unfortunately by the time the boys finished their test, the office who prints the driving licenses were closed. Sadly, the license Tony received the next day expired only five days later- HA! So, we had to wait another 5 days for someone from my school to argue continually on his behalf so that his temporary license would last until the middle of October. Tony finally received his license yesterday and has been officially allowed to drive. Yay! He is thrilled to not be on house arrest anymore :)

PASS!!

Welcome to Doha! Again- do not try to be efficient when doing government related activities. If you plan on having the longest day of your life, you just may be right! The take away point here is, we have a rental car and we can go to the store when we want, makes a big difference in feeling settled. Until next week……..

Medical……

Hello again, Sorry its been a while….. the last two weeks have been insane! This will be the first of several posts under the category “patience, patience, patience”. This is a skill I have been practicing VERY hard over the past couple of weeks. As I’m sure you have heard from several different sources, moving internationally requires a lot of flexibility and, you got it, patience. Other countries are not often as efficient as the United States; if nothing else most countries will have their own particular policies and procedures that vary widely. Here in Qatar they take health and safety “very seriously”. You are not allowed to get a Residence Permit here unless you can prove you are healthy and not a criminal. Luckily, for me I am both of those things. The hilarious part is that I have to prove it twice.

You can be half way around the world and a waiting room in a government building still looks the same!

Last week all of the employees were shuttled to a medical building to get a few tests done. When we arrived men and women were separated (this has happened at any government building we have visited thus far) outside of the building and we actually used separate entrances. We entered into a large waiting room that looked eerily similar to a DMV. We were given a ticket with a number on it, and then we proceeded to “wait”. There were no seats so we just stood quietly to the side. After about 10 minutes we were ushered to another area that had more chairs so that we could sit. Interestingly enough there did not appear to be any medical people working until about 30-40minutes after we arrived, just security and cleaning staff. Anyways,  we waited in this side room for roughly 35 minutes before we were ushered out.

The security lady asked us to go upstairs for pictures, but didn’t really give us any direction on how one would actually go upstairs. Turns out, you had to go back through the main waiting area, through 2 other rooms, then down a long hallway.

Photo line

After that you had to enter what looked like a janitor’s closet but turned out to be a stairwell. At the top of the stairs we entered another waiting room that had both men and women in it, but we were told to continue down the hall and through a set of double doors. Once here, we found all the other women! Snaked around the hallway (that led to the roof) were about 20 Qatar airway flight attendants, teachers from another school, a small family, and now the Awsaj women. We proceeded to wait in this line for roughly 40 minutes. About 20 minutes into our wait one of my co-workers got a phone call from her husband. He wanted to know where we were and how much longer we would be…… ha ha ha…… We had not even completed step one of four and the men were finished, great. The hilarious thing about this particular line is that we waited to take a picture that we had already taken the second day we arrived. We tried to explain this several times to no avail. Even after they took the new picture, it was the older picture that showed up on the computer screens during every step of the medical process.

Following the pointless picture-taking we assumed we were supposed to go back down stairs. We found our way to the original waiting room where they wanted to see our number tags that we took at the beginning. Of course, by this time all of our numbers

i’m sure those chatting women got in trouble for not keeping the line straight……

had been passed. So, we waited to speak to a woman at one of the counters who wanted to take our picture again! After this we were somewhat split-up. The group of girls I was with were pointed in the direction of the blood test area where we got to stand in another line. The security staff wanted this line to be perfectly straight, she did not appreciate you if you tried to turn around to talk to your neighbor….. When we made it half way through this line, we were removed and ushered to the x-ray line (apparently the blood-test line was too long). Luckily, the x-ray did not take too long, and compared to everything else, they were somewhat efficient. There were little dressing rooms available where you were asked to remove your bras and just have a white t-shirt on or one of the gowns provided.

My bruise 2 days later spanned 2.5 inches, after this it got darker then turned green!

Then you waited, five at a time, to enter the x-ray room where you were screened for TB.

After I completed, and was stamped for the x-ray I got to go back to the (very straight) blood-test line. When you reached the front of the line they scanned your forms, checked your picture, and handed you a vile. Then you got to go to another hallway….. and you guessed it….. another line! Unfortunately for me, the women drawing my blood did not to the greatest job. My arm ached for two days and I had a nasty bruise for a week that is still visible.

So– nearly four and a half hours after being dropped of I got a photo taken (that we already had completed), a chest x-ray, and a vile of blood drawn; all of which I had completed in the US prior to coming here. All I really have to show for all this was my impressive bruise and  one more thing to check off the imaginary check-list and one step closer to getting my residency permit.

Yes, Doha medical facility I do have some suggestions! ;)

Coming in a few days……… Doha Driving school and test!

First Week in Doha

Hello All!

It has been almost a week since we first arrived in “Sunny” Doha. It has been very busy and quite surreal. We can’t believe we are finally here! The entire travel day was incredibly long; from door to door we ended up being gone just over 29 hours. Upon arrival in Doha we were greeted by a bunch of staff from Awsaj. It was nice to see smiling faces and other people who were just as travel weary as we were. From the airport we loaded onto a few large passenger vans that took us to our housing. It was quite the site to see such a huge group of dazed Americans loading 2+ bags each onto these vans that barely fit us and our luggage. The drive to Education City was incredible. The Doha skyline was quite the sight to see: bright colorful lights and giant buildings surrounded by water and sand. I don’t remember much from the first night other than the view of the skyline and the intense heat and humidity. Even after the sun had gone down it was still over 95 degrees and like 60% humidity. Needless to say once we got home we immediately fell into bed and crashed!

We are so excited about our housing! It is incredible and bigger than we thought. Once we unpack our boxes and set things up- we will take some pictures and post them. In this part of the world Friday is the Muslim holy day. Most shops and restaurants are closed part of the day and most religions in the area worship on Friday. Anyways, we decided to go to church. The LDS ward here is great! Everyone is very friendly and the people are quite diverse. We have members from the States, Africa, Australia, India, SriLanka, and Europe. I think we will be able to make many friends. Our meeting house is a villa that we rent from a local man. It is funny when you go in to use the bathroom and there is a full shower nest to the toilet and sink. It has several rooms, so there is plenty of space for all of our meetings.

Awsaj has been incredible in helping us get adjusted. They have provided transportation and some staff has come back early to help us shop and explain different things. On sunday they invited all new staff and families to the school. We were able to get some logistical things done and then we received a cultural presentation and tour of the school. Each evening we have been able to sign up for different shopping trips and places to go eat for dinner. The rest of this week I have just been in trainings with the new school.

Unfortunately- yesterday I got sick :(. It is very dusty here. I think that the dust started my allergies and then that turned into a sinus problem and a cold. So, unfortunately we haven’t gone out a lot this week. I am just trying to get better quickly so we can explore Doha. From here I will try to post more about certain things (shopping, food, driving, architecture, school, culture, etc.) Hopefully we will have many new and exciting experiences that we can share with all of you. Thanks for reading! :)

Jenna and Tony

Who we are and What we do

Tony and I are an adventurous couple who are looking to meet new people, experience new cultures, and enjoy life! I am a school psychologist who has previously worked in Utah. I love working with a wide variety of students, but what I enjoy most is having the summers off. My husband Tony is a photographer. He has recently self-published a coffee table book and is working on continually expanding his landscape portfolio. He is looking forward to being able to do photography full time all over the world.

Don’t worry, I get asked all the time what a school psychologist actually is. In the United States I have many roles in a school: I give Intelligence tests to help school teams look for learning disabilities, I help teachers and parents understand and support student behavior, I help collect and analyze data, and I do group and individual counseling. This all sounds fairly boring, but it is something different everyday and the kids always keep me on my toes. I am excited to see how my job will fluctuate and change in different international locations; starting with my new job at the Awsaj Academy in Doha.

Yes, Tony does do portrait work (if you ask nicely), but his heart is in the outdoors. He has an eye for seeing the natural world differently than most people and the ability to capture landscapes in unique and truly beautiful ways. We will work on posting many of his photos of our adventures on this blog, but please check out his website and Facebook page for all his work!