The Smorgasbord House

When moving to your new home in Qatar, it's unrealistic to expect it ‘’all’’.  You may have to forsake an amazing kitchen for a grand yard.  You may have to give up the extra bedroom to get a top-of-the-line gas cooking range.  You may have to forgo the compound of your choice for a stand-alone villa if you want to live within reasonable distance of your child’s school. You may well end up with your own version of a Lego block house ... and you might end up quite pleased ... even quite happy despite it all.

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Tim Hortons Etiquette 101 ... Lessons on how to order a Timmies in the ME ...

Tim Hortons is a Canadian coffee and donut chain, venerated by Canadians more as a community gathering place than as a coffee shop.

Tim Horton's Menu in Arabic ...

Some would argue that life's greatest lessons are learned not at home, nor at school, but at the local Tim Hortons.  This Canadian institution is in fact where many key curriculums are covered, including but not limited to:

  • Vocabulary:  Tim Hortons is rumoured to have coined the phrase ''double-double''
  • Maths:  What are the odds of bringing home a car in the ''Roll up the Rim to Win'' contest?
  • Science:  What chemical properties in Tim Hortons coffee render it so addictive?
  • Social studies:  What is it about Tim Hortons that causes strangers of all ages, races, religions to be willing to share a table and exchange life stories over a steamin' cuppa?
  • Innovation and sustainability:  Tim Hortons invented the Timbit, thus reducing waste by creating a whole new donut from the donut hole traditionally discarded by less progressive bakers.
  • Time management:  Tim Hortons drive thru's have mastered the art of efficiency.  No faster can you say ''I'll have an extra-large double-double with an everything bagel, buttered on one side only, and a french cruller'' than it will be all packed up and delivered through your driver's seat window.  Mind boggling.
  • Finance & Economics:  Where else can you still get a soup, donut and coffee for under 10$ Canadian.
  • Meteorology:  EVERY Canadian blizzard is immediately followed by weather enthusiasts who congregate at their local Timmies to resolve once and for all how much more timely snow removal would have been if the city had only invested more in dump trucks and salt.

All of this, coupled with the fact that it is Canada's largest food service operator, surpassing even McDonald's, tells you that Tim Hortons is no flash-in-the-pan franchise.  It is indeed an industry unto itself.

Needless to say, Canadians in Qatar were thrilled beyond belief when it was announced that Tim Hortons would finally be piercing the Doha market back in 2013.  For years we'd gracefully swallowed Turkish coffee.  But there was no hiding it - the year Tim Hortons opened its franchises in Doha is the year a Canadian pulse truly started beating in this desert city.  

We were willing to live with the fact that you couldn't get a proper BLT sandwich (just not the same without pork bacon), and that the shop name carried a ''Cafe and Bake Shop'' suffix (just sounds a bit posh for the likes of the veteran Timmie's crowd).  But there are some offences that Canadians are still struggling with about the Doha Tim's rendition almost two years after it first set up shop.

I've listed a few of the more glaring ones below.  And I swear to you that I have personally been witness to every single one of the following Tim Hortons etiquette breaches.  Canadians, be warned, you may find this offensive, and may choose to not read further.

Patron:  ''Hi.  Do you sell Krispy Kreme donuts?''  (Blasphemy!)

Patron:  ''Can I please have the iced cappuccino, but please don't make it to cold.''  (????)

Patron:  ''Yes, I would like the Canadian Maple donut, but without the maple please.''  (Seriously ... Canadian WITHOUT Maple?  That's like expecting yin without yang.)

Patron:  ''Do you have Turkish coffee?''  (Uhmmmm, nope.  No falafel either.)

Staff:  ''No, I'm sorry Sir, we only have American coffee.''  (PARDON ME????)

Patron:  ''Why don't you write my name on the cup?  Starbucks always writes my name on the cup.  Yalla, please write my name on the cup.''  (No one would EVER dare try this in Canada; you would risk being barred for life.)

Staff:  ''Ma'am, we're out of Canadian Maple donuts.  Would you like to try the croissant with Zaatar?''  (Deep breaths, deep breaths ...)

Staff:  ''I'm sorry Ma'am, the coffee machine's not working.  Would you like some iced tea instead?''  (I think I might have to slash my wrists now.)

Staff:  ''Ma'am, do you want your iced cappuccino cold or warm?''  (There is NO SUCH THING as warm ice, people!)

I mean, just how Canadian do you expect your Canadian Maple donut to be if you take the maple away folks?

International Community, please take me seriously.  Tim Hortons is the java beast icon of Canada.  

It is the only supplement we need to get us through -50C winters and 8 feet tall snowbanks.  

It has sustained many a university student through final exams, mothers through their child-bearing and rearing years, and fathers through double shifts at the plant.  

It has helped heal international rifts, paving the way for peace negotiations.

It has helped economically disadvantaged children develop lifelong skills that help them bring a positive attitude and commitment to their lives and their futures. 

It cannot be treated as just another commodity.  Many would argue that Tim Horton's is the heartbeat of our Nation.

I beg of you - the next time you're at Tim Hortons in Doha, simply treat the shop with the simple reverence it commands.  Don't overcomplicate things or try to pull an ''elongated double java iced frappe latte with caramel sprinkles''-type manoeuvre on the hapless staff.

Simply walk up confidently to the cashier, order a large double-double and a box of Timbits, ask the cashier about her mom's health, take your tray, go sit next to a lonely patron, offer up some Timbits, and start up a conversation about the weather.  

And do NOT - EVER - again make mention of Costa Coffee, Starbucks, Krispy Kreme or Dunkin' Donuts while inside a Tim Horton's establishment.

It's that easy.

PS We even write songs about Timmies.  That's how seriously we take it.  Click on the link below for a glimpse into how the average Canadian feels about his/her   ''T-I-M     H-O-R-T-O-N-S'' (song by Johnny Reid).

Me ... aka that Hot B*%@h

Uhmmmmm, yeah.  

Yup.  

Okayyyyy.  

In another lifetime maybe.

What the lonely labourers on the bus see ...

I'm actually a 44-year-old wife and mother with an office job.  The hottest thing about me these days is probably the occasional inferno flashes that threaten me with spontaneous combustion at the most inopportune moments.  

Even my footwear has become decidedly un-hot, since I mostly wear sensible heels to work so I can take the stairs in an effort to counter my expanding @$$.  My grey roots are an inch long because I'm trying to time a dye job perfectly for a wedding in October.  

If I sit a certain way, my belly forms three rolls that vaguely resemble a burger between two buns.  Oh, and for the last four days, I've developed pitted oedema in my feet ... apparently no reason to be exceedingly alarmed according to the disinterested doctor I consulted yesterday, but enough to furrow those wrinkles on my brow just a tad deeper. 

And yet despite the granny flats, frizzy hair, constant air of bewilderment and exhaustion, ever-expanding posterior, Shrek feet and muffin top, I had a busload of labourers ogling me with unbridled lust as I got stuck behind them in traffic on the drive home from work.  

These are the moments when I realise how truly lonely their life must be here in the ME.  And while their sad plight leaves me disillusioned, I have no illusions that I'm the hottest thing to have crossed their path since Indonesian curry.

It's one of those things that's always irked me about Qatar: the inflated ego of many a woman in the desert.  An impression that they're suddenly irresistible to the other sex.  It's like a warped episode of Mudd's Women from the original Star Trek series ...

It's a scary sense of false flattery that's born of the shameless stares of a breed of desperate labourers thousands of miles from home.  Men sharing living quarters with thousands of other like men.  Men with no other distractions or real entertainment to speak of.  Men who often don't even have a TV to watch in the evenings.  Men exhausted from long hours of hard labour in exasperatingly hot conditions.  Men who sometimes go years without seeing their families/spouses back home.  Men whose noses have become so congested with the smell of their male roommates' sweat and stinky feet that they could smell a splash of Channel No. 5 from 20 miles away.  Men in a country where the ratio of men to women is 4:1.  Men in a country where approximately half of that female ratio is either veiled, under the age of 5 or over the age of 60.  

So those dudes whistled at me on the drive home yesterday?  No s&*t Sherlock!  They'd likely flirt with a rotting papaya fruit if you sprayed it with perfume and put a blond wig on it.

Then there are the other men who hit on me shamelessly.  Like the strange Turkish dude at Carrefour who shadowed me down the fruit and veg aisle one day.  At first I thought I must be mistaken.  He couldn't seriously be staring at my toes, sinfully bare and peeking out from under my floor length skirt?  But sure enough, when I turned back with turnip in hand he'd edged just a bit closer and was by then completely transfixed by my left foot.  I shooed him away with a cry of 'haram' and a threat to take his picture with my phone and report him to mall security.  A few days later, sharing the embarrassingly sordid tale with a good friend, she realised she'd been trailed by the same guy at another Carrefour across town.  I later learned he was a known freak with a specific MO and a preferred 'type'.   I've hesitated to wear open-toed shoes while grocery shopping ever since.  Blechhh!

The male fascination with me doesn't end there though.  Once in a while the 25-year-old guy working on commission at the cosmetics centre at The Mall will wink at me as he tries to spray me with Coach perfume, whispering seductively that all Dutch women love this scent because it's so 'sexy' (imagine not-so-subtle purring as you read the word 'sexy').  This really turns me off.  Number 1, I'm not Dutch.  Number 2, I'm actually just passing through on my way to MegaMart to buy spaghetti squash.  Sorry dude, wasted breath, no commission from this cantankerous Canuck ...

Should I even start on nightclubs?  Let's just say that if a group of women between the ages of 25 to 50 decides to go out for drinks and dancing in Doha, they're sure to get hit on at some point in the evening. That's because in Doha nightclubs the ratio of men to women is likely to catapult to 20:1.  And chances are half the men in the room are wearing beer goggles, have just returned from a 30-day stint offshore and haven't seen a woman in just as long.  The other half are the guys who work at the Coach counter at The Mall; they're just hoping to bag a few free drinks from a disillusioned middle-aged expat wife.  No amount of physical negligence will manage to make you unappealing to this crowd.  Un-manicured nails, forty lbs. overweight, zit on your chin, greasy hair, cankles, hairy legs, smelly pits, baby drool staining the front of your dress, a run in your stockings ... there is truly no effective deterrent. 

Finally, there's the gym.  After 8 years in the ME, I've come to the conclusion that there's a running betting game amongst gym rats as to how many desperate housewives each can entice.  Does the attention of unfettered muscles fool me into thinking I'm all that hot in my grey sweats, mismatched socks, 1980's sweat band and decades-old tattered Gold's Gym sweatshirt?  Uhmmmm.  NO.  

It's a strange, strange world we live in here in the ME.  The occasional reality check never hurts.  A trip abroad is a must if one hopes to remain even remotely connected to the real world.  I need only spend a single day in London or Montreal to realise that Mr. Mudd's Venus pills just don't work in other hemispheres ...

What I ACTUALLY look like ... on a good day :-)


Come Camp With Me

Well, this Canadian lover of all things weather got treated to a few majestic meteorological events these last few weeks!

First, a water spout on the northern coast of Qatar, in Ras Laffan.

 Water spout in Ras Laffan

Water spout in Ras Laffan

Then some thunderstorms that literally shook the city and paralyzed traffic. I didn't get pictures of the storm, but these were the remnants yesterday morning on the drive to school.

 Rare sight in Doha

Rare sight in Doha

This would of course be the rainy week Smilin' Vic would decide we're going to start camping!

 Not your everyday drive to school ...

Not your everyday drive to school ...

He's bought a second-hand tent of Saudi origin, apparently manufactured by the most renowned of Saudi Arabian tent manufacturers.

 The "TENT"

The "TENT"

He is smitten by this tent, insisting that we MUST take it out for a night of desert camping SOON.  He's told me that this amazing canvas abode is of military quality, no small praise from a former military man.

I'm a little wary of the whole desert camping thing.  The last time we attempted it was about five years ago.  We left Kiddo behind with friends.  Thank goodness, because it was a challenging adventure to say the least.

We'd gone along on a sand duning adventure with some friends, making it to the inland sea to catch a glimpse of Saudi before retiring for the afternoon/evening at an idyllic-looking camp site set up with a half-dozen Arabian tents, a metallic shed cum toilet/shower room, and a volleyball net erected above a sandy court.

A meal was spread out in the main air-conditioned tent, and we feasted on bbq'd meats and Mediterranean salads right there on the beach under the light of the moon and stars.

It was wonderful.  

Until the sun went down and I had to pee.  

As I got up from my lounge chair on the beach, I took in the beauty of the moon reflecting a million tiny lights across the stretch of sand.  The sight took my breath away, particularly when I realized that the beautiful little diamond-like reflections surrounding us were in fact small jelly fish.

As I cautiously lowered my foot from the lounger, a bevy of teeny tiny little mice scattered ... we'd never noticed them congregating under the warmth of our chairs to catch the little bits of Doritos that didn't quite make it past our lips.

I hopscotched my way to the toilet eventually, trying to avoid the food tent which was now teeming with mice desperate to claim every last morsel of the meal that had been prepared for us but never cleared away.  

I don't think I slept that night; every time I came close to drifting off, the back of my eyes would be filled with an image of me rolling off the chair and plopping onto a hoard of toxic jelly fish before being carted off by the army of mice intent on chewing every last speck of Dorito from my tangled hair.

The sun rose at about 5:00 the next morning.  As I lay there parched and hot, grumpy and sweaty, I raved drunkenly about the amazing bed and shower that awaited me back home.

All the tour guides had been through to take their shower by the time I made it to the aluminum port-a-bathroom.  The tin shed was by now akin to a sweat box, and I couldn't fathom taking a hot shower in that humid, putrid little space.

Smilin' Vic, ever the soldier, went in with his bar of soap and towel, sloshing into that little steam vat fully prepared to shower like a real man.  He turned on the tinkling shower head, and proceeded to sling his towel over the wire strung from one end of the tiny shed to the other.  It might have served him well to realize beforehand that it was the very same wire attached to the barely glowing light bulb hidden in the corner over the toilet.  But he realized it soon enough, and duly electrocuted, made a quick exit and declared it was time to head home.

That curbed our appetite for desert camping for a few years; I thought for ever.  But Smilin' Vic has different plans now, and is intent on organizing a truly serious camping adventure.

I'm already picturing the military approach that will be taken to this endeavor.  All I have to do is flash back to last weekend's beach trip.  Coolers packed, shelter in the back of the SUV, water jug ready, singing songs and halfway to the beach, Smilin' Vic asks if everyone is ok.  "Yes" reply Kiddo and I.  "Did everyone pee?"  he asks.  "Yes", we chime in.  "Poo?", he probes.  Kiddo and I are silent.  He says, I kid you not: "Well, I'm stopping at the next gas station, and whoever hasn't poo'd is going to go then."

Kiddo starts laughing in the back seat.  "We can't just POOOOO; I know you're joking Papa."

Smilin' Vic is unfortunately not joking.  "This is serious, if someone gets to the beach and has to go, there's nowhere to go.  And if you don't poo in this heat, you can get sick."

I roll my eyes.  "Seriously?  You ARE joking, right?"

Smilin' Vic is adamant.  "We used to have to do poo patrol out in the field. Guys would get sick.  They wouldn't go for weeks.  You wouldn't believe how ugly things can get when you've got a whole bunch of backed-up soldiers."

I am silent.  I adopt my dejected "no argument is going to best him" stance.  "Smilin' Vic, I know you find this hard to believe, but pooing on command is very uncivilian.  The general public just isn't brought up that way.  But, please, if it makes you feel better, stop at the next gas station and we'll do our best.  And we can pick up a chocolate bar while we're at it."

We never did stop at the gas station, ended up having a wonderful day at the beach, and I'm sure the camping will be just as fun.  Once poo patrol has been ascertained, throat swabs completed, and hydration check carried out.  

Oh, and provided the mice, jelly fish and water spouts remain at bay.

 

 Great day at the beach.

Great day at the beach.

Summer Makes Me SAD ...

SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is a common phenomenon in Northern New Brunswick (Canada) in the frigid winter months when the mercury drops down below 40C, when the sun rises after you've arrived at work and sets before you've returned home. 

You feel tired, lethargic, un-energetic, disinterested.  You can't sleep right.  You eat more, yet never feel satisfied.  Even if you lay in bed all night and on the couch all day, you never feel rested.  It's the cold, it's the lack of sun, it's being confined indoors, it's SAD.  Every Northerner is familiar with it ... rare is the Northerner who's not experienced it.  The winter days are frigid; -40C plus windchill makes for a difficult outdoor adventure, even for the heartiest of Canadians.  You stay indoors and you let the energy ebb from you.  You are SAD.

You tell yourself you wished you lived in a warm, sunny country where GLAD (Goofy, Loony Affective Disorder) is all anyone has ever known.  

You move to the Middle East, where every day is 12 hours long, all year long, and the one day of rain a year is celebrated.  You think that finally you've rid yourself of SAD.  You'll never be SAD again.  You'll be GLAD! 

And then you experience July and August in the Middle East.  Seven years straight.  And every August, you find yourself falling into this deep, dark pit of despair.  You find yourself exhausted.  It's hard to get out of bed.  You find yourself impatient.  You find yourself hungry, but you don't know what you want to eat.  You find yourself strange ... but you can't really find yourself at all.  You find you are SAD.

You tell yourself 40C isn't so bad.  It's the opposite of -40C.  It's got to be good.  No wind, no precipitation.  It's got to be good.   Yet you are SAD.

You look out your window and you see this: 

 This is what 92% humidity looks like folks...

This is what 92% humidity looks like folks...

You try to convince yourself the droplets on the window pane are akin to fresh dew.    You try to convince yourself that water is a sign of freshness.  You try to convince yourself that the droplets invigorate you.  And then you realize you can't convince yourself.  This is 42C and 92% humidity.  You can't go outside.  Once again, you are SAD.

Strange, isn't it?  That you could be SAD in the Land of Sand?  

What people don't realize is that you get very little sun exposure in the ME.  In the winter months, a foggy haze of dust filters the sun and makes vitamin D absorbency close to impossible.  In the summer months, it's simply too hot to get outdoors.  And so you sit indoors, occasionally venturing to your car, stepping out to get into the mall, but that's about it.   And your body cries and aches and begs to be let out of its air-conditioned prison.

And you finally decide you've had enough of being SAD.  It's cool enough to try running again.  The extreme July temperatures have dropped.  You want, you NEED, to get outside again.   

You get up at 4:30 one morning in mid-August with Smilin' Vic.  You both suit up.  T-shirt, sweat pants, runners all at the ready.  You head out for a 3.5 km run.  It sucks.  You get back home, exhausted, drenched, impatient.  You check the temp, and you see this: 

 Temp's not so bad ... but humidity's a killer ... 

Temp's not so bad ... but humidity's a killer ... 

And for a moment, you are incredibly proud.  You realize that you have pushed yourself hard; you have conquered the elements.  You've breathed in air.  Not 'fresh' air, but at least 'real' outdoor air.  Just for this morning, you won.  Humidity's a b!t$&, but you still feel great after your pitifully slow run.  You are a champion, and you are no longer SAD.

You take two vitamin D tablets, one vitamin B, two ginseng caplets, two Panadol (for the pained ol' bod), and swallow them all down with the watered-down juice of three limes.  And tell yourself you've still got it.  The spark of cellulite on your left thigh tells one story, but the ache in your right thigh tells another (or is that just the shortened piriformis muscle that has been pinching your sciatic nerve for the last four years?).

You step into a hot shower and tell yourself you'll do it all again tomorrow.  You feel so invigorated.  You slip on your smartest office trousers and you could swear they already feel looser, you already feel tighter, and all is right with the world. 

..... 

4:30 a.m. ....  the next day ....  You click on snooze.  The damned alarm keeps on ringing every three minutes.  You get up at 4:42.  Suit up.  Dare Smilin' Vic with your eyes to "say. one. single. word. at. this. f^$!N. God-forsaken. hour."  You check your watch.  It is literally "Zero past way too stupid to be up".

Go downstairs and have a coffee.  

Head out.  Do it all over again.  Once you're started running, it's really not so bad.  And the rest of the day is so much better once you've breathed in some funky Doha morning air.  You realize you want to do this every day.  It's hard, but it's good.

..... 

4:30 a.m. ... one day later ... You click on snooze.  It won't stop ringing.  Give up.  Get up. 

Go downstairs and have a coffee.  "Zero past dark stupid thirty."  

Go girl!

Start to notice it's getting easier.  Start to realize the hurdles you've overcome.  Start to see the humor in the effort that goes into running in Doha.  Decide to take pictures along the way... 

 

 This is the sign we first see as we leave the compound, and it warms our heart.  This city WANTS us to enjoy our run.

This is the sign we first see as we leave the compound, and it warms our heart.  This city WANTS us to enjoy our run.

Unfortunately, the lovely pedestrian protection sign is smack dab in the middle of the sidewalk.  Smilin' Vic cracked his head open on it.  

IMG_1618.jpg

It's ok.  We're feeling invigorated.  A little blood never scared a soldier, right? 

We head a little further ... "Oh, look, Smilin' Vic, they've laid out a hurdle for us about 100 m into our run ... just enough to make us jump and get the blood pumping.  How awesome!" 

IMG_1622.JPG

Smilin' Vic fumbles and trips.  It's not exhaustion.  We are barely 250 m into our run.  It's the sidewalk sinkhole.  "Ah, well, at least no broken bones or sprained ligaments this time around, eh?  All is well!"

IMG_1624.jpg

"Oh, look!  A signboard that dares to hit us smack in the face if we don't notice it first.  How cool!  What a novel idea.  Now that's how marketing geniuses get our attention!"   (A little to the left and we get taken out by a madman at the wheel, a little to the right and we sprain our ankle on the rocky surface ... but head on and we HAVE to read the billboard ... BRILLIANT!

IMG_1625.jpg

"Wow, they've stuck a lamp post smack dab in the middle of the sidewalk every 25 m.  Good for lighting, not so great for running..." 

IMG_1627.jpg

 "Brilliant guy, He who thought of planting this random desert shrub right in my running path.  Yup, I've got a few choice words for him if we ever cross ways ..."  But seriously, one could say its splendor does make up for the shattered ankle bone and torn Achille's heel ...

IMG_1628.jpg

At first I wasn't sure what this sign meant. 

IMG_1629.jpg

But I soon realized I needed to tag it to get the "SUPER BOOST" needed to jump over this huge concrete block placed strategically on the sidewalk.  Wow, was I impressed when I realized I could go over or around this 2 km into our first run ...

IMG_1630.jpg

And then over this bigger bush. 

IMG_1635.jpg

And finally over this gap in sidewalk ... 

IMG_1636.jpg

I can't help but think that "pedestrians are everyone's responsibility" kind of translates to "Every Pedestrian for Themselves!" in Doha ... 

Nonetheless, after four weeks of running (obstacle course), I'm not so SAD anymore ... I'm actually GLAD! 

Oh, and here was this morning's temp ...  

 Humidity's going down.  What a relief!

Humidity's going down.  What a relief!