Ma Salama (Good Bye)Doha!

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A little over four weeks ago I said goodbye to the sand box that is Doha, Qatar and headed back home to the USA.  I’ve had some reflection on my journey over the past 4 years and wanted to share 3 lessons I learned from my Doha experience.

#1 Nothing is ever what it seems.

Have you ever had one idea in your head, then started to brainstorm on it and have it expand so much that you hardly recognize the original idea? Or maybe you went to Walmart or Carre Four with the task of purchasing that “one thing” but some how you ended up with like 20 items in your cart. Yes! This completely describes my Doha experience over the last 4 years.   I came to Doha with one purpose in mind and ended up doing so much more than what I originally intended.  Yet, I can truly say that I am more aware, openminded and came out of it a stronger person.

#2 “Traveling is the Antidote to Ignorance” (Trevor Noah).

In Trevor Noah’s comedy special “Afraid of the Dark”, he says something that is very profound.  He states that “Traveling is the Antidote to Ignorance.” I don’t think Trevor means ignorance in a derogatory sense, but ignorance simply meaning the “lack of knowledge or information” about the world (www.dictionary.com).  This lack of knowledge is a key element that separates us as a society; even though in reality we all have so much in common no matter where we live or come from.

I would like to describe it as a deficit of the senses.  For instance, right now close your eyes and imagine a palate that has never tasted your favorite dish. Eyes that have never seen in color, but only in black and white.  Ears that have never heard the ocean waves or the laughter of a child. Can you imagine everything you would be missing?  Your senses would be dull, sealed in a plastic package and yearning to be unpacked and awakened.

If you are relying solely on the local/national news, documentaries and social media to educate you on what you know and understand to be true about various cultures, people, and just for overall awareness; then you just might have a sensory deficit in relation to the world, people, and countries that surround you.  From first hand experience, I would say that nothing (no news cast, documentary, book, photo, or online video) will ever beat the personal experience of setting your foot on foreign soil, tasting exquisite cuisines, or communing with our brethren from various cultures and countries.

So deny your senses no more. Get out and see the world!

#3 Nothings beats the good company of like minded people…but don’t forsake those with opposing views.

I say it all the time and I don’t mind beating this horse to Death!  This is how strongly I believe in this principle. I have yet to find anything that can beat the company of like minded people who are striving toward a similar purpose and goal. During my time in Doha, I cultivated life long friendships and relationships with people from various parts of the world.  Friends and associates who all came together to encourage and support one another. This was my Doha experience and it was a major contributor to my success  and growth while I was there.

What are the benefits of being surrounded by like minded people? When you are surrounded with people with similar goals and purpose, you will find that you fill in the gaps for one another.  Your circle will become one of a pseudo family, not of strife and competition; although you still challenge one another and have healthy debates.  This circle is resourceful and one of networking.  You can always count on the fact that someone in this circle has a resource that can help you with whatever it is your in need  and to push you towards success.

However, let me say this:  I also learned that while it is important to be surrounded by like minded people: It is also imperative to know that we can learn just as much from those with opposing views or different goals than our own.  Communing with people who have opposing views than our own provides us with balance, challenges our thinking and pushes us to think outside the box.  These are the types of interactions that can propel us towards growth and away from the status quo: So don’t shy away from a debate, or an opposing point of view.  Challenge your mind!

I hope you enjoyed this post and please feel free to share and comment.

Living, Loving and Conquering This Life One Day at a Time!

TKD

Seven Things I Like About Living in the Middle East

So often when I come back home to the US the number one question people ask is “how do you like living over there?” My response is always, “I really like it!”  Which I really do.  Like any place on earth, there will be pros and cons, but for the most part, I’m pretty content with my life here in the Middle East.  Reflecting on this has prompted me to write and share the things I like most about living in the Middle East.  Now, there are many more things I could add to this list, but these are just a few I thought I would share with you.  See my top seven reasons below.  Enjoy!

Not Having to Pump my own Gas

Here in the Doha, we do not pump our own gas…at all…ever…never!  We simply pull up to the gas station and wait in line.  All gas stations have attendants that will pump the gas for you.  Now, this can get tricky when I come home to the US, as sometimes I forget I’m not in the desert anymore. Needless to say, there have been several times that I’ve waited at the pump in the US for the little man to come and serve me…SMH.

 Working with Other Expats

Living in the Middle East where 80 % of the population are expats means that the majority of people I work with are from different countries.  I literally work with people from every continent.  As I learn more and more about my fellow expats and their languages, there is really never a dull moment when we get together.  Learning new slang words and differentiating an Australian accent from an Irish accent use to be so difficult when I first moved here.  Now, I rarely have to ask someone “where are you from? Or to repeat themselves or ask what does that mean.  I find that the more we spend time together, the more we begin to understand our unique languages and cultures.  I often find myself using those terms when I’m communicating with some of my colleagues.  For instance: Elevator=Lift, Vacation=Holiday, “is this your lot? = “are you paying for this?” and Cheers=goodbye.  Yes, the British influence in my life here in Qatar is represented well, LOL!

 Car Wash Attendants at the Mall

Ok, this maybe weird, but I believe the US should adopt this one.  Here in Doha, you can go to just about any mall, park your car and get an attendant to wash your car for 15 Riyals ($4USD).  Yep, just look for the man in the red and black jump suit who’s waving at you.  Don’t be alarmed, he’s just letting you know there’s an empty parking spot on his row; and while your shopping he’ll wash your car as well.  Yep, it’s just that easy.

Food

There is a variety of food here in the Middle East and I must say my palate has grown. One of my favorite things to eat would be lamb chops and shawarma.  To me, lamb chops here in the Middle East taste nothing like they do in the US.  The Middle Eastern seasoning are so good and the lamb has a milder taste.  Shawarma, I can best describe as shaved meat.  It could be lamb, beef, or chicken.  It literally rolls around on a rotisserie and they use a knife to shave it off.  The meat is moist and I love it with Basmati rice.  I’ve also grown to love Thai and Indian food as well.  From Chicken Tikka, Butter Chicken, Mutton, Curries with naan or roti and Biriyani.  I find that after almost 3 years of living here, I have craving for some of these dishes from time to time.

 Travel

The Middle East is the perfect spot to travel from to get to just about anywhere and I have a personal goal to visit each continent before I leave Qatar (I have 3 more to go before I reach this goal).  You can get to Europe, Asia and Africa within 6-8 hours from here.  Therefore, these places are closer and way cheaper for me to visit than if I flew from the US.  As expats, when we get bored, we travel, travel, travel.  Which brings me to my next favorite thing…. the religious holidays.

Religious Holidays

Ramadan and Eid Holidays are perks as well.  During Ramadan, we work 6 hours instead of 8.  Although it can be challenging, having to go into to work late and having shorter work days for 30 days is a plus.  We also have two Eid holidays in addition to Ramadan.  Many expats take their vacations during this time as the Eid holidays guarantee us at least a week off with pay from work.  Now, just to be clear, the purpose of these holidays is not solely to be off from work.  Being off with pay is just an added benefit.

Experiencing a New Culture

The last thing I would like to mention is that living in Qatar allows me the opportunity to experience different cultures here and in other countries close by.  I believe having the opportunity to experience a different way of life allows us to see the world from a different lens.  I can’t express how important this is especially in today’s world to be able to relate and connect with one another.  For instance, not everyone eats eggs and grits for breakfast.  Yes, I know what you’re thinking southerners, but it’s true.  Some people have never even heard of grits.   In some countries women get a year of paid maternity leave, in others, health care and college is free.  We are all living, but experiencing life in very different ways.  At the same time, we are very similar as well.  No matter where I go and who I meet, everyone is hustling for a better life.  Some are paying college tuition for their children, others are working on a college degree, maybe starting a business, or planning that next family vacation.  Most of us worship some type of higher power and seek strength from it during despair. Hey, no matter where I go, everybody’s momma is the best cook around, the single women want to be married, and the men want to provide the best for their families.  These are the common threads that bind us no matter what continent you live on, what color you are or whether your female or male.   I strongly believe that as a human race, we must realize that the world is so much bigger than our own neighborhoods, cities, states and country. I challenge you.  Leap over the barriers and enlighten yourselves.

MY TRIP TO INDIA (PART II)

Dhobi Ghat

While in Mumbai, I also had an opportunity to visit Dhobi Ghat, the world’s largest outdoor laundry. It was very intriguing to watch the men as they worked in this outdoor laundry. As I scanned over the railway platform, I could see men beside concrete wash pens full of water flogging wet clothes over stones; literally beating the dirt out of each piece of clothing by hand. It reminded me so much of the times when I was young and would watch my granny outside, scrubbing clothes clean in a round tin tub using a washing board. All items that were washed in this outdoor laundry were later hung or laid on the roof tops to dry. As I continued to scan across Dhobi Ghat, I could see school uniforms and everyday clothing swinging on the lines to dry. The white shirts, towels and sheets were scrubbed white as snow as if brand new and had never been used or worn before.

I believe the most intriguing thing about Dhobi Ghat is that they service the residential homes, hotels and hospitals of Mumbai. They can come to your home or place of business and pick up your dirty laundry and delivery it to you once its complete. I was told they never mix up an order as well, how remarkable is that? As more and more people in Mumbai are purchasing washing machines and choosing to do their laundry at home, these men have seen a decrease in their business. However, it hasn’t stopped their dedication and they take pride in offering this service to the people of Mumbai. It is a family owned business and the goal is to pass this art and business on to their children. I think that’s an admirable thing.

The Taj Mahal

The second part of my trip began with a flight to Delhi and a four-hour drive to see the long-awaited Taj Mahal. First, let me say that in living abroad, I spend a considerable amount of time in airports. I can truly say that the airport in Mumbai has some of the best artwork I have seen thus far (see pics below).   As I traveled through the airport I was so excited to see a Burger King and a Pizza Hut, but the excitement quickly faded when I realized that neither served beef. Yep, you heard me right…No Beef! As 67% of the people living in Mumbai are Hindu, beef is not an option that is readily available. Therefore, I opted for chicken Tikka and garlic naan instead and on my way back a Mutton burger.  After my lunch settled, I decided on a relaxing head and foot massage while I waited for my flight to Delhi to depart.

Once I landed in Delhi, Rahil arranged for a driver to pick me up from the airport who also drove me to my hotel in Agra. The drive to Agra was beautiful. It reminded me so much of my hometown in the US. As we drove, I could see fields for miles, just open country as we rode the highway, away from the hustle and bustle. As the sun began to set, so did my eyes and before I knew it, I woke up and had made it to my hotel. The next day, my driver purchased my tickets, gave me my shoe covers and I boarded a golf cart that brought me to the Taj Mahal.

To help preserve the site, only battery-operated vehicles can be within close proximity to the site of the Taj Mahal. Some people walk from their hotels, some take a horse ride, and others use the battery-operated shuttles or golf carts that went back and forth. As I entered the gate to the site I was so elated that I had finally made it and was filled with anticipation. However, nothing could prepare me for what I saw as I entered through the entry way and got my first glimpse of the Taj Mahal. I was in complete awe of the beauty of it. As I put on my shoe covers to begin to explore the inside of this masterpiece, I couldn’t help but think about how long it took to build this mausoleum (approximately 20 years) and about the hands that had created such beautiful work. By the way, it is rumored that some of the architects were killed or had their hands severed off so they could never duplicate it anything like it ever again.

After taking my pictures of the Taj Mahal and with a few people who I didn’t even know LOL (this happens when I travel abroad from time to time as a Black American) I shared a bench in front of the Taj Mahal for about an hour with a young lady who was a solo traveler (Anna). As I sat in front of the Taj Mahal, I took the time to truly reflect on my trip to India and the beauty of the art that sat in front of me.

What I appreciated most about my trip to India is this: A little brown girl from John’s Island, South Carolina turned what she saw on a page in a history book into her reality. I made it to India!

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“But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love them.” 1Corinthians 2:9

My Trip to India (Part I)

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Departing from Hamad International Airport

 

Recently I had an opportunity to visit India on a short holiday. I ‘ve always dreamed of seeing the Taj Mahal in person.  I can remember in school learning about the Taj Mahal and it’s architecture, wondering how deeply a man must truly love a woman to honor her in such way.  Needless to say I was very excited to see it and decided to save that part of my trip for the end. As you read my highlights from my trip to India below, let me tell you that India surprised me in many ways.  While I would recommend you visit India,  I would say 4 days was more than enough for me and satisfied my curiosity about the country.

Preparation

The preparation for my trip to India was very simple. I used a travel agency referred to me by a friend (“World of Bollywood Tours and Travel”) and the owner Rahil Kahn planned my trip to include booking my hotel accomadations and all of my internal flights. Next,  I quiered all my friends who had visited the country before on ways I could  prevent the infamous  “Dheli Belly.”  Now,  I will tell you that I have yet to meet many people who have visited India and did not get sick while there.  So, in knowing that I have the weakest digestive system ever, I started taking probiotics a week prior to my trip.  On the referrals from my friends, I packed medications for diarrhea and vomititing as well as insect pray, plenty of hand sanitizer and alohol based wipes. All packed, I was ready for my 3hr flight Mumbai.  Oh, I escaped the Dheli Belly Thank God!

 Mumbai

My trip to India began with Mumbai.   To say Mumbai is a busy city is an understatement.  Once I landed in Mumbai and began to navigate the city in my taxi, I was amazed at how much traffic there was. I am told that 25 million people live in Mumbai and out of that 25million, 5 million of them own cars.   Needless to say, I believe I met all 5 million of those people on the streets of Mumbai.  Taking in the sites on the way to my first hotel, I noticed instantly the streets of Mumbai was totally saturated with people and cars.   I would equate this to the 405 in LA, but I believe the traffic in Mumbai moves much faster than LA traffic; if you can imagine that.  The people of Mumabi are friendly and very sociable.  They work during the day, but I promise you they make up for it at night when the sun goes down.  Even after 12am I saw many people and little children walking about and enjoying the night life.

Dharavi Slums

The Dharavi Slums was definitley one of the highlights of my trip to India.  Yes…you heard me right lol, I said visiting the slums was one of the hightlights of this trip. This was a last minute addition to my itenary that was recommedned by a friend and I’m so glad I added Dharavi to this trip . The tour was 2 hours in total.  I was greeted by a young graduate student by the name of Oves who was my tour guide.  Oves began by laying out the do’s and dont’s for me. Where I could and could not take picutres, not to make faces at various smells (so I wouldn’t offend people) and most of all not to forget his name, LOL!

Pictured above: Oves and I at the entrance into the Dharavi Slums

At first sight the Dharavi slums looks like a trash dump site…and in actuality it is in a sense; but if you keep moving, you’ll see something much deeper than that. I say a dump site because most of the cities trash is brought to the Dharavi slums.   In the Dharavi slums alone it is estimated that at least 1 billion USD is generated every year. 1 billion you say…How?  Through recylcing.  The Dharavi slums is an industrial work hourse.  Just about everything and I mean “everything” is recyled there.  Plastic, paint cans, car bumpers, alluminum, leather….in the words of Shirley Ceasar, “you name it.”  I had the privilige to walk through the slums and see the men and women at work recyling all of the above.  I also was able to see men preparing leather to make purses and wallets, making suitcases, and sewing various garments. I even bought a couple of leather bags that were made in the Dharvi slums.

Pictured above:  Leather bag made in the slums, View of the Dharavi slums, washing of plastic pieces, recycling of leather pieces, melting pit for aluminum and aluminum molds.

For about 1 million people, the Dharavi slums is home. Honestly, after my tour,  I was both amazed and ashamed.  Why? because I  had let the images of “Slum Dog Millionaire” and the media define the slums for me as poverty, uneducated, poor and a place of suffering.  However, looks can truly be deceiving.  The Dharavi slums is a community, its a home.  No, its not my neighborhood and it maybe not be yours, but it is theirs, and it is something the people should be proud of.   The people of the Dharavi slums are not begging for money and they don’t considered themselves to be suffering . Their hard workers who work and earn paychecks like the rest of us.  As you navigate  through the slums it feels like an industrial plant: one person cuts the plastics, another separates it by color, another then washes it and another person puts it out to dry.  As you move toward the residential side, it feels more like a community.  The streets are filled with men, women and children just like any other community.  You can see the familiar routine of the husbands at work, the children at school and the wives tending to their homes.  There are markets, movie houses, temples of worship and schools for the children, all there in their community.

If you still dont believe anything good can come out of the slums, then take Oves as an example.  Oves is a graduate student working on his masters and works to pay for school. He is a very smart and intelligent youngn man.  Sounds much like an average person right?  Well Oves was born, raised and currently lives in the slums. This reminds me of Nathanael’s question in John 1:46…”Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” I say Absolutely!

More pics from India: Victorious Terminus railway station (3 million people use this per day), Gateway of India, Haji Ali Dargah (Mosque on the water), Antilia (most expensive house in the world), Rajabai Clock Tower (Big Ben), In front of the Taj Hotel with my friend and guide, Rahil.

If you enjoyed this post, stay tune for part II of my trip to India where I will share the highlights from my visit to Agra to see the Taj Mahal and the outdoor Laundry Mat in Mumbai.

 

My Year in Doha, Qatar

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Me during Ramadan in an Abaya

What led me to go to Doha?

Have you ever heard the saying… “Be careful what you ask for?” Well, I like to believe my journey to Doha started years ago when I applied to Graduate School. As part of the application process, it was required that I submit an essay detailing my plans once I obtained my Advanced Degree. In that essay, I talked about my desire to practice Women’s Health throughout the world. I further described my yearn to educate and bring healing to women in other countries besides my own.  At that time, this was a dream of mine and it felt at least a hemisphere away.  I didn’t realize at the time that I was “writing the vision” and “making it plain” upon paper or that I would run with it (Habakkuk 2:2, KJV).  Flash forward to a couples of years later, the love of my life (whom spent 4 years in the Middle East himself) said 9 words to me: “Have you thought about working in the Middle East?” A seed was planted and to make a long story short, I conducted some research and applied for several nursing jobs in the Middle East. A little more than a year later, here I am in Doha!

What I learned from my year in Doha

From my experience in Doha, I’ve learned many things.  For instance, I’ve realized that small ambers really do become big fires.  Throughout my life, I’ve traveled and lived in many places within the US. Honestly, I didn’t think I would go any farther than California. Now that I’ve lived in the Middle East, I can tell you that traveling or going on vacation means something entirely different to me. I will no longer restrict my travels to the Caribbean or states within the US.  I’ve also learned that we should never rely on the television or news channels as a true representation of what the Middle East is like.  What we see on TV is so limiting. The Middle East is a place that I actually enjoy (besides the extreme heat).  It’s a slower pace of life and for the most part, I do feel like I’m on a very long vacation. When I sit back I think about how it all came together…. How I had a dream/desire; How I put that dream on paper, and how my love planted that seed that would eventually embolden me to move towards those dreams/desires, it seems as if that was all that God required to make my dreams come true even when I thought it to be impossible.

What I learned from my year in Doha is to dream…. and to dream BIG!