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When you’ve been an expat for a while in the same country, the glamour and newness begins to wear off. I’ll admit, I’ve gotten quite comfortable in my routine just sitting at home, cuddled up, watching Kodi or Netflix. Once my personal training sessions ended I GOT LAZY! So I began looking for some fun and active things to do here, at least until I re-open my gym membership. You may be quite surprised by what this little country has to offer.

It started out with Paintball. It only lasted an hour as I purchased the voucher from Qgrabs for a one hour session but we had a good time. Our party of 6 got a little beat up and for 3 of them it was their first time. Jennifer was not ready for the pain that comes with getting hit with a paintball. The course is in Sealine and if you’ve ever been to paintball before, you will automatically think as I did, “Is this really the course?”. They should get a little more creative with the course. Nevertheless we made the most of it.

The Paintball course

A couple of weekends later, we rode out to Sealine again, but this time to ride ATV’s over and through the sand dunes. It’s different than riding through the mountains and mud in the Pocono’s like Darryl and I are used to. Instead of getting dirty in mud, you get covered in sand. I recommend riding the bikes with 4W drive (350+ riyals) because they can handle the dunes. The smaller bikes will get you stuck in the sand (250- riyals).

If you want to save the world by killing off Zombies or Robots, head over to Zero Latency. It is a multiplayer virtual reality game. It’s located in the Tawar Mall, inside Bounce. For 35 minutes, minus the 15 minute introduction, and 70 riyals = $20 you can do just that. For more money you can play more games for longer periods of time.

You and a few friends will battle together. You step into this empty, dark room, that is until you gear up with your heavy artillery back pack, gun, ear phones and virtual glasses. Then the room is transformed into a virtual world that looks real. My back was hurting afterwards because well I’m old and I have a bad back and that backpack is heavy, but it was loads of fun. I killed 71 zombies, all in a days work but they also killed me and I came in last for kills. I’ve never been that good at video games anyway.

Something I am good at is real shooting. You can even do this in Qatar. Well you can’t actually buy a gun and go bust some rounds off, like in America, at least I don’t think you can. But you can do some clay pigeon shooting at the Lusail shooting range. It’s located very close to the Lusail Circuit, along Al Khor road and about 10-15 minutes pass Festival City and Ikea. It’s open Sat-Wed, 4-8pm. You get 25 shots for 100 riyals almost $1 per shot. (You can shoot shot guns if you are a member)

My accuracy was 20%. That’s pretty good for someone who has only done clay shooting one other time. I’m so much better with a real gun.

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When I first moved to Qatar, I used to marvel at the architecture. No two buildings looked the same, which was very different than the ones in Philadelphia. But there was one building in particular that I thought was so ugly. It was being designed in the likeness of a desert rose on the Corniche.

Rose-like formations of crystal clusters including sand grains are called desert roses. Desert roses only grow in arid temperatures and are native to East Africa and Arabia.

Well several years later the building is complete and its’ official name is the National Museum of Qatar. Now that I’ve had the opportunity to visit it, I have to eat my words. (What do I know about architecture anyway) The place is beautiful, inside and out and it was built around the restored Palace of Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani!

If you are a resident of Qatar, the admission is free. For everyone else, admission is quite reasonable at 50 Riyals= $13.00. Parking is also free of charge and you can get a ride on a golf cart from the parking lot to the main entrance and back. You can wear what you want (but please have some respect for the culture, take a scarf along with you). You can take pictures too without flash.

Before or after going into the Museum, I suggest walking around and checking out the grounds. Along the exterior, are 114 individual sculptures of black, Arabic Calligraphy that make up a fountain set within the museums lagoon. In the Museums courtyard is a sculpture of hands holding up the Qatari flag.

The Museum tells the story of Qatar, its’ people and its’ history. The museum tour begins with this…

A silver burka structure

I am curious to find out why this was the first of the exhibits to see but as it was pretty crowded when we went, I didn’t get a chance to read the signage. (If anyone can provide some insight, I would greatly appreciate it)

Once inside, you walk in a circle through three chapters: Chapter One-geology, archaeology and natural environment of Qatar, Chapter Two-history of life, Chapter 3-how Qatar became the nation it is today. There are many artifacts, videos and photos. It is also interactive and would be a great place to take WELL-BEHAVED CHILDREN! Children and students can learn about habitats, inventions and tradition here. I was amazed at the amount of history I learned there and the jewelry.

At several points through out the walk through, I got a little dizzy. There are points where the floor dips and the entire museum uses the structure of disc to showcase history. At several points I also got a little upset at the blatant disregard for museum etiquette, examples: children climbing on displays and picking up things while parents pretended not to see them, or allowing it to happen repeatedly, people touching things that clearly have pictures of hands with an x through it. However, there are workers in the museum to keep order and alarms that go off if you get to close to certain displays.

There are small eateries in and around the museum and two gift shops. One of the gift shops is just for kids, which brought a smile to the face of this teacher on spring break. I did not go near that one. But in the other gift shop I was able to purchase this…

My very own desert rose replica, made in Qatar!

Once your tour concludes, you will be in the courtyard where the restored Palace is located and where you can take great pictures like these..

To sum it up, I enjoyed the museum more than any others in Qatar. Visiting the Zubarah fort is a good complement to this museum as well. You will learn a lot here. Take some time to read some of the signs. I used to think the structure was awful, but now I think it’s absolutely beautiful. Well Done!

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I was invited to an Indian Henna party by a coworker and friend, Omaimah. Her brother was getting married so Jennifer and I attended the brides party. I felt much more comfortable attending this wedding-one because I had recently attended a Qatari Henna party, two I had the inside scoop being a friend of the grooms sister.

I regretted not purchasing the Saree, I’d tried on in Sri Lanka, because it would have been perfect to wear to this wedding. At the time, I didn’t think I’d ever have anywhere to wear it, but this is one of the unexpected things that happen when living abroad, you get opportunities to experience other cultures.

Here I am in Sri Lanka wearing a traditional Saree

Since I didn’t have anything Indian to wear, I got something made. This is a Lehenga Choli and Dupatta. Although blue is my favorite color, I fell in love with this hot pink and gold material. Jennifer wore blue. How do we look?

Only women were allowed at this party as this is the Muslim way. Jennifer and I was pulled up to the dance floor as soon as we entered. I couldn’t do the traditional dances but they didn’t care; they told me it was all in the feet. I noticed it was also in the hands. We thought it a little strange that several women also asked to take our pictures. I’m used to being stared at when I wear my baldness, but taking pictures not so much. Jennifer and I both decided that this is what it is probably like in China, when you are the only tall blonde, white women at a party, and the only black bald woman at a party. We weren’t offended; we just smiled and kept dancing. I actually felt quite comfortable. Being asked to be photographed amongst a room full of hair and beautiful women, made me feel special. I’m glad I decided to go as my beautiful, fun, bald self. The strangest part was phones were supposed to be collected at the door, but no-one seemed to mind the many phones and pictures being taken, so I whipped mine out too.

These women had dance routines and everything

I thought I was in a Bollywood film. That’s the bride by the way in the green and pink.

Watching these women dance was the highlight of the night. These women sure know how to cut a rug. I tried to be respectful of the ‘no phones’ policy and only film in short clips but I wish I could have captured more. The bride’s family even battled the groom’s family in a dance off. Everyone was so nice and friendly.

We ate and even got henna tattoos.

The groom and company arrived later and did some dancing too.

Thank you Omaimah for the invitation. I had a fun and lovely time. All the best to the bride and groom!

Omaimah looked absolutely beautiful!

The major differences, I’ve noticed in American weddings and Desi and Qatari weddings are these: the exchanging of gifts, separation of sexes and the separation of the ceremonies and receptions. In both the Desi and Qatari wedding, the guest received gifts, male and female celebrated separately and the actual wedding did not occur on the same day as the party. The major similarity is this: Life is about being happy and love brings us all together!

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For many expats in Qatar, the Qataris are a mystery. They tend to stay to themselves, identities covered and hidden and with that comes perceptions of who they are and what they are like. Most relationships with them are business, so of course I said “YES” when I was invited to a Henna Party/wedding event by a Qatari business associate. I was super excited to receive my invitation to get a glimpse into their world. One of the reasons I left the U.S. was to engross myself in other cultures and this presented a great opportunity.

The person that invited me also invited me to her parents house to pick out a Jalabiya, after I asked for suggestions about where to purchase one. A Jalabiya is an Arab garment, sometimes worn under an abaya and the fancy ones are worn to celebratory occasions like a wedding. Her mother was very welcoming and brought out many Jalabiyas for me and my friend to try on and choose from. She even gave us jewelry to wear with the outfits. Before we left the house, we enjoyed sweets, tea and coffee. They were very hospitable to us.

  • An example of an Indian Saree
  • An example of a Jalabiya

There were a few things I understood about a Qatari wedding prior to attending. It is different than a traditional American wedding as the bride and groom have two separate events. The groom usually celebrates in a tent in the sand (traditional) and the women celebrate in a hall. Also guest do not bring gifts to the wedding. It is similar to an American wedding as there is lots of music and food.

This wedding was at the Ritz Carlton and our phones (cameras) were confiscated before we went in. Taking pictures is not allowed at these ceremonies and we planned to respect the culture to the fullest as guest. Of course, there were several people who chose to ignore this rule. The ceremonies were to start at 7:30, Britney and I arrived around 8:00. Most people did not start showing up until around 8:30. We chose a table not in the front but not in the back either. Seats were not assigned. At every seating there was a gift of oud and a Arabian Mubakhar to burn it on. Oud comes from the wood of the tropical agar tree and the wood chips are burned as an incense. Oud can also be used as an oil and a perfume.

The women were dressed to the nines. Most women attendees wore some form of Arabic traditional garments, some Indian, some Moroccan, all beautiful. (I really wished I had purchased that Indian Saree from Sri Lanka. I would have fitted right in) The rainbow was definitely represented this night, because there were many colors worn. Makeup was flawless and Britney and I felt a little out of place because we didn’t have a professional makeup artist beat our faces before coming. For once there were no shaylas and I was able to see the faces that are usually covered and hidden. I was able to watch them let their hair down. On this night, they were just women having a good time and it was a reminder that we are all human regardless of race, religion, culture or socio-economical status.

There was a live female singer, whose voice sang Arabic songs the whole night. Arabic music never sounded so good to me. The music was loud but I enjoyed it. Women took the stage in the middle of the hall and danced to the music, while others went up to them and threw money at them and over them. They was making it rain up in there. The money was collected and I was told the money goes to charity. I’ve never seen that at an American wedding. Since I’m never getting married again, because that would mean a divorce from Darryl, then the next wedding I help plan will include this Arabic tradition. They dance different than Americans. It was just like subtle limb swinging and hips swaying, very sexy. I also heard that it is at these weddings that mothers and grandmothers look for potential wives for their single sons. I would assume that several of the women that chose to dance are looking to be seen as well. There was no tossing of a bouquet, there was this instead.

Food kept appearing at our table, most of it Britney (vegetarian) and I (vegan) could not enjoy but we did have some tabouleh, hummus, olives, vegetable rice and some sweets. Gifts also kept arriving at our tables. Makeup mirrors and chapstick rolled in tulle, mascara and nail polish on a silver tray. We went empty handed but left with a bag of feminine goodies.

Leaving the wedding with my bag of goodies
Gifts for the Guest

When the bride arrived, she didn’t wear a white gown, she wore an Arabic garment and a long veil. She was beautiful. She walked to the stage, then back to front and stood for a long time as the photographer and videographer took many shots. I don’t know if I could have stood still for that long time in those heals. Family members eventually made their way to the stage to congratulate her.

Britney and I left around 11:30 and the party was still going strong. I don’t know if the groom arrived to the ceremonies later as we had left but I had read online that this is what happens. The groom and his party arrive towards the end of the wedding, women cover back up as the men arrive and then the men leave again and the groom retrieves his wife.

Britney and I didn’t talk to anyone besides the family that we knew, probably because we don’t understand the language and probably because we are outsiders but we never felt uncomfortable. We thought we were going to get henna tattoos because it was a henna party but I guess it wasn’t that type of henna party. Nevertheless we really enjoyed this experience and can’t wait to get another invite.

Update: I got invited to another wedding, but this one is an Indian Arabic wedding and from what I’ve been told they sure know how to turn it up and at this henna party, you get your tatts.

Until next time…

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On Monday, I drank a cup of coffee with no sugar and guess what I survived. I’ve also just completed my 2nd 4 day streak of no sugar and it’s getting easier. At first, I didn’t think I felt any different, but last night I went out to dinner and enjoyed a full plate of pasta (which I never do) and topped it off with a Krispy Kreme donut and as soon as I got home I felt extremely lethargic. Carbs turned into sugar and took over my body and my body was not used to that.

This has been my year (school year) of self-care, regular spa and nail appointments, exercising, relaxing, detoxing, healthy eating. Since I’ve been hearing so much buzz around sugar intake and how it affects our bodies, I decided to give it a rest. My vegan diet is already very limited but I’m always trying to find ways to be better and healthier. This seemed like a natural progression.

I started on a Sunday, since my husband does the food shopping on Saturday. But then on Monday, I received a care package from my sister from home. It included all kinds of goodies and sugar, butterscotch krimpets, peanut chews, sour patch candies, starburst, etc… and Cinnabon opened up here in Qatar. I mean could this be any harder?

I went cold turkey Sunday morning-Thursday afternoon. I didn’t even eat fruit. The menu consisted mainly of vegetables and soups, snacks were raw vegetables, air popped corn with nutritional yeast and activated nuts. I’m not going to lie, it wasn’t easy.

Over the weekend I did eat a few sweets, a couple of mini peanut chews. But during the week, I was completely sugar free. By the end of the second week, the desire for sweets decreased tremendously. I didn’t feel like a drug addict denying myself as I did in week 1.

During this short time, I have learned several things. 1. I had a slight addiction to sugar. 2. There is a lot of sugar in products that you wouldn’t believe and I will check content labels for carbs and sugar more closely. 3. You can enjoy things without sugar. I actually got used to drinking tea without sugar. I think I’ll stick with it. 4. You can have energy without sugar. I never felt tired while staying away from sugar. In fact, I think I had more energy. 5. Sugar-less items cost more -surprise! Why does eating healthy cost more than the alternate when there is less ingredients?

I don’t plan to give up sugar altogether but I do plan to be more conscientious of my sugar intake. I’ve read that natural sugar is actually healthy, like the sugar found in berries and melons. I’ll try staying away from sugar during the work week and enjoy a treat or two over the weekend.

There is a lot of information out there about how enjoying a diet with reduced sugar leads to many health benefits and I believe them. Craving sugar the way I did the first week, was not a good sign. Going two weeks without it gave me a lot of insight. I don’t need as much sugar as I was consuming. Someone once told me, “my body is a temple, if I take care of it, it will take care of me.” Listen to your body, it’s the only one you get!

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(If you haven’t read part 1, you can access it by clicking here)

Before I traveled to Sri Lanka, I spoke to several people who had been prior, read blogs and researched websites to find out all I could. I went with a wealth of information and still was unprepared. I hope my thoughts, tips and suggestions will help someone going to visit after me.

Quick Facts

Sri Lanka is an island located South-East of India. Below is a picture of its’ location on a map. It is relatively cheap and easy to get to from the Middle East, just a short 5 1/2 flight from Qatar. It is a Buddhist country, but is home to many cultures, ethnicities and languages. It is famous for its production of cinnamon, rubber and tea. It is a developing country.

Once you arrive

You must obtain a visa to visit Sri Lanka. If you are not from a SAARC country, the fee to obtain a visa prior to arrival is $35 USD. You can apply here. You can also obtain a visa on arrival. Before going to the Immigration window and standing in that long line for nothing (like I did), look for a small window that says visa, go there. Show your passport and pay $40 or 15800 Sri Lankan Rupees (SLR) That’s what they charged us even though online it says $35 for a tourist visa. Note that you are required to pay in USD. The following countries and categories are exempt from the visa requirement:

The Republic of Singapore.
The Republic of Maldives.
The Republic of Seychelles
Crew members of flight / ship
Children under 12 years of age

After you get your visa and proceed through immigration (the agents are not very nice btw, sort of like the government workers in the USA), it’s probably a good idea to purchase a sim card. They are pretty reasonably priced in the airport and they will set it up for you. Mine worked very well, the entire time I was in Sri Lanka and I had great wifi.

Money

Rupees

The Sri Lankan Rupee (LKR) is its’ official currency. One LKR is approximately 0.005 USD and 0.020 QR. USD can go very far there. Some places accept USD but many do not. We exchanged some QR for LKR before we went but found out very fast how very fast the money goes. To help you better understand let’s go back to the visa price above. In LKR, one visa was 15800. (In the picture above, my husband is holding 10300 LKR) Now double that for two visas, and that’s quite a lot of money to carry around and that is just for one transaction. You would have to carry around quite a lot of paper if you intend on using cash for everything. Of course, you could use credit/debit cards. We used our debit card quite a lot at the ATM and accumulated too many withdrawal fees. Every time we took money out, we were charged between 200-400 LKR or $4-$8 USD. This is a pretty big chunk and remember you can only withdrawal so much each time.

Suggestions

  • Pay for what you can in advance, before even going, eg… hotels, drivers, excursions. This way you decrease the amount of cash you have to carry.
  • Find a bank/ATM that you can withdraw large portions of LKR with a minimal ATM fee. Halfway through our vacation we found Hatton bank that allowed us to withdraw double the amount that Commercial bank did and with half the ATM fees.
  • Use credit/debit card rather than cash in as many places as possible but check your bank for international transaction fees first.
  • Carry USD to use when possible and to exchange while there because you will get more bang for your buck.

Getting Around

Sri Lanka traffic

I DO NOT recommend driving in Sri Lanka. It’s crazy. I think I only saw 3 traffic lights in the entire 9 days that we were there and we moved around quite a lot. A few times I thought, ‘this is it’, because we were almost run off the road. They also drive on the opposite side of the street of Qatar and the U.S. One day we were in Ella, Ella is very mountainous, and it rained so hard, we had to dodge mudslides.

We had a driver. His name is Rifaan. Here is his contact information: Coconuttaxitours.com, instagram: coconut_taxi_tours, #+94716285486. He was an excellent driver. He stuck with us for the entire trip, offering suggestions of places to go, where to eat and translating . He even invited us to his home to meet his family whom cooked us a wonderful Sri Lankan dinner. He booked all of our rooms, which is better as natives get better rates, and made purchases for us. I felt completely safe with him. Call him for anything Sri Lanka related. Thank me later.

Rifaan and my husband

Sites Considerations

There is many things to see and do in Sri Lanka and several things to consider. When packing keep in mind that you must be modest when entering Temples. You can not wear a head covering of any type and your shoulders and knees should be covered. When visiting mosques, your head must be covered as well as your knees and shoulders. Long comfortable pants and a scarf should be your staple. In most places, people remove their shoes.

You will have to pay a fee when visiting most sites, the prices ranged from 600 to 5500 LKR. The fees for locals are way less. The Fee to climb Lion Rock is $30. The fee to climb Piturangala was only $3. That is one of the reasons we chose to climb Piturangala instead. Both offer great views but I can only speak about the climb to Piturangala. (You can read about it by clicking here) Maybe one day I’ll go back and climb the other and make comparisons. Better yet, if you’ve climbed both or either, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave them in the comments area.

If you’re planning a trip to Sri Lanka and climbing one of the famous sites, be sure to pack hiking boots or good old sneakers. If you plan on hiking in the early or late hours to catch a sunrise or sunset, take a flash light with you. The paths were generally dark even though there were lightbulbs, none were on and we couldn’t see our way. Thank God for cell phones. Take some extra water too. I love to watch new days begin and end, so I like to hike during those times. It has been my experience that hiking before sunset is usually less crowded.

  • Dark and the climb gets harder as you get closer to the top
  • Top of the world

If you plan to see the 9 Arch Bridge try to time your visit when the train comes. Then stay after the train passes, when most tourist start to leave. After the train passed, I left and then halfway away from the Bridge, I noticed that most people had left as well and I could have taken better pictures had I waited them out.

Everyone is waiting to get a picture of 9 Arch Bridge with the train And when the train left, so did the crowd

The train ride to Ella is a must do. From what I’ve heard, it is very difficult to get tickets, easier if you know a local that can get them for you off the black market. We were in 3rd class and we lucked up because you can sit at tables with windows in 3rd class or choose to hang out the door but you’ll still have a seat. Second class was over crowded and we met a family who was in 2nd class that had to stand for 4 hours. I can’t speak for first class. Third class also comes with friends, roaches. Right after we ate our food, they started appearing everywhere. It grossed me out, thank goodness we didn’t have far to go and our driver had our luggage in his car. Other than the roaches, it was a very delightful ride.

Hanging out the door on the train Beautiful scenery on the train ride Yup that’s roaches on the train
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The beat part of Sri Lanka is its’ natural beauty, which is why we chose to spend our Christmas break there. While Qatar is improving in its’ outward appearance, most of it is man-made and the rest is just flat and beige. We were literally starved for some palm trees on the beach, green country side and mountains and Sri Lanka delivered. I didn’t know if I’d ever return because it was never high on my ‘to visit list’ so I wanted to see as much of it as possible in 9 days.

Here is the area we covered.

We hired a driver, (click here for the contact information of our driver), whom met us at the airport in Colombo and drove us to Negombo, where we stayed at a Homestay for the first night. Gangarama temple was the first temple of many that we visited. It was actually a museum filled with buddhist statues and cultural items.

Then we drove through the craziness of Second Cross street to get a good picture of the Peppermint Mosque or Jami Ul-AlFar (the proper name).

driving on Second Cross Street What a beautiful Mosque, in the middle of the city

We tried out some Sri Lankan dishes at Tusker Restaurant: Prawn Curry, Dahl, Snake Gourd and purchased some Arrac for our room. Arrac is a distilled alcoholic drink made from coconut flowers. It’s strong and tasty mixed in a cocktail.

Arrac and passionfruit drink and some Sri Lankan dishes

We had some street food on our way to Sigiriya for breakfast, stuffed aloo paratha. It was spicy and the best street food we had the entire time in Sri Lanka. Our driver also got us hooked on small, red, peel bananas and king coconut. We had a King Coconut almost every day.

  • Stuffed Aloo Paratha
  • Red Peel Banana
enjoying a king coconut on the side of the road

We stopped by the Golden Temple of Dambulla- a UNESCO World Heritage Site and climbed the stairs. We regretted not having enough rupees to enter the caves but we enjoyed the view, the crazy monkeys and more street food.

Golden Temple Entrance to the Cave A monk and monkeys on the stairs to the cave The view from the top Another view from the top
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It feels like this school year should be further along than what it actually is.  Between all the packing and unpacking and repacking and re-unpacking and moving to a new school building and shifting classrooms and constant changes this school year feels infinite.  Thank God, winter break is just two weeks away.  But outside of work, it seems the flashy newness of my host country is wearing off and after two and a half years I’ve settled in.  So now what… Well I’ve started checking things off of my ‘Things to Do Before I leave Qatar’ list.  This doesn’t mean that I’m leaving tomorrow, because I have signed on for another year, but next year may be my last for several reasons unless there is a major change in my position, because a change is overdue. 

For our anniversary this year, Darryl and I stayed at the famous Torch hotel and had dinner at Restaurant 360.  It rotates so you get a full view of Doha.  The hotel is very nice.  The rooms are all powered through the Ipad and you can set the mood in the room by changing the color of the lights.  The food at the restaurant was delicious but the service was slow.  However the view was great.  

For his birthday, I took him to Nobu- a well recognized Japanese restaurant.  Although the lightening of the interior is a bit darker than my taste, the food is amazing.  I could not resist the Black Cod Yuzu Miso dish, so my fake veganism re-appeared. 

Last week we went to see Creed II in the Seven Star Novo Theatre in Souq Wakif.  It is very similar to a First Class Flight on Qatar Airways with reclining leather seats and partner pods.  You even get a blanket and satin covered pillow.  We received a welcome non alcoholic drink upon arrival and ordered some food that was bought to our seats.  Had I known, this movie theatre was so luxurious, I would have dressed better. Oh the movie wasn’t half bad either.  

A few days ago, my girlfriends and I made a visit to the beach that is literally down the street from my house.  We had a small picnic and some girl talk.  It was the first time I actually sat on this beach and I’ve been in my flat for 6months.  There was a nice amount of people there enjoying the cool weather and I decided that I’d frequent Al Wakra beach more often.  Besides, I always wanted to live near the beach. 

Over the weekend, Darryl and I along with another couple (Britney and Quahn) went Kayaking in the Mangroves of Al Khor.  I didn’t know kayaking was so much work.  But it was nice to be out on the water, and for a little while, I felt like I was on vacation. 

I don’t know how much longer I will be in Qatar; I’m thinking 1-2 additional years Max depending on the situation.  But before I leave there are still a few more things on my list that I plan to do before I go because once I leave here, I don’t plan on returning.  In the meantime, I’m off to see another part of the world.  Nine Days in Sri Lanka, coming right up.  Stay Tuned…

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When you think of Thailand, you probably think of Bangkok, partying, Lady-Boys, prostitution, eating Thai food, The Hangover or maybe you think of the many islands around it, beaches and James Bond.  Well I just returned from my trip to Thailand but not for any of those reasons.  I went because this year is about Self-Care.  My girlfriend Jennifer saw an advertisement on Facebook for a wellness retreat BOGO deal, that means buy 1 get 1 free and we hopped on it.  We made our reservations without hesitation and paid half.  So for our Fall break, we flew to Phuket, Thailand.

We left on a Thursday night on a straight flight and 7 hours later we arrived on Friday morning.  Phuket is 4 hours ahead of Qatar.  We were met by our taxi driver sent from our resort- The Life Co Phuket Well-Being (you can see my review of the resort on viator titled: ).  By the time we arrived I was really hungry because I slept through the second meal time on the flight.  They couldn’t give us any food because we had not yet chosen our meal plan so they gave us an Energy juice instead.  We received a tour of the grounds and an overview.  Our body compositions were taken and we were taken to our room.  We had a pretty view of the lake from our balcony and a nice rain shower head.  We chose the daily green salad detox for the first two days of our stay so at noon and 6pm we were served large salads.  In between those meals we received detox juices, supplements, alkaline water and all the soup (broth) we wanted.  According to my body composition, I weighed 63.9 kg on arrival day.

Pretty but hard  my relax spot on the balcony overlooking the lake The beautiful lake daily schedule of events eating area  Yoga Studio Healthy Green salad twice a day

Day 2 began with Yoga with Wa, then we met with the resort Doctor who went over our body composition results with us.  He offered to conduct all of these test on me for a fee, of course, for which I declined.  Afterwards, we had our complimentary 60 minute massage, and it was divine.  Following the massage, we used the Turbo Sonic machine- a vibrating machine that supposedly stimulates every cell in your body, before having an angel wash- a fancy name for a enema on a fancy machine.

Yoga with WA

I haven’t had an enema since I was a child and I just remember it not being very pleasant.  My mom used to tell me to lie on the bathroom floor on a towel and she would stick this tube in my rear end and run water or something up there until I defecated all over the place.  She often did these when I was constipated so needless to say I was not looking forward to performing one on myself.  But daily angel washes are a part of the program and I intended to follow it to see the results.   What I will say is that it was a very interesting experience and I was not looking forward to doing it again the next day but after seeing what came out of me, I was definitely on board with the angel wash.  We sat in the steam room then the infrared sauna before spending some time in the pool.  In the evening, we went to the Naka Market which was wonderful but torturous.

Naka Market souvenirs
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Since I’ve stepped out of the bubble, that was of my mother country the U.S. of A, and began traveling more, I have learned that other countries have different systems than we do and some things that I consider essential in life are not really essential to everyone else in the world. So I have compiled a list of essential things, that I pack when I travel to other countries so that I stay comfortable abroad.  This list does not include obvious things: passport, camera, everyday clothes, shoes, etc…  and these items are in no particular order.  Also, these are things within my control, hard beds and different manners than you’re used to, you learn to deal with.

  1. Universal adaptor– I purchased a 500W converter  off of Amazon that I use in Qatar.   It is a step up/down voltage transformer that converts voltages from 110/120 volts up to 220/240 volts or from 220/240 volts down to 110/120 volts.  This way when I bring small electronic devices from America I can just plug it into the converter.  I learned this the hard way my first year there as I blew out many electronics by directly plugging them into Qatar’s outlets without knowing anything about voltage converting.  With this converter I can also bring electronics purchased in Qatar to American whenever I go back.  But this converter is not ideal for traveling as it is rather clumpy and heavy.  So I also have a few small adaptors that I take when I travel.  One is bound to work where ever I go.  They say universal adaptors work everywhere, but that hasn’t been the case for me, so I keep my small bag of gadgets in my travel bag. You can get adaptors in every country you travel to and some cases the hotels will allow you to borrow, rent or purchase one from them if they don’t already have them in the rooms.  You can also simply buy your own from Amazon, they’re inexpensive.
  2. Face Cloth– Okay, so some people will probably find this one petty but most of the countries I have traveled to outside of U.S.A do not have wash cloths and when I ask for them, people often look at me confused or hand me a hand towel. They are not one in the same. Face cloths are smaller and are used to wash your body in small spots at a time. Hand towels are too big, heavy and hold too much water.  I mean what do they wash with, their hands?
  3. Debit Card and emergency credit cards– Debit cards work just about everywhere and when you use the ATM it gives you money in your host country’s currency. This is usually cheaper and more convenient than exchanging money.  Sometimes exchange booths do not have the currency you need or they suggest you exchange one currency for another more acceptable currency for the country you’re visiting. They charge a fee too.  A credit card is useful in case of emergencies.  Try to have a credit card that doesn’t charge international transaction fees.  Credit cards are also more efficient in getting you your money back in case of fraud.  Just ensure that you alert your bank that you will be out of the country so that you don’t get blocked when trying to use it.  Here is a list of some credit cards that don’t charge international transaction fees: Capital One Venture, Chase Sapphire Reserve, The Platinum card from American Express, Bank of America Premium Rewards.  Also Visa and Mastercard are the two credit cards accepted worldwide. You cannot use American Express everywhere.
  4. A zippered small crossbody handbag- It is harder for bad people to steal your belongings when they are in a bag over your shoulder and secured in front of you rather than carrying your money and passport in your pocket or even in a fanny pack that can be easily unlatched in the back and snatched before you know it. I purchased a Guess crossbody for $30 from an outlet and a cute little bag for 1.5 USD from the Naka market in Phuket Thailand.
  5. A large scarf or similar and easily transportable pants– All countries are not as liberal as the U.S. you can’t just wear whatever you want. When traveling it is important to be respectful of the country’s culture and religion.  Neglecting this could, in the minor stage, attract unwanted attention, stares or glares, in the major stage, land you in jail or cause you to be deported.  To visit certain historical or religious sites you have to cover your body.  If you have on revealing clothing, you may be given a cover up or you will be asked to purchase something to cover your skin.  It is more convenient to just bring your own things.  A scarf also helps to mask unpleasant smells; put a couple dabs of your favorite scent on it and wrap it around the lower parts of your face.  In places where pollution is bad, a scarf can help reduce the amount of toxins you inhale.
  6. Baby wipes or sanitizer and tissue– Bathrooms look different all over the world, but they all have some where for your excretions to go, even if it is just a hole in the ground but what is different is hygiene, sanitation, water and the availability of products to clean yourself afterwards. In some countries, you are charged to use the bathroom and many don’t have tissue or running water. While in Egypt, teenage girls were hustling, selling tiny strips of tissue outside of the bathrooms.  For me, baby wipes are a must have because I can knock out two birds at a time, cleaning my hands and cleaning my bum.   But you can carry sanitizer for your hands, if you prefer, and tissue to clean yourself.
  7. Room spray and bug repellant– If you are sensitive to smells like me than definitely take a refreshing room spray with you while traveling.  If you are sharing a room with someone, definitely take some room spray with you in the bathroom.  If you are prone to bug bites take some bug repellant along with you.  Bug repellant can also save your life as many diseases are transmitted by insects.
  8. Ear plugs- Some hotels have very thin walls, if you can sleep through your neighbors partying or engaging in lustful affairs into the wee hours of the night, great, if you can’t invest in some good ear plugs and not the Styrofoam ones. And if you’re sharing a room, your roommate may snore so ear plugs are very handy.  My sister purchased some really good ones for me from Rite-Aid.  She cuts the ends down and removes the string and they are miracle workers. Thanks Michele.
  9. Portable phone charger– These are a life saver and are pretty affordable, enough said.
  10. Travel Apps– There are so many apps available now but they are super useful. Four kinds of apps to consider when traveling are those that give directions and help you get around, those that give suggestions on food and food delivery, those that provide translation and those that keep you connected with your loved ones.  Sometimes hotels have contracts with taxis and those taxis over charge.  By finding out which lift applications are available in your host country you can save a lot of money.  By finding out which map applications are usable in your host country you can save a lot of time.   Food applications are my favorite especially since I’m vegan and it’s difficult to find vegan food everywhere.  Translation applications save you stress and who has time for stress when you’re traveling.  The most important kind of app is the one that helps to keep you connected without costing roaming fees.  Some of them even allow you to video chat.  Applications I’ve used in the past but do not work in every country: The Happy Cow (find vegan and vegetarian options), Uber (take me to this restaurant on a budget), Google Maps (I’m lost, help me get back to my hotel before my food gets cold), Google Translate (I don’t know what you’re saying, I just need some hot sauce to go on this spinach), WhatsApp (Jennifer what was the name of that restaurant again, that had those dairy free brownies)

These are the essentials I don’t leave home without while traveling but there are many more things to consider like your medical card, medicines (research if your medication is acceptable to take with you to your destination, not all medicines are allowed in all countries), travel insurance, etc…

I’d love to hear from my readers, what are your travel essentials?

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