Sunday, September 28, 2008

Qatar - our last day!

Well, here we are!  It's our last day in Doha, Qatar, the place we have called home for the last 2 years.  I am a bit sad to leave it and all of our friends.  In spite of all of the things that I don't like about it, I will miss Qatar, partly because it has become familiar to me, and I have come to feel at home here.  I will also miss the friends that I am leaving here.  Some of them are EM, so it is likely that we will meet again, whether it be in Houston or on some other expat assignment.  However some of them are not, so it will be more difficult to "run into" them, but you never know!  This is a very small world, after all.  

We leave for the airport tonight around 7 pm.  I am holding my breath until the dogs get checked in, as the KLM folks have to tag them exactly right or else we risk getting them thrown into quarantine in Tokyo.  Pray for us and for them...this flight will be hard on them.  I am praying that all will go well, and that we will land in Yuzhno with the dogs in tow.  

Stay next post will hopefully be made from Russia!!!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

So much for relaxing: Our last week in Qatar

And we still have 3 days to go. I usually try and refrain from ranting and raving on here, not only for the sake of anyone who might read it, but also for myself - I go back and read this sometimes and I really don't want a temper tantrum posted online for all to see. However, this week has been more like a dream, er nightmare. I don't think I could have scripted it better if I had been writing a disaster movie. Let's put it this way - if it could go wrong, it did - and big!

If you don't recall, this move has already been a crazy one - with the multiple delays, visa problems, limited airlines/routes to take, the dogs, you name it, we have had a problem with it. Well, here we are at the end of our time in Qatar, finally with Russian visas in hand - and we are still having trouble!

Let's just start with the packing/loading of our shipping container. The packers showed up Saturday and Sunday and packed up all of our treasures and loaded them onto a shipping container. All except one thing: you guessed it, the new sofa that we bought specifically to take with us to Sakhalin. Yes, I know, the surveyor said that it would fit and that we would have room, but I guess he was wrong. The problem was solved about 1 hour later when we sold it, but still, par for the course.

Next up, our rental car - the first one. We sold our 2 cars upon return from Houston, so we had to rent a car to get from point A to point B. We are allowed a company-provided rental car, but only for 5 days, and we needed one for about 12 days. First off, the thing was a piece of junk, with dented fenders, multiple scratches and stains throughout. It was a Nissan Pathfinder - my guess is a 2004 or older, but it sounded like a Mac truck, definitely not like the one I used to drive when we lived in Houston. Anyway, when we went to return this car on Tuesday, we found that the parking lot was chaos and there wasn't anywhere to park. This is not unusual for Doha - it is common practice to build a building without a proper parking lot or garage. Shane just pulled up as close as he could and got out to go and get rep. When he returned - 1 minute later - a policeman was giving him a 500 QR parking ticket. Perfect - because we needed something else to do before we leave. He is going to try and pay it today, because we don't want to get stopped at the airport and prevented from leaving due to it. A few have said that they can't tie it to him, yada, yada, but I am not feeling like pressing my luck at this point. Read on and you will see why.

Next up, our airline tickets. We thought we had all of this sorted out before we left Houston. We did, actually, what we didn't have sorted out was the price of the tickets. The route/airline that we chose was KLM to Tokyo via Amsterdam. KLM accepts pets as accompanied baggage, and with this route we can take the company charter from Tokyo to Yuzhno. The Travel Rep is supposed to alert us of any major price differential between the route that we choose versus the company's desired route (which is Qatar Airways to Korea, and then Asiana to Yuzhno). The difference in price between the two was a whopping $16,000! He only told us this on TUESDAY! There is no way the company is going to agree to pay that much of a difference, but we asked anyway - and of course were rejected. It was acknoledged that this was in fact the only route possible for us and the dogs, but they still wouldn't approve it. Great, so just like that, we don't have a way out of here, and neither do the dogs. Another problem that I should mention is that Ramadan is almost over, so after today, everyone will be on vacation for Eid. With the "Eid clock" now ticking, Shane was up all night last night speaking with Houston and Yuzhno - and their bright idea was to send us via HOUSTON. Hello, can anyone say 48 hour trip? Yes, it was cheaper than KLM, but seriously - I don't think we would have made it without killing each other. Not to mention all of the paperwork for the dogs that we would need to get us through the USA. Crazy! The next idea was to split us up: send Shane and the dogs on the KLM flight and agree to pay the overage on his ticket, and then send Adam and I on the cheaper route. However, when Shane went to work this morning the Travel guy said that he was on the phone with KLM trying to get them to lower their prices down to an amount closer to the Qatar airways route. Brilliant. Why didn't I think of that - or better yet, why didn't he - TWO WEEKS AGO when he booked it??? I don't know the answers - but after a few sleepless nights and several heated phone conversations and emails, this is all resolved by the moron who didn't do his job right the first time. Our tickets are now paid for and approved. We are all on the same flight we reserved weeks ago. Talk about wasted energy.

Now here I am today, exhausted, both mentally and physically from all of this stuff, trying to close out my mobile phone account. Duh. How long have I lived here? After standing in line for 30 minutes I find out that my husband has to do it. Right. Because women aren't capable. Well, I won't get started on that one...

Monday, September 22, 2008

Moving day!!

Our shipping container and one of the movers taking a break
Well, things are moving along! The packers came on Saturday and Sunday to get our shipment packed for our move. The container was loaded Sunday and I was told that it would get taken to the port today! That is alot faster than I thought it would happen. I guess because it is Ramadan, it would take longer, as most things tend to do. Maybe they are trying to get all these shipments out before Eid al Fitr starts next week - when all things will shut down for 4 days.
It is a load off getting the packing over with. There is nothing really left to do, other than hang out and wait for our flight on Sunday. And that's not such a bad thing...

Monday, September 15, 2008

We have visas!!!

We now have our visas to go to Sakhalin!  YEA!!  We went to the Russian Embassy today and turned in the massive pile of paperwork required and returned with visas pasted in our passports.  I feel like I have achieved something major, probably since we have been working toward and waiting on this moment for a long time.  We leave Doha for good 2 weeks from today. I will miss it and our friends here, but we are least mentally.  Physically - well, let's just say I have quite a bit of packing to do between now and then!

Hurricane Ike

This was the image seen the night before we left Houston.  Once I saw Jim Cantore reporting from Galveston, I knew that it was going to hit there, and that Liberty would get it's fair share of the storm.  My family decided to stay put and "hunker down" as the news advised.  I found some pictures of Ike's aftermath in Liberty on the local website.  The links are here and here.  

My Mom and Nini both had minimal damage to their property.  A tree in the front yard of my Mom's house is down, fortunately in the street, not the house or on the cars.  Part of the fence at Nini's house is down.  And of course there are huge limbs and debris all over the place.  They are also without power right now, and from reports that I have seen it is going to take a few weeks to get it back.  I am glad that no one was hurt and that there was no major damage to their houses.  

Hurricanes, cancelled flights, and evacuation routes

As Hurricane Ike approached the Texas coast, it became apparent that our flight scheduled for Saturday, September 13, was going to be cancelled.  I called Continental Airlines Thursday morning, and changed our flight to that afternoon.   It was a good thing that we did - they ended up closing down the airport that evening and are not supposed to open it up fully until Tuesday.  With the packers coming on the 20th, we need all the time we can get to prepare.  

By the time we left Liberty for the airport, the local officials were already closing roads and diverting traffic to the established evacuation routes.  We got out of Liberty okay, but once we got to Dayton, we noticed that Highway 90 to Houston was closed, Highway 146 to Baytown was closed, and all the traffic was being sent up Highway 321 towards Cleveland.  I managed to head toward Atascosita on FM 1960, but not without a struggle.  The rest of the journey was fine until we were almost at the airport and found that cones were being set up along the road we were on.  Fortunately, it was in-progress, so we just went around.  My Nini took us to the airport, and made it back to Liberty without too much trouble.  She encountered a bunch of traffic once she got back to Dayton, but managed through it to get back home.   

I was only able to change our Continental flight to London, not the Qatar airways flight to Doha.  That meant that we were forced to stay a few nights in London until our flight home.  I know, poor us.  We just felt so lucky to get out when we did!  Upon arriving at our hotel, there was a couple that was trying to get to Houston, and that is when we learned that the airport closed shortly after our departure.  Phew!

Common sights around Houston

One thing we noticed when we got home was how much the news media has gone crazy over these hurricanes!  I don't remember there being this much fuss over them before.  I think they are really trying to scare the you-know-what out of everyone.  I was never scared of them when we lived here, but after watching a few hours of Gustav coverage, I was terrified that it would come to Houston.  

Message displayed on the Amber Alert signs throughout Houston...another message displayed:  "Keep your gas tanks full"

I couldn't resist taking this thing's picture.  I bet the Qataris would love to drive one of these!

The disgusting creatures on the bumper of our rental car are called Love Bugs.  Why?  I know it's not because people love them.  They seemed to be especially bad this year, worse than I remember.  It almost felt like they were attacking you when you walked - getting in your hair, mouth, clothes...Yuck!  

Gustav's effects on Houston

Hurrican Gustav didn't end up hitting Houston, but we got a lot of clouds from it.  We were driving into Houston on Labor Day to have dinner at our favorite Mexican restaurant, Pappasitos.  Along the way I got several shots as the sun was setting. 

Our Texas visit

A few pictures from our recent trip to the Houston area:

Playing at the park

Making music with Joseph

Wow, those are huge steaks, Joseph!

Adam LOVES to swing!

I got to hang out with Bailey's brother, Raider

Mugging for the camera, as usual!

Saturday, September 6, 2008


That means "finally" (actual translation: it is final) in Russian.  We have made a bit of progress on our move.  Of course, it could always get delayed again, but we are pretty sure that it won't this time.  We received our LOIs (letters of invitation), which will allow us to purchase our single-entry visas to get into Russia.  Shane's work permit will be ready in 3-4 weeks.  We are scheduled to leave Doha on September 29, which will put us in Yuzhno around 10 pm on September 30 (local time, of course, it will be around 6 am in Houston).  The packers are scheduled for the 20th and 21st, which means that we will have more than a week in Doha after everything gets packed up.  We are still trying to determine if we will move into a hotel or into temporary housing, and where the dogs will go during that time.  Sounds like fun, right!  Stay tuned...