First Blog Entry

ORD to HIA

On August 26, 2017, I sat in the Chicago O’Hare airport waiting for my connecting flight to Doha, Qatar. I had a 12-hour layover to wait and think about the enormity of my decision to go abroad: I was about to spend the next three years living and working in Doha. And, to be honest, I was a little terrified! 😱

Up until my departure day, I had no time to focus on how I personally felt about going to Qatar. There were lists and lists of things that needed to be done in order for me to uproot myself from the US and move to a foreign country. For two months, I had been subsumed with preparations.

My focus had been primarily completing the apostille process. I had to provide my Qatar employer with an FBI background check, my graduate certificate, my graduate transcripts, and a verification letter from my graduate institution. These documents had to be first notarized by the issuing institution, then authenticated by the Minnesota State Department, then authenticated by the US Office of Authentications, and finally attested by the Consulate of Qatar in New York City. I started this process in mid-July and didn’t receive the documents until two days before I was set to fly out. The process required me to make several visits to Winona State University (my graduate alma mater), drive several times to locations around St. Paul, book a flight out to Washington DC and crash on a friend’s couch for four days, and then take a bus ride to New York City and sleep on the floor of JFK airport while I waited overnight for a flight back home.

Picture of NYC from Central Park – shot taken after I handed in my documents to the Consulate of Qatar

When I was not navigating the various bureaucracies of the apostille process like Link journeying through Hyrule, I was trying to make things right with my family and friends, people I wouldn’t likely see for the next year or so. My oldest son, Zylan, started college the week before I departed for Qatar, so he was already out of the house and on to the next stage of his life. I was glad that I was able to visit him twice after he moved into his dorm room at UW Stout. However, my youngest son, Ronan, wouldn’t have me around for the final three years of his high school experience. I made a concerted effort to do things with him the last couple weeks I was stateside—and there’s nothing that a 15-year-old introvert likes more than having to spend quality time with his father who’s trying too hard! Still, he would get my car when he turned 16 in two months; hopefully this would take away some of the sting of not having me around. And, like Ronan, my family and friends received some of my many excised worldly possession that I couldn’t take with me in my three checked bags, two carry-on bags, or three boxes that would ship later. There was no room to be sentimental about possessions that I had been accumulating for the past two decades, so I thought it would be best to try and leave everyone that I cared about with some of my belongings.

The boys outside of Zylan’s UW Stout residence hall

The day before I departed from the US, Ronan and I emptied my River Falls apartment of my last possessions. We loaded a U-Haul with my sectional couch, dining room set, queen bed, and flatscreen TV before driving back to La Crosse to unload the items at my mom’s home. Later, that night, I said goodbye to him and dropped him off at his mom’s house. Usually I could count on seeing him the next weekend, but now I might not see him until after his school year was over. 😢

The next day, my mom and stepfather dropped me off at the airport. As I was about to board my flight out of La Crosse for Chicago, after completing list after list of departure preparations, I finally had the mental space to wonder, “What comes next?”

I spent 12 hours in Chicago and the flight to Doha took another 12 hours. During that time, I watched a movie, ate dinner, drank complimentary alcohol, slept, watched a TV show, slept some more, ate brunch, and lingered in the limbo between my two lives. Qatar Airways provided a very pleasant and well choreographed flight experience. I had been looking forward to flying on one of the top airlines in the world, and they can’t be held culpable for the baby that cried for about the first hour, or the old Indian woman sitting behind me who would rattle my reclined seat every time she needed to leave or return to her spot.

My flight on Qatar Airways

Upon landing at Hamad International Airport, I made my way to the area for new arrivals to the Qatar. I mentally prepared myself for long lines of harried, sleep deprived travelers having to deal with surly immigration and customs officers. However, at the first immigration entry point, there were about five people navigating a maze of ribbons partitioned to guide about 1000 people. In a matter of minutes, I was at the front of the queue. I gave the entry officer my passport and entry visa. He nonchalantly looked over the documents, asked me to face a camera for a picture, affixed a barcode in my passport, and then stamped my passport. The transaction took less time than listening to a server at a trendy restaurant rattle off the nuances of the daily specials. At the baggage claim area, all my bags made it to Qatar intact, and I carted them towards the customs area, where there were about six customs officer standing near the machines that could investigate my bags. But these machines were not being used, and as I headed towards them, an officer waved me through and then promptly resumed his conversation with the other customs officer who would take a turn waving through the subsequent travelers.

Outside of customs, my driver, Mohammed, was waiting for me. He held up a sign that said “Qatar University – Conan Kmiecik.” I acknowledged that I was indeed Conan. Then he took control of my luggage cart and led me to his parked car.

Exiting Hamad Airport, at around 5pm, I was immediately hit by a wave of heat and humidity that enveloped me like I had just walked into an oven. My glasses fogged up because of the sudden temperature change walking the short distance between the airport and the parking garage. It was about 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and sunlight diffused through the 50% humidity, making everything in the distance appear hazy.

I stopped to snap my first picture in Qatar and could feel the sweat bead on my head. Still, after the past two months of stress and upheaval, I was done being shocked. I was now ready for my days in Doha. 😅

Hamad International Airport – first picture of Qatar
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