American Thanksgiving in Doha, Qatar

There was nothing special leading up to November 23, 2017—none of the holiday cues that I associate with “American” Thanksgiving.

I didn’t have an abbreviated work schedule at Qatar University: teach on Monday and Tuesday, have Wednesday through Friday off. Stores in Doha weren’t pushing Halloween costumes and then Thanksgiving/Black Friday sales. (Strangely enough, the stores went right to selling Christmas merchandise.) I wasn’t in the midst of cold weather, snow, and short days like I had been conditioned to living in the Midwest for the past 40 years (actually, 41 years because my birthday was on November 22.).

I had a full week of work at QU Sunday through Monday, and I was barely thinking about my Thanksgiving meal plans. The weather had become more pleasant in Doha since the beginning of November. Additionally, the skies were overcast throughout the day, which promised of rain somewhere in Qatar. The prospect of this potential rain excited the students, and they made every effort to convince me to cancel classes—similar to what my students in America try to get me to do when the weather in the spring becomes nice.

Student: “Teacher, the weather is so nice. Do we have to have class?”

Me: “Yes, this grammar quiz needs to be completed.”

Student: “Can’t we take it on Sunday?”

Me: “Well, what will I do all weekend if I don’t have to grade this quiz?”

Student: “Teacher, the room smells, and it is so nice out. Can’t we go home early?”

Me: “The room does smell, and it is nice out, but we can’t go early. I promise we’ll do something fun.”

Student: “What?”

Me: “I have prepared a grammar lesson on reported speech.”

Student: “Ugh. What’s that?”

Me: “The teacher said that he had prepared a grammar lesson on reported speech.”

(I might have embellished the conversations with the students, but I did have a grammar quiz that I needed to administer and a lesson on reported speech. Also, the room did smell because of birds roosting outside of the classroom window. I moved class to a neighboring room.)

Earlier in the day an American colleague wished me a happy Thanksgiving. This didn’t rouse the Thanksgiving spirit me. Later, while I was sitting near the copy machine, another American colleague, Dave, asked me, “Do you have plans for Thanksgiving dinner?”

I responded to Dave, “No, not really.”

“You don’t have to open your heart to me, but does this make you sad?” I thought for a moment. Maybe I had been feigning indifference to the Thanksgiving spirit. Maybe I would go home that night to my lonely apartment on the 19th floor overlooking Lusail City and suddenly feel overwhelmed with sadness because I wasn’t back in the Midwest overeating with my family. 40 years (41) of Thanksgiving tradition ruined because I was now faraway in Doha! What have I done?

“No, not really.”

“Well, if you need some turkey, there are some places in Doha where you can get a Thanksgiving meal.” He proceeded to list off some options for me. I thanked him and continued working on my exciting reported speech lesson.

Later, while I was administering my grammar quiz, Dave messaged me, “Do you want to have Thanksgiving dinner with me and my family?”

I replied back, “Sure!”

After work, I quickly drove home to shower before heading to Dave’s home in a compound. Traffic was a little more hectic than I was expecting. The promise of rain had people throughout Qatar excited. Also, I believe that it was the start of the camping season, so people were also heading out to the desert to spend time in their campers and tents.

I got a little lost trying to find Dave’s place because Google Maps insisted that I could head down a road that was now only one way and wanted me to turn on a nonexistent roundabout exit. That’s one of the constant problems in Doha with all the building and road construction: Google Maps needs updates and is likely to give you wrong directions. Still, I eventually made it to Dave’s house.

When I got to Dave’s compound, it looked familiar. That’s because my friend and colleague Issam also lives in the same compound. I had been there before.

Dave greeted me at the door with his adorable baby daughter in his arms. He said that she was being a stinker and didn’t want to be put down. She smiled at me, and I could see four baby teeth in her mouth. Cute.

Dave’s wife had prepared a Thanksgiving meal for his family and another family from their church. The other family was from Texas and had four children. Dave asked after messaging me the Thanksgiving invite, “Do you mind eating with small children?” I had no problem with this, so now I was sharing a meal with four adults and seven children.

For the meal, Dave’s wife had prepared turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green bean casserole, candied yams, and cranberry sauce. She said that she had to spend half the year accumulating the items from the grocery stores in Doha in order to prepare the meal for the day. Items, like cranberry sauce, were hard to come by. After seeing the fruits of her labor, something that I had buried clawed its way to the surface. Gluttony.

I immediately did a mental calculation of the size of the dishes and the number of people sharing the dinner. Am I going to get only half a plate of food? However, despite my initial worries, there was enough food for three helpings, and I didn’t have to steal turkey from the plates of the children.

Thus, my first “American” Thanksgiving dinner in Doha was excellent and has put me in the mood to be thankful, so I will end my blog with the things that I am thankful for.

Foremost, I am thankful for the generosity and hospitality of Dave and his wife. I did not expect to be eating a Thanksgiving meal, but I was happy when I was invited to dine with them. Dave and many of my colleagues at QU have been so welcoming and helpful that it has made my transition to Doha and QU less stressful.

Second, I am thankful that my friends and family back home are safe and doing well. I am able to stay in relative contact with everyone through Facebook, Instagram, FB Messenger, and Facetime. Even though I am half a world away from my loved ones in the US, I am able to keep up with their activities.

Third, I am especially thankful that I have been able to maintain my relationship with my boys. I miss my weekends with them, but I try to message them every day and videochat with them once every week. It probably annoys them to have their dad send them memes or inquire how their day went on a daily basis, but it’s important to me to feel I still have a part in their life.

Last of all, I am thankful for the opportunity that I have to live and work in Doha. Though coming and settling into my life here was quite stressful, now that I am further into the process I am very grateful to be here. Work challenges me, my colleagues inspire me, my students motivate me. For the longest time, I dreamed about teaching in the EFL, and now that I am doing it, it’s more than I imagined.

By the time I post this blog, it will be “American” Black Friday, so everyone be safe and happy shopping!

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