View of West Bay in Doha on a Winter's morning, Jan 2013
Last week my Facebook page was filled with posts from family and friends about the recent snowfall in the UK. There were statuses about school closures, the treacherous driving conditions there and some lovely photos of children having fun out sledging and building snowmen.
Well, believe it or not, Winter finally arrived here in Qatar too for a few days recently, with cold winds and temperatures dipping right down to a paltry 14 degrees overnight and rising to no more than 21 degrees in the day. The boys had to dig out their school fleeces, which still look brand new 16 months after buying them due to lack of use, and I couldn't help but feel a chill even with my jeans and jumper wrapped tightly around me! It's laughable really as I know that if I had still been living in the UK we would have been walking around in rather skimpier clothing and saying what a beautiful day it was, but things somehow change once you've been living in the desert for 17 months!
Many people dream of living in year round sunshine and here in the Middle East that's certainly what you get. After the coolness of last week we are back to temperatures of 29 degrees with beautiful cloudless skies, and the weather is perfect for trips to the park and other outdoor pursuits. Between now and June the temperatures will however slowly creep up until we hit the peak of Summer, at which time air conditioned buildings will become our refuge.
The reality is that, for a couple of months of the year, collecting the boys from school at lunchtime in temperatures exceeding 40 degrees is not much fun and it usually involves leaving the car engine running in the school car park with the air con on full blast, making a quick dash to the classrooms (no point in walking slowly as you will be dripping in sweat 2 seconds after getting out the car regardless!) and returning as quickly as possible to the vehicle with the kids. On returning home, another shower and change of clothing is usually in order!
If you don't want to risk sunstroke between May and September, visits to the Compound swimming pool only become possible from 4pm, as the sun is setting (which incidentally is very beautiful here in the desert) and outdoor activities are generally limited to short, sharp bursts. Once the schools close for the long summer break at the end of June, it is no surprise that the expat community leave in their droves to travel to cooler climates for the duration of the holidays. We then all return early in September to suffer yet another couple of months of intense heat before finally getting to enjoy our lives in the sunshine again from late October.
It does rain occasionally here but, in the 17 months we have lived here, I can count those occasions on 2 hands - and most of those times were nothing more than a few splodges for 10 minutes or so. Villas and roads have not been designed with rain in mind so, on the couple of times it has properly poured, roads have quickly become flooded due to lack of drainage, and water has made an unwelcome appearance in our home, due to insufficient sealant around the windows and gaps at the bottom of the doors! It's funny to see how all the children dash outside to have fun in the rain, when it does come, because when you don't have it, you find yourself yearning for it!
In fact there is something quite glorious about the seasonal weather of the UK - hearing the birds sing and seeing new flowers budding in the Spring, smelling freshly cut grass in the Summer, walking through the crunchy Autumn leaves with the smell of bonfires burning, and then of course there is the crisp chill of Winter and chance of snow showers to get excited about. But for now I guess I can only dream about these things, as I lie back on my sunbed and continue to enjoy my winter in the sunshine!
12 week scan
Our first year in Qatar will be extremely memorable for many reasons, for not only were our eyes opened up to a whole new way of life during that time, but we also chose to expand our headcount and become a family of six! Baby number 4 would in fact never have been on my husband's radar if it hadn't been for my heart telling me that our family wasn't yet complete and my subsequent use of powers of persuasion on him over a great many months!
Two months after arriving in Qatar I was pregnant - it all happened a bit faster than we had anticipated and my initial reaction was one of fear. I was new to the country and still didn't have a clue about medical facilities and care in Doha. As a result I was over 10 weeks pregnant before I finally plucked up the courage to go and see someone about antenatal care. I need not have worried, however, as the care I received throughout the pregnancy was fantastic and was far superior to my previous 3 experiences in the UK.
I was actually seen at the Qatargas Medical Centre on the grounds of Al Ahli Hospital (the most well known private hospital here in Qatar). This is where Qatargas and RasGas employees and their families can go for all their medical and dental care needs at no cost, with referrals to the hospital taking place for all tests, scans and specialist appointments etc, as required.
Throughout my pregnancy I was always seen by an Obstetrician at the Clinic, rather than a Midwife, as is the norm here. I was also seen far more regularly than I had ever been seen in the UK - every 4 weeks until 28 weeks, and then fortnightly up to 36 weeks pregnant. If I had stayed in Qatar to give birth I would then have been referred to the obs and gynae department in the main hospital for weekly checks thereafter, but we decided that I would return home to the UK to give birth so that the family could enjoy the full Summer there while the children were off school. This was much more preferable to staying in the scorching heat of Doha awaiting the birth and then having the nightmare of organising all the necessary paperwork to enable us to fly with a newborn (my due date was 12th July).
During the pregnancy I had 4 scans - at 12 weeks, 20 weeks, 28 weeks and 34 weeks.
Baby Bump - 23 weeks
These were all routine scans so double the number I had ever had before when pregnant with my other children in England.
At the 20 week scan we were asked if we wanted to know the sex of the baby and the sonographer was most astonished when we said no - it would appear that pretty much everyone finds out whether they are carrying a blue or pink bundle beforehand here!
By the 28 week scan, however, there was no mistaking the fact even to my untrained eye that we had another little boy waiting to make an appearance. So for the first time ever we knew the sex of the baby beforehand and the element of surprise was gone. Retrospectively, it was probably no bad thing as it gave both myself and our daughter, Rebecca, the opportunity to accept that she was never going to have the little sister she had always so badly wanted. At this scan, I was also lucky enough to see some 4D images of the baby, something I have never experienced before - unfortunately our little boy wouldn't cooperate and kept putting his hands up to his face so we were unable to have a still shot of his facial features to show everyone afterwards!
Other than horrendous morning sickness for about the first 18 weeks, my pregnancy progressed well and with few complications, until routine glucose tolerance testing results showed that I had gestational diabetes. I was thrown into a mad panic as I had never been diagnosed with this before (don't think I had ever even been tested for it in my previous pregnancies!) and remember getting upset (raging hormones obviously!) as the Obstetrician spoke to me about how I was going to have to eat a very careful diet for the rest of my pregnancy. The thought of potentially having to give birth to a whopping 10 pound baby though made me really listen to the advice I was given and I amended my diet appropriately for the rest of my pregnancy (and that included no more chocolate) .
Baby Bump - 29 weeks
Retrospectively, I think I was very borderline for the condition, and was later told by Midwives in the UK, who saw all my test results, that they would not have diagnosed it there. The little niggling thought that I had already had that the medical staff in Doha are sometimes overly cautious, causing undue worry, seemed to be true in this instance but at least it meant I was probably the healthiest I had ever been during pregnancy and only gained a total of 14 pounds by the time I gave birth (ok, so maybe I was a bit heavier than perhaps I should have been to start with, but this was pretty good going!). The fact that I had to stand on the scales at every antenatal appointment throughout the 40 weeks, with potential tutting noises coming from the Obstetrician, probably also acted as a huge incentive not to overindulge while my baby cooked inside me!
Once we had confirmation at 34 weeks that baby had finally turned out of the breech position and was head down where he belonged, and my blood pressure wasn't horrendously high, I was hugely relieved and could go about organising my 'fit to fly' note ready to return to the UK. My Obstetrician wasn't particularly in favour of me flying so late in my pregnancy, but still gave me the relevant paperwork and I flew home one day before the British Airways cut off date of 36 weeks, late night on 12th June 2012.
Baby Bump - 35 weeks
Simon and the 3 children remained in Qatar for a further 3 and a half weeks to finish the school term. I was very emotional at the thought of leaving them all for so long as I had not been away from my children for longer than a couple of days at a time on a few occasions spanning a 12 year period. But thanks to some of the lovely friends we have here in Doha I was able to meticulously plan childcare arrangements for them in my absence while Simon continued to work, and I was able to enjoy some completely alien time to myself back at our home in the UK. It was actually the first time I had returned to the UK and to our home since we left to start our adventure overseas 10 months earlier!
The last few weeks of pregnancy were uneventful. The Midwife at my local GP surgery was amazing - I went there with my Mum hours after arriving back in the UK to make an appointment and expected to wait a week or more to be seen by someone, but the midwife saw me later that very same morning to go through all my notes, check me over and add me on to their system, which took almost an hour and a half.
So all I had to do was keep my legs crossed and hope that our baby didn't put in an early appearance as Si and the kids were not due back in the UK until 7th July, which was just 5 days before my due date! All 3 of my previous babies had been born a few days early so I was very nervous that he would arrive before they returned.
Our gorgeous little boy, Ethan Joseph, behaved impeccably however and stayed inside in the warm for an additional 3 days past his due date, eventually being born on the morning of 15th July at Frimley Park Hospital in Surrey (same place that all his siblings were born at) and weighing in at a healthy 7lb 14oz! I had survived my pregnancy abroad and successfully given birth to our fourth, and final little beam of light!
1. How did you feel when we first told you we were going to move to Qatar?
I had mixed emotions - I was excited to be going somewhere we had not been before but I was also nervous about going somewhere new and not knowing anyone and then having to make new friends (Rebecca, age 12)
I was a bit sad because I wouldn't see my friends in England any more (Ben, age 9)
I felt scared because I didn't know what it would be like here (Matthew, age 6)
2. What, if anything, do you miss about living in England?
I miss all my friends and family. I also miss the greenery of the UK (Rebecca)
I miss our really big house and the table football inside it. I also miss my old class in England and my relatives (Ben)
I miss our house, my bunk bed, and my friends and family there (Matthew)
3. What do you like the most about living in Doha?
I like having the freedom to go out around the Compound and I like the weather when it's not too hot, because it's always freezing in England (Rebecca)
I like the hot weather and having a swimming pool in our Compound. In addition I like having a playground that we can go to when we want (Ben)
I have more friends than in England. We have a playground and swimming pool right next to our Villa (Matthew)
4. Do you like going to school in Doha? How is it different to your school in England?
I enjoy going to school but don't like getting up so early in the mornings. School is much more multi cultural so I have got friends from other countries that I wouldn't have had if I was at school in the UK (Rebecca)
Yes, I do because I have made lots of friends that I like to play with. It's different to my school in England because there are only 24 children in each class and in England there are 30 children in a class. We start school earlier here and we finish at lunchtime. (Ben)
Yes I like school here. There are more classrooms but less children in the class. There is a big water fountain, an adventure playground and a swimming pool (Matthew)
5. What's the weather like in Qatar and do you prefer it to the UK?
It's a lot hotter in Qatar and also sandy and dusty, which I am not particularly fond of. In the Summer it gets too hot to even go outside (Rebecca)
It is very hot here and I prefer it to the UK, but I miss the rain and snow! (Ben)
It is sunny here almost all the time. I prefer the weather in England as it is sometimes too hot here. I miss the rain and snow too (Matthew)
6. What things do you get to do here that you didn't do in England?
Everyone is more friendly here so we do more things at the weekends with other families. Also we have a swimming pool about 20 steps from our Villa, which we can use whenever we want. We also get to go out on boat trips and eat lunch at fancy hotels (Rebecca)
I get to go to the park and swimming pool that are close to our Villa. In addition I go sailing and we get more school holidays. (Ben)
I had sailing lessons last term. I can go and play outside with my friends and go to the playground by myself (Matthew)
It was 9.15am when I walked through the front door with Ethan this morning, having completed my quick early morning dash to the supermarket. Quite a remarkable feat really, bearing in mind the fact that no fewer than 16 (yes sixteen!) people stopped me to make a fuss of Ethan as I tried to race around the aisles of Carrefour and then get home before he demanded his morning nap.
Living in Doha, the supermarket experience with a child in tow is completely different to that of the UK, where everyone tends to ignore the screaming toddler, who is trying to escape the confines of the trolley seat, and the only people to coo over a little baby seem to be the old grannies (who incidentally always used to think Rebecca was a boy even when she was dressed in the most girlie pinks and purples!). Here, everyone seems to love children and they all want to say good morning and bring a smile to Ethan's face. Now that he is able to sit in the trolley seat like a big boy the attention he is receiving has really moved up a gear.
When we first brought Ethan back to Doha he was less than 6 weeks old and still without a proper routine for feeding and sleeping, so needless to say the first time I took him to the Supermarket I timed it completely wrong and ended up with a screaming, hungry baby at the checkout of Lou Lou's. Within 30 seconds of him starting to cry I was surrounded by 6 people all trying to stop him crying - a Qatari lady with her teenage daughter and maid, a security guard and 2 checkout operators. As I tried to pay for my shopping, they were rocking the trolley (he was in his rock a tot on it) and telling me off because I had no blanket on him so in their minds he was obviously cold! "He is hungry, not cold!" I muttered under my breath, more than slightly taken aback by the interest he was generating, and to be honest not really appreciating their interference. But as time has gone on I have come to realise that this is the way it is here. If a baby cries he/she is picked up immediately and tended to, while I, the Westerner (without a maid in tow), find it a little tricky to push the trolley, hold the crying and no doubt wriggling baby (as he tries to inch closer to where he knows he can find food!), get the groceries off the shelves and then go and pay for them. Instead I have just tended to speed up and get out of there as fast as I can with Ethan still fussing in his rock a tot!
Now that Ethan is older, I can relax a bit as he is generally quite placid when we get the groceries and he loves his new vantage point where he can look around at everything and interact with all the strangers that pay him attention. I have to be careful he doesn't suddenly lunge to the side though, as of course, in true Doha style, the shopping trolley has no lap belt to keep your child secure! I have come to appreciate the way everyone wants to stop and say hello to Ethan and that people don't just walk around oblivious to all around them, like is so often the case in the UK.
I hate to admit it but I also enjoy having someone unload my shopping onto the conveyor belt at the checkout and then pack my bags for me (even if they do have a habit of putting only one or two items in each bag - what's that all about!). And, if needed, someone can take my shopping to the car for me and load it into the boot (not sure but am I supposed to tip them for that?!). In fact, for someone who has always preferred doing things myself, I had a bit of a shock when I returned to England last June and actually had to pack my shopping myself! If only the choice of products available on the shelves here was the same as in the UK then I would be a truly happy woman but that's a whole other story!
New Year here in Doha is pretty much like New Year back in the UK - an evening of celebrating and drinking with friends leading up to the chimes of midnight, the singing of Auld Lang Syne, and then the obligatory New Years Day hangover and the promises of how things are going to change/be different in the forthcoming year.
There may not be the big firework displays to see out of every window here but it is still a good night of celebrating. I must admit I was a little disconcerted this year, however, when Rebecca and Ben announced that they were planning to stay awake until 3am. Apparently it was not really going to be New Year until then, as that was when the clock was going to strike midnight in London! Luckily they didn't make it much past midnight Doha time!
So once again I have made my New Year Resolutions, and this time I am definitely going to adhere to them...no really, I am!! The usual ones of eating more healthily and exercising to lose weight have obviously reared their ugly head again. 6 months have now passed since baby number 4 was born and I can really no longer use that excuse for carrying those extra pounds around my waist, stomach, hips and....well, pretty much everywhere!
Now, six days into January and my eating habits have not yet changed as we have been busy finishing all the leftover Christmas goodies, but I have signed myself up to do another 10k run (more of a walk in my case) along the beautiful Corniche at the end of the month, so at least I have the incentive to exercise again. My training has commenced and I have been out running laps of the Compound twice in the last 4 days - completing 2 miles on the first run and 3 miles on my second outing. How I am going to complete 6 miles on the 26th Jan is yet to be seen but I managed it when I completed the Doha College 10k in November, so am sure I will somehow manage again.
The other BIG resolution I have made is to try and be a better Mum to my four children, as when I look around it always feels like everyone else is doing a better job than me! I need to relax more and just enjoy them rather than live in our usual bubble of stress and frustration when things aren't done in a timely manner or how I want them to be done (very difficult when trying to juggle the needs of 4 little people). I also want to give the kids more opportunities to discover what they like and don't like and open up a world of different sporting activities and musical interests to them.
I actually started the sporting campaign last term, which, in the case of the boys, was particularly successful - between them they enjoyed a mixture of Sailing (Ben loved this, Matthew not so much), Swimming (great progress by both boys - this is a non negotiable activity!), Basketball (Ben), Tennis (Ben twice a week), and Gym club (Matthew). Alongside this, both boys are active members of Beavers and Cubs, which they love. I am still waiting for Rebecca to find a sport she likes as last term consisted of her filling her afternoons with Choir practice, Zoology and Textiles Clubs, but this term she WILL be getting active, whether it is by playing Netball, or joining me in the Gym/walking around the Compound!
The desire for getting the children interested in Music, lies from the way I felt when we went to see Rebecca perform in the Choir at the school Winter Concert in December. Alongside her contribution as part of the Choir, Simon and I watched children from Doha College Primary, right through to some of the 6th Formers, play a variety of musical instruments and entertain us with really beautiful performances. It reminded me of how my brother and I had learnt to play the clarinet as children and my sister the Flute. At the ages of 12, 9 and 6, none of our children have ever tried playing anything other than a recorder and I want that to change.
So, over Christmas, I made enquiries regarding music lessons for Rebecca, and thought we had agreed she would give playing the violin a go - she can have weekly lessons arranged through the school and hire a violin from the Music Department. But now of course she has changed her mind and would rather learn to play the piano. The problem is we do not have a piano and she can hardly bring one home with her to practise outside of her lessons can she?!! The dilemma over which instrument to play therefore continues.....
Now that we are well and truly settled here in Doha, and Ethan is getting a little bigger, Simon and I would also like to travel more in 2013 and so I am hopeful that this will include a trip to Sri Lanka in the near future. One of the reasons we moved here was for the opportunities for travel it would open up to us. My pregnancy last year put a halt to those plans in the short term but now we are ready to move forward and start exploring the countries around us.
So, is New Year a time for new beginnings?...for me it's a time for quiet self reflection as I look into who I am and who I would like to be, and what I have around me that can be tweaked a little to enrich my life and that of my family. Some alterations I want to make will be successful, others are of course bound to fall by the wayside - I wonder which changes I desire will be successfully achieved this year?