'Are you looking for part time help, Sir?' asked one of the maids on our Compound in broken English the other day as she and her friend walked past the front of our Villa. She had spotted Simon tending to some plants.
'Er, no thank you, we already have some help from the maid next door.'
'But Sir, you really shouldn't be doing that yourself!'
When we first moved to Qatar everyone asked me if I was going to get a live in maid, as it is pretty much the norm here for people to have some help around the home. I am a bit of a control freak so the idea of someone else coming and doing all the things I would normally do myself really didn't appeal. 'Give it a year', everyone said, 'You'll soon change your mind!' Well, 18 months on and no I haven't changed my mind, although I have softened a little and have the lovely maid from next door come in and spend 2 hours a week cleaning our bathrooms and tackling my ironing pile. We also pay her to water our outdoor plants daily. This came about last Summer when I returned to the UK heavily pregnant and Simon was left alone with the other 3 children for over 3 weeks. We enlisted help to make his life easier and then continued to use it on our return to Doha at the end of the Summer.
The idea of a full time live in maid is never going to be for me though. Yes, I have now got used to being called 'ma'am' and I no longer look at the maids room in horror in the way that I did when we first moved here. 'How can a maid possibly sleep in here - it's a utility room, not a bedroom, and it's tiny!' I would be heard to say. I have learnt that, for many of the Phillipino, Sri Lankan and Ethiopian ladies that have come to work in the Middle East, their living quarters are more than acceptable to them, and they would actually not feel comfortable being offered anything bigger!
But, however hard I try, I can not reconcile myself with the idea of having someone in my home 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, hearing all our conversations (even if they don't understand everything we say) and preventing us from having the privacy to air any family grievances behind closed doors. Having a spectator observing our parenting skills and relaying the antics of the household to her fellow workers of a night time is certainly not something I care to embrace.
I am sure some of my Doha friends would consider me a fool not to take advantage of the opportunity to have all my cooking, laundry and cleaning done for me, as well as have a babysitter permanently available, but even as I sit playing on the floor with Ethan and see our dusty windows and less than shiny furnishings, I will not relent.
I have discovered that for each friend who is happy with their maid, there are others who have had problems, whether it be issues with sponsorship, language barrier difficulties, laziness, or them being good at cleaning but not trustworthy enough to look after the children, etc. I don't have the time or inclination to find one of the few gems out there and if it means that I don't get the chance to spend my time out at constant coffee dates, being pampered or shopping until I drop (as it would appear is the perception of ex-pat life - not always true, even for people that do have hired help!) then so be it. Not only will my husband be very relieved that his bank balance remains in a healthy state, but I will be able to continue what I have always done best, looking after the family home and children myself. I am a homemaker at heart and proud of it!
Standing outside the main entrance at DESS
When contemplating our move to Qatar, schooling for the children was right at the top of our list of things that were important to consider. We were extremely lucky that the children were in fantastic state schools in the UK and it was essential that we were able to find equally as good schools for them out in the Middle East, otherwise the move quite simply wasn't going to happen.
Simon did a lot of research on-line (it was essential to us that the schools followed the British curriculum) and together we then came up with a short list of potential schools we wanted to find out more about.
Subsequently, during our fact finding trip to Qatar in Jan 2011, we asked to be shown around 4 schools - DESS, Doha College, Sherborne and the Doha British School.
Our outright favourite school was DESS (for children aged 3-11), which had a wonderful feel to it as soon as you walked through the school gate, and immediately I knew this was where I wanted the boys to go. We were also impressed by the Secondary school at Doha College and earmarked that for Rebecca. The other 2 schools had certain positives but unfortunately just didn't tick quite enough boxes for us.
Having chosen the 2 most popular British schools here in Doha, we then had to actually get the children places at the schools for the start of the academic year in Sept 2011. We had read about the huge waiting lists and heard stories about people waiting over a year or more to get a place so anxiously submitted our applications as soon as we returned to the UK.
Rebecca's application for Doha College went through relatively smoothly as we were applying for a place for Year 7, which is the first year of Secondary School. As an academically selective school, no-one had an automatic right of entry into this year group at Doha College and our timing was such that she was able to sit the on-line entrance tests through her Junior School in the UK and be offered her place alongside all other applicants. Her place was secured in the March.
In terms of anxiety, getting the places for the boys at DESS was the most frustrating. We submitted the applications for Ben and Matthew to start in Years 3 and 1 respectively in the Autumn Term but then had to simply play a waiting game. Based on their UK school reports we were not required to attend an interview and the boys were immediately put on the waiting list. We were advised that Ben was 8th on the list for entry into his year group and Matthew was 30th for his!!
As time ticked by, Simon was under pressure to accept and negotiate a date to start his new job. We wanted to move as a family but we didn't want to move without having secured the schooling. We were also not prepared to start the boys in a different school in Doha while waiting for their places at DESS to be confirmed.
We couldn't believe our luck, therefore, when Ben was offered a place in the May. Fees were paid for the rest of the Summer term to secure this place and we continued to wait for news about Matthew. According to the sibling rule, Matthew was now able to be moved right up to the top of the list for his age group and just a couple of weeks later we had the much awaited email that he was in too!
First day in Year 7 at Doha College - Sept 2011
In the 18 months we have been here in Doha I have never been in any doubt about the decisions we made about their schooling as all three children are happy and excelling where they are. As a Primary school, I spend a lot of time at the DESS site and it really is a lovely school. There is obviously less parental involvement at Doha College Secondary, which is to be expected when your children are older, but we know Rebecca is receiving an excellent education there and has made a wide circle of friends. She also has opportunities to participate in a wide selection of activities and there are good communication links between us and the school.
Check out the school websites using the links below for further details.http://www.dess.org/http://www.dohacollege.com/
A copy of the leaflet we were given
On arriving back in Doha when Ethan was 5 weeks old, I immediately went about having him added to our family medical cover at the RasGas clinic. I arrived at the medical centre to do this one morning, only to be told that the company would need to send some documentation over to them before he could be put on their system. This was done fairly promptly and I then started to question how to get him immunised.
The immunisation programme in the UK commences with the first set of injections at 2 months, followed by further jabs at 3 and 4 months. As a parent you are sent a reminder when your baby is due to receive them.
In Qatar, the timings are slightly different and the initial round of jabs are spread out over a longer period, given at 2, 4 and 6 months. Due to the large volume of workers here from certain countries, the TB vaccination is also given to babies at birth. The other vaccinations are similar to those administered in the UK, with just a few variations. You are not sent any reminders when vaccinations are due, although do get given a leaflet which outlines all the necessary information you need. KEEP IT IN A SAFE PLACE!
So following the advice I had been given, I turned up at the Clinic when Ethan was 2 months old and took my ticket ready to see the Doctor - you do not need to make an advance appointment to see a general doctor here, but just turn up and wait your turn. This is great, especially as the waiting time is usually no more than 5-15 minutes (in my experience)!
I was soon called into the Doctors office and found that before any injections here they give the baby a thorough examination rather than just asking you if your baby is well - Ethan had his ears and throat checked, his temperature taken and the doctor also listened to his heart and checked his chest for signs of anything amiss. The opportunity was also taken to measure his length and head circumference and to weigh him. I did find it odd however that he was weighed fully clothed, especially as he hadn't had a nappy change for a while! And it was at this juncture that I learnt that UK pounds and ounzes are NOT the same as American ones - I was asked Ethan's birth weight but when the Doctor converted it into kgs he came up with a different weight to Ethan's UK records!
Once all the checks were complete the Doctor was happy to send us off with the nurse to another room for the injections to be administered. A friend had pre-warned me that the bedside manner when doing this task was not quite the same as back in the UK, where you sit cuddling your child on your lap, while their legs are injected. Here, you are asked to lie your baby down on the bed, they then call in another nurse for assistance and pretty much pin the child down to complete the task! I am not a parent who gets upset every time my child has to have injections but have to say I was quite shocked and vowed not to let them use the same approach the second time around! I wonder if they try to do it like that with the older babies and toddlers?
At 4 months, and 6 months, I returned to have all of Ethan's subsequent immunisations and we now have a nice long break before the next set are due at the time of his first birthday.
There do not seem to be any baby clinics here for getting your baby regularly weighed or any routine developmental checks for them (that I know of), so it is only through the visits I make to the Doctor that Ethan can be monitored. As a mum of four this does not concern me as I know what my baby should be doing and when and can quite easily weigh him on the scales at home, but it would be great if they could look to implementing a system similar to the UK. There we have drop in clinics for getting your baby weighed and having a chat with the Health Visitor about any concerns, and they deliver proper developmental checks at key times in the early years (although I have heard that not all places are offering these now).
Feel free to post comments about your personal experiences around the world. What would be the ideal balance of care?
Immunisation schedule for babies and children in Qatar
Ethan going home 4 hours after birth
Except for when Rebecca was born back in July 2000, I have been lucky enough to have had relatively quick and straightforward birthing experiences. This is exemplified perfectly by the birth of Ben (my second born), who was nearly delivered into the hospital toilet just one hour after being told by staff that I was only just in 'established' labour. I remember having to be practically dragged back to the delivery room by Simon and the Midwives - how I managed to keep any form of dignity intact I'll never know but I didn't really care as 10 minutes later my son was in my arms!
My experiences with babies number 3 and 4 weren't quite so dramatic but still quite speedy once labour really got going. When the Midwife accidentally broke my waters as she checked my progress during labour last July, neither her or I anticipated that Ethan would make an appearance just 20 minutes later. Simon, who had been sent to get me some breakfast, thankfully arrived back in the room just in the nick of time!
Similarly, the speed at which I was discharged from hospital following the births of all 3 boys was also a bit like lightning. In fact, on all three occasions I was back home within 4 hours of their births! For some people this may have been excessively quick but, after the traumatic 3 weeks we had spent with Rebecca in the neonatal intensive care unit all those years ago, I was more than happy to get them home straight away.
Taking Ethan from the hospital, back to our Surrey home was a bitter sweet moment - although we were fortunate enough to return to our family home over the Summer months, it is no longer the place that we actually live in for most of the year. As a result, Ethan doesn't actually have his own beautifully decorated bedroom there, and we had the bare minimum of baby accessories waiting for him, as the bulk of his things were waiting for him back in our villa in Qatar.
Just an hour or so after we walked through the front door, I somehow found myself alone with all four children for the entire afternoon/early evening. I had thought this would be alright when I agreed that Simon could go to the music festival he had got a ticket for, as I knew that newborn babies often sleep pretty much constantly for the first 24 hours.....but this wasn't the case for Ethan - he decided to cry constantly!
In fact he cried non stop for pretty much the whole of the first week!!
The first week was actually really tough for me for many reasons and It didn't help that 2 days after Ethan was born I became quite ill with a viral infection, which lingered for several weeks. Simon and Rebecca both had their birthdays on 17th and 19th July respectively (Ethan was born on the 15th!), and in the case of Simon it was the 'big' one so I had already organised a party to celebrate, which unfortunately ended up taking place just 6 days after Ethan was born!
I wish I could say I enjoyed the party but actually it was extremely stressful trying to play host to 50 or so people while not just feeling ill, but also suffering the after effects of having just given birth! Many people had not seen us for almost a year as we had only recently returned to the UK after 10 months away so it should have been a lovely occasion. However many friends and family were of course seeing Ethan for the first time too so he unfortunately got completely overstimulated and I ended up upstairs alone with a screaming baby while the party carried on downstairs and out in the garden. In fact I was a terrible host so I am extremely grateful to those few family members and friends that helped out with the food and cleared up some of the mess for me.
On the London Eye - first picture of the 6 of us together
At the ripe old age of 38, I actually really struggled for that entire first month, which had never happened to me before. I have always been one of those annoying Mums who has found things pretty easy with a newborn. Retrospectively, I think a lot of the struggle was down to the fact that (a) I was not very well, (b) I was worrying about my Dad, who was undergoing treatment for a serious illness and (c) at the back of my mind I couldn't help but think about the fact that we were only going to be able to share Ethan's first 5 weeks with our family and friends in the UK, as the flight back to Doha was edging ever closer.
In order to return to Qatar, we had to organise Ethan's passport and this entailed a day trip to the Passport office in London to ensure it was received in time. We decided to take the train and make a proper day of it, so at barely 2 weeks old, Ethan got to go up on the London Eye and have a bus tour around the sights of the Capital!
We wanted the children to enjoy their Summer back in England and so the next few weeks were packed full of activities and our feet hardly touched the ground.
All too soon we found ourselves at the airport, saying our goodbyes for another year. It seemed ever more poignant with the knowledge that the 5 week old little baby we were boarding the plane with would no longer be so little the next time we returned.
Some 10 hours later we were walking through the door of our villa in Doha and introducing Ethan to his second home. However, the truth is that, although I see Doha as our second, and temporary home, Ethan will spend the majority of his early years here, and the beautiful home we have in England will be nothing more to him than a place he sometimes visits and the place he first saw out of his newborn eyes. Furthermore, his grandparents, aunties, uncles, nieces and nephews will sadly be strangers, the harsh reality of a family living an ex-pat life.
Trying out his new bed for size on our return to Doha (Sept 2012)