When it was announced that Stomp were coming to Doha, there was a real buzz about the place. I knew nothing about the musical theatre show but quickly realised it must be something pretty special once I started reading up about it, although quite how a group of 8 people were going to entertain a full auditorium by making music with everyday objects - brooms, dustbins, kitchen sinks, etc still remained a bit of a mystery but hey ho I was interested to find out!!
Simon purchased two tickets for the first show on the evening of the 6th June - they were the cheapest tickets at QR300 (that's over £50 each!) but in a prime position on the front row of the upper balcony and slap bang right in the middle of the theatre hall. I printed the tickets and took them to Virgin Megastore to be authenticated and waited for the date of the show to arrive.
However, a week or so before the anticipated event Si came home from work and announced that he had been invited to a stag do in Bahrain that weekend and would be flying out on the afternoon of the 6th, missing the show! Two of our children also then came home with party invitations for the same afternoon/evening, add the regular meetings at Cubs and Beavers into the mix and it started to look like I would have to miss out and just sell the tickets for the show to someone else. But for once my selfish streak emerged and instead I somewhat guiltily told the children that they would have to turn down their party invites!
On the morning of that first show the year 5 children at DESS (Ben and Matthew's school) were really lucky to have a visit from the performers of Stomp who came into the school to run a workshop for them (see the photos below - taken by a member of staff). This was to give just a small taster of what was in store later that evening.
So that night, after finding a friend who was happy to come along to the show with me, we headed off to the QNCC (Qatar National Convention Centre), an amazing building with a rather interesting spider sculpture inside it. We then sat spellbound for an hour and a half as the most fantastic performance was played out before us. There was humor, a few acrobatic tricks and the most amazing musical beats created from the most bizarre everyday objects, including shopping trolleys! When you put together a list of all the objects that were used in the show it sounds very peculiar, but I absolutely loved the entire show, which tours worldwide, and can't recommend it highly enough if it comes to a City near you (unfortunately we were not permitted to take photos of the performance)!
I am now forever hopeful that Matthew will soon forget about the laser wars party he missed out on and Rebecca will shrug off the pool party she missed with friends at, not just anybodys Villa/pool, but at an al Thani home (important people here in Doha)! - kids I am truly sorry but at least Mum had a fun night out!!
A friend's back patio step after the sandstorms
The last three days have been blustery here in Doha and sandstorms have been wreaking havoc. The inside of our Villa now resembles a sand pit and my face has broken out in spots due to the constant sand and grit it has been exposed to every time I have stepped out of the front door!
The weather seems somehow symbolic to the way I have been feeling about my blog, as for the past couple of months I have been struggling with what to write, not because I haven't got anything to say but because I have been torn as to what type of things I really want to be writing about. When I first set up this page I was full of ideas of how I was going to give information about life in Qatar, to help those people who are contemplating moving and making a life here.
I remember vividly the way in which Simon and I spent hours and hours on the internet trying to find out everything we needed to know about how things were done here before we made the move to Doha, and some of the blogs from ex-pats already living here proved very useful in giving us a realistic picture of what to expect. I guess I initially thought that I wanted to emulate something similar for future ex-pats.
However, at the same time I desperately wanted to create a personal record of the day to day happenings within our family unit as something for us to look back on and remember in years to come. Somewhere along the way I sidelined this goal and as a result have found myself unable to post here as regularly as I had hoped.
I am not a naturally witty person so my entries are never going to have you screaming with laughter (my husband believes that I have absolutely no sense of humor at all!) but I have made the decision that from now on I am going to concentrate my focus on our family adventures, rather than simply writing informative pieces about processes and procedures in Doha!
That is not to say that these elements won't crop up from time to time but they will be less obvious than before. in the 6 months since I set up this page I have had an amazing 10.7k unique visitors to my site and to those who will no longer find what they are looking for here, I apologise, but there are some significant milestones looming just round the corner for our family - it is going to be my 40th later this month, then my youngest child will be celebrating his first birthday in July and just a couple of days following that my eldest will finally enter the dark realms of the teen years! All too quickly the children will be grown up, but if I can diarise just a few moments of our life together now then we will have something to look back on and cherish in future years.
I hope that you will still want to stop by and take a peak at my posts here as you would of course still be extremely welcome - perhaps you may even wish to comment on the posts you can relate to!
Now where to start.....the fantastic Stomp show I saw last week at the QNCC or Rebecca's upcoming trip to the orthodontist to find out when she will have her bottom braces fitted?!
Our Villa in Doha
As the children edge ever closer towards the end of their second school year here in Doha, I find myself thinking about just how quickly and easily we were able to adapt to living such a hugely different life when we first moved to Qatar back in 2011. I often find myself pondering our lives here and marvel at all the new things we have been able to experience by living abroad. As I look around at the hot, dusty landscape, I think about the introduction we have had to other cultures, and smile at the way in which we have learnt to do everyday tasks in such a completely different way to how we had always done them previously. At the same time, I have of course learnt the need to be more patient as not everything is always done here at quite the speed we were accustomed to back in the UK!
When I sit waiting at red traffic lights I take a look around me, at the Qatari men in their Land Cruisers, with mobiles fixed to their ears; at the Indian drivers in their somewhat smaller cars with little children inside, sitting on laps or moving freely around the inside of the car, with not a seatbelt in sight; at the bright turquoise Karwa taxis that stand out from all the other cars and are invariably driving in the opposite direction to where their fare paying passenger actually wishes to be, and at the huge big lorries which are busy moving construction materials to one of the many building sites around Doha's quickly expanding skyline. Except for the Qatari drivers, all the rest of us have something in common, the fact that we all have another place, another land, that we call 'home' - that it is the prospect of work, at somewhat differing levels, that have united us here in Doha.
Our house in England
Soon we will be returning to England for the Summer break and I know that after the initial frenzy at the supermarket, buying and relishing everything we have gone without for so long and seeing our much loved extended family, we will quietly slot back into our life there for 2 months. Initially, we may well enjoy the typically dull British weather, the smaller cars and the more interesting single carriageway roads. We will love seeing so much greenery again and having the feel of carpet beneath our feet as we get out of bed in the mornings. In fact, we will enjoy being in the one place that is our 'true' home. Yet, soon we will no doubt start to complain about the high cost of petrol and diesel (and probably everything else!), the fact that we have to wear jumpers or coats again and the way in which rain will frequently spoil our planned trips out.
Before we know it the end of August will quickly arrive and we will pack our cases and head back to the land of sand, laden down with all those extra purchases that can't be made in Doha. The sun will beat down on us as we step off the plane and, in the space of a week, allowing for that initial period of adjustment, we will be 'home' again! We are so lucky to have 2 such vastly different places to call home and it will never cease to amaze me the way in which we can slot so seamlessly back into hugely different environments so quickly and easily. It would have been simple to have said 'no' to the opportunity to move here, but for once we stepped up to the mark and accepted the challenge. We are in fact the lucky ones now as we always have another place to escape to, so when the boredom of day-to-day living starts to set in at one home, we can look at the calendar and start the countdown to when we can escape to the other!
'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/
When I first talked about our intended move to Doha, in Qatar, I saw a lot of blank faces staring back at me as many of my friends and family had never even heard of the place (not surprising as I hadn't known myself where it was a few months before the big announcement!). I therefore found myself frequently having to explain that Qatar is in The Middle East, and is the country located between the UAE and Saudi Arabia. It would probably have been a lot simpler and sounded much more appealing if Si had declared he had found a new job in Australia..... or maybe New Zealand. That would most definitely have saved us the looks we regularly got as people wondered why on earth we were moving the family 3000 miles to somewhere they had never heard of and where ladies had to modify what they wore, ensuring their shoulders and knees were always covered when out in public. I thought it best not to mention the fact that, as a Muslim country, alcohol and pork products are not available on the Supermarket shelves!
Doha is the capital city of the state of Qatar and is located along the coast of the Persian Gulf. It is not a large city and, when we first arrived in 2011, I had a much used little map to refer to whenever I went out visiting somewhere new. However, I was able to put that aside relatively quickly and was soon navigating this small, but quickly expanding city with ease (and that's saying something if you are to believe what my husband says about my navigational skills!).
In January 2012, the population of Qatar is reported to have exceeded 1.76 million people with over 60% of these people living in Doha. Men outnumber women greatly here (3 men to every lady!) and it is obvious to see straight away the huge diversity of nationalities here - in fact, Qatari nationals are in the minority and account for only about 20% of the country's entire population. The majority of residents are expatriates, coming in the main from South Asian countries - India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the Phillipines, etc. There are however a substantial number of Western folk here too and after the initial culture shock when we first moved here I have never felt particularly out of place when I am out and about in the City.
With some stunning buildings, Doha really is a beautiful place if you can look past the
dusty and unlandscaped roads that you often find yourself driving along when travelling away from the heart of the city and between landmarks. Don't get me wrong as some areas are beautiful and green with the same feel as Dubai, but with the hot climate here and the constant care these areas need to maintain them, I can forgive that not everywhere has been afforded that magic touch yet.
The City is a hive of activity in its drive for expansion and growth, with cranes and new buildings changing the skyline at an alarming rate. Everybody says that Qatar is about 10 years behind Dubai in its growth and development and it is obvious to see that the Qatari people are determined to fulfil their quest for continued expansion. New projects are starting daily and we know they will get finished.....eventually, but maybe not on quite the schedule that had initially been predicted. The long awaited IKEA is however now due to open in January 2013 and is currently the talk of the expat community - it's the little things that please us here!!
In Doha you have to drive pretty much everywhere. Gone are the days of just stepping out of the house and taking a pleasant little walk to school, to the shops or just to a friend's house (unless they live on your Compound that is!). It is a shame but I can no longer leave the house and simply go for a run like I used to in the UK. Instead I am confined to running on the treadmill, doing laps of the Compound or driving over to perhaps the Corniche or Aspire Park to get some exercise (when the heat is not too relentless). Needless to say I don't run as much as I used to and this is just one of the things I do miss about my old life.
And that is just it - for everything I like about my life here in the desert, there is always a gentle reminder of the life I have left behind. I have to hope that the new experiences we gain by moving to this foreign land will enrich our lives in such a way that we will not regret those years our family will inevitably have lost out on in the UK. I also want to change those blank faces and swap them for knowing looks and hope to achieve this by sharing snippets of our life in Doha through this site, so please do return to see new posts here soon!!