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)
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?
Our second Christmas in Doha has now been and gone and, in a time of quiet reflection, I find myself pondering one of the sacrifices we have made by moving abroad.
As a child, Christmas was always an exciting time of the year for me. It started in earnest when the whole family (there were quite a few of us) walked up to our local Church for the Crib service on Christmas Eve and sang, in what I like to think was a melodic way, an array of well known Carols. If I was lucky, I would be chosen to carry one of the Nativity scene pieces down to the front of the alter and lay it in its rightful place as the story of Christmas slowly unfolded.
After the Church service we would return home and sit down as a family with bowls of steaming soup and crusty rolls. We had to save our appetite for the snacks that would be on offer a short while later as my parents always played host to friends who would pop in for a drink to toast the arrival of Christmas. There was always a sense of excitement and lots of laughter in the house.
Christmas Day was thrilling from start to finish - from awaiting the arrival of relatives, to opening our presents, the hilarity that ensued around the dinner table, the afternoon lull as we started to build/play with our new toys and the eventual sitting around the television with our warm sausage rolls, mince pies, Tunis cake and/or slices of Christmas cake.
This happened every year, even into adulthood, until Simon and I had our own little family and it made sense to remain at home with them for Christmas and create our own special experiences for them. But still we were surrounded by family. This time the rest of the family came to our house on Christmas Eve and we were the ones that plied them with food and alcohol until late at night, played various games together and laughed until our sides hurt.
Now it was the turn of our children to leave a little drink and snack out by the fireplace for Santa, along with a little something for the reindeer, before heading off to bed. We would spend Christmas morning alone with the children and eat dinner as a small family unit, but then the hoardes would descend upon us again mid afternoon to continue where we had left off the night before.
As an expat, you don't have the extended family to share Christmas with anymore and therefore it is a whole different experience. The very thing that has always made this time of year so very special is missing. An afternoon Skype on the big day just doesn't cut it!!
Add to that the fact that we are living in a Muslim country that doesn't celebrate Christmas and I'm sure you will understand my maudlinness. I want to walk into the shopping centre and hear Christmas music playing, see all the seasonal food products and gifts in the windows, even fight the crowds in a last minute dash to buy additional gifts, and to generally soak up the atmosphere that you only find in the build up to Christmas. I can not find that experience here. If you look hard enough you can visit the Hotels when they have the lighting of their Christmas trees and hear a couple of carols sung. The kids can also go and decorate gingerbread houses but other than that there is very little on offer to help build that sense of anticipation and one aisle of Christmas decorations in the Supermarket hardly inspires me. The school even has to use the term Festive Fair, not Christmas Fair, to describe their annual event at the end of November, as reference to the religious event is not allowed here.
For the past 2 years we have found ourselves travelling to Dubai in the week before the 25th, just to try and find that little bit of Christmas magic, and in part it has worked. We have then returned to Doha for the big day itself. Last year we went to a Christmas Brunch at the Four Seasons Hotel. We were there with a big group of friends and sure enough had a really lovely day, but somehow there was something missing and it just wasn't the same.
This year we stayed at home in the Villa for Ethan's first Christmas, just the 6 of us, and Simon collected our pre-ordered turkey with all the trimmings from the Movenpick Hotel at Midday (costing QR400/approx £75). The kids had loads of presents to open as we tried to make up for all those gifts they would have got in the past from other family members, but didn't have this year. We also downloaded some Christmas films to watch together and let the kids eat whatever sugary treats they wanted, but unfortunately I felt that, even though the kids seemed excited and happy, there was still something missing........
For me, Christmas is a time for entire families to be together, from the very youngest members, right through to the oldest generations and when that can't happen then the magical sparkle of the Festive season just doesn't seem to shine so brightly somehow.
Christmas cards sent to us from family in the UK
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!!