PictureSimon and Ben appearing in Qatar Sport magazine
It has now been over six months since I vowed that I was going to get myself into shape again and drop a few dress sizes. I am sure that there are a few people out there who can empathise when I say that so far my journey seems to have stalled at the start! I've lost a few pounds, gained a few pounds, lost them again....and gained them again! The reality is nothing much has really changed.
It's not that I lacked enthusiasm in the beginning - I ran/jogged regularly, cut down my alcohol intake for a while and tried to eat less.
On returning to Doha in September I started running laps around the Compound but soon found that my back would stiffen and start to ache shortly after returning from my runs and at night time the pain would be so excruciating that I would be unable to even turn myself over in bed. As a result, I had to stop running for a while to let my body recover.
My next attempt at pounding the pavements, a couple of months later, resulted in a stress fracture in my foot, which then put me out of action for yet another 6 weeks.
So it is only now, that I am once again trying to grasp that nettle and incorporate some form of exercise into my daily routine.

Today is National Sports Day here in Qatar. In a bid to help stem ever increasing obesity rates, the Emir declared in 2012 that the second Tuesday in February would become a national holiday and people would be given the opportunity to participate in a variety of sporting activities across Doha on that day.

Last year was the second National Sports Day and we took the children to take part in one of the specially arranged events, the Doha Dash. Dependent on age and ability you could take part in either a 1km, 3km or 5km run or a 1km walk around Loseil race track. 

Matthew took part in the 1km race along with some of his friends from Beavers, while Simon, Rebecca and Ben did the 3km race. I watched and cheered them on with a then 6 month old Ethan. It was obvious that Ben really enjoyed running and he and Simon crossed the line together in 19 minutes. A photo of them, which was taken by the official event photographer as they crossed the line, later went on to appear in a number of newspapers and magazines over the following weeks!

After seeing the famous picture of Simon and Ben splashed within the pages of a newspaper once again last month, we quickly signed everyone back up for this year's event too. Just like last year though I unfortunately looked on from the sidelines with Ethan as the rest of the family enjoyed the buzz of racing around a part of the international circuit with fellow competitors. Wearing their same football tops, Simon and Ben crossed the line in unison again today, but this time they were a whole 3 minutes quicker than last year, finishing in just 16 minutes (according to their chip times they were 75th and 76th out of a field of almost 600 runners)! Rebecca too, who doesn't usually like to run, managed to complete the distance faster than before and Matthew ran his 1km race so quickly that I didn't even make it to the finish in time to take a picture! 

By Midday we were back home, everyone was showered and changed and the children were once more back to their usual pursuits of lounging around watching television, messaging friends via the iPad and sitting playing on their games console. The delights of outdoor pursuits may be finished for today but I can live in hope that the Doha Dash will have motivated them to try more energetic activities once again tomorrow.      

As for me, it will be my turn to pull on my running attire as I take to running laps of our Compound tonight.........under the safe cover of darkness, which is just how I prefer it! 

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!!
PictureA 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! 

Following my 5 week stay back in the UK, I finally made it back to the land of sand late last Friday evening, complete with 4 children, 5 suitcases, hand luggage, a pushchair and a car seat in tow - not bad going even if I do say so myself! The fact that my husband was able to collect us and fit everyone and everything into just the one car to drive us home immediately served as a very quick reminder of just how much larger vehicles are over here, and of course the driving mentality in Doha also quickly came back to me as we drove home!

From the youngest person's perspective, a lot had changed during our time away - not only had his toothless smile been replaced with 4 teeth which had just grown through (not entirely painlessly!), but he was now 'on the move' - no longer staying put where he had been placed, but instead crawling around everywhere at a speed that was increasing daily. He was also pulling himself up to stand at anything and everything, where at some point he would no doubt wobble dangerously, before promptly falling back down again! 

This meant that a few drastic measures needed to be taken as everyone living here will know that Villas in the Middle East are not entirely without risks for babies and toddlers once they are mobile - floors are tiled throughout and there are extra long staircases (we have 24 steps to be exact) that would no doubt prove highly exciting, but exceedingly dangerous,  to an inquisitive 9 month old. It would also quite probably be possible for a baby to fall through the iron rails themselves, judging by the gaps between some of them in our Villa!

Luckily, Simon had been busy preparing for our return during the previous week. We had obtained pressure fit stair gates and extending bars from the UK already, so Si arranged for the fantastic Melvin on our Compound to come and fit them for us. Staircases are wider here than in the UK and due to the iron railings it is very difficult to fit them without having a wooden panel fitted to the top and bottom banister rails - Melvin was the man for the job!

With large open plan living, the hard tiled floors also gleamed dangerously, so Simon took it upon himself to take a trip to the newly opened IKEA and there he purchased an extra 7 rugs to dot around the large expanses of floor space we have - we are therefore now the proud owners of a grand total of 17 rugs throughout the Villa! 

In fact, when I was first given 'the guided tour', as we spoke on FaceTime one day, it felt like the floor was just one big jigsaw of rugs, but the reality is that it is a vast improvement and, if nothing else, stops Ethan's knees from becoming so cold and bruised. I think I will save worrying about him tripping over them once he takes his first proper steps until a later date....! 

After the initial shock of finding himself in strange surroundings again (5 weeks must have been a long time for a baby of his age to be away), Ethan has been gaining in confidence daily and I am starting to find that I keep 'losing' him around the Villa if my head is turned for more than a few seconds. 

Now where did I put that play pen.......?

Rugs, stair gates...and more rugs!

29 Jan 1947 - 6 March 2013
It has been a few weeks since I last published a post on my blog as late at night, on Wednesday 6th March, I received the news that all expats must dread when living so far away from loved ones, to say that my Dad had unexpectedly passed away that afternoon. 

My heart had been heavy when I had seen the Facebook message that came through from my Mum at 10.31pm - 'Darling, please could you phone me as soon as possible xxxx' and, sadly, I instinctively knew what she was going to say before I had even hit the dial button to make the Skype call back to her.

Sitting alone at the desk on the upstairs landing of our Villa in Doha and staring at the faces of my Mum, one of my brothers and my sister through the PC while receiving such devastating news seemed extremely surreal. All I could think was what on earth was I doing over 3000 miles away when I should have been right there, back in the UK, with the family. Why hadn't I been there to visit him in hospital in the preceding few days? Why hadn't I got myself on a flight as soon as he was admitted to hospital 5 days earlier?......because, quite simply, I hadn't known that if I didn't I would never have the opportunity to see or talk to him again.
The last time I had physically seen my Dad was during the first week of December when I had made a one week trip back home to visit him with Ethan. You see, my lovely, gentle Dad was diagnosed with kidney cancer in April/May last year. He had surgery to have the affected kidney and ureter removed and had then gone on to have 6 cycles of chemotherapy treatment, which had finally finished by November - I had flown back to the UK soon after, as I had wanted to be there to check that he was ok and starting to recover from his treatment. 

As it turned out I was actually there to rejoice with the rest of the family as he was in fact given the all clear for cancer during my stay. I was therefore able to return to Qatar a much happier daughter (I had struggled to settle back in Doha after returning late August due, in the main, to the fact that Dad was ill). Subsequently we spoke to him on Skype on Christmas Day, but after that had only communicated via Facebook messenger services (neither myself or my family are particularly big fans of staring at each other through Skype video!). However, suddenly he would never be there sitting chatting to us through the computer screen with his large glass of red wine in hand again - how do you begin to reconcile yourself with that?

My Dad's death was unexpected, although there were indicators that all was not well in the month before he died. He had started suffering from nausea and sickness, completely lost his appetite and started to lose significant amounts of weight. As a result, he had had an endoscopy on 24th Feb, where they had found some inflammation to the lining of his stomach and duodenum. A sample was taken and it was believed to be a type of bacteria that could readily be treated with antibiotics, so he was reassured that it was nothing sinister and he returned home to wait the 7-10 days it would take for the results to come back.

Yet, on Sunday 3rd March, my Mum contacted me to tell me that Dad had been admitted to hospital on the previous Friday. The endoscopy had came back as negative for 'helicobacter pylori' and she had taken him to A&E on the Friday, as he was becoming increasingly breathless on exertion and feeling very weak and unwell. He had started off on the Medical Assessment Unit where they had run some initial tests, took bloods etc. but was then moved to the Acute Dependancy Unit because they were concerned about his kidney function. The blood results had also revealed that something wasn't right with his liver, but the doctors wanted to try and sort his kidney function out first before worrying about that. They intended to allow 7-10 days for his kidney to try and kick start into working normally. 

I was obviously extremely worried and had daily conversations with my Mum. In my mind I was aware that the school Easter holidays were coming up so I thought that I could fly back with the children to see him just a couple of weeks later (My Mum and sister had actually got a trip to Doha booked for the first week of April but I had told them to cancel it). As with all these things you don't know what the next day will bring and so I sat waiting for news not knowing if I should be jumping on a plane and heading home immediately.

As it turned out, Dad was transferred to St Helier hospital at Carshalton, where there is a specialist Renal Unit, on the evening of 4th March. They planned to give him dialysis the following morning, as his kidney function had deteriorated. They also planned to give him an MRI scan at some stage to get a better idea of what was going on with his liver, etc.

My Sister managed to get some time off work and went to visit Dad on the afternoon of the 6th along with my Mum, who had obviously been seeing him daily throughout. It was while they were sitting chatting to him that he actually suffered a huge heart attack and was subsequently unable to be revived by medical staff. (It was suspected, but never actually confirmed, that Dad probably had cancer secondaries in his liver - I can therefore take some comfort knowing that he passed away so quickly and with Mum and Charlotte by his side).

When I received this terrible news later that evening I was in Doha alone with the children because Simon was away on business over in Houston. After speaking to my family I therefore had to get in touch with him and together we had to try and sort out the logistics of how he was going to get back to Doha, how I was going to get back to England and what we were going to do with the children regarding schooling and taking them out of school in order for all of us to return to the UK. 

Needless to say I did not sleep at all that night and I even felt a bit of a fraud when I took the boys to school in the morning just as if nothing had happened - I didn't want to break the news to them until they were back home from school that afternoon for obvious reasons (my daughter already knew as had woken the previous night when I was talking on Skype) and just how do you actually go about telling friends that your Dad has just died without bursting into tears and making them feel uncomfortable?  

However, after lots of offers of help from many of my wonderful friends in Doha over the next 24 hours, I was able to return to the UK on 9th March with Ethan, where I have remained ever since. Simon and the other 3 children returned a week later. The last 5 weeks here have been a complete rollercoaster of emotions, full of funeral preparations, the funeral itself and long hours of helping Mum with paperwork. Most importantly though I have been able to spend precious time with the family, something you almost forfeit when taking the decision to move abroad.

I was lucky in that I did get to go and see my Dad one last time, to plant a kiss on his forehead and to tell him that I loved him, but not in the way I would have liked to, for he was no longer breathing and full of life - it was my Dad physically laying there in front of me in the Chapel of Rest, but he, the man I knew and loved, was no more and I know that my life will never be the same again.

As I prepare to head back to Doha for the next 3 months, I just want you all to stop and think about when you last spoke to your families, and if perhaps it's been a little too long, please just make that call to them today and tell them that you love them!

Collecting our first ever 4x4 - August 2011
One of my greatest fears on arriving in Qatar back in 2011 was having to get behind the wheel and drive around. I had practically no experience of driving on the right hand side of the road, most of the cars looked like huge tanks and, to be perfectly honest, the manner in which a lot of people seem to drive here is, to put it politely, not quite so courteous as we were used to back in the UK!

Simon knew my fears which is why, within just one day of arriving in Doha, he took me to some of the car dealers and made me test drive a variety of vehicles. I was not at all happy to be plunged into the deep end but retrospectively it really was the only way to go.

A few days later we were in possession of our very own brand new 4x4, a Honda Pilot, which seemed big but not scarily so - unlike the Nissan Armada, which having just got off a flight from the UK, was just too big a jump up at that time (my perception may have changed a little now however!). 

It was while we were at the car dealership waiting to be given the keys to our new car that we had our first memorable Doha moment - Matthew told us that he had just seen a ninja walking past! What he had actually just witnessed was his first sighting of a lady dressed in an abaya!

So, a few things you need to know/remember when driving in Doha:

1.Don't be surprised to see children clambering around without seatbelts on as they are being driven around. Sadly, the majority of  families (excluding Westerners) do not make their children wear seatbelts and are happy to let them hang their heads out of the windows and let their babies and toddlers sit on the laps of other passengers as they drive along. It is no wonder that the child mortality rate in road traffic accidents is so high here and I will never get used to the way these poor young children's safety is so readily ignored.

2. If a Landcruiser comes speeding up behind you flashing his lights then make sure you move over quickly as he's certainly not going to slow down and will more than likely try to bump you off the road!

3. When crossing a roundabout the easiest thing to do is close your eyes and put your foot down full on the accelerator as drivers often ignore road etiquette and fail to give way when they should. They also frequently drive straight through red traffic lights!

4. It's a fact that if you want to turn left, get in the far right lane and then swerve across 3 lanes of traffic at the last minute to make your turn. There is no need to indicate as everyone will of course already know your intentions!

5. If there are 3 lanes leading up to a roundabout then don't be surprised to find 5 cars across them, all trying to get on the roundabout at the same time.

6. Size does matter - you need a big car as otherwise no-one will see you and you will get squashed fairly rapidly.

7. If the queue heading towards a roundabout seems busier than usual, then that is likely to be because the traffic police are on the roundabout 'improving' traffic flow!

8. Why drive on the road when you can whizz across a dirt track in your 4x4 to cut a corner?

9. If you want to know what it feels like to be truly petrified, just head towards the Industrial Area where you will find dirt tracks instead of roads and cars flying towards you from all directions!

10. One positive to finish off - Fuel is EXTREMELY cheap here - less than £10 to fill the car up from empty, as compared to £80 to fill up our Ford S-max back in the UK!! Yes, you heard me right, fuel is extremely CHEAP so you can afford to run your air con full blast all day and leave the engine running when you pick up the kids from school. Ok, so it may not be environmentally sound to do that but it is CHEAP!!

Fanar, Qatar Islamic Cultural Centre/Mosque
Having a young baby in the home, you wouldn't be surprised to hear that I am often woken early in the mornings. However, my sleep is not actually disturbed by the sound of a crying baby, but rather by the early morning call to prayer emanating from the loudspeakers of the 4 mosques surrounding our Compound. I have read that it is Islam law to have a mosque within walking distance of all Muslim people and therefore wherever you live in Doha, there is no escaping this early wake up call.

Living in a Muslim country, I am able to witness the local people practising their religion on a daily basis. People of this faith are very devoted and this is shown five times a day during the call to prayer. Just like church bells ringing out on a Sunday morning, the call to prayer echoes throughout the country during the day on loudspeakers that have been posted on street corners, mosques, restaurants, shopping malls, and schools. A loud, deep voice echoes over the country, chanting verses from the Holy Qur’an. For a Muslim, you are being summoned to stop whatever you are doing and worship your God, no matter where you are. For a non-Muslim, it can be disturbing and peaceful at the same time. For me, it’s a reminder of the world I find myself living in and I actually love sitting out in the garden listening to the melodic sounds of the mosques on a Friday lunchtime (this is the special day for prayer) - there is something very lovely about the sound.

The prayer intervals change each day depending on the sun. It begins at dawn (currently about 4.40am!) and then repeats three times during the day, with the last one two hours after the sun has set. Most Muslims go to a mosque or prayer room during these times. However, if a Muslim is travelling and unable to reach a designated place of worship, he will first determine the location of Mecca and then roll out his prayer carpet and begin praying to Allah, something we often see when out and about in the various parks. Also, if you are driving during the call to prayer, you will be able to hear it through the various radio stations.

After 18 months living here I am somewhat embarrassed and disappointed that I have not found out more about the religion, which surrounds us - yes, I hear the Call to Prayer and I know a little about the month of Ramadan, but I have never really taken the time or effort to find out any more details. I was therefore really pleased last week when Matthew went on a trip with his  Beaver unit to visit Fanar, the Qatar Islamic Cultural Centre, that works on motivating society to become more informed about Islam. There he was able to visit the mosque (pictured above) and learn a little about Islam and what the religion means to its followers. Each child was then given a couple of books with basic information about Islam (excerpts shown below) and had their name written out in Arabic. He had a great time and was at last able to make sense of the noises he hears from the mosques as unfortunately we had never thought to talk about it with any of our children!

NOTE TO SELF - be more aware of what is going on around us and don't forget to share information with the kids. There are some great learning opportunities here for them and we mustn't waste them!! 

'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.