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Doha – A View From Above

12 Jan

The view from Olaf’s office. His office has a balcony (which does not belong to him but to the many pigeons that have chosen to make it their home). The view is of Ramada traffic signals, so-called because there is a Ramada Hotel on the corner. It is however, more commonly known as cholesterol corner due to the large number of fast food restaurants in the area. It is a perfect place to direct people to when they need to meet with you in your office as it is central and everyone knows the area. Just don’t step out onto the balcony!

House Updates and…Being Left Behind

8 Jan

Each house has its own feel, personality and needs (even expat rental houses). Our new house is a lot bigger than our last, we have a total of 6 bathrooms in this one whereas we had half that before. However, our resolution to keep all decor cheap and cheerful remains unchanged. We have no intention of spending vast amounts of money on a house that is not ours. We would like to stay in Qatar for at least 5 years BUT we also know that anything can happen and moving on may be forced upon or chosen by us at any point in time, so we ain’t decorating for life here. We  need to make this house feel like a family home as we spend much of our time in it. We are happy to spend some money on making it so but not too much. 

This is the family room. It is on your left, through an open archway (so to speak) as you enter the front door. It’s where we hangout most of the time. It’s also attached to the kitchen in an open-plan sort of way, which we love. It’s a good cooking, eating, slouching around watching TV kind of room. 

I took these photo’s the first time we saw the house.

 Obviously we went with the furnished option, as most expats do, and getting our own furniture shipped over makes no sense to our current lifestyle.

 We moved on to this a week or two later.

 We unpacked the boxes, took a while to find a place for everything but eventually we got to a state of sub-normality.

 

I’m dying to paint but the thought of repainting before we leave one day puts me off doing anything too severe. So I’ve left the walls ‘practical-expat-cream’ and rather added some art. Maybe art is too strong a word, it’s more of a collection of memories, photos and things we like. All home-made, all cost absolutely nothing as we had everything already, I just needed to find it, sort it out and put it all together – the fun part. The ‘collection’ includes some art that Luka made, mementos from events we’ve attended like the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, things from places we’ve visited like stones from a beach in the south of France and even a map of good old Riyadh including the area we lived in there.

I added some Chinese paper lanterns I had lying in a cupboard for colour. And no I would probably not use paper lanterns in my real house and rather keep them for the garden but there you go. Improvisation.

I had to get rid of the curtains. There was nothing wrong with them in terms of quality but they were heavy, not my style and the red swags just killed me. I quickly whipped up a really simple set of tab top curtains in the course of a Friday morning from a large piece of cheap calico I’ve been carrying around and slowly cutting pieces off for various projects over the last few years. They are like a breath of fresh air although I’m thinking of dyeing them a very pale grey-blue to add some contrast to the cream walls. 

So with a few changes and a bit of effort our family room feels a bit more like home. And the only thing we bought was the table lamp which we got on a sale. Everything else we already owned/were given/found at the dump. I am refining my cheap and nasty economical style of decorating with every new country we move to.

On a completely unrelated and probably more interesting note. Olaf and, our 3-year-old,  Luka will be leaving the country tomorrow. In a bizarre twist of visa related events, my temporary visa was extended and Luka’s not. It’s complicated and I shall not bore you with the details but Luka needs to exit and then re-enter Qatar in order to get a new visa as his will no longer be valid within the next 2 days. Olaf is the only one of the two of us who can take him so the boys will fly to Dubai for dinner tomorrow. A few hours after dinner they will jump back on a plane and fly the hour back so that Luka can have his passport stamped with a new visa. It should be a fun father/son bonding session. Obviously, I am absolutely devastated at being left behind. I have already booked to have my hair cut, nails done etc while I have all those hours to MYSELF.

Oh the joys of expat living!

While we were away…

2 Jan

Relocation logistics have kept me away for a while. No residence permit means no internet, no bank account, no phone line. You’re barely allowed to breathe the Qatari air AND there never seems to be much of a rush to get the residence permit completed so you just have to sit tight and wait it out! But we are up and running again now in our own house with our own internet connection so there should be no more issues going forward.

Here’s a quick recap of what we’ve been up to lately.

First up was getting these driven over from Saudi and unpacked (AGAIN)

And when we needed a break from the chaos, of a house in the middle of unpacking, we went discovering new places to play (whilst it’s winter and the weather makes being outdoors an absolute necessity)

We discovered a great new jogging path near our house, designed and built especially to encourage people to get out and exercise. I don’t think it’s used very much.

It winds its way around the Khalifa stadium and other world-class sporting facilities situated in the area and is known as The Aspire Zone. It’s awesome!

Whilst we were in the area we dropped in to watch some international handball at the Arab Games 2011. It’s not a sport I know very much about as it’s not played much in South Africa but it’s easy enough to understand and is fun to watch. Luka now insists on playing handball at least once a day.

Then there was the small matter of Christmas. It was our first in The Land of Sand as we usually travel over the festive season. It was also the first time we have put up a Christmas tree in about 7 years as we have either lived in a country that doesn’t allow then to be sold or we have simply not been home and so not bothered to buy one.

We cooked and baked a bit,

continued the German tradition of making and decorating a gingerbread house a few days before Christmas

and relived some of our childhood memories on Christmas Eve whilst Luka opened his gifts (before finally closing his eyes to sleep at 11:30!).

We skipped the big  Christmas buffets offered at the hotels and opted for a wonderful meal at a fabulous Turkish restaurant alongside the sea on Christmas Day

 with this as our view

and completed the meal with coffee and a decadent cupcake from Red Velvet Cupcakery. Not your traditional Christmas meal but very memorable for all of us.

Over the last few days we’ve been doing a little painting

 one of us using imaginary paint and the other the real stuff.

This looks set to continue and the results shared soon.

I now have no excuse not to post regular updates of  life in the ‘new’ Land of Sand so I will be back again soon. Thanks for your patience.

Inspired at Aspire

29 Nov

 Whilst people who live in countries that receive a fair amount of rainfall may not fully appreciate a public park or green spaces within the city, most of the expat desert-dwelling  community remain besotted with them. We live for the greenery that a holiday will bring. One of the MOST impressive things about the desert country of Qatar is the greenery that continues to spread across the city of Doha.  This is the main road, Al Waab Street, that runs past our compound.  I find the well-maintained, grass-covered centre island and sidewalks wonderful. It instantly lifts my spirits and makes me very happy to be here when I drive down this road, in the fast lane, taking photographs through the window and chatting to Luka all at the same time!

After being housebound for the last few days, cleaning, sorting and generally trying to make our house feel like a home, Luka and I headed out for a spot of grocery shopping and some adventure this morning. We found Aspire Park, part of the world-class Aspire sport facilities and stadia, a mere 10 minute drive from our house. The Aspire Tower served as part of the sporting facility for the Asian Games in 2006 and has subsequently been converted into a hotel.

 This park was not yet built when we lived here 4 years ago and had me smiling like a Cheshire cat all morning. It feels a lot like the parks you find in European cities and reminds me a little of Hyde Park in London, just not quite as many trees.

The ducks are real. The sound of birds chirping in the trees: playing through the speakers located throughout the park – uh, not so much!

It is a spotless, well-policed park and a great place for a run, bike ride or long walk during the cooler months. We played some football and Luka used the opportunity to ride his scooter whilst I sat on the grass with a recipe book completing my shopping list before hitting the supermarket just next door.

I think that the winter months will find us spending lots of time here. It’s just perfect for quenching our thirst for all things green.

Merry and Bright!

17 Nov

In the build up to Valentines day in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, there is a city-wide ban on the sale of red flowers, especially red roses. The muttawah (religious police) make regular checks on florists and flower sellers around this time and confiscate any contraband they may find. Valentines Day is not recognised in Islam and I think that the authorities also believe that it may encourage men and women to mix in situations where they are not permitted to. My opinion though, not something that I know to be absolutely true and correct.

I relate this piece of information regarding Valentines Day festivities not because I wish to find fault with Saudi Arabia. Anyone who reads this blog regularly will know that our time there holds a very special place in my heart, it was a great experience for me. The reason I bring the matter up is simply to try to help my readers to understand how completely gobsmacked I was when we discovered this 2 nights ago…

christmas trees lining the pavement in front of a store! We had heard that there existed a shop that sold Christmas paraphanalia and were keen to see what they might have. We certainly didn’t expect…wait for it…an entire store dedicated to Christmas. 

Row upon row of wreaths, tinsel, nativity scenes, wrapping paper, Santa’s and even pillar candles with pictures of Jesus. We have just left a country that would probably lock you up if you were found in public with so much as a Christmas bauble in your handbag whereas in Qatar we find ourselves walking freely amongst revolving plastic Christmas trees.

    I remain, as always, continually amazed.

A new kind of ‘normal’

14 Nov

When we first moved away from South Africa 6 years ago, I remember how very strange this new country of Qatar felt to me. From the moment I got off the plane I was struck with how different everything and everyone looked, how bizarre the guttral-sounding Arabic language sounded  even though I come from a country that has 11 official languages. I can recognise the smell of an airport in the Middle East immediately without knowing where I have landed. My senses were completely overwhelmed by this new land. I remember so well the  exact moments where, waiting in my car at a traffic light watching people crossing the road, I would be struck with how bizarre it was that I was living  HERE, in this of all places in the world. It was not a negative, “I don’t want to be here’ feeling just an amazement that my path had brought me here. 

The wonderful thing about being human though is that we adapt to new situations faster than we realise. Before you know it, your sense of normal has shifted. The fact that I can hop into a car in any country in the world and drive no matter what side of the road I need to use without any fear or apprehension is now normal. Our 3-year-old thinks it is normal to fly halfway across the world a few times a year. For a few years in my life it was normal to make my own beer and wine in the kitchen and leave it to ferment in the pantry.

Living in Saudi Arabia really challenges your ideas of normal, so much so that you can begin to lose touch with your roots. To a certain degree you can forget what it is that you enjoyed doing, seeing, watching, listening to as you have little or no access to those things in such a restrictive country. 

Now that we are back in Qatar, my perspective of the country is a little different. We have only been back 4 days so this may be a little premature but I find the place so much prettier than I did before. I am in awe of grassy parks with rolling green lawns, the sea, well-maintained curbs, beautiful wide new roads to drive on, and opportunities to enjoy the outdoors outside of compound walls. On Saturday we went for a stroll on the corniche (Doha’s waterfront). It was quiet and peaceful, the sea was like glass. We passed joggers, kids on bikes, fishermen, couples strolling, activities that are not easy to partake in, in Saudi Arabia. You take your life into your hands trying to jog in an abaya. I have tripped too many times just walking along a pavement to even attempt to run. How my ideas of normal have shifted!

Here’s the corniche on a quiet Saturday morning. It’s pure bliss…

 

The New Digs

12 Nov

One of the first important undertakings when moving to a new country is to find a place to call home. People working for the large oil and natural gas companies in Qatar often move into compounds owned or rented by the company as soon as they arrive.  We, like many other expats living here, are in a different line of work so finding a place to live often falls within our own responsibility.  With 6 years of expat experience behind us, we have learnt that the most effective way of finding a place to live is to research as much as you can before you arrive, make contact with good property agents or compound managers and ‘befriend them for all your worth’ until eventually they give in and you secure a house. This is all left to Olaf as I am a hopeless negotiator and flirt.

Four years ago when we last lived in Qatar housing was in short supply and very expensive. The situation seems to have changed a bit since then with compounds, apartment blocks and free-standing houses springing up everywhere at a rapid rate easing the demand somewhat. This country is developing and growing FAST.

Having lived here before we had a good idea of the areas we thought would work for us and the type of housing that would suit our family and lifestyle. During the 5 weeks that Olaf has been living here before us, he did all the leg-work, meeting an agent, looking at houses and securing us a home before Luka and I arrived. He did an excellent job and I couldn’t happier with the choice he made. We had the freedom of choosing a free-standing house, an apartment or a house in a compound. We opted for compound living again as we like living in a small community, feeling secure and being able to use shared facilities like a gym and pools without having to maintain them ourselves. 

I snapped a few (bad) pics yesterday when we went over to see the house for the first time. It has all the usual basics like furniture and white goods but obviously needs some love and lots of personal touches to turn it into a home. I am more than happy to oblige!

Our street within the compound

 

The compound pool, with jacuzzi and kiddies pool behind me out of picture

 

Our Backyard

I’m really excited about having our own outdoor space for Luka to play without me worrying about him falling into a pool or going walkabout, a place to barbeque with friends and just generally hangout undisturbed.

Family room and huge kitchen in the distance

 

Lounge and diningroom

 The house has 4 double en-suite bedrooms upstairs, some with little balconies of their own. It’s more space than our little family of 3 really require but these houses only come in one size. We have plans to change one of the bedrooms into a craft/playroom and will keep the other as a guest bedroom. Now that we no longer live in Saudi Arabia, people suddenly want to visit us again! We look forward to having all our family and friends to stay. 

We are currently staying in a hotel/serviced apartment and are due to move into our house later this week. However, we are still waiting for our household goods from Saudi to arrive so we may have to delay the move until they arrive. It would probably be more comfortable to sleep on sheets and have a kettle to boil water than not!