Saturday, September 28, 2013

Eight Sweet Months

This month, we saw for sure that we have yet another fish in our family. She gets so excited even just as we approach the water, kicking her legs and squealing.

Look at that serious little face, watching momma.

Yes, sometimes it's more fun to just EAT the floaty.

And this weekend we bought baby gates. No, our girl is not yet crawling, but who needs to crawl when you can simply strong arm your way across the entire main floor? Her chubby little arms pull the rest of her body along, from living room to dining room, along the mats in the hall. She is so busy exploring, smashing things against the ground to see what sounds they'll make, checking out all the different textures of our floors... laminate, marble, and rug, and -God help us- eating anything she finds along the way.

This month she has also learned to clap. And you can be sure that anytime Isabelle is crying, a simple clapping song or chant will get her smiling again. She has also learned to say bye-bye, sticking out her arm, opening and closing her little fist. And every night, while Jeff reads bedtime stories to Kaiya, Izzy and I lie on the big master bed and roll. I lie beside her and watch as she tumbles over and over, from one side of the bed to the next, smiling and giggling all the way.

Yes, we've got a happy one.

Ohhhh darling Epp face

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Doha Traffic Woes

Stick your head in the sand. Just do it. It's often a more viable option than having to deal with the traffic in Qatar. Our first year, we were dead determined to explore all the many corners of our new home, and so we did, often paying the price by spending hours sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic. As the year wore on, we found ourselves picking and choosing our destinations more carefully, considering factors such as day of the week, time of the day, and our own general levels of irritability.

le traffic FOU de Doha
Ya, we never even bother going to this part of the city anymore.
By year two, our limits became more defined, especially with my growing pregnant belly, and then a newborn baby. We avoided traffic most evenings, thinking twice and three times before going out for dinner. And when we did go, sometimes to Souq Waqif, we often regretted the decision, first fighting traffic, then parking, then our own annoyance as hungry tummies demanded to be fed. I still have terrible memories of waiting, with Nathan and Rose and Kaiya, and merely-weeks-old Isabelle, at the Spring Festival at Souq Waqif, while Jeff desperately tried to make his way back with the Pathfinder from our far-flung parking spot. Our texts became more urgent as baby came closer to feeding time. "They keep blocking more roads! The light has changed 5 times and I've only moved up 4 spaces!" He finally found us and we vowed to NEVER do that again. (Well, at least not till the Souq's parking garage is constructed).

And now, year three, the traffic madness continues. Over the summer, we tried to mostly ignore Doha News reports on our Facebook feeds, warning of road construction covering an ever-increasing number of streets, including the whole of Doha's much loved Corniche. All part of Doha's booming population, and the push to get ready for 2022.

Vehicles are seen in a traffic jam at Doha's corniche February 15, 2012. REUTERS/Mohammed Dabbous
Oh, beloved, crazy-busy Corniche. Taken from:

But when we came back, it was not to be ignored. Our neighbour told stories of her daughter's bus time being put back by one full hour to accommodate the road madness. "They want to pick her up at 5:20 in the morning! What am I to do?" I silently muttered my thanks for the fact that Kaiya's school is a short back-roads drive away. The closer we came to the start of school, the thicker the mass of cars became as expats returned to dizzy Doha after their summer adventures. And then, this week, it all came crashing in. "Carmageddon," as Doha News titled it. A 15-minute drive to work suddenly took 45 minutes. Three lane roads became parking lots, with the more aggressive using right shoulders and slip roads to try bypassing the worst of the crowd. My bumper almost kissed the one in front of me a number of times as I continued nudging forward, trying not to let the skippers merge back in.

I am increasingly thankful for the new mall that has opened nearby. Ironically, the one with the Tim Horton's in it. It's literally a two-minute drive away, without even the need to hop across the Shamal. And go figure, an even bigger mall is set to open right next to it. I keep joking that soon our driving will be limited to work, the Lulu Hypermart just down the street, and those two malls. Wait... who am I kidding? Our driving IS already mostly limited to those places. With two small children, it's not worth the aggravation of going much farther.

Thankfully we still have Friday mornings. Friday, the holy day, day for worship and family. Ahhhh... Friday mornings. They continue to be a thing of beauty. Friday mornings, filled with memories of my first daring ventures onto Doha roads, learning to navigate the many roundabouts. Friday mornings, offering the promise of carefree driving ... easy stops at coffee shops and blissfully empty roads. Where shall we go today? We are thankful that one day a week, at least until about 4pm, Doha driving is still fairly tame. Otherwise, this adventuring family might actually go insane. 

And as a total aside, I saw this video in Ezdan Mall the other day (ya it really is only two minutes away. Think the security guards already know my name!) I was really impressed. Perhaps changes are slowly on their way.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

The Seasons of Qatar

It's surreal to go from the blissful temperatures and hues of our Canadian summer into the hot, soupy mess that is winter in Qatar. Well, no, it's not actually winter. It's summer. But in my Northern mind, it may as well be winter, for all the time we spend indoors. We sit indoors, looking out at the shimmering desert heat through tinted windows. When we venture outside, usually for a quick dash to the car, we are blinded by the blasting sun, reflecting off the beige upon beige. The sun, that was a dear friend back in Canada, here feels oppressive, a giant, glowering orange ball of fire, dipping into the dust at sunset.  

Admittedly, this glowering ball was Canadian...

The heat is thick. Thick and wet. And when there is a breeze, it brings no comfort, no cooling effect. It just brings more of the same. Like standing on the wrong side of an air conditioner, as a friend once said.

Years upon years spent in Canada have made me anticipate the coming of the seasons. Hot and humid Niagara summers leading to cooling temperatures, long pants and sweaters. And then the darkening of the skies and the summoning of winter. Leaves dropping, temperatures freezing, early nights spent indoors, warming ourselves with candles and tea. The long, dark winter that I often struggled to endure. But then, finally, spring. With its rains, unpredictable temperatures, and lengthening days. Slowly leading back again to the hot, sun-filled summer.

Even though we're into our third year here, I still struggle with the rhythm of Qatar's seasons. Just as Canadians are turning their thoughts ever indoors, Qatar blossoms. Temperatures cool and the parks and beaches come alive. We go out as much as we can, enjoying the dunes, Souq Waqif and the Corniche, and our many favourite parks. As Canadians moan about yet another cloudy day, yet another blast of snow, we bask in the sun. It feels limitless, endless. But end it does, and by the end of April, just as Canadians are firing up their barbecues, we are spending less and less time outside, becoming creatures of our darkened villas once more.

It is strange to experience Seasonal Affective Disorder and a lack of vitamin D in a country that revels in so very much SUN.

I remember our first year, the panic I felt when March came. "We must spend as much time outside as we possibly can!" I had no idea what to expect, how hot it would get, how fast. And while each year varies a bit, you can be sure that from May through to October, the 40+ degree weather will make you think twice before planning an outdoor adventure.

And so we learn the rhythms of our new seasons. Cooped up children play outdoors once the sun has dipped past the roofs of villas. They run and scream on the streets, cheeks bright red. Dinnertime is often followed by evening swims in too-warm pools. And hot day times are spent indoors, playing and reading and creating, with occasional trips to one of the many mall play areas.

And we come prepared. On my "to buy in Canada" shopping list this summer were many items, including cream of tartar. The guy in the Superstore told me it was in the soup aisle. Haha. He really did. When I finally found it at Bulk Barn (oh to have one of those in Qatar...), I bought enough to last a year of playdough-making. And then I bought books, and little games, and a variety of colouring books. Simple tools can go a long way in helping cagey kids (and their parents).

Playdough cookies and noodles

But most of all, we thank God that there's a reprieve. For while winter in Canada can often stretch from November into late March, each scorcher of a Qatari summer is broken up straight through the middle with two blessed months in cooler Canadian temperatures. We've learned to deal with 40 degree heat. But 50? That's just a bit much.