Brida Anderson

Urban Fantasy

Category: Expat-Life

Romantic dinner on a flying carpet

Come on, let’s head to a romantic dinner at a restaurant called “Flying Carpet”. As fellow fans of Fantasy what do you picture when you hear that name?

Let’s put it in an Urban context. Urban Fantasy. The restaurant is not on a real flying carpet (more’s the pity) but one floor of a hotel in a big city.

shot for you today: Torch Hotel in Doha. You can see the (few) stories through the transparent "skin" of the hotel

shot for you today: Torch Hotel in Doha. You can see the (few) stories through the transparent “skin” of the hotel

If I sent my characters there for a romantic dinner, I’d envision them eating sitting on the floor, parked on sumptious cushions. They’d have their own “private” carpet with a low rustic table in the middle. Since the hotel is expensive, I’d put only five or six of such carpets in the large room. The atmosphere would be 1001 nights-romantic, a tad dark, a tad heavy with incense and spices, soft drums would play live in a corner or from hidden speakers. The interior design would look styled by Inara, famous companion from Firefly. ;-)

 

The food comes in small portions, gorgeous (of course), and always meant to be shared. Tea and coffee are free-flowing and add their enticing scents to the air. Mint with green tea and honey, sweet black tea, coffee with cardamom are served in delicate clay cups and you look into the eyes of your sweetheart while you sip the hot brew.

One more thing before we compare my flight of fancy to the real “Flying Carpet” -restaurant in Doha.

If you opened a restaurant called “Flying Carpet” in a hotel that is famous for having a “hollow” core, apart from the pole in the middle that houses the elevators — what would be a cool idea?

Exactly. ;o) In such a building, you’d have the one-in-a-million chance of really offering your guests the impression of dining on a “flying carpet”!

They’d eat sitting on the cushions and lean over to gaze over the side of the carpet to the “depths” below. You could install one-way glass or a fake floor underneath with good tromp l’oeil painting, so no-one down in the lobby could look under skirts. Guests would be led to their private carpet over a narrow “trod” of colored glass to make the illusion more  real. When you sit on your carpet, you can lean over the side and look to the lobby twelve meters ((my guess)) below you.  Wheee.

Let’s do the reality check.

Since this is Doha, Qatar, I learned to hold my happy imagination in check. ;-) As one friend put it on Facebook recently: “I’ve learned to way lower my expectations. I lived in Qatar for years, after all.” (not a verbatim quote, just from memory)

So when I prepared for our romantic date (the first for my husband and me in a long time #kiddies #movingabroad), I checked photos and descriptions of the restaurant through Google search.

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That’s us tossing the bouquet back and forth at our wedding. Both not exactly the born ball-athletes ;o)

 

Strange: They’re in a huge hotel here in Doha which prides itself on being a high-end tourist spot. And yet their website runs on a free WordPress site, without giving their phone number. %-) Found it through Tripadvisor instead.

Plus-side: I left a message through Facebook to book a table — and received a reply in only 30 minutes.

So, how was the romantic excursion into 1001 night?

Well …

To get you in the mood: That's the design of the "tunnel" leading from Torch hotel to Villagio Mall. Brings back memories of the 80s, hm?

To get you in the mood: That’s the design of the “tunnel” leading from Torch hotel to Villagio Mall. Brings back memories of the 80s, hm?

It was a weeknight but still we were surprised that we were only one of 3 couples/families eating there. We weren’t surprised anymore after we had tried the food (okay, but nothing special) and were rebuffed when we asked for Arabian flatbread to go with the (lovely) hummus. They gave us two plastic-wrapped mini-bread pieces and said that was all the Arabian bread they had. In Doha! In a hotel adjacent to the Villagio Mall where you can buy bread by the cartload. cough

It’s a too small space, with too many tables too close together, giving it the vibes of a school cafeteria. Only one side of the restaurant is covered with carpets, the other side is a brightly lit row of metal food displays for the buffet, also with the exact charm of a school cafeteria. It’s made worse by the light being positioned wrong — it blinds you when you try to look at the food on display. %-)

According to other reviewers, the Flying Carpet’s only saving grace are the carpets hung up under the ceiling.

Under the ceiling … Which means you should see only the boring backside of the carpets. %-)

But the decorators were smarter than that: They hung the carpets overhead upside down. Seeing them “flying” (they were brought into shape with wires) the wrong way round made me seasick, so I kept my gaze on the less-than-charming cafeteria looks.

I’ll have to make do with visiting my romantic version of Flying Carpet restaurant in a short story. But my husband and I don’t give up  hope that we will discover romantic, good restaurants here in Doha. :-)

Would you share your stories of how what you thought would be a romantic spot turned out to be in reality? We could start with “kissing by Niagara Falls” while the surfs makes you deaf, spray gets in your eyes and about a million tourists push by … Or … c’mon. Spill. :-)
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I’d love to talk to you, either here on the blog or on Facebook and Twitter.

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brida_anderson_photo_babs_huber_thumb Brida Anderson’s novel, Hedge Games, released in December. You can find her at www.brida-anderson.com, Facebook, and Twitter. She and her family currently live in the Middle East with the newest addition to their household, a fae-cat called Robin.

Puddle splashing

It must be my kids’ favorite activity in Doha: puddle splashing.
Since this is Doha in the desert state of Qatar we’re talking about and not your daily stroll through a forest back home in rainy Europe, “puddle splashing” doesn’t involve rubber boots and mud. (More’s the pity.) It calls for a SUV and a mom with nerves of steel. ;-)

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This is the sight that makes my kids shriek with glee when we drive through the compound gates on our morning school run. The puddles are much deeper than they look. Even with an SUV, you get the feeling you’re more swimming than driving. The limousine drivers take long detours or are a hazard for other traffic because they drive around puddles — regardless if they head into oncoming traffic or over a sidewalk. Doha, eh?
This is a typical street of Doha after one night of a little rain.
Seriously gentle rain.

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My youngest couldn’t sleep last night, so I took him outside to “feel the rain”. We stretched out our hands and you could feel the waterdrops touching your skin but they were so light, even after five minutes your hand wouldn’t even get wet.

My son was mesmerized nonetheless: “Rain, mom! Look!” He ran inside, yelling for his dad to “come outside and look! It’s raining!!”
It feels really weird to me that rain is something this special to him. He is 3,5 years old, has lived in Qatar for almost a year now. He doesn’t remember a time when he had thick, pelting rains all through spring, fall and winter, sometimes even all through summer. He doesn’t remember going crazy with his older brother in huge puddles, mud and water splashing up high …

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Puddle splashing means: driving through the puddles at high speed (at least high in my kids’ perception ;-). The goal is to make the water fountain up to the roof. We had sooo much fun last spring, when for the first time it had rained for 2 days straight. Some roads had totally disappeared under water. The trek to school was an adventure for my kids.

They always roll their eyes when SUVs much bigger than ours and better equipped evade the puddles, driving like some stoned granny at 5 km/hour in weaving curves so their car doesn’t get muddy … Usually, the driver doesn’t look like s/he’s from a country with much rain. (To phrase it very politically correct, I hope.)
Yes, there could be rocks hidden in the water or deep ruts. Doha’s roads are in notorious bad shape. But what’s a little risk to your car if you can make your kids squeal with delight? ;-)

Here’s a short film from last December. The puddles weren’t deep yet, it had just started to rain.

The road I drive past before the movie ends is completely flooded as soon as it rains for more than 1 day. Now imagine Doha last spring, when it rained for 3 days …

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If you’d like to leave a comment on this blogpost, please leave it on the Facebook page or through Twitter instead. I’d love to talk to you.

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brida_anderson_photo_babs_huber_thumb Brida Anderson writes Urban Fantasy and Steampunk.  Hedge Games released in December 2013. You can find her at www.brida-anderson.com, Facebook, and Twitter. She and her family currently live in the Middle East with the newest addition to their household, a fae-cat called Robin.

Interesting Read: An Outsider at the Crossroads

I came across this blogpost by Alley Valkyrie, “An Outsider at the Crossroads”, about her move to a different neighborhood in New York in the early 2000s.

When real estate costs an arm and a leg ... (Photo: Brida Anderson)

“Entrance below …” When real estate costs an arm and a leg. (Photo: Brida Anderson)

Since I enjoy reading about New York since I’ve lived there in the late 1990s, I read the whole piece, even if the blogpost is long. Alley describes her experiences moving from a more or less white neighborhood in Brooklyn to a black one, as “the white girl”. Often, her descriptions remind me of expat experiences – even though she simply moved from one neighborhood in Brooklyn to another.

Her reasons for moving were money. Already in the late ’90s, when I was living in New York, rent was 1k to 2k dollars per month for one room in a shared apartment. I lived in a women’s dorm for my time in New York City, because I couldn’t find anything affordable. Alley cites a number from the NYC Comptroller’s office, stating that rent in New York City went up from 2000 to 2012 by 67 percent, on average. In Brooklyn, it even went up by 77 percent in the same time. It really boggles the mind.

The blogpost is a lengthy read and the (subtle) magic undertones might not be something for all of you. Just ignore those if they don’t speak to you — and enjoy the very detailed and crisp descriptions of living at the edge of questions regarding race/gentrification/city-living – something not only relevant for all of us expats.
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If you’d like to leave a comment on this blogpost, please leave it on the Facebook page or through Twitter instead. I’d love to talk to you.

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brida_anderson_photo_babs_huber_thumb Brida Anderson’s novel, Hedge Games, released in December. You can find her at www.brida-anderson.com, Facebook, and Twitter. She and her family currently live in the Middle East with the newest addition to their household, a fae-cat called Robin.

Expat Life: When Monday is Sunday …

In the Middle East, the weekend runs from Friday to Saturday, not Saturday to Sunday. More or less all over the place, there are special opening hours for shops on Friday, you have the day off work (unless you work in retail, or food) … So you just shift your week by a day, right? It’s not as straightforward as that …
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Friday — time for some pool lounging after the sun has set

In the non-muslim world, you’re used to a weekend of Saturday and Sunday. Depending on where you live, Sunday is the quiet day of the week. In Germany, more or less all shops are closed. All of the day. There are hardly any cars on the street before noon. The only shops open are at gas stations and bakeries. You do your shopping on Friday evening (to avoid the masses – which never really works out ;-) or on Saturday. Sunday is for the family, for recharging, lengthy gaming or other hobby-sessions.

In the Middle East, Friday is more or less comparable to the non-Muslim Sunday.
Only: Shops do open after 2 PM.
If you’re lucky, you can find a big supermarket that opens from 8 onwards. No bakery with open doors and fresh breadrolls at 7 am! Imagine the shock to a German ! ;-) (Thanks to Carrefour, you can at least get fresh baguette, croissants beurre and pain au chocolat.)

In some places, shops open at 10, but then close over noon, for noon-prayer. (If you want to see scenes straight out of Waiting for Godot, go to the Doha IKEA on Friday at noon. It’s out of the city, so everyone who doesn’t pray just hangs around at the cafeteria, waiting for the prayer time to be over. Cafeteria closes for one hour, too, so you need to stock up hastily before it does.)

The famous Friday-brunches start around noon, approximately.
We aren’t sure how other residents with small children do it. They probably also have breakfast at home and then go out for “elvensies” with their kids. If you have a 2-year old who jumps out of bed at 5:30 am, noon feels about a day away :-)

Both Friday and Saturday start slow here. We managed to have Doha’s famous Aspire park and its big playground more or less to ourselves because we arrived early in the morning. When we left at 10, people were battling each other for parking spaces, almost coming to blows with their picnic hampers. We drove over to Villagio Mall, found a parking spot right away. Left at noon when it got too crowded — and saw scenes out of apocalypse-movies on the parking lot. You’d think Villagio was the zombie-relief shelter and the only one left at that. Cars park on the lanes, up on boulders, block the exit routes … Which is usual for Villagio mall unless you come before the shops are open.

The next day is Saturday. Which is almost identical to Saturday in other parts of the world. People go shopping (people always go shopping, here, though), have birthday parties or other activities for the kids.
What is hard to get used to:

  • you don’t ease into the weekend like you do with the Saturday/ Sunday flow. You first have the quiet day, then the shopping/home-improvement/whatnot day, then it’s already back to work and school.
  • you’re out of sync with friends and family. Their typical “skyping in peace” day is Sunday. Which is a regular weekday for you in the Middle East.

The plus side:

  • a 2-day weekend is a 2-day weekend, on whatever days you find them.
  • you can go shopping every day, even until late at night. Visitors to Germany must go stir-crazy on Sundays there when everything is closed, public transport more or less shuts down, …
  • The week starts with Sunday. But does it really? ;-) There are hardly any organized (mom-)activities on Sunday and driving to the school, you run into a lot less traffic than on any other weekday. I can only guess at the reason. Some parents don’t give their kids into nursery on Sunday? A lot of expats in Qatar don’t work on Sundays? Fact is that Sunday and Monday are both considered “the start of the week” at work and school. Here, they’ve invented a SOFT START to the week. Isn’t that simply alluring when comparing it to our harsh Monday mornings? ;-)
  • So you have a soft start on Sunday and Monday. Then there’s Tuesday and Wednesday as regular weekdays. Only on Wednesday, you already see the weekend beckoning up ahead: the next day is Thursday. Yay.
    And Thursday afternoon is inofficially the “third” weekend-day here. Kids are picked up early from school. There is no homework (at least at our school, at elementary school level) and the kids can watch a movie at school. There’s lots of kids-get togethers later. Often, work lets off early and parents can both join. There’s CRAZY shopping. Driving through Doha, you can see kids on playgrounds at 10 at night, with their families gathered around, chatting on picnic blankets. It’s a very playful, summer-y atmosphere.

Expat-Life: Patterns and buttons (and this isn’t about sewing)

Here’s a little status update because you’ve asked me on Facebook. The blogpost about the 3-month-low point was me trying to be helpful. I prefer knowing about patterns in life, while others rather not know that some challenges repeat themselves. To each their own.
That I wrote about the 3-month-low (which lasted about 3 days and after my toddler-son had been home sick for 7 weeks …) doesn’t mean that life sucks in Qatar. In fact, it’s looking up every day. What I regretted was not realizing sooner that I had been in this mode of holding still, of not committing to my new home. Or rather: of not committing to being apart from my previous life. So I wrote a blogpost hoping you’ll recognize the symptoms sooner when it happens to you. :-)

Since realizing what I was doing, I’ve connected with friends on Skype and set up regular Skyping-dates with them and my family every week. We also had our first houseguests, visited with a family who’s lived here for 7 years (and who’s not from Europe ;-), went to a May Ball and invited boys from my son’s school over to play for the afternoon.
And we booked a flight home in the summer. I had planned to stay here over the summer —  to adapt to Qatar more quickly and because it’s expensive if 4 are flying. But every mom at school kept telling me that I had it the wrong way round. Their prediction: You’ll hate it if you stay. It’s humid, it’s 50 degrees out, your kids will go stir-crazy in the house.
So we’re going home for 3-4 weeks in summer. Which means I can attend Conquest 2014 with my friends. Yay :-))))) (Some more on that soon :-)

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making friends abroad
I also met with Christine Gerber Rutt who I knew from reading her Residents’ Guide to Qatar, from her great series of posts about kid- (and mom-) friendly parks/playgrounds in Doha and her blog. Christine has loads of experience with expats and talking to her was immensely helpful.
I had talked to expat moms I met at my son’s school before, but Christine’s perspective was more nuanced and more broad-picture through her trainings and meet-ups for expats.
When put into new situations, there are certain patterns and mechanisms that run their course. To know of them always helps me deal with them. It’s easier  (to me) than taking every instance of setback or progress on its own.
Having said that,  “We boil at different degrees” (Emerson) of course also applies to expats. Moving abroad as a mom with two young children isn’t the same experience as moving abroad on your own. Moving abroad in your twenties is something different than in your thirties or fourties. The country/culture you move to also plays a big part.
Something helpful to consider:
Wherever you go, you always bring your “Lebensthemen”, as German psychologists call it, with you  — your recurring life-topics. And your patterns. So moving abroad and adapting to a new kind of life isn’t just a question of willpower, of “yeah! can-do approach (thought it helps ;-).
As Leonie Dawson put it so nicely in a recent post:
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… and when you’re freshly out of your usual cocoon in a new country, your buttons lie much closer to the surface.
So take a step back and look at the big picture. The fundamentals of your life have changed. While you’re rebuilding them, look for your “buttons” and try to heal (some of) your shit. It’s always worth it. :-)

Life as an Expat: The 3-month challenge

Did you know there’s a pattern to adjusting to expat life? That you can more or less mark a date ahead in your calendar when life abroad will suck?
But it’s like the growth spurts of a baby (the parents among you will know what horrors these two innocent words can entail ;-) ) — even if you know they will happen around a certain time, you’re never prepared for it. Vaguely knowing that everything will suck from one day to the next and sitting up all of the night, wondering if you made a terrible mistake in ripping your children, yourself, your family life from safe moorings … Two very different things.
Tornado Tower, Doha, Qatar. Photo by Brida Anderson

We’re not in … Kansas anymore: Tornado Tower, Doha
The pattern of adjusting to new surroundings is the same, whether you put your child into nursery or move to a foreign country. It’s always a pattern of 3 when the change will suck ((roughly speaking, of course. Everyone’s different.)  So everything’s fine until: 3 hours in, 3 days in, 3 weeks in, 3 months in (if you’re unlucky/have trouble adjusting: for a multiple of 3 months: after 6 months, 9 months, 12 months), then 3 years in. Next adjustment pains come after 5 years and 7 years.
Now, “pains” is a big word. Depending on how well you cope or how good you are at suppressing, the “pains” someone else feels might just be twitches for you.  A day where everything sucks, and the next day: clear skies.
A lot depends on

  • where you move
  • and how familiar that country is to you,
  • how quickly you feel at home,
  • whether you find a support system (family you brought with you, friends that are already in place),
  • how well you can connect deeply with friends using Facebook, Skype, …
  • whether it’s your first move abroad or just another in a row of experiences abroad
balcony railing with metal tendrils in Qatar. Photo by Brida Anderson

It might be a small thing, but I enjoy the tendency in Qatar to adorn houses – inside and outside – with metalwork that shows vines/tendrils

It might be a small thing, but I enjoy the tendency in Qatar to adorn houses – inside and outside – with metalwork that shows vines/tendrils
We’re well into our fourth month in Qatar and I had thought we were settling into our new life quite well. There was just some stuff that was annoying (well, when isn’t there anything that’s annoying ;-) and the vague feeling that something wasn’t right.
It may sound silly but it took me this long to realize that I was holding my breath in Qatar. I didn’t talk to anyone in Skype, unless I had to. I didn’t send any emails to some of my friends while the other emails were more attempts to paint a picture of this new home for them, as if they were poised to travel here and I wanted to prepare them. I didn’t realize the pattern until last night. If I only ‘hold my breath’ long enough, Qatar won’t become a reality. Every time I talk to a friend, every “normal” email I’d usually exchange would cement the reality that I am stuck here, thousands of miles from my friends and family. So if I only hold still, if I don’t breathe, it will pass and I’ll wake up back home.
Yeah, it sounds crazy writing it like this. It wasn’t at all a conscious thought process. But realizing the pattern startled me: Is life in Qatar so bad that I wanted to “wake up” at home?
The answer is: no. Of course there’s plenty of stuff that’s jarring for someone moving to this country. But that’s the case for most countries you move to. Just the details differ. What made it unthinkable to “breathe”, to really arrive in our life here, was the thought that it meant I had really left my family and friends thousands of miles behind. They probably don’t need any “briefings” on Qatar because who knows if they’ll ever make the trip here. My husband famously summed up Qatar’s attraction for tourists as “you can see all of the sights in a day”. That was 3 years ago, but still holds true today. Maybe it’s 2-3 days now ;-)
So who’ll spend a small fortune flying here?
Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised when in autumn and winter friends and family will be running into our door. But I don’t think I should hold my breath. So Skype and email will be the only link I have to my friends. Which is something I just can’t wrap my head around. I’m a Skype newb, I’m shy, not really the type to hop up and down in front of a camera. But I’ll have to learn.
To get over the blues, I made a list of things I really love about our new life here. I did that when I was living in New York and it beat the sudden flight of homesickness.
I’m not gonna publish all the little things here, but some of them, just as examples: To count your blessings. What do you have in your new life that you could never have in your old?
For me, that’s our house here. The compound we live in. The tendency of the Qataris to decorate houses and balconies and stairwells with metal tendrils (see photo above). Most of all: Having a beautiful pool in 2 minute walking distance, and having it all to myself in the morning. I’ll only have that in Qatar, I’m sure. At which point I realized that because my children and we were sick for most of the past 6 weeks, I haven’t been swimming in said pool for over 6 weeks. No wonder I was feeling down …
What’s your experience with the first months of adjusting to life abroad?
What’s the small things that made you happy?
Pool in Compound in Doha, Qatar. Spring 2014. Photo by Brida Anderson

Sometimes an Angry Bird is just misunderstood …

I just learned an important parenting lesson from my youngest son (two and a half). It came about quite sneakily and over a period of time. Which made for a much bigger “duh!” effect than had it struck thunderbolt-style, as parenting insights usually do. (Don’t they? What is your experience?)

Creating with kids at Doha’s Café Ceramique

My oldest son’s teacher had invited all kids with their parents (aka: moms) and younger/older siblings to Doha’s Café Ceramique. It’s a cafe in The Mall (what a creative name ;-) just off Doha’s D-Ring which offers porcelain raw material – plates, mugs, figurines, vases, seasonal items – to unleash your creativity. You pay for the item you choose and they deliver to your table the materials you need to turn this into a personal work of art (porcelain-colors, brush, sponge, etc.). After you leave, they glaze your item and fire it.

Cue a horde of 13 kids in grade 1, all between just 6 and nearly 8 years old who were already in a state of high jinks thanks to the upcoming spring break. The Café Ceramique staff had prepared a large table for the class and a mug for each child.
We moms were supposed to meet&greet over coffee and food, watch our lovely offspring — and perhaps keep the siblings entertained by ordering for them their own item to be painted.
We were the first to arrive because I’m still paranoid about driving in Doha, Doha-traffic and not finding my way. %-) *blush*
The first mom arrived and sat at the table I was sharing with my snacking son – who had to miss his nap that afternoon and not exactly charm personified. I was glad about the company — I was so nervous about finally meeting the other moms from the new school and also hoping I’d find someone my son and I could both connect with. The treacherous waters of mommy-dating …
All other moms who arrived later knew each other, sat down at other tables. They ordered items for their kids, chatted. I am terminally shy so I didn’t dare get up and approach them. :-/
There wasn’t really time to calmly drink coffee and connect — to many overexcited kids, too many tired toddlers around too many highly breakable objects …

Toddler unleashed on crafts-project …

I literally wrote a book on how our own emotional state, as a mom, positively or negatively impacts our behavior as a mom. How it influences our subjective impression of our surroundings – which of course  include our tantrum-throwing 2-year old children … So, damn, I should have noticed that my youngest was trying to tell me something, but I was so nervous about the other moms, I didn’t get it.

We had come with the intention to paint something for Easter. Since Easter was less than a week away, everything in that style was sold out. The closest I could find was a vase with Angry Bird motif.
My son kept insisting he wanted to paint it black.
I used to be a Goth in my teens, I don’t have any problem with my kids painting their stuff black.
But that day, something in me was broken. I too badly wanted to be considered a “good mom”, to fit in. And I had said aloud we’d create something cheerful for Easter.
The mom at my table refused to order the color black for her child (also a 2,5-year old), telling her daughter she’d ruin the mug she was supposed to paint if she indulged in “too much black again”.
I was nervous, self-conscious, my son was whiny and yelling through all of the café … I put some food in him, explained loudly in an embarrassed voice that he missed his nap …
I showed him all the other available colors and he said he “loved them”. Together, we picked yellow (for an Easter bird), orange for the beak, white and black for the eyes. And ordered some other pastel colors my son suggested.
Mom happy, son happy.

Until the bird arrived and my son grabbed for the small pot of black, intending to cover the bird in it. “But you SAID you also like these colors! Please pick one of those …”
The next hour is quite a blur how we struggled to paint the bird in something fit for Easter. My son kept  insisting he DID love the other colors, but they were NOT for the bird. He didn’t even try to explain, he was just throwing one tantrum after the other. Or painting his hands or the table in the pastel colors …
I finally had to leave him alone for a few seconds to give my older son a proud-mom moment for the mug he had created on his own. When I came back, my son had used his chance to paint as much black as he could over the bird. Gasp!

When we left, my son was in tears and I was exhausted from all the struggle. To put the icing on the cake, I was told that Café Ceramique needs about 2 weeks turn-around time before you can pick up your finished item. So we wouldn’t have the bird ready for Easther — and the angry critter could have had any color %-)
Later that evening, my son got a high fever. He had been sick at the Café already, I just hadn’t known yet. I felt like the world’s worst mom ever that I had been so short-tempered with him while he was sick.

It gets worse … ;-)
Two days ago, we finally picked up the finished vase. While we rode up in the elevator to Café Ceramique, my son piped up in his stroller in a happy voice “Getting the benbouin!”.
He was looking forward to getting the PENGUIN?!
“Honey, you think that bird is a penguin?”
Emphatic nod. “Benbouin, yes!! Benbouin!”
“Is that why you wanted to paint it black?”
“Yeeeeeees!”
cue mom’s facepalm
Of course he had wanted to paint the bird black!
But all through that afternoon and in the five weeks since then, he never ONCE mentioned the word penguin.
No wonder he was devastated that I kept insisting the penguin should be yellow!
He had done a brave last-ditch effort to save the poor penguin. And, in my son’s eyes, that thick black streak running over the bird is the most beautiful thing. He loves the vase and while at IKEA that same day, he even bought an artificial flower to put in it. :-)

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They did a really great job at the Café of lovingly glazing the vase — it’s super smooth inside and outside. The kids can’t stop touching it and marveling over it.
The colors changed a lot on the vase and on my son’s mug — they got much, much lighter in the firing process.
We’ll have to keep that in mind for the next project.

Below: My older son’s mug. Before firing, it was red inside. But the bright orange also looks very good.

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Creating with kids

My oldest son had so much fun at Café Ceramique that he asks me every second day if he can return. I was reluctant before the recent penguin-discovery. Now I promised them both that we’d go there soon. And this time, I will let my youngest paint his item in whatever color, way or form he wants. I usually don’t interfere in their art projects and only give advice or assistance when they ask me to. I shouldn’t have let my self-consciousness get the better of me.

Unlike my toddler-experience, the moms with kids from 5 upwards had no trouble at all. All around us, moms and children were happily creating and the atmosphere was very encouraging for everyone to try their hands at a project.

Address:
Café Ceramique
The Mall, 2nd floor (take the escalator or the elevator, go through the furniture shop)
just off D-Ring
Doha, Qatar
Website: http://cafe-ceramique.com/new/
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/cafeceramique.qatar

Blogging on the go

There are (at least) two types of bloggers. Naw, make that writers in general. Those who process what they think by writing. And those who have to hear themselves think before they can form any thought into words.
For the thinking-through-writing kind, their output (at least in diary-uncensored-text form) is highest the more stuff they have going on. For the second kind, the more impressions bombard them, the less they write. There is no time to process.

I always thought I belonged in the first group because I am a typical woman (according to linguist Deborah Tannen) in that I speak to think. With the move to Qatar, I found myself tiptoeing around my Wunderlist reminders that prompted me to write on Book 2 of the Rule of Thorns series (following last winter’s release of Hedge Games) and to blog at least once a week. There was so much to share: about moving to a different country, a different culture, coping with children when all their toys and usual distractions are packed away, traveling over the ocean.

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So why wasn’t I blogging if there was so much to blog about? I keep jotting notes into Evernote: “hey, really important to know when traveling to Qatar”, “think to bring the following stuff if you come here from Europe”, … But mostly I snap pictures. I think I was before words, still soaking everything in (still am).
Snapshots of supermarkets aisles packed with detergent that shows women in black garb, from head to toe. Gender equality in so far, as the guys get their own shelf with white-washing detergent for their pristine white tunics. That’s not a blogpost, but bewildering for a freshly made expat: How can there be no detergent for wool and no eco-friendly one, but five different kinds for black clothes, especially for abayas, the regional women’s dress here?
Throne-like chairs in the waiting area of the Al Ahli hospital. A hospital with valet parking and a coffee/tea-freebie service which is served to you wherever you wait. And you do wait. For hours. Because the system ate your appointment, because you’re a walk-in and don’t know any doctors yet … Also not a blogpost, but something that shaped my perception of this country from the sheer amount of time I spent there since coming to Qatar.
Driving in Qatar — aargh. Strange roadsigns … My fav sign is a little sheikh who warns you that ahead, there are “Road Surprises”. I guess they use it when all the regular signs (Road Closed, Construction, Pavement eroded, …) are all used up ;-)

While moving abroad, there is no time to process

If you belong in the second group of writers/bloggers, who need time to process before they can write, moving abroad, especially with children, will shut you up effectively and for quite a long time.
We need to borrow a leaf from the other group of writers!
Input = output.
Or the new impressions will keep filling you, overfilling you. And as it goes with overfilling, the stuff that gets spilled is lost.

When moving to New York for a longer internship, I was so damn sure that I could still capture all my impressions after I had gone back home. There was simply too much to see and do to sit down and write! Only after running into other authors and hearing their prodding to keep a journal, did I jot down at least bare bones every few days: What did I go to see today? Was there something special going on? Weather, food, odd sights on the street, …
These notes, starting halfway through my stay, are now more or less the only detailed memories of my 7 months in New York, the rest is simply a rush of vague impressions. And vague always sucks in terms of writing, be it blogposts or novels.

Stranger in a strange land – moving abroad

When we first heard about moving to the Middle East (from Germany), I ran across the internet, especially all kinds of blogs, to find information about being deployed abroad for several years with kids. The with kids part nagged me most. And the question of what to bring. We’d be able to only bring along 4 cubic meters of our personal things (that’s about 40 small moving crates), so every gram counts. Hard to anticipate what you’ll need of baby medicine, equipment … when moving to a very different region with different climate, shops,  healthcare, …
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My two brave troopers – at 0 degrees back in Germany; with their new summer shoes for 25 degrees in Qatar
I was really surprised that I didn’t find many infos. I did find stuff about the region we’d be moving to (Doha, in Qatar), found info on how to bring a dog and what life’s like with a pet in 40 degree weather — among a people who don’t like dogs and consider them very “unclean” (like pigs). But no account of someone moving there with kids.
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Packing up all Playmobil and much beloved accys for the toy kitchen
Now that we actually made the move (3 days ago), I know why.
When moving abroad with kids, you don’t have any time to sit and write about the experience. :-D
It’s a race to get all stuff together, get the paperwork (oh, the paperwork!) and house sorted, estimates from moving companies, … No wonder I couldn’t find another mom’s chronicle of the move.

Now I’m jotting down stuff in Evernote to put together tips&tricks lists for other moms in the same situation.
Provided I can wrestle my computer away from my kids for an hour, I’ll keep you posted on how we settle into life in the Middle East. So far, school and nursery have not started and with no car at our disposal, the kids are entertained by treks to the mall a few streets away and DVDs. The hotel’s pool is cold – which isn’t too great a combo with the snot-noses we all brought from Germany. ;-)

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