Brida Anderson

Urban Fantasy

Tag: abroad

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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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.

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

Am Writer, will travel …

I am writing this to you from my car. Of course it’s not the first time I’m writing in the car. I love writing while in motion. The vibrations loosen the writing muscles, at least for me. And it’s great against my coffee/food/… procrastination. You know, the “ooops, now my coffee is empty, I should make a new one before I REALLY dive in …” ;-)
What’s truly new for me, here in Doha, is that I can work on my notebook when not at home – and still be online. Here (in Qatar, that is) a mobile card with real flatrate costs about 10 dollars more per month than a “normal” landline phone number plus internet. Which, weirdly enough, would be a tenth of the speed of the mobile internet.
So when my youngest fell asleep on the way home from IKEA
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I made a stopover at home, grabbed our WLAN router (it fits in my palm and runs on batteries), tossed it with my Macbook into the car and took off to my son’s school.
Here we are, parking in the shade. He’s still sleeping.
Outside, it’s an almost balmy 38°C degrees.
To think that when we arrived at the end of January, the 26 degrees here felt like hot summer to us! :-)
We came from 2 degrees Celsius and snow in Germany, all bundled up in our sweaters.
If you ever come here, you’ll see the same scenes: In the long cues for VISA / passport check, you can tell at once who’s a returning resident or from a similar climate — and who are the Northern and Eastern Europeans.
Aussies in sandals and very short shorts are all around you. Men from all over the world in long flowing kaftans and leather sandals. And in the middle, mom, dad, kids with very sensible shoes, often sneakers, pullover, windbreaker jacket from Jack Wolfskin or some other brand.
When I talked to Goronna from Serbia who works as a physio therapist at the W hotel she said about her arrival … Oh, that’ll have to be a story for another time. The school bell just rang with the deafening sound Indian schools are supposedly known for here (the German school inherited a lovely building from an all-girls Indian school, complete with colorful murals that the kids love).

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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