Brida Anderson

Urban Fantasy

Tag: expat

NaNoWriMo across the World

In prep for NaNoWriMo 2015, over at NaNo-Headquarters they blog about The NaNoWriMo Writers’ Heritage, “Road Trip to NaNo”. A great idea. The lateset blog post is the one I stumbled on first and was written by Eve Shi (@Eve_Shi on Twitter), Municipal Liason for the Indonesian Writers.

The Road Trip to NaNo posts so far have been about:

It’s always a good idea to “look over the edge of our own plate”, as the German saying goes. So I’m looking forward to future installments of the “NaNo Road Trip” series.

On a different note, it makes me CRAZY and sad that I can’t take part in NaNoWriMo this year.

Robin isn't too keen on November

Robin isn’t too keen on November

I have too many unfinished books that have to be finished first. The kids’ long summer vacation and closing of schools again for 2 weeks for autumn break really put a dent in my schedule. “Poison Patch” was supposed to be reworked with the editors’ comments until the end of August, then the German translation of “Hedge Games” edited in September. I had planned to use October to finally work on our Kickstarter project (non-book related) and to prep for the NaNo book.

When I see the happy NaNo anticipation that sends ripples through the internet right now, I really, really want to take part!

I love the crazy-busy atmosphere of writing a NaNo book in November, the cameraderie with my Nano buddies and Facebook friends who also crank out 5-10-15 pages or more each day, the sleepy urgency of having to get up one hour earlier than usual (so at 5 am) to get in writing time before the kids wake … Magical times. Sigh.

Maybe I won’t be able to stay away. ;-)

Maybe it’s also time to hunt down some fellow Wrimos in Qatar this November. We can’t be many  — there isn’t even a region Qatar at Nano, only “Elsewhere: Middle East”.

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.

Mom-bloggers and mom-writers unite!

Wow, it’s been crazy here, trying to write on deadline while the kids are on school/nursery vacation.

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It’s the first year of school for our oldest son, so I’m used to a maximum of 3 weeks vacation from his kindergarten days back in Germany. Here in Qatar, he has almost 9 weeks of summer vacation. 9 weeks!

We enrolled our youngest (3) in summer camp at his nursery. Which whittled his 8 weeks of vacation down to 4 weeks …

Whatever possessed me to agree to a deadline for a project that falls into my boys’ vacation? Well. I had planned to be done with the book before vacation even started. While moving thousands of miles abroad … Cough. Still, I almost managed. But that last sprint to the finish line kept eluding me.

So, here we are. 4 weeks of trying to write a nonfiction book and blogposts alongside a constantly prattling 3-year old. Who, of course, has just he entered into the infamous “Why?”-phase.

“Why’s that?”

“But why?”

“And why’s that?”

“Why don’t you know?

“Why …?”

… on and on  ;-) (Do you know the Louis CK sketch about the WHY?)

I’m also entering the last corrections into my Western-Aetherpunk short story … or I would be, if we hadn’t left for vacation. Where we promptly caught a stomach-bug and took turns being sick. (“Why are you holding your stomach, mom?” “Why do you need this bucket?” … LOL)

The crux is: We’re back in Qatar now. Here, it’s too hot, humid and sunny during the day to do anything outside. Even swimming is out of the question. Sunshade over the pool or the playground? That’s for sissies, apparently.

You’d think that the Qataris would have long caught on and built pleasure domes for families. Every bigger city in Germany has those artificial rec spaces, usually with indoor swimming pools, sauna, kid activities. But also with aquariums, Lego Centres, you name it. Here, everything is out under the sun, except for the malls. Weird. No, don’t get me started on the cramped indoor playgrounds in Qatar … I dubbed them Las Vegas for kids. = :-/

So life outside starts at sunset. Going swimming. Going to the playground. (The lights at the playground have been broken for a while. “Don’t hworry mamsir, we fix it.”)

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Playground after dark in Doha, Qatar

And I write during the kids’ afternoon siesta. Or I try to. A day of “why? why? waaaah! want X, want Y! Moooom!” isn’t exactly helping to write with a fresh mind.

It’s been a week only since we got back but we’re running out of indoor-activities that can hold a 3-year-olds attention. It wouldn’t be hard to entertain my 7-year old indoors. He’s fallen in love with crafting, he loves playing boardgames and painting. But the day is loooooooong when matched against a 3-year-old’s attention span and you can’t take him outside.

I tried my NanoWriMo routine of getting up before the kids but that only worked while we were on vacation. In Qatar, our youngest has started waking again in the night repeatedly – from nightmares, the air-condition or the crushing heat. So he ends up staying with us — and gets up with me. “Why are you sneaking off to your computer?”

(On the other hand – who can resist this little guy? :-)

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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.

tendril_small

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.

Procrastination-Challenge. Day 0 — First Stumbles

Hey, procrastination challenge wasn’t even a few hours old when I ran into my first roadblock. I had totally forgotten that this Thursday (last workday of the week here in Qatar) I was booked at my son’s school. They did a sleepover from Wednesday to Thursday. And my job was to show up at 7 am (with 5 other moms), to prep breakfast for 14 ravenous and sleep-deprived kids and then do crafts with them all day until at 1 PM their parents would pick them up again.
So much for Day 1 of the No-Procrastination Challenge. %-)

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I took my notebook to school with me, in case some free time would miraculously appear. Hope is eternal, right? ;-)

I didn’t manage to get in some writing time, but it was still time well spent, getting to know my son’s new school, his teacher and the other children in his class.

The ice-breaker were my shoes ;-) Vibram toe-shoes. A lot of kids came over to our table to ask me questions. “Why do you wear such freaky shoes?” When I said “because they’re really comfy and you can climb all trees in them”, they were duly impressed and asked for help with their craft project. ;-)

A day well-spent. :-) Just not very productive for my current writing projects.

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

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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