Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Shiny on the Outside

Doha looks like any modern city, even by Western standards.  There are museums, stadiums, and high-rises.  The skyline, up against the cool blue of the Gulf, is spectacular.  Our compound is made up of villas that look really quite lovely.  The shopping malls, where we spend much of our leisure time escaping the heat, have everything we need to entertain us: groceries, movie theatres, bowling alleys, restaurants, amusement parks and hockey rinks.

But it's just a facade.  Shiny and new on the outside, only.  We often talk about things that fall apart in our villa, or the questionable support-post smack-dab in the middle of Dan's office at work. Things are constructed quickly, and often, poorly.  It's not a big leap from this conversation to one about how this city is thirty years behind in other aspects.  The smoking in public places, often comically beneath a "No Smoking" sign.  The story about the family who noticed that the fire alarms had been switched off in their daughter's hospital room.  The small children bouncing around the back of SUVs, or on their parents'  laps, unbuckled, while their vehicle speeds past us.  When I'm with friends, we laugh nervously about how backwards things can be here.  After all, this isn't our city.  We're just guests here.  None of this will ever impact us.  Until it did.

Today, the city is reeling with unimaginable tragedy.  Yesterday morning, we heard the news that there had been a fire at Villaggio Mall.  As reports trickled in during the evening hours, we learned with horror and grief that 19 people lost their lives, including 13 small children.  All were expats.  First reports indicate that the fire may have been electrical, and started in or near a drop-in childcare centre.  Two fire-fighters and four teachers died.  Heart-breakingly, one family from New Zealand lost their two-year-old triplets.  The stories of loss become too unbearable to re-tell.

Information is available in bits and pieces—some of it online, some of it first-hand from people who were there.  A fire alarm did go off, but was described as "benign", sounding like a doorbell.  People continued to shop while the mall filled with smoke.  Members of the public urgently told others to get out, while no direction was given by mall staff.  To their credit, when a 999 call was finally made, fire-fighters arrived on scene within two minutes.

When you grow up on the other side of the world, you make certain assumptions about society that linger with you when you move to one that, on the outside, doesn't look that much different from your own.  You assume that society is inherently safe, and that you will be looked after in your time of need. Without giving much thought to it, you assume that there is an emergency action-plan in place at stadiums, schools, and shopping malls.  You assume that there are working fire alarms, smoke detectors, and sprinkler systems.  You assume someone will call 999 if there is an emergency.

As one friend so eloquently put it, this mall was like a village to our community.  Between Dan and the kids, we were there four days a week for hockey.  During practices or between games, we'd have coffee, shop for groceries, and chat friends and teachers from the kids' school.  I have given my kids more freedom as they get older, in the hopes that it breeds a new level of responsibility.  I have let N, last year at age 12, hang out at this very mall with a group of friends, unchaperoned, on a Thursday night.  It was only two days before this tragedy that I sat beside the ice-rink at Villaggio and told J, aged 10, that yes, he could walk down to Virgin (at the complete opposite end of the mall) to check the price of an iPod, while his dad coached and I watched his two brothers play hockey.  What if fire had broken out between us?  Would he have known to leave the building, or would he have tried to come back to where I was?  More importantly, would another adult, a member of the society I have so much faith in, have guided him to safety?  What if, what if, what if.

As Doha comes together to grieve and to try to understand such a senseless tragedy, I hope there is a way to move forward and make this city a safer place to live.  My deepest, heart-felt condolences to those who suffered such incomprehensible loss.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Where Art Thou, Cheerios?

They sit atop my grocery list
Have you seen this box?
Like something that I must have missed
For months in Doha I cannot find
This staple of the breakfast kind
Someone out there surely knows:
Where are all the Cheerios?

They used to grace the grocer's shelves
But now, it seems, that they, themselves,
Have vanished, vamoosed, disappeared
This cereal, once so endeared
Into our milk-filled bowls fall tear-ios
Where the heck are all the Cheerios?

I snapped and bought the Honey version
A box of fructose—sweet perversion
To say those O's were not the same
Gives understatement a new name
The kids, they found them quite a treat
But Dan, he called them much too sweet
To pass across his breakfast table
"Tell me, dear, are you not able
To fulfill your wifely duty
And provide (besides your beauty)
Love and comfort—all those things
And especially, those oatie rings?"

I sit him down; this needs explaining
It's not just him I've heard complaining
A mother, a baby, a family
My own dear sons, my young friend E
We've gone across this dusty city
(Trust me, hun, it wasn't pretty)
In search of something held so dear-io
A solitary, crispy, Cheerio

But that's not all, across this nation,
That causes pangs of deprivation
Arborio I oft bemoan
Pepper salsa (Newman's Own)
Ketjap Manis - Indo saucy
(Don't ask me—it's loved by Aussies)
Graham crackers, sour cream
Wake me from this hungry dream!
And also in my manifesto:
Jamie Oliver's basil pesto

So if, dear reader, you spot some Cheerios
And change them back from Disappearios
Post it here, but please don't hoard!
Sharing is its own reward
And be prepared:  there is no telling
Which favourite item they'll stop selling

Monday, May 7, 2012

When Things Are Awesome

Have you ever had one of those days that is so stellar, so incredibly awesome, that it fills you with, well, awe?  The kind of day that leaves you feeling euphoric, and undeservedly lucky?  Those kind of days don't happen very often, which is probably a good thing.  It would be hard to appreciate them if they rolled around every week or so.  But there were two things that happened yesterday that made it just such a day in our house.

First off, yesterday, May 6, was guaranteed to be fabulous.  It was Thing 3's 10th birthday.  The best thing about your kids' birthdays is that it helps you to concentrate less on being in the trenches of parenthood, and more on the day that made you a parent in the first place.  For us, it brought back memories of that night in early May a decade ago, days from my due date, when I couldn't sleep and went down to the living room and watched a blizzard out my front window.  This was Calgary.  This was not surprising.  I had already planted petunias and the tulips were up.  It served me right.  Calgary gardeners should never be so cocky before the third week in May.

By the time Dan got up the next morning, the forecast was for a total of 40 cm of snow throughout the day.  He wisely decided to stay home from work, given my "condition".  Sure enough, at 5:00 pm, we headed for the hospital.  As you can imagine, it wasn't a fun trip.  The roads were terrible, and my mood was worse.

But at 7:16 pm, our littlest (biggest) was born.  And since that minute, he has been sharing his joy-filled laugh, his wicked sense of humour, and his uncannily good dance moves with us.  In short, we get to experience his awesomeness, every day.  For me, his birthday, as with his brothers', should be a celebration of how lucky we are to have him.

The second great thing that happened yesterday was The Second Thing.  Thing 2 has some special talents that cannot be denied, even modestly, by his mom.  He has a musical ear that, given his parents' musical ability, is truly baffling.  His "thing" is to listen to a song on YouTube or iTunes, and sit down at the piano and play it.  And I mean play.  He is fiercely understated about his own abilities, and is uncomfortable when complimented.  But on Thursday, he chose to be a contestant in the Middle School's talent show, mostly because we didn't tell him we thought he should enter.  He played his own arrangement of David Guetta's "Titanium".  Here is the video link to his performance:

After the talent show judges deliberated over the weekend, he made the Final Three.  This meant that he had to perform one more time at school on Sunday morning, in front of the whole student body, along with the other two finalists.  His competition was solid:  an incredible sax player, and a brother and sister band whose power went out during their final performance, and yet somehow soldiered on flawlessly.  My kid had his work cut out for him.  The students and teachers now had to vote, and a winner would be determined by the end of the school day.

And then a funny thing happened.  He won.  He won the competition.  Which meant that a good chunk of the 450 kids in his school voted for his performance.  Which meant that not just his mom, or his dad, or his grandma, thought he was good.  Maybe it meant that others recognized a little bit of awesome in him, too.

Last night, we asked Thing 1 if anything exciting happened to him yesterday, and he said, with a laugh, yes—one of his brothers turned 10 and the other one won the talent show.  As I listened to the two younger boys chat during The Birthday Dinner (steak and Caesar salad, and birthday pie—what else?), I heard them talk about birthdays past and compliments given at school.  I realized that neither boy's special day was made less special because they had to share it.  In fact, it seemed to be twice as special.  Which made it wholly, irrefutably, awesome.