The only deluge in Doha this summer was the number of applications to spend five weeks indoors with our kids. Anyone else want to come and live with us?
Way back in the winter (if Qatar can be said to have a winter) we spotted a problem up ahead in the distance. It had three ingredients:
- the ridiculously early end to the school year here in Qatar (a 10-week summer holiday, which began this weekend)
- the weather, which is turning the screw a little tighter towards ‘liquefying’ every day; and
- Ramadan being just around the corner, which affects the opening/operating hours of much of the city’s infrastructure and therefore what you can do, when.
For most families with a non-working parent, this adds up to just one thing: take a taxi to the airport straight from the school gate on the last day of term.
All the better to spend a few months back in their country of origin, where they will be joined some time later by their working partner for a few weeks’ holiday.
And the Great Doha Clearout began even before the insanely early end of term. You can see why, though. Because in its infinite wisdom, the Ministry of Education decreed a single date by which all schools must end the academic year.
Like all bureaucratic decisions, the logic is faultless: “It will bring clarity. One date to rule them all.” (Or maybe, knowing Qatar, it was ‘one date to rule the mall’?)
The reality is: 250,000 pupils all finishing school and heading for the airport on the same day. (OK, I exaggerate for comic effect, but not much.)
Some parents slope off a few days early, hoping to beat the rush. Others go because it’s leaving season and they’re off to a new country anyway, so what does it matter if their kids finish term early?
(I’m sure there are some perma-expats out there whose kids have never actually completed a full school year).
Iceberg, right ahead
So, clever old us for spotting the five-week gap between the end of the school year and the start of our summer holiday. Back at the start of the year, our assumption was that I’d be in full-time work by July – so who was going to look after the children?
Because you’re not exactly tripping over childcare options in Doha. There’s a serious lack at the best of times, let alone in the summer holidays. The assumption is: the kids won’t be here, so we won’t put anything on to keep them entertained. So the kids leave town for the summer, and the cycle repeats itself.
And that was when my wife asked me to spend an evening perusing aupairworld.com. Again.
Yes, it’s a path we’ve skipped down once before, back in the UK, when Mrs LC was her own boss and it looked like she would have to spend a short-term contract working out of a client’s office – leaving a need for support back home.
We learned a lot from that experience. This time round, we were brutally clear about the ‘opportunity’ on offer:
The sun’s death rays mean you will most likely be spending a lot of time indoors. Looking after my children. For five weeks.
It might not be the snappiest copy I’ve ever written, but amazingly it was enough to persuade 163 people to apply.
Then, like a real-life game of Guess Who?, we filtered out the ones with poor English, no driving licence or dodgy references and Skyped our shortlist.
The actual decision was a doddle. A is a medical student from Poland; she is therefore permanently freezing and wanted to spend her summer somewhere hot.
Hot, we can do.
So last week she finished her final fifth-year exam, and the next day flew out to Doha to join us. Assuming she survives this month, she’s then off to Bangkok to complete a summer internship at a Bangkok hospital.
(That’s the kind of CV-enhancing summer you need to have these days, kids. Look sharp.)
So this was all sorted, booked and paid for ages ago, long before it became apparent that I wouldn’t actually be working full-time this month, after all.
In the interim, A got busy sending the kids postcards and emails, while researching Doha and drawing up a list of Things To Do Indoors When It’s 50C Out There, and even brought food dye with her, just in case. (All of this whilst studying for – and passing – her exams, by the way.)
And as of last weekend, she’s been here with us, acclimatising to the sun, the roads and the kids.
(She even arrived in time for one of the most momentous weeks in recent Qatari history, with the Emir Sheikh Hamad standing down and handing the reins of power over to his son, Sheikh Tamim.)
She and the kids have all hit it off instantly and the next few weeks look like being a success.
Of course the kids will fight and squabble (Amnesiac was watching Tom and Jerry a little too closely for my liking the other day), they’ll tell tales, trip over, get paint on something they shouldn’t and accidentally break a model the other’s been working on “forever“. There won’t be any peace and quiet for the next month.
But they’ll have a start to their holiday like no other, and hopefully we’ll all end it as firm friends.
As for me, having struggled to get my head round the idea of there being five of us in the house full-time when our live-in maid arrived a couple of months ago, we are now temporarily six and it’s barely registering.
It’s amazing what you can get used to.