Here’s a sign I’ve been living in Doha too long (along with finding Amnesiac playing traffic jams the other day) – the name of my compound no longer amuses me.
Home for Family Little City is a walled compound of around 60 semi-detached villas. It is one of an ever-growing family of compounds sprinkled with a touch of glamour they don’t possess by being named “Beverly Hills Garden”.
The superficial touch of glam is just Doha all over; you’re never more than a few feet away from a little bit of bling.
The Beverly Hills family is growing by Monopoly-style acquisition, as other properties get bought up, repainted and rebranded. That means there’s no geographical connection between, say, BHG #11 and #12 – they could be miles apart – which doesn’t make things any easier for the city’s taxi drivers.
I used to think the compound’s name was ridiculous; then funny. But far too quickly, it just became ‘home’. I’d almost forgotten I hadn’t posted about the oddities of compound life, that’s how normal it all seems to me now.
The block in which our compound sits is home to at least a dozen others, each broadly similar, each slightly different in amenities and facilities.
Many expats call compounds like this home; you don’t blink when someone tells you they live in “Champs-Élysées 2”, for example.
To me, brought up on streets you could freely walk, bike or drive down, this seems flat-out strange; but with an increasing proportion of the world’s population living in cities, maybe I’m the weird one?
Locally, the alternative would be a flat in an apartment block on The Pearl, a development built (and still being built) on reclaimed land on the other side of the city to our suburban enclave.
Many of the country’s larger employers provide accommodation for expats, from flats and small villas for couples to larger villas for families. Alternatively, you can take an accommodation allowance instead and head out onto the open market, but rent rises are almost the sole reason behind Doha being named recently as the most expensive place to live in the Gulf.)
So a majority of people take what’s on offer from their employer. That was certainly the case for us: Mrs LC was given a choice of two compounds and picked the one nearer the school our kids had been accepted into.
(Anyone moving here with school-age kids offered a similar choice should do the same.)
So we waited for our container to clear customs (Tip! If you’re putting all your worldly goods in a metal box which will be parked at the port of a blisteringly hot desert country for an indeterminate length of time, don’t pack any candles) and get busy living.
The mysteries of life
But then on New Year’s Eve I found myself, along with millions of other people, grappling with life’s biggest questions.
Unlike those people who were wondering about work, life, relationships, money, the future, travel, family, friends, opportunities and insecurities, however, the thought that suddenly popped unbidden into my head was:
Why do we live in compounds at all?
The thought came to me because I was attending a NYE party at a friend’s compound. The place is probably only one-third occupied and is so new it doesn’t even have a name yet (based on our first drive around its deserted streets, the kids suggested Ghost Compound.)
Anyway, having all moved in around the same time, a pioneering spirit has emanated amongst the residents – making them quite a tight little community in a relatively short space of time.
One of the group put their finger on it: far from being about keeping people out (because away from the psychotic roads, Doha is actually one of the safest cities on earth), compounds make sense because they’re a very efficient use of space and resources.
The standard compound facilities are a pool and a tennis court, but it doesn’t take many playdate drop-offs before the ever-present threat of compound envy creeps in.
It’s the grass-is-greener (or should that be the sand-is-beiger?) feeling you get pretty much anytime anyone you visit anywhere else. (I’ve been to dozens of other compounds; total number that didn’t give me compound envy? Precisely one.)
So whereas I have one under-sized squash court, my friend’s compound has two full size courts. And a basketball court if that’s your thing, and a shop. Then there’s my other friend who lives in a complete country club, where the staff can be summoned to bring drinks to your squash court, assuming they can be dragged away from the restaurant. It’s like something out of The Wolf of Wall Street.
An ATM; a barbers; a bigger pool; more than one pool – you name it, someone else has got it. The grass may well be greener, however, but it’s also more expensive.
Living here, you soon stop marvelling at the fact that there’s a maintenance crew on permanent standby and increasingly finding yourself wishing they’d just built your villa better in the first place.
(It still amazes me, given how crucial it is to everyday life here, that the air conditioning is the #1 reason for our calls).
But let’s face it, these are first world problems.
Our house, in the middle of our street
I was still weighing all this up last weekend when I had to take Kid A to a birthday party at a friend’s house. The invitation came with a terrific map (residents of this geographically-challenged city will know how welcome that is) – albeit a map that puzzled me.
It looked like her friend lived right in the heart of town, tucked just behind one of our many luxurious five star hotels. I didn’t know there were any compounds round there, I thought.
Turns out there aren’t.
Her friend lives in a house. On a street. No gates, no guards. It’s the middle of a terrace of three which is itself sandwiched between two apartment blocks.
I marvelled at the anomaly; it was like seeing a real, live glitch in the matrix. I could only wonder how long it would be before the bulldozers moved in and put the square footage to more efficient use.
But it wasn’t long before my joy at seeing something as familiar yet alien as a house on a street turned to confusion.
Where does she swim? my compound-acclimatised brain wondered as I drove away.