Compoundland

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”.

Yep, even the planes too
Not that he’s spent too long stuck in traffic here, or anything…

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.

Everybody needs good neighbours...
Our verdant back yard is the one with the green canopy

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.

Streetlife
Who lives in a street like this? Us, actually

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.

Compound envy

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.

Cracking up
Cracks in the tennis court surface – handy for blaming terrible misses on

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.

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23 thoughts on “Compoundland

  1. Andrew January 26, 2014 / 7:27 am

    Good piece, though I have compound envy whilst living in an apartment. I marvel at you not having neighbour noise from below or above ( or even to the side), I gaze longingly at you being able to step outside your house and not be mown down by a Lambourghini or Ferrrari travelling at Monza Racetrack speeds on a service road. And dont get me started on those lucky so&so’s living in West Bay Lagoon with all their space.

    The grass is always greener even from a tower block!

    ps – if my air con packs it in so do I!!!

    • littlecity January 28, 2014 / 6:40 am

      It’s a fair point Andrew; I’ve already had another comment on the lines of “at least you have a garden” – and it’s true. Everyone’s better off to somebody else.

      Sorry about your neighbour noise; it’s no fun at all. We had our fair share of that when we lived in London hundreds of years ago, so know first hand the impact it can have.

      PS – see James’ comment below for an innovative solution to the noisy neighbour conundrum!

  2. James January 28, 2014 / 12:04 am

    Nice writing Nat. Cheers from Blighty. We live in Botley Cemetery Lodge “compound” on the outskirts of Oxford, and enjoy our quiet neighbours.

    • littlecity January 28, 2014 / 6:46 am

      Thanks James, that’s very kind of you.

      I know Botley well – never considered the cemetery in those terms, but it makes a kind of sense now I think about it.

      Glad you enjoy the peace and thanks for stopping by

  3. Claudia January 31, 2014 / 11:22 am

    Oh no. I have candles melting in a container as we speak!!

    Thanks for this blog. It’s been helpful over the past few months. I too will be a BH resident. Exciting stuff. My husband is there already and baby L and I will be joining him in 2 weeks!

    • littlecity February 1, 2014 / 4:51 am

      Didn’t mean to panic you about your candles; I’m sure they’ll be fine. It was another 20C hotter than it is now when we arrived, so you’ve timed your arrival well.

      Thanks for your kind comments – I’m delighted my ramblings have been of some use to you in preparation for moving here. I hope you will all be very happy BH residents. Feel free to ask any questions about life here – we’ve all been in the same boat as you. Good luck!

  4. Dunx January 31, 2014 / 6:46 pm

    Hi Nat
    I noticed Amnesiac ‘toy traffic jam’ has the usual; SUV’s, cars and construction vehicles, but also a couple of Aircraft stuck in the jam… my mind boggles.

    • littlecity February 1, 2014 / 4:53 am

      Very well spotted, grasshopper. It’s not that far from the truth. We have a new airport due to open sometime this year perhaps, but it’s already well over a year late.

      Being stuck on the runway preps you for being stuck in the immigration queue, which preps you for being stuck in traffic…

  5. midwestkite February 1, 2014 / 9:53 am

    Compound envy – hilarious and spot on!

    “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.” Could not have said it any better. You’d think with these outrageous rent prices, we could at least get decent QUALITY!

    After having lived at the Pearl for over a year now, even Ain Khalid Gate is looking pretty damn good!

    • littlecity February 3, 2014 / 3:55 pm

      Thanks – nice to know it’s not just me (even though I know it’s not just me!)

    • littlecity March 1, 2014 / 6:29 am

      The famous AKG! I agree with you on the facilities – they’re great. But friends and neighbours are just as important, too.

  6. Stef February 17, 2014 / 3:09 pm

    Hi Nat,

    Just finished reading about the last 1,5 years of your life 🙂 will be moving to Doha End of March with baby boy and husband and he will be a bit of a trailing spouse himself, so your stories have been very helpful and interesting for us. And I love your writing, thanks a lot for all your time and energy you put into this. A lot of my questions have been answered, we were just wondering about the whole sponsorship situation – we had planned to have him spnsored by me at least for the start, but it sounds changing that later would be hard?
    All the best, currently being on vacation in Thailand
    Stef

    • littlecity February 17, 2014 / 4:08 pm

      Thanks for stopping by, Stef. I’ve been watching my traffic from Thailand go through the the roof over the past few days and wondered what was going on, so thanks for solving the mystery!

      I’m reliably informed that a) getting sponsored by your wife and b) transferring that to an employer in the event of starting work, are considerably easier than transferring between two employers.

      I think we were misinformed – which is a daily occurence here 🙂 Still, I secretly enjoy my visa runs, so I’m not complaining too loudly.

      I’m sticking my neck out and saying I think you’ll be okay. But as you’ll discover when you get here, rules/laws change arbitrarily, and without explanation or warning. It’s one of the many joys of life here.

      Thanks for your kind comments, they’re greatly appreciated. All the best for your relocation and please shout if you have any other questions!

    • jenny simard June 11, 2014 / 8:00 pm

      Nat, I, too, will be arriving in Doha with a baby girl and husband in tow! Your blog has been a great read for me. My husband is going to start reading it as well. He is a bit nervous that he won’t find any stay-at-home dad friends…

      Jenny

      • littlecity June 14, 2014 / 6:51 pm

        Thanks for your kind words Jenny; it’s always nice to be able to help new arrivals. Stay at home dads hide in plain sight – we look just like ordinary people! Happy to help if he has any questions or wants a coffee…

      • stoppelhopser13 June 14, 2014 / 7:06 pm

        Hi Jenny, have been here for 2,5 months now with my baby boy and husband in tow – let me know if you want to connect! Stef

  7. kp Attman February 18, 2014 / 1:39 am

    It’s amazing how we live such different lives when we venture out as expats. Huts, mansions, farms and compounds can all become home. Thanks for the look into your life.

    • littlecity February 18, 2014 / 9:32 am

      Just as your life – and scenery – looks very different to mine…

      Thanks for the feedback, glad you’re enjoying my little window on the desert

  8. Gypsy February 21, 2014 / 9:19 pm

    Amnesiac’s take on Doha traffic is spot on!
    Very accurate piece on compound envy. I still feel a twinge every now and then, but like you, after 7 plus years here we’ve finally figured that close to school is the deciding factor.
    Still wish we had a grocery store though ….

    • littlecity February 25, 2014 / 3:42 am

      Many thanks for you kind words, it’s nice to know others feel the same!

      Yep, it’s all a daily reminder that life is series of trade-offs, some grocery store small, some life changingly big.

      Glad to hear you’ve found something that works for you all though.

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