Plan B

Four things no Qatar resident should leave home without: keys, phone, wallet and a backup plan

Educating kids is a tricky business. There’s the obvious academic subjects like reading, writing and maths. Social skills like sharing, taking turns and not licking your knife.

Oscar winner Brad Pitt
Brad Pitt’s production company Plan B – see what he did there? – produced this year’s Oscar-winning Best Picture, 12 Years A Slave. This image has nothing to do with placating my female readership, nor rigging my SEO stats. Whatsoever

Then there’s future-proof skills like coding, behavioural skills, a different language, or a musical instrument.

Every parent will have their own priorities, based on their upbringing, passions and the environment they live in. For my part, I didn’t learn many* culinary skills or receive even the most basic financial education, so these are two obvious gaps I’m determined to ensure my kids avoid.

One of the other lessons I’m really keen to teach my two – particularly Kid A, who gets an idea stuck in her head like gum sticks to your shoe – is that plans change.

As an expat this is an easy lesson to learn; adaptability is supposed to be one of our core skills, after all.

The expat’s world changes all the time: countries, schools, friends, languages, traditions, cultural norms and taboos, which side of the road you drive on…the possibilities and permutations are endless.

And then there’s the kind of micro-level day-to-day changes, the kind at which Qatar excels. Because life here forces you to have – and use – Plan Bs every day.

It’s the alternate routes you take when the road you drove down this morning is closed this afternoon.

Doha’s iconic Sheraton Hotel closed this week with practically no notice

It’s the papers you need to get a document approved today, which you didn’t need to show last month.

It’s the hotel where you work announcing it’s going to close for a year – with three days’ notice.

Pay no more than 7 riyals

Change I can cope with. What grates is the arbitrary and often uncommunicated nature of these changes.

Someone complains, and suddenly a law gets changed, or an existing one starts getting enforced, and the first anyone knows about it is when they try and do something that was ok yesterday, only to find out it isn’t today.

We went out on a recent Thursday night. The Plan A version of our night was going to an amazing-sounding restaurant, which was so amazing that it was fully booked by the time I got round to calling them.

The Plan B version was to go to a restaurant at a hotel in our end of town. I was sure we hadn’t been there before, but when we arrived we were hit by a massive sense of déjà vu – and not in a good way. We remembered eating there about a year ago, only it was so forgettable that we had, er, forgotten it.

One look at the menu, however, and it all came flooding back. A quick tip for Doha restaurants: if I want a shawarma, I can get an amazing one on just about any street corner for about 7 riyals. If you’re going to try charging 55 riyals for one, it better come stuffed with Fabergé eggs and hand delivered by Beyoncé.

This wasn’t the fun evening we were looking for. So we made like a tree and got out of there.

If we were from any other country, we would have told the maître’d precisely where they can shove their insipid, overpriced menu. But we’re British, so instead we mumbled something about the babysitter calling, and scuttled away as quickly as our legs could carry us.

Great food, reasonably priced – and even better vfm if you can let go of your phone

(Plan C: we ended up eating at Chopsticks at the Wyndham. It’s been completely revamped since I was last there. The décor looks like someone dropped a bag of snakes inside a giant Connect 4 set, but don’t let that put you off.

The food is fantastic, and already great value even before their brilliant gimmick where, if you agree to surrender your phone while you eat, they’ll knock 35% off the bill. Always keen to push myself beyond the limits of human endurance, we did just that.)

The long and winding road to nowhere

Fabulous Faberge
Let’s see what you could have won… here’s the exhibition we couldn’t enter

The next day took a similarly wonky path.

We had headed across town with four kids, only two of which were ours, to the Jewellery and Watch Exhibition at the QNCC.

We snaked our way through the mazy underbelly of the Convention Centre, past the obligatory plethora of ornamental security guards, all the way to the front desk – only to find out that, because some kids had been misbehaving the day before, the powers that be had decided overnight to solve the problem by banning kids under 12 from the show for its final two days.

There’s an English expression to describe this kind of colossal overreaction which penalises everyone, including the innocent: “using a sledgehammer to crack a nut”. This was a classic example.

As a comms professional, let alone a parent of some seriously disappointed kids, this kind of behaviour is so frustrating.

Our trip wasn’t entirely wasted. Amnesiac got to practice his dance moves at the QNCC’s motion-controlled-light-show-water-feature-thing

It would take seconds to send a single tweet announcing the change (I’d cc Doha News, Just Here, I Love Qatar, Doha Mums, QF Radio, Marhaba, The Buzz and Time Out) – and, with Doha expat population being so internet, and particularly Twitter, savvy – the word would reach almost everyone who might be thinking of coming, and who would be affected by the decision.

What about the exhibition’s website; had it been updated overnight so that anyone checking it for opening times would learn about the change before they even left the house? What do you think?

I love it when a plan comes together

This is a city already bursting at the seams, before you factor in the estimated 50% population growth by 2022. That’s another million people.

The long-delayed new airport might open soon, to cope with all the visitors the Tourist Authority is actively courting. There’s a metro under construction, and a new port on the way, whose sole purpose is to cope with the volume and weight of materials the country will need to import in order to build the proposed World Cup stadia.

We knew when we moved here that we were coming to live in a country that would probably resemble be a construction site until at least the World Cup.

Roads are dug up, opened and closed again at will; roundabouts turned into junctions; landmarks knocked down. Last year’s six storey buildings quickly make way for next year’s skyscrapers.

Doha needs more, better roads (some of which are on their way), new hospitals, schools, houses and more parking everywhere.

It needs the best city planner on the planet.

So yes, my kids are learning that change is constant; necessary, even. That backup plans are an essential tool for daily life. But it shouldn’t have to be a permanent state of affairs.

Plan Bs are all very well, but it would be nice to think there’s actually a Plan A in the first place.

*ok, any


9 thoughts on “Plan B

  1. dreamdaysblog March 8, 2014 / 5:31 am

    It drives me mad too. The no alcohol on beaches/by pools was another annoying one. Apparently an existing law, everything to be cancelled, then it’s ok if they get individual licences for events. I can’t keep up.

  2. Lynda March 8, 2014 / 6:02 pm

    I really like the way you worked in Brad to the post so seamlessly. :). I agree – the arbitrary nature of some of the changes is frustrating. And the new construction is mind blowing in Dubai also. Leave for a couple of weeks and you can be sure of some new foot bridge or villa magically appearing. Longer than that and entire new malls and highways appear.

    • littlecity March 9, 2014 / 11:27 am

      Thanks 🙂 It does seem incredible that all this activity apears to be happening with (seemingly) little central coordination.

      We have our first returning guests staying this week and they have the same comment on every street: “that wasn’t here last year”…

  3. Anna Kingston-Jones March 24, 2014 / 7:42 pm

    Fab blog Nat – go weekly go! My Plan E = Exit in motion. Back to Blighty for daffodils. Winning with traffic – hire a trusted unlicensed cab to take you through rat runs you never knew – inspirational driving and mostly spontaneous.

    • littlecity March 26, 2014 / 6:57 am

      Weekly? Not sure my life’s that exciting, but I’ll take it as a compliment, cheers!

      Sorry to hear your Plan B is in fact Plan E, but you’ve got to go with what works for you. Safe travels!

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