Our first visit “Home”; as an Expat

We’ve been Expats now for close to a year, and the boys and I recently had our first trip “back home”.

Being away from Home for just over 10 months has widened our hearts and minds. We’re part of a different culture; not only the one that we currently live in but also the culture of being an Expat; an outsider.

For months I’ve had friends and family telling me how they miss us and when are we coming to visit. With Bunny’s school holidays approaching towards mid-January, I suggested that I take the kids to visit friends and family, instead of just lounging around in the house while Mr. Bear still had to work. It would be 2 weeks of excitement; constant get together’s and meet-ups where Bunny could play outside in a garden, Monkey could get used to what real grass feels like, I could soak up the typical Highveld summer thunderstorms with the added pleasure of seeing the people I hold dear to my heart.

I had announced our idea to some friends and family and it was very well received. Some even counting the days down with me, some starting to make plans, but then, some not sharing much care or enthusiasm about it.

I was told numerous times by other expats who have gone through this type of visit, that it’s rarely all that you wish it to be and one often will expect way more; that I had to remember that I’m not going through what they are going trough right now; I’m not really part of their lives, even if we still had daily contact; that I would see who were willing to make an effort; and that the easiest would be to organize one event where people can come see us, instead of me dragging the kids all over the place each day to try and try fit everyone in.

My heart sank quite a bit when I heard that it wouldn’t be all sunshine and roses. I mean, these are people I care for and they care about me. I’m making the effort of a 11+ hour trip across the world; why wouldn’t some make a small effort. I’m sure my people won’t be like that!!

Well, wake up and smell the bloody roses!! They were right.

By all means, I had family and great friends who really did make a lot of effort to come and see me. Effort from driving 3-hours to come to where I was staying; extending their own trip to stay longer; to blocking out an entire afternoon to see their “doctor”; and others just making the effort to maneuver through hectic traffic to come say hi. It was absolutely heart-warming to see how some would put their lives on hold for a little bit to come see us.

Don’t get me wrong; I know one can’t always take off work, or take a break for a coffee, especially during the week, or rearrange a whole day with kid’s schedules. I really do get that. Good grief! I had to adapt and rearrange both my kid’s routines for 2 weeks, in a different time zone, miles away from their new home, without their Daddy, in a foreign house with new tastes and smells. I know that I’m not “used to” what’s going on in said Home Country. I know you have your own life now. I know sometimes plans just really don’t go as we intend them to go. Really, I do get that… Just didn’t realize your own life meant I can’t be a part of it in living form, but only through social media…

This is not a post to make anyone feel bad that didn’t make an effort or whom I didn’t get to see. This is just a heads-up to anyone planning a trip “back home”.

Visiting back home after being away for nearly a year, certainly has stirred up a lot of emotions in me. Even when you look past the whole visiting of friends and family.

Currently, we live in a country where it’s relatively safe. Where violent crimes are unheard of. Even petty crimes do not make the news headlines, not even on a monthly basis. It just doesn’t happen… Compared to our Home country, where violence and crime is part of everyone’s lives on an almost daily basis.

So it was quite a reality shock to be petrified to sleep alone in the house without a family member at night; to not allow Bunny to stroll behind me in a shop; to not want to drive around in case we catch a red traffic light and having to wait for it to turn green.

It made me realize how pathetic it is to live in a country where you don’t feel safe; where you have to constantly look over your shoulder and be on permanent guard mode. How did I ever manage to live with it for so long?

Our holiday overall wasn’t so great. It didn’t turn out the way I had hoped. It was lonely during the days while everyone was at work. It was nerve wrecking at night with only me and the kids in one massive house. I missed having my boy’s daddy. They missed him. We were all miserable. One phone call and a good amount of tears later and Mr. Bear went to change our flight ticket to come back home 4-days earlier.

Do I want to go visit again? Yes sure. But this time completely on my T’s & C’s.

The next time another Expat gives me advice on these type of things, I’ll actually follow them and not think that “my trip will be different.” Seems everyone’s trips are all the same.

 

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On our way back home

 

 

Doing Qatar (in a week)

Ok, so I’m not a travel blogger, nor a foodie. But here is what we got up to when my mom came to visit us for the first time in Doha. This might also give you some ideas as to what to do when you have visitors and/or when you are a tourist coming to Qatar.

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Mom landed safely on Sunday morning. We were still on our way to the airport when we got the notification that she’s gone through immigration, but due to heavy fog and bad drivers, we were running late (as usual). Bunny had gone to school without knowing what we were up to. Monkey was quietly in the back seat awaiting to see his gran. And I felt like a little kid on Christmas morning.

 

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Roofs sticking out above the heavy fog – Pearl, Qatar

 

Once Mom was picked up, we were dropped off at home to have a cup of coffee, unpack and plan our week, in between constant chatting. (Mr. Bear was very relieved that he didn’t have to attend to the constant chit-chatting.) To plan our iteniary, Mom had the following criteria: Not too expensive, taste as many different types of food as possible, see the most important things but still spend time together to just “chillax”.

At 14:00, Bunny arrived home only to be surprised and overwhelmed by his granny waiting for him in the lobby. And soon after the lunch routine, we set out to do some exploring. (Luckily I had had mentally prepared myself to have no daily naps… pity I didn’t prepare myself for all the walking that was going to be done in this week. On our first day, we walked 7 km!!!!!!!)

With the Pearl-Doha already being an attraction by itself, we decided to show my mom this man-made island and what it has to offer, while we munched away on some ice cream. From slim-lined yachts to an abundance of coffee shops and other restaurants, to clothing stores who seem to only have a few designer outfits. A peaceful and relaxing walk along the marina, taking in the beauty and tranquility with a mixture made from the water and beautiful sunsets.

 

The next day, we went to Villagio Mall to show Mom the decor. Back home (South Africa) we have 1 building with the same type of ceiling; so this was nice to see how a whole mall can look like a village somewhere in Tuscany, even with a small little man-made water feature where you can go for a ride on a gondola, as well as a Ferris wheel and a roller coaster, all inside the mall. The interesting part is how one minute it feels like you’re in Italy and the next you’re inside the Waterloo Train Station…

Working up a good appetite, we returned to the Pearl, where we had lunch at Shakespeare & Co. Now it is absolutely impossible to describe this restaurant’s ambience. The decor is so “busy”, yet everything has its place and it’s like everything just flows together. The food is delicious and always fresh too.

 

The next day we visited Katara Cultural Village where Mom was amazed by the architecture of the new mall that looks like a palace, the passages between buildings with the water streams all along the buildings as well as the Katara Amphitheatre.

If you’re ever looking for the best Belgian waffles in Doha, then go to Chac’Late, right opposite the Amphiteatre. Hands down the best!!

Although we were so full from the generous waffles, Mr. Bear still needed supper, so we decided to add American to our list of foods to try. And off we went along the Pearl Marina again, to Just Burger.

 

Day 3 was spent in and around the Pearl, trekking from Tower 13 all the way to Tower 1 as well as taking a drive through the villas on the Pearl. That night we were fortunate enough to see the Super Moon rise from behind the Kempinski Hotel on the Pearl. And then a Turkish Supper at Mado – the ravioli is to die for!

 

The next day was our “Preparing Day” for Friday’s trip to the Inland Sea. Cooking, grocery shopping and later on a swim in the Tower’s pool and then an early night.

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Swim in the pool
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View from the balcony

 

On Friday morning we woke early and made our way to the Inland Sea. Now if you’ve never been, then you have to make a plan to go. Make sure you don’t venture there by yourself and ensure you have extra beverages and food, just in case your time there is prolonged.
It was absolutely amazing, as always. Bunny and Mr. Bear got to ride a camel, we got to watch a beautiful sunrise come over the horizon; and then we made our way further into the desert; all the way to the Inland Sea, where we unpacked, swam, ate and generally just soaked up the last bit of summer sun.

Going to the desert is always an experience and adventure and you just never know what you’re going to end up doing and/or seeing. This trip gave us the experience of a hightide further into the desert than usual (possibly caused by the Super Moon), forming an unexpected lagoon; some assistance given to a group of people who had an overturned Hummer and had to be pulled upright and out by a Ford (Kudos Ford F150) and then hundreds and hundreds of Land Cruisers coming into the desert in droves, as we were on our way out. I can now imagine myself being a small gecko in the way of a herd of buffaloes stampeding their way towards you. It was a sight unimaginable. All slightly sun burned and exhausted, we called it an early night again.

 

Saturday was spent at the Flea Market at the Museum of Islamic Arts, where we got to see the locally hand made arts and crafts as well as some eats and treats that people make, and then we had a stroll into the museum to view the terracotta soldiers from China.

Once done viewing Doha City from the museum’s side we went to the Souq Waqif where we got some souveniers for the family and friends back home in South Africa and then had supper at Al Adhamiyah Iraqi Restaurant, where you will be given the most tender lamb ever. On the way home, we drove through Doha City Centre so that Mom could see the different lights on the skyscrapers…. yes, yes, Mom’s town in South Africa doesn’t have any skyscrapers!

 

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Lighting up the sky – Doha

 

 

Sunday we had breakfast at Jones, the Grocer and then we spent some time at home, baking Mr. Bear some carrot cake (his fav) and then one last stroll along the Pearl Marina where Mom, Bunny and Monkey went on the merry-go-round. A lovely way to end our week together.

 

And ending our beautiful week together, with yet another beautiful sunset.

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Beautiful sunset

It has been an absolute memorable week for all of us, as we not only got to see and spend time with Mom, but we also got to see more of the beautiful city we currently call home. If you haven’t seen/been to one of the above places, then please make a plan to go.

According to Mom, these were her top 4 favourite attractions, in order:

  1. Inland Sea and desert
  2. Katara Cultural Village
  3. Souq Waqif
  4. Museum of Islamic Arts (She’s not a big historic/museum type of person though)

 

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See you soon, Mom xxx

 

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Keeping in mind Mom had a criteria for her visit; there were still quite a few places to see and/or experience; but our time was limited.
Here they are, for future reference:

  • Banana Island
  • Camel Race Track
  • Al Khor Park
  • Spa’s and brunches at Hotels
  • Dhow trip
  • Kayaking in The Mangroves
  • Sheihk Faisal Bin Qassim Musuem
  • Al Wakra Souq
  • Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Grand Monsque
  • Falcon Souq
  • Fuwairit Beach
  • FilmCity
  • Sealine Beach Resort
  • Torch Tea Garden

Have fun site seeing and exploring!!