My Silver Lining

OK, first my apologies. I haven’t blogged for a while. I stopped when the blockade happened, and I honestly got scared to write about how I was feeling or how (temporarily) it felt like our world had turned upside down.

But in the year while I’ve been away from this site, those of you who know me will know I’ve spent a LOT of time talking about the 8th Amendment and why it needs to be repealed. I’ve written before about my journey to pro-choice, and I mean unapologetically free, safe, legal no restrictions abortion (that’s another post, but sure, get cross if you want to but you might just want to read up on post-viability abortions and the reality of this first).

I’ve been struck by the bravery, the massive, immense, unimaginable bravery of women from across Ireland who have shared their stories through In Her Shoes – Women of the Eighth. But there’s still a part of me that believes that some people regard women who have crisis pregnancies as ‘uneducated durty young wans who can’t keep their legs closed’. And who genuinely think they don’t know anyone who has been in a crisis pregnancy or found themselves needing an abortion.

So… I want to help shatter that perception, that belief that it’s always someone you don’t know, or who perhaps deserves it. This is my story. Not one of choosing abortion, but one of finding yourself in a situation where it might have been needed. Life and fate ended up intervening to prevent me realising my choices were limited, but the 8th was there – staring at me, even when I didn’t realise it.

My Silver Lining

I can remember clearly the moment I realised I was pregnant.

I wasn’t someone who you would have pictured getting pregnant at 20, in the middle of a degree. I was good and quiet, not quite as studious as I should have been, but never been one for trouble or drama. I was exactly that girl down the road, who you think you knew but probably don’t. But I was immature and naive to the world, had barely been in what could be termed a “relationship”. My screwed up relationship with the opposite sex took place through the all-too-potent prism of alcohol and foolishly seeking affirmation that I was attractive and worthwhile. So I made mistakes, not many, but those I took were risky foolish mistakes.

It was the run up to Christmas. All I had been worried about was Christmas parties, concerts and presents for my closest family. My breasts had been feeling really strange and sore and for some reason, while I knew very little, I knew this wasn’t right. I sat in my bedroom in my parents’ house and checked my diary, looked back at my period dates and my strange one-day only period the previous month. I weirdly knew straight away what the pregnancy test would say, even before I took it the next day, huddled in a bathroom at the back of the shop where I worked.

I staggered home, in a haze of confusion, dropped an atomic bomb of life altering intensity on my devastated parents, and then proceeded to go out and get absolutely paralytically drunk.

The next morning, while I was desperately upset, the thought of ending it didn’t occur to me. I had no concept of life beyond my parents’ house, and romantic ideas of a baby were already deep in my consciousness. I had never seen someone struggling to raise a child alone.

I think my father might have mentioned options, but I brushed them aside, oblivious to the reality that lay ahead. Oblivious to questions of how I would support a child? Finish my degree? Get a job?

In town that day, fate intervened. I started to bleed. The bleeding didn’t stop. I went home.

My parents cared for me when I had just turned their lives upside down. Like a sick toddler, I was tucked up in their double bed. My mum gave me painkillers and brought me the next day to the GP, who confirmed I had been pregnant and was likely now miscarrying. I went to the Rotunda and sat among the heavily pregnant women, experienced a scan of an empty uterus, stunned by the sudden reality I was facing and shocked into confronting the reality and the loss.

It was the loss that won back then. I grieved for that child that never was. I cried through Christmas Mass and struggled for a long time afterward with depression.

In all of that chaos of those two life-shaping days, there were some words I can still remember, gently stated by my Mum and resented by me for many years after: “It was a silver lining.”

She knew. She knew what I didn’t. She knew what world lay ahead for me if I’d remained pregnant, unable then to fathom the realities of raising myself, never mind a child. She wanted for me what I subsequently got – a career, a partner, a family at a time of my choosing, a life that was easier. And what I thought for years when I reflected on those five words was that she was wrong; I could have done what so many other strong women do, done it all as a single mum. And I could have, but I’m glad I didn’t. I wasn’t ready for that.

Why am I sharing something so deeply personal? Why is it relevant to now?

I held my pro-life views so dearly for so many years that it clouded my reality on everything. I had counted through the weeks of pregnancy that would have been but never were. I see it now in the posters, the social media posts, the media coverage. I see the same things I would have said. I see now the constant focus on the foetus and not the mother. I didn’t value my life as I should have back then. As I do now.

I’ve now lived longer since the pregnancy than before it. That foetus that never became a child would have been 20 this year had it been born. It’s only recently that I realise what a lucky escape I had. When I look back, I now wonder whether a week later, two weeks later, when I stopped being in shock and started realizing what was happening (assuming I did), what would I have done? At the time, I would have had the right to travel for an abortion, but that was all. I couldn’t have chosen to end the pregnancy in Ireland had I realised that that was what I wanted. At that stage, abortion pills weren’t available. I was lucky though, I’m sure my parents would have travelled with me and funded it, had I wanted to. I am sure I had that luxury of their support. Many don’t.

I didn’t have to make a choice, or to realise that there was none really available to me. But I know now, and am furious, that my choices at the time would have been limited by the State. By the 8th Amendment. Rules introduced by people who would have put me in a Laundry two decades earlier, who fought against my right to use contraception, who fought against my right for information, who fought against my right to travel and who are now fighting to retain a law that makes me and any other potential child-bearing person, a prisoner in their own body.

To be clear, I don’t regret the grief I had at the time for the loss of my pregnancy, but I also recognize that that grief was for some romantic vision that would never have happened for me at that time. I wasn’t grieving a reality; I was grieving a fairy tale. I wasn’t prepared for the changes that would have come, and that the miscarriage, while it hurt like hell for a long time, was right for me. It saved me.

It took me years to allow myself to recognize that it was OK to feel relieved at how things worked out. It was OK to take a moment each year to think “What if…”, to mark a birthday that never was, but to not regret that I never carried that pregnancy to term. I’m glad I didn’t need to confront my situation, that my control was wrested from me by my body.

It’s now 20 years later. I have two daughters. I know that neither they nor anyone else can control the things life puts in their path, whether it’s crisis pregnancies, fatal foetal abnormalities, or something threatening their lives or health if they are pregnant.

If those things happen, I want to be able to support them and offer them choices. I don’t mean the type of choices that involve planes, boats or smuggled pills. I mean choices, real choices, close to home. In a country where they don’t have to hide behind anonymity. Where they, and only they, can control their bodies. And for that, that means the Constitution needs to change. It needs to put my daughters first over their pregnancy. I want them to have choices so I can hold their hands and bring them tea and support, when they need it, as they need it. Where I can tell them about the wisdom of their grandmother, the endless potential of their lives and the silver linings behind every cloud.

Please show compassion for every person who has found themselves living in a moment they never imagined. Repeal the 8th on March 25th. Vote YES.

Photo credit: Lady Dragonfly via Flickr




Hong Kong – a visitor’s perspective of the protests

I wasn’t going to write this.

Anything I would have written would have gushed at length about the jaw-dropping beauty of Hong Kong and its islands, the eye-soaring heights of its super structures, the shimmer of Victoria Harbour and the endless movement of life on it. I’d have told you about the food from across Asia, glorious bowls of brothy heaven, dim sums of such variety that our heads spun and our taste buds went into overdrive.

I might have mentioned the protests, but as a side bar, a note. Almost a (forgive me) humorous anecdote, an adventure we unwittingly found ourselves in.

It wouldn’t have been this.

My perspective on the protests shouldn’t matter. I was a tourist for a week, a passer by, a mere speck in the overwhelming mass of humanity that live in and visit Hong Kong each year. Surely the people best placed to talk about the protests are the HK community themselves?

Apparently not. They can’t. They’re scared.

And as counter protests start to spring up (supporting the HK police, no less) around the world — yes, Dublin, I’m looking at you — there seems to be nobody free to say what it was really like.

I’ve seen commentary that nobody in HK supports the protests. That the protesters were all brutal. And I’ve seen people I respect, whose voice matters more than mine, silenced out of fear of reprisal.

So… without wanting to add my uninformed privileged voice to a discussion that shouldn’t really be mine, I want to say what we experienced, what we saw, in Hong Kong last week. I hope in some small way it provides a perspective on the allegations of a city renouncing the protesters and of protester brutality.

Crowds of black

We staggered off our overnight flight from Doha to Hong Kong, blearily focused on the task of finding the Metro and getting to the hotel.

We entered arrivals and were greeted with the usual airport sight. Kids holding signs of welcome for relatives from across the seas. Parents waiting for a glimpse of their child. Drivers holding signs of names they cannot attempt to pronounce. And black t-shirts. And more black t-shirts. And we look around and realise that the airport is full of black t-shirts and they’re looking at us. They’re holding signs welcoming us to Hong Kong. They’re holding signs apologizing for disrupting our holiday. They’re holding signs asking us to understand that they are fighting for something fundamental and important.

We don’t feel scared of the protesters, but my heart is hammering anyway. These are teenagers, and I know the risks they are taking. I want to say to them that I support them, but the words won’t come out. I’m scared of being spotted by police, who are everywhere. I feel like such a hypocrite, walking blithely through with my case and my Hong Kong map, so I grab a leaflet off one of the protesters. A small act of solidarity. A useless one. I hide it in my handbag.


We happen to be staying across from police HQ and government building. No, it wasn’t intentional but it was non-refundable and we figured it was better at least to understand the situation and be clear about where we were.

We knew Sunday was protest day so we took ourselves out of Hong Kong island for the day. While others took risks to speak their truth, we took photos of a Giant Buddha and drank Vietnamese drip coffee in a tiny fishing village.

On the way back to the hotel, the Metro was calm. But as the doors closed on the last stop before ours, we looked around and realised our new co-passengers were in black. All on their phones frantically typing. Many carrying yellow hard hats.

We knew what was happening but had no other option but to get off the train at Wanchai Metro and hope they stayed on. They didn’t. They walked calmly off beside us.

When we got to the concourse, groups of protesters streamed under the barriers back INTO the station. Our cue to leave, quickly. We knew Metro stations were becoming a flashpoint and we wanted out. The atmosphere was getting tense and people were moving fast. Our fear wasn’t the protesters.

We ran up the nearest stairs and out at a station beside Lockhart Street. Turned right to head toward Hennessy Road. Stopped dead. Ahead of us blocking the road were hundreds of people, all in black.

Our way was blocked so we turned back onto Lockhart Road. There, blocking our way to the hotel, we saw this.

It was a weird moment. We wanted somewhere safe, away from the flashpoint we knew was coming. But look at the photo. See the lady lighting her ceremonial offerings for the Hungry Ghost Festival. She wasn’t the only person going about her ordinary life as if a squadron of police staring at her didn’t faze her in the slightest.

It fazed us. Protesters were walking past us in full gas masks. The media were gathered in a huddle up ahead.

Many buildings and shops were shut. The only option available to us was an expat bar. We rushed in, more than a little relieved at the safety it provided. We sat at the back well away from the windows and made bad jokes with Englishmen about petrol bombs.

And then it started. Simon heard the pop pop when he went outside and came quickly back in, his eyes smarting. Ordinary people started to come through the bar, eyes red and streaming, looking for water to wash the gas from their eyes. We had respite from it. The people we’d passed moments earlier didn’t.

I figured my international assistance app was rubbish (it notified me of the protests three hours later!), and followed #wanchai on twitter instead. There is became clear that we’d been right to run out of the Metro station. Police had charged in, fired rubber bullets, charged at protesters and fired tear gas INSIDE the station.

We sat and waited for an hour for it to pass. The police cleared the road, marching in formation to push protesters toward Causeway bay.

We made our way back to the hotel. We were safe. We hoped the protesters were too.


The week passed with an eye on the evolving airport situation (sorted before we flew), but it was marked by apologies. Every tour operator, server, or guide who happened to discuss the situation with us apologised. But none condemned the protesters. None said the protests shouldn’t be happening. Surely the tour guides, losing revenue by the day, would be annoyed at the disruption to their business? No – they sent an email saying they supported the protesters right to protest.

The apologies were unnecessary.

1.7 million Hong Kong citizens held a protest last Sunday, in the pouring rain, in Victoria Park. A peaceful protest.

I take it for granted that people have a right to protest, even if I dislike their message. I was born with that privilege. I would fight if someone tried to take it away. To attempt to intimidate people into silence is fundamentally wrong. Those who support that, no matter what the political reasoning, are forgetting that they wear a privilege that they should cherish. (And yes, Dublin supporters of the HK police, I’m looking at you.)


Note: I’m not oblivious to the fact that all protests allow some people to take advantage of the protest to act in ways they shouldn’t or use violence when they shouldn’t. It did happen, I’ve seen the footage too. But if 1.7 million people have something they need to say, then maybe we should not focus on the 1 or 2 but focus on the many?

Compassion and the 8th


Noun. Sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.

I looked up the definition of compassion recently and found myself a little surprised at its mention of sympathetic pity. Not empathy, the word I had expected to see. To my mind, sympathy is something we do at a distance without really seeking to understand or help others.

A little more digging, however, revealed the origins of the word and satisfied my understanding of the word:

Middle English: via Old French from ecclesiastical Latin compassio(n-), from compati ‘suffer with’.

Putting aside the irony of the ecclesiastical origins of a word that is now far removed from the actions of the Catholic Church in Ireland and beyond, the word “compati” stood out.

Suffer with.

Empathy is not a skill we’re born with. We develop it in late childhood when we learn that people around us feel differently that we do, and that that’s ok. It removes us from our focus on our own ego, and helps to make us more social individuals. It helps us to put ourselves in the position of others, to understand their point of view, to recognize that differences are not a bad thing.

Compassion goes one step further. It asks us to feel the negative emotions and experiences of others. It challenges us to accept that their lives are different to ours and to understand the depths of their pain and experience.

This is why the movement to repeal the 8th has arisen from a point of compassion.

Yes for compassion

I look around at campaigners for Together for Yes and I see compassion writ large upon their souls. They are able to recognize the pain that women (and men) have found themselves in as a result of the 8th Amendment.

They, like me, have read and heard stories of utter pain and horror of people trapped in pregnancy in a country that sought to offer them no help but spit them across the water for our neighbours to deal with.

We have heard stories of women whose pregnancies were changed beyond reason because the 8th prohibited them full control of their bodies – think coerced inductions, C-sections, episiotomies.

We have seen women meeting in dark places to trade packages of illicit drugs, not taken for pleasure but for pain. Gut wrenching, awful, unsupervised, secret pain.

And what we hear from the No side?


Child killers


There’s not even a hint of compassion in those words. No attempt to understand whether the person (or child) they are addressed to has suffered a loss, had to travel to protect her health or deliver a much-wanted child who wouldn’t live, has suffered a traumatic birth as a result of forced intervention.

This week we had a newly consecrated Bishop declare that abortion was worse than rape. Where was his compassion? His attempt to understand what he, as a man, could not possibly understand… the feeling of carrying a foetus you do not want as a result of violation that had been forced on you? Where was his willingness to try to suffer with that woman? Is this not an expectation of representatives of the Church? I’ve long since lost my faith in the Church or God, but I do remember the kind, non-judgemental image of a Christ who washed the feet of prostitutes. This doesn’t seem like the type of thing He would say.

From the No side, I’ve seen videos of men shouting at women half their size, of blonde Irish women declaring that non-white Irish women did not matter, of spokespeople again and again and again and again ignoring the plight of the sentient, breathing, living woman pleading for compassion from society. I’ve seen that woman reduced to a soundbite, a number, a hypothetical person who doesn’t deserve our support because they deem her decisions are wrong. It doesn’t matter to them that she’s forced to travel, it doesn’t matter that she’s forced to buy illegal pills, it doesn’t matter that she’s forced to ship her child home in a coffin or by courier, it doesn’t matter that she may be forced to carry for month after long month a foetus she never wanted to give her body to because she couldn’t afford to take any other options.

The Yes side has listened. For too long, we have listened to the stories and the pain. For too long, we have begged for compassion, for understanding, for help.

Do you show compassion?

If you intend to vote No, ask yourself this: how would I respond if it was my wife, my daughter, my cousin, my friend, my neighbour asking for access to compassionate abortion care in Ireland? Yes, you’ve been asked this before. Think about it again. Please.

Be honest in your response – if you don’t show compassion here, then at least you’re consistent. (The worst stories I’ve read on In Her Shoes were those where family as well as society let the woman down at her darkest hour.)

But if you find yourself unsure, then let me ask you this, what if she’d been raped? Would you say yes then?

Or what if the foetus had no hope of life? What then?

And if those situations are permissible, then what about if she might lose her home or be unable to feed her other kids? Is that ok?

And if that’s ok, then what if she just doesn’t feel ready or she made a mistake? Will you punish her for that?

If you think compassionate abortion care should be provided as an option in any of those cases, then you should vote Yes, because without a Yes, she will always need to seek care from overseas. She will always be a pariah in our society. And you don’t want that for YOUR loved ones, or any of the other women and pregnant people of Ireland.

Thank you for trying for a moment to suffer with those women. For showing compassion.

Please vote Yes.

Living in Qatar. 10 things to know about driving here.

In a previous post, I described driving in Qatar as shit scary. I have been trying since to come up with a more eloquent expression to use, but I genuinely can’t.

You will experience this phenomenon the first time you come to a roundabout in Doha (it won’t take long — hopefully as a passenger, ideally a back seat one. During this life altering moment you are likely to shout, or perhaps politely think if you’re from a stiff upper lip nation, “What the **** is he/she doing????”.

You will watch aghast as your driver floors the accelerator as you approach the merge and speeds toward a flood of massive SUVs that seem to be spilling onto the roundabout despite your presence, dodge a car that suddenly decides, with neither indication nor apparent thought to the value of their lives or yours, to cross your lane to exit before you and then listen as the driver takes a big intake of breath, clasps the steering wheel determinedly and points the car in the direction of the exit you want to take, speed up further, perhaps plough through more cars that have hurtled in front of you, and join the next road.

Actually, that’s all a lie.

You won’t watch. Your eyes will actually be clenched shut, your jaw clenched more tightly than you deemed possible, likely taking a decade’s worth of enamel with it, and your fingernails will be embedded deep into the leather of the arm rest.

Welcome to driving in Doha.

This is a crazy city. It moves at a pace that alternates between sleepy stupour and Usain Bolt style. Nowhere is this more evident than on the roads.

It’s tempting to point the finger at locals, who drive fast and furious, but that’s unfair. Doha is a melting pot of nationalities and I actually find a lot of similarity between the crazy nonsensical roads of South East Asia and here, except that there, the most powerful engines are the tuk tuks and the Honda 50 ccs. Here it’s Land Cruisers, Lexuses and Nissans with 3.8 litre engines that rule the roads. A heady combination, and not a particularly good one! Add a network of constantly changing roads to the mix and you have chaos.

So, here are some tips about driving here and getting on the road, should you decide after reading this that you don’t want to take up walking. (And trust me, that’s not going to work here either!)

Forget what you know about roundabouts.

If you hadn’t already guessed from my comments above, roundabouts are a whole new world of anxiety here. It’s fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants time, and there are no rules other than to get off that roundabout alive and unsoiled.

Genuinely though, drive like you know what you’re doing. That speeding up shows other drivers they don’t want to cut you off And be prepared for those nutcases cutting you up to exit. They actually will be you in the future when you realise that you can’t go straight on from the middle lane because people are turning left from your outside lane. Yes, seriously.

Expect the unexpected.

Crazy driving doesn’t just happen on roundabouts. It can happen on four lane expressways too, when someone decides that they need to exit or just need to go faster. It’s not unknown for people to cut across four lanes in one maneouveur. At 100km. In between other cars.

Give way to bigger cars.

Forget that rule about leaving two car spaces between you and the car in front. That just won’t work in Doha. It will be full of other cars in the time it takes you to slow down, so to make it work, you will actually need to drive backward. Bigger cars will always try to push in. They won’t indicate. They will just move, especially if you’ve left space (but that’s not required). Expect it and stay alert.

Believe it or not, you’ll be doing it soon too.

Horns – get used to them

The bigger the car, the more likely they are to sit on the horn when they are stuck behind you. To be fair about this, it is entirely reasonable that they should beep you when you haven’t moved 0.00000001 milliseconds after the light has gone green, or when you haven’t squeezed yourself in between a truck and a bus travelling at top speed, just to ensure they can push past.

Joining expressways

This will initially rank up alongside roundabouts as your most loathed moments on the road in Doha. There’s no ever-so-polite shifting of cars from the inside lane to the middle as they approach a merge doesn’t happen here, so you need to learn to judge, and fast or the horns will start, how you will merge. If you’re not fast enough, the cars behind will start to overtake you while you try to merge. While beeping. Yes, seriously.

You will get better at it with time!

Navigation requires a sat nav

Forget any notion of learning the roads in this city so that you can navigate with ease. They are literally rebuilding an entire road network across swathes of the city, so a road you took tomorrow might not exist tomorrow and a whole new diversion will be in place. Avoid Google Maps — it is woeful at keeping up to date with map changes and doesn’t give enough warning of turns. Waze is absolutely amazing and will become your best friend in the cockpit. So much so that on those rare occasions when it lets you down you find yourself sobbing to it about betrayal and how you expected so much better from your relationship!

You don’t need a road to drive on

Now there is a fun meaning to this and the reason so many people have 4x4s. We live in the desert after all, and what better activity for a winter’s day that racing off road over the dunes.

However, some people take that off roading to another level, and it’s not unknown to see SUVs getting fed up with traffic and mounting the median areas to drive as far as they can through the rubble before rejoining, possibly 30 seconds further along their journey than they would otherwise have been. The same rules apply to parking. If there are no spaces, just leave the car anywhere. Ideally as close as possible to where you’re going. If that’s a pavement, it doesn’t really matter. After all, pavements are just random disconnected decorative objects placed around the city with no intent for pedestrians to ever actually attempt to — gasp! — walk somewhere on them.

Driving test instructors may grab the wheel

In my 10 minute driving test, I got yelled at to go faster, shouted at to drive straight (and when I did, I was told it was the wrong straight) and then the instructor grabbed the wheel to correct me. I still passed.

There’s a whole post I’ve written about passing your test here. I’ll post it separately, because that’s an adventure in itself.

Car seats aren’t the norm here

As shocking as this sounds, car seats are not the norm on these crazy roads. You will regularly see children 1980’s Ireland style, standing between the front seats of their car or mothers holding toddlers unbelted on their laps on the front seat. It is perhaps reflective of the general crazy attitude to road safety, but it makes my heart sink every time I see it, especially on the crazily busy 4 lane expressways.

Go for it… drive

For all of the above comments, it is possible to drive and drive relatively safely around Doha. It’s also perfectly possible to use a taxi service and might even work out cheaper.

So if you’re reading this and unsure about whether you want to drive or not, don’t let this put you off. You will get used to the roads, you will pass your test and you will appreciate the freedom this gives you to explore this wonderful city.


If you’re reading this from Qatar, I’d love to hear your experiences or tips for the new driver. If you haven’t been here before but can think of somewhere that will rival this, please do let me know!


Image credit: Sam Agnew, Flickr

Living in Qatar. The Weather.

OK, I’m Irish, right?

People from Ireland simply cannot start a conversation without talking about the weather. It’s our icebreaker, our common ground. Safe, uncontroversial, and, broadly speaking, something you can cover quickly before you start gossiping about illicit affairs and the goings on in Number 6 down the road.

Howaya! Fierce hot today? 

Morning! Great drying weather isn’t it?

Hiya. Never seen rain like the last couple of days. Have you?

So, where better to start looking at life in Qatar but the weather?

Let’s start with the bleeding obvious: it’s hot.

I’m sure you’re all nodding right now, thinking, “Is she serious? She’s seriously going to write a post about the heat. It’s the desert for crying out loud!”

But this is a new hot. This isn’t 25 degrees hot, Jean-Byrne-earnestly-stating-Met-Éireann-weather-warnings*, most likely while wrapped in tin foil, hot. This is HOT. Searing blazing, growing by the day hot. You measure the temperature not in degrees but in number of seconds it takes for pools of sweat to gather on your back between the car and your air conditioned destination (if you’re blessed enough not to be on the school run).

The reality is that once it gets over 39/40 degrees, added temperature isn’t really measurable. Your life moves indoors, if you’re privileged enough not to be working outside in the searing heat. You don’t need sunscreen at this stage because quite frankly you’d drop from heat stroke before you’d get a sun burn.

The heat also causes some life lessons:

  • You will say the words, “Close the door, you’re letting the heat in.”
  • Toothpaste goes so hot that it drips off your toothbrush before you can get it into your mouth.
  • Speaking of toothpaste, you will get used to brushing your teeth with hot water, because that’s all that’s available in the taps.
  • Your air conditioners are on all the time, even though your skin crawls at the feel of the cold air on your skin.
  • You will only once in your life take a swig from a bottle of water that’s been left in the car.
  • Seat belt buckles get scorchingly hot in the sun. So does a steering wheel.
  • To counter the previous problems people will leave air conditioning on during school pick ups. Yes, that means leaving the keys in the car. Yes, your car is then unlocked. Yes, I have seen a Porsche sitting empty with the engine running. No, car theft is not a thing in Doha.

And did I mention that it’s getting hotter, or maybe not that much hotter (although it’s still on average about 5 degrees shy of the 50 degree record), but rather more humid and more uncomfortable? As I’ve been hearing since we landed in March:

summer is coming
Any excuse to use a photo of Jon Snow!

Summer is Coming. Three little words said by experienced expats without a trace of malice but gentle warning that “if you think it’s hot now, you ain’t seen nothing yet missy.”

Worse yet, I was told last week that September is also fairly hot and humid and miserable. Great.


I said there was more than just heat, didn’t I? Well, a new state of weather I’d never experienced before was “sandy”. By this it means visibility halves, dust devils fly over open ground and your car looks like those rare occasions at home when the Sahara dumps its sand on us, after just one day. You get your car washed at least once a week to deal with this.

Sandy also means your garden is dusty, the house gets dusty and you have a lovely wind brushed face after a walk on a sandy day. Who needs expensive exfoliator, right?


It does rain here. Actually, just to welcome us, it rained on St Patrick’s Day. A little taste of home. And much like snowy days in Ireland, the city ground to a resounding stop. Perhaps not unreasonably.

The water table in the ground is high, so one heavy rainfall leaves swimming pools scattered around the city. Great if you’re driving a Land Cruiser, not so great if you’re in a regular car, unless you fancy an impromptu swim.

People also don’t drive for the rain. And that sand I mentioned above makes the roads turn into an ice skating rink when it’s wet. You can imagine the rest.

Thankfully, it’s a desert, so not something that we need to worry about too often.

Is it all bad?

For everything I wrote above, you might think Qatar sounds like hell on earth, but it’s surprising how quickly you acclimatize to your surroundings. Evenings of 35 degrees are gorgeous to stroll around in. Lovely breezes sometimes sweep in off the sea and make the air feel fresher and more comfortable.

Simon tells me that last November there were people wearing fleeces in Doha. I laughed at the time, but can see now how 25 degrees could feel positively cold. Just wait until I visit Dublin in September and write complaining about how an Indian Summer in Ireland is like Arctic conditions!

Next time, let’s talk about driving. Buckle up and wait for it!


  • Those who don’t know Jean Byrne. Google her. She’s a true Irish icon.


80 Days in Qatar – Learnings, Part 1. Culture Shock.

Ok. I’m going to ask you to do something.

Close your eyes. Imagine arriving into a strange country. It’s filled with a sticky warm air that you normally associate with holiday, not home. You are enveloped in new noises, smells, senses. Your nerves are at jangling point as you pass through immigration, getting the stamp that says you’re not a regular holiday maker but someone who might be staying here.

People from every corner of the globe are squeezed into a chaotic airport arrivals lounge. There are tears and laughter as people come and go. Trollies laden down with cases pass by. You see chubby toddler legs chasing his sisters’ into the open arms of daddy. Reunited, four months later.

Somewhere new is home. This is home. This alien environment. This city. Doha. A place that two years ago, you would have struggled to pinpoint on a map.

Driving home, wherever that now is, the horizon is filled with the spectacle of skyscrapers climbing to new heights. The sea is decorated with boats ablaze with dancing fairy lights and pumping out bass notes across the water. The roads are… well, that’s a whole separate blog post… suffice it for now to use the word “shit-scary”. And your husband, has learned a whole new set of driving skills with blue language to boot.

There is a perfume in the air of your new compound as you pull up. It’s quiet and empty now – your neighbours have not all yet moved in – so feral cats provide the only life you see as you unpack your lives through the door. Welcome home.

The culture shock is real. The people are different. Languages are different. It is hard to do things that would have been easy at home; harder and more frustrating yet with a hearing loss (yup, that’s a smallest violin moment!). The school system is different. Gone is the Educate Together informality, replaced with British School academic rigor and excellence. Life begins earlier; 5:30am alarm calls are no longer saved for early morning travel or special occasions.

And it’s dusty, so so dusty. The air is sandy and any greenery is maintained through careful irrigation, either piped or manual. The city is full of roadworks and building works. Roads that exist one day are gone the next. Buildings grow as if shaped out of the ground.

The heat, tolerable when you arrive, builds to a May crescendo, punctuated by the warnings of an imminent summer and the well-meaning threat that “you haven’t seen anything yet”.

However, some moments mark your first weeks. Punctuate the oddness with a feeling of home. The most consistent of these is the Adhan, or call to prayer, which echoes through the air five times daily, in the malls, on the radio, over the neighbourhoods. You hear it and feel at home. This is where I am. Even in the most commercial or crazy of environments, here is the sound of home. (Take a listen:

You stop feeling naked, no matter how well covered up you are, as you walk past the thawbs and abayas in the shops. You stop feeling self consciously different to the surroundings. You meet others in similar situations to you. The school has class mums, designed to answer silly questions like “What colour socks should I buy?” and gently help you to decipher the school system of multiple PE days, swimming days, library days, and recorder days.

You explore. You have your favourite restaurants. A routine at home. A house that has plants and pictures and life. Your life.

You discover blogs like “I Love Qatar” and start learning more about Arabic culture and a life that’s so vastly different to home.

You start to offer advice to newcomers. Your kids have playdates, away and at home. You cook your first roast dinner and can now list most of the city’s best day out options and some lovely options for food.

Only 80 days in, and this is feeling like home.




Its time to sever the historical cord that binds our wombs to religion

June expresses the feelings of so many in this blog post.

Gladstone Bag

The Redemptorist

“How many children have you?” asked
The big Redemptorist.
“Six, Father.”
“The last,
When was it born?”
“Ten months ago.”
“I cannot absolve your mortal sin
Until you conceive again. Go home,
Obey your husband.”
She whimpered:
The doctor warned me…”
Shutter became
Her coffin lid. She twisted her thin hands
And left the box.
The missioner,
Red-bearded saint, had brought hell’s flame
To frighten women on retreat:
Sent on his spiritual errand,
It rolled along the village street
Until Rathfarnham was housing smoke
That sooted the Jesuits in their Castle.
“No pregnancy. You’ll die the next time,”
The Doctor had said.

Her tiredness obeyed
That Saturday night: her husband’s weight
Digging her grave So, in nine months, she
Sank in great agony on a Monday
Her children wept in the Orphanage,
Huddled together in the annexe,
While, proud of the Black Cross on his badge,

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