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.

#wanchai

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.

Apologies

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?

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.

Sandy

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?

Rain

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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fe8qRj12OhY)

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.

 

 

 

Feeling Alien: First Reflections on Qatar

First confession: Only amateur expat wannabe bloggers fail in style by forgetting their laptop charger in their home country. Mine is somewhere, who knows where, in a small green nation over 5,000km away.

However, for all that this error resulted in itchy fingers and a temptation to start plugging away here on my iPhone, it led to me taking an enforced break from writing here for two weeks, providing time for reflection on all that’s happened in the past two weeks since our arrival in Doha. And reflection has been very much needed!

 

Greetings 

We arrived to a hot, dry Doha. Greeted with open arms by a tired, well prepared expat father who had been working hard to lay the groundwork for our new lives in Qatar. I think the image of our three kids racing across the airport arrivals ahead of my mother, myself and three porters laden down with our massive luggage haul will live with me forever, especially the smiles all around at Alex’s chubby legs carrying him, arms outstretched, for a long overdue hug with his Dad.

reunionWe also arrived just after Pixie was released from customs, so it was a grand family reunion in the car park of Doha Hamad Airport. Kids, check; Pixie, check; driver, check; sanity, check.

First impressions matter. Simon knows from years of travel that arriving in a dusty Dohan suburb would not do. So he had arranged for a drive-through road tour along the Corniche, lit up as it always is against a dark sea and sky, announcing in case of doubt Doha’s ambition to be a city of the world, where success is measured in skyscraper floor totals and grand architectural tricks and illusions. Tantalizing glimpses of Souq and MIA to whet the appetite for exploration and life here.

souq

Feeling green
I will confess now to an arrogance that until two weeks ago I had no idea I possessed. An assumption that I was a seasoned traveller of the world. I had seen continents and sights that would complete many a bucket list or Top 10 travel guide. I was wrong. Totally wrong.

The best introduction to Doha life is not the museums or the scenery, it’s the traffic and the malls. Traffic is traffic, but the cars are larger, roads are faster and the drivers more impatient. The first few roundabouts are navigated with your hands across your eyes — thankfully, I was a passenger and not a driver at that stage!

The malls are where we, as expats, first engage with Qatari culture beyond the immigration desks in the airport. I don’t honestly know what I had expected but it wasn’t what I found. I was an alien in my own skin, feeling weirdly unsure how to walk, behave, even act in this new environment. Qatari men and women are clearly proud of their culture and status and this is evident most of all in their dress. Men wearing the long white shirts called thawbs with headdresses called agals on their heads. They are tall, proud men. The women that initially stood out were a wall of black. It would be wrong to say they all wear abayas – they clearly don’t – but it certainly appeared so at first glance. They also wear headscarves of varying styles, from hijabs more commonly seen in Europe to full veils covering their entire face.

This sea of white and black was hard to see past at first, even while aware of the multitude of other nationalities around us. It took time, nearly two weeks before I could fully stop staring at the newness of it all and start appreciating more in the wider environment. The abayas became less of a black uniform and more diverse. I could appreciate the intricacies in the different fabric choices or embellishments sewn into the material, the glittering sequins on some, the chiffon or lace on others.

If this description makes Doha sound very uniform, I can assure you that it’s far from this. Indeed, I would describe Doha as possibly one of the most diverse places I’ve ever been in. There are people of all nationalities here, and because tourism isn’t yet a huge driver of population shift here, you know most people are living here, trying to shape a life in this rapidly growing and evolving country.

A forest of forms

The first couple of weeks here have been consumed with paperwork, travelling around the city and multiple office visits (often fruitless ones with missing papers, etc.). You’re never 100% sure which website is accurate, what forms are required, whether original documents are needed or just photocopies, and presenting more than required seems to be greeted with derision! However, we’ve got there now – all Residency Permits are approved, my Driving Licence has been received and we’re good to go!

The piece I’ve personally found hardest is dealing with officials, who are as helpful as you would expect from civil servants in any country, but since many are women and also wearing a hijab of some sort, my ability to lipread has been hampered and so conversation is stilted and limited to me head bowing, apologising and repeating shukran (thank you) over and over again. Accents in general are a challenge, whether Indian, Pakistani, African or Filipino, but I’m sure I’ll get there.

Finding the green

MIA ParkWe’ve managed to find some respite from the dust and sand and endless construction sites. Aspire Park and MIA Park have been located and provide the green, however artificial it may be, that we need. I’m not sure I ever realised quite how dependent I was on the clean air and open spaces of Ireland. Give me grass, some water and tranquility and my soul breathes deeply. MIA Park, in particular, will be a spot we will come to relish over the coming years. I haven’t quite picked out our favourite picnic spot yet, but it’s coming!

Next stop – real life

Now real life begins. We’ve been on holiday mode until now. The kids have been off school and I haven’t been working. That all changes this coming week. We’ll start with the 5:30am starts for a 7:30am school day. The girls will start making new friends and joining new activities. We’ll figure out childcare for Alex and I’ll start preparation for work in April (if it happens – paperwork still ongoing for that one).

This is where we need to start getting a genuine routine in place. Finding meals to cook that work for the heat. Creating school lunches where ham and cheese isn’t an option. Adjusting to a world where weekends are different simply by starting on a Friday!

I’d love to hear tips from other expats or you creative folk at home. Activities for home evenings appreciated? Tips for lunchboxes in the heat? Quick and easy meals that stop us visiting the malls for all dinners.

@sineadorourke

 

 

Tribute To My Tribe

Yes, we’re finally in Doha. Safe and sound. All of us. Including Pixie, who has taken to expat pet life like an expat human’s toes to the poolside. There were no toddlers thrown from the plane or seven year olds talked down from the ceilings (no, that was the day AFTER we arrived!).

I am still gathering my thoughts on the mayhem and mania of the past fortnight, from unexpected trips to secure papers for the aforementioned feline to goodbyes, real ones this time with tears and silent gasping hugs.

Now I’m home. Well, I’m in what what should be home. Except it still feels slightly alien. New. Apart from the shopping malls, which are like home but bigger, glossier and inhabited by a populace that looks and feels vastly different. There’s a post in those feelings, but my fingers aren’t yet ready to type it. The fatigue is real. So tonight, in the vein of being still at home, I’d like to pay tribute to my tribe.

0faf745f48eea04dc1092d864b66bf82My tribe

I am aware that there’s no little irony in posting about the importance of a tribe after you move over 5,000km away from them, but actually they become so much more important to you over the course of that journey.

Don’t take your tribe for granted. Look at those in your life and ask who will be there for you and cherish them. My tribe is so much bigger and stronger than I ever realised. 

My own family, without a doubt, were my rock during four months of sole parenting. From grandparent time and care and uncle and aunt babysitting, to sorting, packing and lugging many, many boxes into cars and up and down attic stairs. They also provide tea. Lots of it. I’d have been lost without them.
Equally, I’m blessed with in-laws that I cherish. I know, I know. It’s neither trendy nor cool to say how amazing your in-laws are, but in my case it’s true. From the always there when needed loving support of my parents-in-law, to my sister- and brother-in-law who minded their nieces and nephew through vomiting bugs and loved opening their home to them at a time of massive change in their lives and who dropped everything and ran to help me when A was admitted to hospital with pneumonia. 

Extended family. I have a small but incredibly close extended family. They have all helped in little ways beyond measure to balance me at times of stress, provide a sounding board for my worries and fears and just generally being there if needed.

Friends – you know who you are. The encouragers. The time-out friends who remind you that you have your own identity amidst the chaos. Those who have been there a very long time, and those who are new. 

Colleagues – the ones who say nothing when you come in with food stains on your behind. And your hair not done. Those who take you aside during meltdowns so you can compose and dry your stressed out tears. The ones who buy Eddie Rockets or who simply stop and check in. I worked with one of the best companies in Ireland when it comes to colleagues. 

Broader tribe – I’ve never been great at meeting and socialising with school mums. I’m not great in crowded spots anyway, so school gates aren’t the best for flying conversations for me. So imagine my surprise and gratitude when some of the mothers in B’s class offered to help with a going away party. There was cake, and food, and hands, lots of hands, to help tidy and clean and remove the stress. That’s a tribe I should have engaged with more before. Honestly it was a lesson to me to open up more. Thank you.

Facebook friends. I know some people scoff at online communities, but my sense of tribe includes those who I know only online. That tribe is one that you can often contact when the real world seems too much or too hard. They don’t judge.

They’re my tribe. A vast messy Venn diagram of love and support with me in the centre. I’m lucky to be there. 

I may be far away but I’ll always be just a message, call or email away. Love you all X

Bye bye, bye bye, bye bye… the Irish long goodbye

Anyone who has ever tried to end a phone call with an Irish loved one will know this closing salutation, usually echoed by your counterpart at the other end: “Bye bye, bye bye, bye bye…” (repeat until hanging up). It demonstrates clearly the Irish reluctance to end a connection, to close a conversation, to say goodbye.

Image result for bye bye bye irish

And so it is when one of us is departing to foreign shores. Ireland has a long tradition of emigration and departure – our diaspora are scattered to the furthest corners of the Earth – but it’s still hard to let go of the homeland. It’s harder yet for those left behind to say that final farewell.

I’m experiencing this now. Final meetings with friends and family are never described as such and so I find myself scheduling a further catch up, chat, lunch, tea, coffee, get together. There are leaving parties and goodbyes before final days in school, creche, work. An excuse to postpone the inevitable tough reality of the pain of goodbye.

Last night was one such goodbye night.

A catch up with my two closest friends, to be repeated again tomorrow night, over probably our worst meal out in years but with satisfying accompanying hilarious critique.

The night ended with a session in the Oliver St John Gogarty pub in Temple Bar, frequented only by tourists, stag parties and maudlin potential Irish expats and their friends (no other Irish people would pay €11 for a spirit and mixer!).

The trip to the (in)famous drinking house allowed me to sing Black Velvet Band, Whiskey in the Jar and I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For at the top of my voice alongside the Brits, Canadians, Spanish and Peaky Blinders wannabes.

Because I know those songs will become different when sung on foreign soil, in Irish bars where the antiques are made in China and even the Guinness isn’t real. These songs will become layered with longing and loss.

When my dear friend Catherine played a request for her friend who was emigrating, the long goodbyes and my willing participation in dragging them out suddenly made sense.

I’m not just an expat, I’m an emigrant. I’m joining the diaspora. And it’s hard to say goodbye.