Our container: Around the world in 111 days
On June 9th, the movers came into our Vancouver home and packed up our things—dishes, books, furniture, toys, everything except for beds, which we would buy when we arrived in Doha. Moving overseas for the first time is a whirling storm of chaos, excitement, sadness and apprehension. I am not ashamed to admit I had a long, crazy cry with my head in a kitchen cabinet, scrubbing it down for the new owners. But every expat has a story about leaving home; this is the story of our stuff, and its long journey from Vancouver to Doha.
Waiting to leave
On the same day as my crazy kitchen cry, our stuff left the house and went into storage. In the meantime, the six of us moved into a hotel room while we finished the school year, settled our affairs in Canada and said goodbye to our dear friends and family. Also in the hotel room: several ‘miscellaneous’ boxes we simply didn’t have time to sort through. Once we did a final cull, we added a few last boxes to the shipment. And a new couch (La-Z-Boy—can’t buy in Doha). And a digital piano (also can’t buy in Doha). And my treadmill desk (can’t buy anywhere in the Middle East). Also, power transformers for the new piano, my treadmill desk and the two new lamps I bought to match the couch before I remembered the voltage is different.
I must mention that in this pile of stuff were two slightly used cat trees—super-ugly carpet-wrapped behemoths with shredded legs. Our three cats went to kitty camp while we were in transit, and we knew they would be mad, mad, mad when they got off the plane in Doha. The cat trees would be a peace offering: look kitties, we brought your cat trees! Please don’t pee all over our new villa as retribution for the massive disruption in your pussycat routines.
Bon voyage, stuff!
Once we had all of the documents in order, our things were packed into the container and placed on a ship. While our family flew eastward 11,000 km (and 10 time zones), the container took the long route. It set out from the Port of Vancouver and headed west and south across the Pacific to Singapore. This first leg was 13,000 km, and after a ship-change in Singapore, there was another 7700 km to go.
Our turn to wait
As our things were on their Magellan-like voyage, we settled into our new lives as expats. The first few weeks in Doha were like reliving our toddler years: everything was new, including feeding and toileting ourselves. (My first visit to Villaggio, I walked into a stall with a squat toilet and I nearly fainted from panic). Everything was an adjustment: the heat! the roads! the culture! the currency! Several times I was in bed at 19:30 because my overstimulated brain couldn’t stay awake another minute.
Just as we were settling into our new lives, we got a phone call saying our stuff would be delivered. Delivered in 10 minutes that is, so the next nine were spent in a ‘get dressed, put the cats in a room, move the loaner furniture out of the way’ panic. And then they arrived, five very strong, very hardworking men who, after unloading half the container in about an hour in 40-degree heat, asked politely if they could have a 15-minute break. Umm, yes. Yes, I think you can.
My husband’s books! My son’s saxophone! My favourite spatula (yes, I have a favourite spatula)! My daughter’s hockey gear! The little ones’ toys! The cat trees! It’s bliss to have your things after 111 days, and each box is like a gift, specially wrapped in cardboard and packing tape.
The expat experience has been fantastic so far. The community is welcoming; the schools are great, the swimming pools and beaches make this feel like an extended vacation. But as I unpacked my kitchen, I felt—well, sad. At home my extended family gets together over food, we catch up and bond and visit while we eat off these dishes. My family and friends have given me so many of these kitchen things as gifts—pasta bowls, a serving platter, even my favourite spatula. I miss these people, I realized, and it will be a long time before I see them again.
Home Sweet Home
In spite of this flood of sentimentality, our house is feeling more like home every day. The unpacking continues, but it feels like we have arrived. One reason I was keen to move overseas is the bonding experience for the family. The six of us are 11,000 km from home (or 20,000 if you go the other way); we are in a different culture and climate, meeting people from all over the world. But in Doha, just like in Vancouver, and just like it would be if we ended up in Switzerland or Siberia, we have found our home together.
In August 2014, Angela Ford left her home in Vancouver, Canada and moved 10 time zones to make a new home in Doha. She is a pretty good writer, a darn good editor, a terrible cartoonist, and a passable mother of four children. Angela writes for dohafamily.com and blogs about her fish-out-of-water experience in Doha under the pseudonym Katy Alice at burnthenfreckle.com.