Hello ME expats ...
This is where it could all start to get ugly.
This is when we stop focusing on the day-to-day trivialities involving petty arguments, traffic congestion and malfunctioning a/c units.
This is how we start to prepare for the eventualities that we hope and pray will not become reality.
This is the part where I debate over whether or not I should even think of matters of war, much less write about them. I've been agonizing about it for weeks, trying to balance my desire to inform and my determination to dissuade panic and conjecture.
My blog is not about social or political commentary. It never has been and it's not about to start being so now.
But this blog IS about life as an expat in the ME, and right now most Doha expats are embroiled in a conflicting relationship with their television, internet, newspaper, and local rumor mill over all matters Syria. We are on tenterhooks, reading the news each day in the entirely unrealistic hope of some type of peaceful resolution, while more realistically expecting at any moment to turn on the TV and see that our fears have finally been founded.
Dinner party conversations invariably turn to questions like "Will the US strike?" (more frequently phrased these days as "WHEN will the US strike?" "What will it mean for us?" "What if we don't have an embassy here?" "What would we do if we had to evacuate?" "Are we ready to evacuate?" "What if we can't evacuate?" "What if we have to shelter here?" "Should we fortify our first aid kit?" "Should we stock up?" "Where will we live if we do have to leave the country?"
There are more questions today than answers, and many expats right now are struggling to achieve a balance between what on the surface is "life as usual" and an underlying sense of urgency to be prepared for the worst. Some expats have been through this before in other countries, others are entirely new to the experience.
And while nothing has happened yet, I think it's safe to say we all know we must be prepared. It's time to start planning, ME expats ...
So, far from being an expert, I'm realizing that there are some things we should be ready for at all times when living in the ME. At the top of that list is the ability to gather up everything that matters with very, very short notice (think 'hours' ...). Here are some things that I think every ME expat should be thinking of right now. It's not exhaustive, but I'm hoping it could be useful in getting people to stop and think about what they can do to be prepared if things did get ugly.
- Start by sitting down with your family (and household staff, or anyone else living in your home) and talking about what you would do in an emergency situation. Develop a household emergency plan. Make sure everyone has a list that details each person's name, date of birth, phone number, emergency contact name and number. Also include your work/school name/address/phone and find out what their emergency response plan and evacuation point are. Agree to where you would all rendez-vous if you were not home when a serious incident occurred. Remember that your maid, driver, gardener may not be from the same country as you, and might have to make arrangements through their own embassy if there was an evacuation.
- Prepare an emergency supplies kit, in case of eventualities such as power/water interruption, transportation issues, etc. Include in your kit enough supplies to provide you with two weeks' provision of water (4L of water/person/day), non-perishable food items, battery powered radio, flashlight or camping light, candles, extra batteries, first aid kit, moist towelettes or hand sanitizers, garbage bags (for sanitation), can opener, map of the local area, prescription medications, pet food/water, cash, important family documents (e.g. passports, insurance papers, bank account records), duct tape, matches, paper, pencils, paper plates and towels, activities for children, etc.
- Carry your personal i.d. and that of any young children with you at all times. You can make copies of your family's passports and keep a copy with you as well. Also keep your mobile phone charged and on your person.
- Make sure any important documents are kept in a water-proof container.
- Let your family back home know that you have a plan, and inform them if they are on your emergency contact list.
- Consider scanning any favorite pictures/documents onto an external hard drive.
- Many expats no longer have a house back home. Where will you stay if you have to go back to your home country?
- What about your pets? What are the options if you are evacuated and they can't come with you?
- Check out relevant emergency preparedness sites, such as www.ready.gov and www.getprepared.gc.ca
- Give your kids a chance to talk about their fears. Take them seriously and tell them it's ok to be scared. Gently prepare them for eventual scenarios (for example, having to leave a pet behind, possibilities of partial evacuations with one parent staying behind, etc.). Make sure they know emergency numbers for ambulance (999 in Qatar), as well as Mom and Dad's.
After wrestling over whether I should write this post or not (I have this crazy idea that writing about stuff makes it real), I'm now happy I did. It made me stop and take a look at how prepared my own family is (not very), and sit down with Smilin' Vic, Kiddo and Tita L. to talk about the current situation. I realized that Tita L. is very nervous, and we were able to reassure her a bit by letting her know that we were taking some precautionary measures and that she is a part of our plans. We talked about things calmly, and acknowledged that nothing at all may come of all this. At the same time, we reminded each other of those basic things that we sometimes neglect, like carrying our i.d. and having a bottle of water in our bag or car at all times.
I think writing this actually helped me achieve a balance between fearing the worst and burying my head in the sand. There's no need to panic, but there IS a need to plan. We will never be prepared enough if everything does go South, but at least we'll be better prepared than we were at the outset. It's a start.
Here's hoping and praying that the ME doesn't get ugly.