Two new Telegraph blog posts: Giving birth in the Qatari desert, and The arrival of winter

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I’m now back writing again after a rather momentous event, the birth of our second child – a little girl – at the beginning of August.  Luckily she’s a very good baby and allows Mummy some time to dedicate to her passion. I love motherhood, but I also love having a creative outlet, so I’m enjoying blogging for The Telegraph about expat life.

My first two posts following my daughter’s birth have been about The Cuban Hospital (the rather unusual location for her delivery) and about the very welcome arrival of winter in Qatar.

I hope you enjoy them both.

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Mother and child in jail for debt – a follow-up story for Doha News

sarahkoller.com

sarahkoller.com

Recently, I wrote a follow-up to a very popular Doha News story from last year, in which I focused on women who’d been jailed in Qatar for giving birth outside of wedlock.

In the latest story, I write about Mary (not her real name), who’d originally been sentenced to a year in prison with her baby for sex outside marriage, and was still in jail, more than 15 months later, due to debts, most of which she had accumulated after borrowing money from a loan shark.

The story went viral and got shared widely on Twitter and Facebook. It’s co-authored with my Doha News colleague Peter Kovessy, who provided the sections on the legal framework in Qatar.

You can click here to read it, and the comments underneath – 122 to date – are well worth reading, too.

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Precious family time in Doha during Ramadan – my first Telegraph blog post

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I was recently asked to become a regular blogger for The Telegraph’s expat section. My first post is about Ramadan, and the surprising upside to being stuck indoors with very little to do for a month.

I’m expecting our second child very soon, and I’ve realised that Doha’s heat and Ramadan’s restrictions on day time activities have led me to focus even more on my little family – a real blessing. You can click here to read the post.

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Saving money while working in Qatar – a two-part series for The Telegraph

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I recently wrote a two-part series of articles for The Telegraph giving advice to expats about how to save money in Qatar, a country which is becoming an increasingly expensive to live in.

I offer lots of suggestions to keep spending in check, including:

  • Making use of all available discounts when eating out by seeking discount clubs, books and websites – like QgrabsThe Entertainer and Voucher Clubs;
  • Timing big purchases like a second-hand car for the end of an academic year, when many expats leave Qatar for good;
  • Being wary of reductions in the value of car insurance coverage as your car ages –  this can make buying an old car a false economy in the event of an accident;
  • Taking a trip to the seasonal farmers’ markets with friends to save money by buying produce in bulk, then splitting it up;
  • Making full use of the second-hand market in Qatar, which is always busy due to the high turnover of expats here. Online groups like Buy It, Sell It, Swap It, Qatar on Facebook, classifieds on Qatar Living and garage sales are sources of many gently or barely used items;
  • Planning to buy expensive items like clothing, children’s shoes and specialty foods while traveling outside of Qatar, to save on costs (depending of course on baggage allowance)

You can click here to read the first part, and here to read the second.

Credit: Photo by Patrick Gage / Flickr

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‘Qatar will pay back your efforts if you give it half a chance’

Ray Toh / Flickr

Ray Toh / Flickr

My latest article for The Telegraph is up. In it, I give tips on ways to settle in to expat life in Qatar. It’s never an easy transition, but I argue that the more you put in, the more you get out of the experience.

I’ve known many people who’ve refused to give Qatar a chance, and they’ve been miserable as a result. If you’re about to move to Qatar, or have just moved – make sure that isn’t you!

You can read the article here.

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New special needs centre opens in Doha as demand for support rises

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Recently, I met a group of very determined, very feisty mothers who are all battling to get the best therapy possible in Qatar for their children, who are all on the autistic spectrum.

I spoke to a Qatari mother who decided to found the Child Development Center, a new support centre for autistic children. It’s very expensive, but the service they provide is – according to the mothers I spoke to – life-changing.

You can read my story for Doha News here.

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Doha’s new Hamad International Airport finally opens for business

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On April 30th 2014, Doha’s new airport, Hamad International, finally opened to passengers – five years late. I went along to the opening ceremony, asked questions at the press conference, and spoke to some of its first passengers.

As for passenger experience – I noted that very few of the airport’s restaurants and shops were open. In fact, there were only three cafes, and two duty free shops. Whether the rest will be open in time for the full transfer of all air traffic on May 27th remains to be seen.

The resulting story on Doha News was one of our most-read stories ever, with 13.5k shares from our website alone.

Click here to read it.

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Confiscated champagne: Gordon Ramsay vs Qatar’s alcohol laws

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Earlier this month, I went along to a press conference held at the St Regis hotel in Doha to mark the first anniversary of British celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay’s two restaurants there.

He’d opened the two outlets after the closure of his first Qatar venture, Maze, due to a recent ban on alcohol sales on its location –  luxury island The Pearl – so naturally, the topic of alcohol was on the discussion table.

I asked him whether he still believed the Pearl alcohol ban wouldn’t continue, and his response to that question formed the lead of the resulting Doha News story.

Not content with this response, however, he went on to tell us about the seizure of a treasured bottle of Dom Perignon champagne from his suitcase by Qatari customs officials on his arrival in Doha a couple of days earlier. Apparently unaware of the fact that it’s illegal to bring alcohol into Qatar (you can only buy it here with a license from the country’s solitary booze shop, or from five star hotels) he’d packed the bottle, a present from a friend, in his bag.

We included this tale further down our story. No other Qatar-based outlets have written about this yet, as far as I know – probably due to the extent of self-censorship in the country.

Anyhow, this anecdote has since spread far and wide, unfortunately largely uncredited to Doha News (and, in one case, plagiarised by an agency who sold the story on to the UK’s Daily Star – we’re attempting to get that rectified.)

If you spot it in the wild, could you let me know?

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Going solo in the Gulf – what single women need to know

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Recently, I was commissioned by Telegraph Expat to write an article giving tips to single women who are considering moving to the Gulf to work. They asked me to speak to women about their experiences, and give them 500 words – I ended up writing more than three times that, as the subject was such a broad one.

Here’s the result – interestingly, despite living in different countries, the four women I spoke to shared similar experiences and had similar views – they all felt that their expat lives had been enriching (both financially and culturally) but also challenging, particularly when it came to dating.

It’s proved a popular story – it’s the most read in the section currently, and a precis of it was Doha News‘ most read story yesterday.

So far, commentators have suggested that advice about the availability of contraception would have been a good addition (if I’d had the space!) Anything else to add?

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‘Head butt’ statue stirs up controversy in Doha

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Earlier this month, Doha News ran a very popular exclusive – pictures and an accompanying story about the surprise installation of controversial sculpture “Coup de Tête” – or “Head Butt” in English – by Algerian artist Adel Abdessemed on Doha’s corniche. The work captures the moment when French football player Zinedine Zidane head-butted Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup.

The story was the result of a meeting with the Qatar Museums Authority, who agreed to give me advance warning of the installation. The resulting post spread virally, becoming one of our most popular stories this month so far.

The statue has so far caused a fair amount of controversy, being labelled, amongst other things, as un-Islamic and promoting violence.

Click here to read my story.

Have you seen the statue in situ? What do you think?

Credit: Photo by Gazanfarulla Khan

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