3 years ago today, I was newly pregnant with twins. I’ll admit, I was terrified. I had sought out the support of the Mums of Multiples network and just a few days earlier, had been to my first meeting.
At the meeting, I’d met three fantastic ladies. One of them was Nicola, who was also at the same stage of pregnancy as me. We were to go through our pregnancies together, leaning on each other for support (sometimes literally) and had our twins within 24 hours of each other. Another lady, Trish, had twins who are much older than mine. She is like the mother hen for all of us with multiples; she guides us, supports us, visits us during those difficult newborn days. She is our rock and we all love her.
The other lady I met that day was Jane Weekes. She hosted the Mums of Multiples gatherings every month. I nervously entered the house and immediately relaxed. It was filled with love and warmth and happiness and giggles. It was a wonderful sort of chaos; there was writing on the walls, toys everywhere, toddlers tottering around giggling and playing. I will never forget it. This house was ALL about the children. They outnumbered the adults and it showed, in the best possible way. It was truly a wonderful home and it was clear that at the heart of the home were Willsher, Jackson and Lillie, Jane’s triplets.
Jane offered me a drink and I told my story while her triplets tumbled around with Trish’s twins. I was absolutely terrified about carrying twins, I’ll admit it. Motherhood was a daunting prospect anyway, but I had no idea how I was going to cope with pregnancy and then two babies. TWO babies. It’s a mantra I kept repeating over and over in those early weeks.
But meeting Jane and Lillie, Willsher and Jackson that day reassured me completely. I started to realise what a blessing it was to have multiples. Their house was such a wonderful place to be, the kids were so completely adorable and funny and so different in their personalities and Jane was obviously revelling so joyously in parenting them. I left that day feeling truly touched by the Weekes and it completely changed how I felt about becoming a parent of multiples. I knew life was going to change drastically, but I could see it would be for the better and I looked forward to going to more multiples meetings with these awesome, inspirational ladies.
A few days later, I checked Twitter and saw that there was a fire in Villagio. As the day went on, it became clear that it was a serious fire. In the absence of any live news reporting on either the TV or the radio, I saw the whole thing unfold on social media.
I went to bed that night wondering how many of the rumours were true and hoping and praying that everything was going to be OK. My pregnancy meant that I often woke up during the early hours, and I remember checking my phone in the dawn light the next morning. That was when I learned that Jane and Martin had lost the triplets. Sobbing, I woke up my husband, not knowing what to do with myself. I’d only met them once, but the grief was overwhelming. How could those vivacious, wonderful children that I’d met only days earlier, be gone? I couldn’t process it. How could they all be gone? How could Jane have lost them all? How could a fire have killed so many people? How could so many of them be tiny, innocent children? None of it made any sense. It still doesn’t.
As I watched on social media that day, there was an outpouring of grief. I was really taken by how Jane and Martin coped with it, by taking their grief out into the community and grasping the support of others, some of them friends and others complete strangers. I don’t want to say it was brave, because that sounds trite and patronising and I’m sure they just muddled their way through it all without being terribly conscious of anything, but it showed a raw strength and courage that few of us have. I wasn’t able to attend the vigil that was held at Aspire Park the day after, because of my pregnancy, but I saw through social media the horror of what the Weekes were suffering and how the community came to support them during this most horrific of times. There are upsides to living in Doha and the tightknit community feeling here, in the absence of our families, is one of the most significant. The Kiwi community performed a Haka at the vigil and I can’t even think about it now without sobbing my heart out.
The aftermath of the fire was raw and painful. I couldn’t even drive past Villagio for many weeks after. It was months before I could look at it without crying. But there was hope. The Weekes were visited by members of the ruling family and were promised care and justice. Civil Defence had a crackdown on mall safety. The Supreme Education Council had a huge crackdown on nursery safety.
The Weekes went back to New Zealand, empty and broken hearted. The other families picked up the pieces of their lives in whatever way they could. I thought about all of them, every single day, and I still do. They are always in my thoughts.
The trouble with Doha is that it’s a very transient community. People come and people go and the population changes all the time. If you go back to Villagio now, it’s as busy as it was before the fire. I feel that the community as a whole has forgotten what happened that day and I have written this post to try and bring back the memories, the pain and the raw emotions that hit this little town on May 28th, 2012.
But please Doha, don’t forget. Don’t forget that you can’t take safety for granted here. Don’t forget that we have never seen the full report into the fire that was supposed to be made public. We still don’t know what the status is of the building materials that were used in Villagio, particularly the paint that is rumoured to be toxic. We still see people smoking inside malls. We still hear fire alarms going off and see nobody moving. We see ambulances and fire engines trying to battle their way through an unyielding traffic jam. We see bits of ceilings fall down from badly built malls.
Yes, lots of things have changed for the better since that awful, awful day. But there is still a long way to go. Please don’t forget.