Tuesday, 29 May 2012

The unspeakable Villagio Tragedy.

I have always been very Azeri when it comes to Health and Safety. Some of you might even remember me writing about the UK regulations we had to follow at work, the extent of which was often taken to a ridiculous level. Back in London, I worked in a college and maybe because of that, or because it was the way in any British organization; working in an Estates department meant constantly worrying about fire regulations. I had to produce floor plans, I had to mark every single fire extinguisher on them, every fire exit...

The H&S manager was always such a pain in the backside! They are never fun people those guys, are they. Wherever you work, the H&S officers are always incredibly boring, only to be matched by possibly the HR officers, if that. And maybe because I am Azeri, or because I believe westerners are too crazy about their H&S stuff...I only got annoyed when the friend I was meeting yesterday called me to say there were fire alarms going off at Villagio. 'Maybe we should avoid meeting here today?', she suggested.

'Nuh', I said. 'It is probably just a fire drill. Let me park the car at the other end and call you back'

 But as I approached the mall, even from the distance, the black smoke coming through the roof made me turn the car around. I pulled over on the opposite side to call the friend: 'The smoke is huge. Maybe you should get out of there like, now'.

So we left in time. Having met in another shopping mall, we sat in a cafe with our babies, enjoying a coffee and a lunch, laughing and discussing the excitement of the day. Gosh, I joked. Where are we going to meet now, if Villagio stays shut for the whole summer?

It did not occur to us for even a split second that people might have been suffocating from the smoke just as we sat there, laughing and enjoying our little adventure. It did not even cross our minds that there was a day care nursery where small kids were dying as we spoke, trapped inside, unable to get out.

And only when something this awful happens does one think gosh, what about a fire exit? what about regulations, sprinklers, floor plans? Perhaps they do go way overboard in the UK, but when one chance in a million does come, when it is your children stuck with nowhere to escape from the black smoke, isn't it worth it? Isn't it worth spending so much time and money on making things that extra bit safe?

Reading a Villagio thread on Doha Mums and Twitter yesterday, I thought of all the different movies where a distraught mother is crying 'my baby is still in there!' but you just know that the baby will always get saved in the end. You just know the Spider man will get that baby out. So, as some people started panicking on the Doha Mums forum, asking for the nursery phone number, or somewhere to go, someone to ask....some of the others were saying stay cool. Don't panic, they said, it is probably okay, they are most probably are all evacuated in time. But life can play cruel games, and there are no most probable scenarios when it comes to freaky tragedies. And neither God Doha Mums kept praying to, nor Spider Man came to the rescue.

And there is nothing, absolutely nothing we can say or do now to make those families feel any better. No number of flowers or candles lit up today can replace the children lost. No money donated by any of us, as it has been suggested, is needed. No "lets all be there for them" talks or endless prayers offered. One terrible tragedy that has made a lot of us realise just how fragile life can be. And it is particularly disturbing, somehow, for all of us who are living away from home.  Of course, this could happen anywhere else. But it did not. It happened right here, right next door, in a glitzy shopping mall full of expensive brands, exciting play areas for kids, a huge ice rink and no proper evacuation routes. And suddenly all the silly overboard H&S rules in the UK don't seem that silly or overboard to me now. And I just can't help but think if it had been a nursery in a shopping mall in England, all these kids would have probably been saved. But then I am using this silly useless probably word again. And what's the point in that.


  1. Maybe I have a different vision of this kind of things, being Lima (and Peru) a zone where earthqueakes are so common... unfortunately. But not everybody is as aware as I am: it enrages me to see lots of hallways stuck with boxes, lots of doors with three locks. If anything happens, it will be very hard to get away from that "anything".

    1. Thats a good point, gabriela... I just wish azeri people had such a smart attitude as we get earthquakes there too.

  2. Scary, this is devastating:((( I cannot even imagine what the parents of those innocent kids are going through... So UNFAIR!

    1. You should be here now...all the discussions, details emerging, interviews with the parents of triplets... Simply awful. Very very sad.

  3. this is very sad news indeed, and my heart goes out to all those who have died, injured or been affected by the tragedy.

    there are, however, two things that i simply dont understand: 1. how is it that the management of this mall overlooked the h&s regulations? do they not get assessed by the country's law enforcement agencies, or is it that they have no such structures to begin with? because this makes me think that perhaps the Qataris too, like some other nation i know, create their buildings etc for show only.

    and the second one is regarding Feride's comment, namely her "unfair" word. i am sorry but i'm afraid i dont understand what fairness has to do with this all? and to what extend there is any fairness in the world at all to begin with?


    1. A lot of people are asking these very same questions right now, including the qatari government, i am sure. Who knows. Something went wrong. There are a lot of speculations but nobody knows for sure what was and what was not working, what was there (some say there was a fire exit some say there was not...) it is hard to tell what really was the case. But of course, culturally, just like in azerbaijan, i am sure fire safety awareness is not great. One can just hope that this very sad case will make more people take safety seriously.
      I know what feride means by unfair. It is very unfair. But you are right, sadly. Life and this world are not fair.

  4. I've been thinking along similar lines. I have enjoyed the last few weeks since arriving in Doha, not feeling so constrained or supervised as I do at home. I started thinking of home as a 'nanny state'.
    There has to be an in between. While it is important to ensure a basic level of safety, some western countries really have gone overboard with H&S costing an exorbitant amount in every venture.
    But the Villagio was avaoidable, and for once Inshallah is not good enough...