Family finally reunited after 125 days apart

A LOVING family were finally reunited last weekend after spending four long months apart due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Joan Forrest (McGinley) from Ardara, her husband Brian and their teenage daughters Aoife and Isla had a tearful reunion in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday last. They have spent the last 125 days apart after Brian found himself stranded in Saudi Arabia.
Speaking to the Donegal News this week Joan said that being apart for more than four months was tough. She said that this was the longest they were apart since they got married in 2004, adding that it was great to see each other face to face again without a screen in between.
“Brian journeyed with nine others from Riyadh to Dubai, endured two Covid tests within six hours, got a taxi to Abu Dhabi and finally got in at 3.30am when he had his first welcome home beer in 125 days (alcohol is strictly forbidden in Saudi),” Joan said.
“Facebook, WhatsApp video calls and ToTok are blocked in this part of the world. Thank goodness for Zoom these past four months,” she added.
The daughter of Packie and the late Brigid McGinley, Joan moved to Dublin in the late 1980’s. She met Brian (he’s from Edinburgh) in The Pembroke Pub on a night out. He was working as an architect while Joan was an Insurance team manager for Standard Life. The couple married in 2004.
“My stepdaughter Karla has two beautiful girls Lily and Alba so we’re Papa Brian and Nana JoJo,” she laughed.
The family moved back to Ardara in 2009 due to the economic climate. Brian got a job in a local stone company and started his outdoor pursuits business – he’s a qualified mountaineer and sea kayaker. He also joined Donegal Mountain rescue.
In 2013, he got a call from a former colleague about a position in Moscow with an International Design and Engineering company.
“We took two minutes to think about it and off he went – nothing to lose, everything to gain,” Joan recalled.
Brian commuted every few months for about eighteen months before the family relocated to Prague and then more recently Moscow. An opportunity came up with the same company for a Design Director position in Abu Dhabi. They left Moscow in 2016 and have called the UAE home since.
“Aoife and Isla go to Al Bateen Academy and are busy learning Arabic now. They say it’s very difficult English is widely spoken so I don’t need to, thank goodness,” she laughed.
Last year Brian was offered a Design Director and Engineering Lead on one of Saudi Arabia’s mega projects for their Vision 2030 campaign, taking him to Doha – close to the Jordanian border. He was able to fly every couple of weeks from Tabuk to Dubai which was working well until Covid.
“There’s been a total lockdown in Saudi and UAE – no one in or out since March. We’ve endured months of curfews and covid testing. All tourism facilities have been closed but it’s slowly reopening again after five months,” she said.
When Brian travelled back to Saudi on 13th March with a colleague they were tested and, unfortunately, his colleague tested positive and the pair were kept in quarantine in hospital for 14 days. On returning to his hotel, a further worker tested positive and the entire hotel was in quarantine for a further 14 days.
“Brian has now been tested six times and, thankfully, the result has come back negative each time,” she said.
There are no direct flights from Riyadh to UAE so on a Whatapp group Brian joined a private charter group and he finally journeyed with nine others from Riyadh on 15th July to Dubai.
“This is our first year to stay in sunny and very hot Abu Dhabi all summer. It’s currently 50 degrees and will be for another few months. We would usually return once a year to Ireland or Scotland to see family.
“We were last home for my brother Stephen’s wedding this time last year. We have had lots of visitors from home come visit as during the winter months when the weather is fabulous. I can’t imagine sitting outside in Ardara on Christmas day enjoying my turkey dinner.
“Brian is home for a few weeks and then the fun starts again, trying to get him back to Saudi. Hopefully the skies will reopen and scheduled flights will begin again,” she said.
In the meantime, the Forrest family have a lot of catching up to do.


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