It was on my departure from Doha Clinic and my arrival into the First Time Motherhood that I first felt the weight of being an emigrant in a Middle Eastern country without the support of family, friends and neighbours.
As husband and I brought our baby boy on the silent but tension trimmed journey home, silent because we’d had a row over the installation of the car seat and frantic due to arrogant 4 x 4 road butchers, I began to conjure up the image of what this day would be like in Ireland. A fire would be lit, there would be the support and meddling of adoring grandparents, there would be flowers from places of work and there would be a flow of visitors eager to welcome baby, which would turn into a welcome drip after a week. The house would be filled with welcome baby cards, soft toys and thoughtful baby gifts. Offers of help and support would flood in, trumpets would sound and people would cheer, ok, there probably wouldn’t be brass but there would be support and the awareness that this baby was now part of an established, caring, community. Turning the handle of our tiled, white walled, open plan house in Doha, I entered with care lest there would be a welcoming committee inside with hot casseroles held under warm smiles, I wanted to absorb the moment, the faces and smell the warmth of the welcome within. Alas, there were no faces, no casseroles, only the monotonous tone of the A/C unit chilling an already chilly space.
The next few days saw a number of very classy and expensive gifts arrive from our respective work-colleagues, handmade French baby clothes, where a packet of bibs and a few babygros should be and Designer baby bags in place of a thoughtful photo album, such stylish gifts, delivered by courier, given with the utmost of etiquette but no hint of affection. An Arabic handmade chocolate tiered hamper, Giordano nappy bag and a Swarovski crystal studded rattle were not effective in their mission to welcome. In fact, the opposite was the case; they couldn’t have reflected more the lack of belonging to a warm community, despite the 34°c outdoor air temperature.
So, days later, you can imagine my delight with a neighbour knocked on the door, with no fancy gift ( no gift at all in fact but then, we’re never happy are we?) and said she was just popping in to see the baby and how I was doing. Rejoice! This was indeed the closest thing to a friend I was going to get! Eager to nurture this nugget of normality, I quickly put on the kettle and put out a plate of biscuits, using one of the good plates. A very normal chit chat followed, general comments on the weather, her family in the U.K. and of course babies, and the trials and thrills of motherhood. Up to now in my adult life I had a criteria to consider before I called someone a friend, for example I would need to have met them more than once, we would need to have identified a common interest or identified that we had a common .lack of interest in something, i.e bargain rails and cheap shoes. While it didn’t form part of the initial criteria it would cement the friendship when there was a display of kindness or a willingness to help out shown. My caller had the advantage of meeting me at a point when I wasn’t in a position to refer to the criteria, instead I had flung the parameters as far as I could and began to consider her my Bessie mate.
Like any self help book will tell you, just as I let her as a friend, albeit mentally and in a forty minute timeframe, she too held out the hand of friendship and she said, “if you ever need help or someone to babysit……….(my heart lifting here it was, the cement, and so quickly)…………I’ll give you my maid”. Disenchanted, the mirage of my new friend dissolved before my eyes as it transpired that the offer of help would not be from her own fair manicured hand.