The Eternal Expat

Having fled Ireland a few months ago and ventured to Qatar in the Middle East it is easy to think of oneself as being a world traveler, taking in the Arab culture with wonderment and commending oneself and one’s ability to fit in.   All this is made somewhat easier when you know your home is in Ireland, literally there in bricks and mortar (or steel frame and pre-cast slab) and is now a beautifully finished holiday home for you to retreat to each summer.  Nearly all expat women leave Qatar for the summer,  as the temperature climbs above 50c and nobody has any family here it would make for a long hot boring summer, so as soon as the children finish school, there’s a mass exodus.  Making everyone’s relationship with Qatar very clear, it’s not home and living here is on a “needs must” basis.  One of the questions often asked among expats here in Qatar is, “How long do you think you’ll stay?”  Interestingly, the assumption is automatically made that no-one plans to stay permanently.

The eternal expats are missing something that the vast majority of Irish expats to Qatar have and that is a base, a home, not a house and a set of living arrangements that you can handle,  a true home.   So many South Africans, Australian, English and Immigrants from the Far East are living in Qatar without a house in their home countries and when it comes to the summer, they either travel to Cyprus  or Spain  or visit friends, but no home.  No place to anchor and reset.  Being from a small town where people where people that moved down from Dublin held a certain mystic for the local parishioners, this idea of being an eternal expats was alien to me. A typical explanation of the history from one of these homeless expats would go,  “well,  we started in Kuwait, then Saudi,  spent some time in Indonesia and now we’re here in Qatar,  but we’re on the way to Canada ”.   I certainly admire these other nationalities with such a truly cosmopolitan view of the world, unafraid to think globally when it comes to living and experiencing life in different countries, seemingly unhampered by any geographical ties.  They’re more than willing to explore different countries even when it comes their children’s education whereas I seem to be hell bent on subjecting my kids to spending their college years travelling up and down the country on Iarnrod Eireann Buses and Trains and somehow feel that living in a digs in Athlone for 2 years, is a vital part of college life. 

 Pre-dominantly it seems mainly the Irish that have an urgency to return home, almost afraid of turning  into pumpkins if we stay longer that a few years from our native soil. It could be argued that the reason the Irish usually do so well abroad is that, the vast majority of us have a firm foothold in Ireland, free from the pressures or having to integrate fully and permanently as immigrants,  so where-ever we set up our temporary home, we are able to work with a clear focus in mind, getting the job done and getting back to Ireland quick!  I wonder is the “home” gene something that is inherited or developed?   Is the need to return home stronger in some nationalities than others or is it just stronger in the individual regardless of origin? 

Of the expat comrades that I’ve met in Qatar I could certainly say that I’m not the most successful emigrant, finding it hard to imagine my holidays anywhere but Ireland and spending more time on Irish websites that a google robot, while my peers from different countries  take advantage of the geographical location of Qatar for visiting Sri Lanka, Thailand and India but this reluctance to turn away from home, benefits me hugely in becoming a fantastic immigrant.  I am able to view life in Qatar in more of an observational  fashion, without the need to make it a true home with long lasting ties, I am able to enjoy my time in Qatar a passer-by,  because my house and home  is in Ireland,  and it not proving the most popular property on so as long as it’s costing a fortune in mortgage repayments and maintenance, it truly is an effective anchor.

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