Living in the Middle East for the past year as an expatriate delivers an appreciation of friends, so you can imagine my delight when a friend from home Skyped me to say she was in Dubai and was going to pop over to Doha for a night or two. How cosmopolitan. She informed me that she was considering uprooting her family and moving to Dubai to join her husband and she was interested to see what life was like in the Middle East.
Happy to have the opportunity to spend time with someone from home and catch up on the local gossip, on the morning of her impending arrival, I made my way to the airport 20 minutes early. Being a regular listener to Irish radio morning chat shows, I was fearful that I wouldn’t recognize her, maybe the recession had dragged her down and I kept my eyes glued on the arrival doors for someone with a forlorn look in her eyes, perhaps a hump and maybe dragging one leg, but no, she walked through the arrivals looking suntanned and fresh, even had a spring in her step. You just can’t trust the media.
When home we made our way to the back garden of our suburban home to spend the morning by the swimming pool. This being Friday and Friday being the holy day in Qatar, we had to wait until 3.30p.m.for the shops and restaurants to open. Although the mall is just a nice walk away we drove due to the 48°c temperature and pushing the buggy in the sandy patches is difficult. Dinner was gorgeous, the adults ate Italian from a large American chain and the kids ate, KFC, Pizza Hut and TGi Fridays, Kids- they can never agree. That evening we visited the Souq, I suggested she choose some fabric and get a tailor to make some nice maxi’s before she left. Having spent the equivalent of a fill of petrol in Ireland, I hired a wheelbarrow and “driver” to carry all the purchases to the car. She also had to change currency, she had left her passport at home but luckily I had my Qatari Residence ID to make the exchange. As it was nearing closing time for the tailor, we decided to leave that visit until the following day. Next day, with the fabric and template maxi in hand we visited the tailor who was now to be under pressure to complete the four garments for the following day. Our flash sightseeing tour of Doha over, we retired for the evening with a couple of glasses of sharp tasting white wine, one of the eight choices available in Doha. Eager to gain her thoughts on life in Doha and to have a neighbour in Dubai, I was hopeful that she would mention how similar life in Doha was to Ireland and I asked the question, “So, do you think you’d move?”
She replied, “Honestly, I don’t think I’d like it, it’s very different from home, and I find the exploitation hard to handle – the tailor for example”, shocked, my mind scrambled through the weekend events to pinpoint the offending differences, Masha Allah!, the difference was everywhere! Am I now so indigenous to Qatar that I don’t notice, when I look at my house I see Carrigaline or Wilton, I didn’t wonder when I needed to show my Qatari ID and give my mobile number to exchange a few hundred Riyals, I also didn’t pass remark when I told the tailor we needed to have the maxi’s next day, have I lost my sensitivity to this other world, is Qatar now home? I could see now through her fresh eyes, what had become the norm for me.
Thankful for the wake-up call and sad to see her leave, I dropped her back to the airport, waving her off, she looked amazing in the multicoloured maxi dress, which incidentally, she seemed to handle ok to me!