So what do you do all day? – It always take me aback when people ask this question at a social gathering just when things are going nicely, the room seems to hush a little waiting for the reply. Very early on I figured that the best answer was ‘I am a writer’, not only does it intrigue the avid listeners but it quells any suspicion that I might be a gin drinking, expat wife, that spends the mornings nursing a hangover and the afternoons getting ready for yet another party.
What do I really do? In between gin, parties and pretending to be a writer (blog, book or just cheques it all counts), well with the help of the company’s PRO, I handle the paperwork. That’s right, I spend the day filing, photocopying, scanning, printing, seeking authorisation, gaining authentication, rubber stamping, proof-reading, passport photograph organising and driving all around Doha queueing up in various offices, because why, because I’m an expat wife and there’s more paperwork and red tape required to live in Doha than anywhere else in the world, well certainly anywhere I’ve lived before, Cork, Galway, etc.
Whether it’s your Residence Permit, (the RP that is vital when living in Doha), a driving licence, a liquor licence, or your health insurance card, it all requires stacks of paperwork along with medical reports, fingerprinting, x-rays, blood type clarification, such is the level of intrusion that sometimes I think that Qataris are trying to clone me, as opposed to issuing me with a residency permit. But in general and especially second time around you get used to it. Used to spending afternoons at the fingerprinting office at the end of Salwa Road, used to getting a call from your husband’s office, saying that they need an official letter stating your blood-group, by 5 o’clock, used to not being able to buy a bottle of wine or a packet of ham from the QDC because the passport photograph you handed in with the application for the pleasure to buy same, was taken on a white background and not a blue one, such events take up the days of expats wives, and such events make the roles of the expat wife, more like the Family PRO rather the gin drinking party girl, she might like to be.
But this week, saw a new level or red tape that even I, the experienced expat, found difficult to accept. Get this, bearing in mind, all English speaking schools are private, the waiting lists for any of these schools and always the one you want are particularly backlogged but ‘eventually’ you will get a place, you will provide, old reports, recent reports, projected reports, passport photographs, passport photocopies, an RP or proof of application for the child, immunization cards, mothers and fathers passports and residence permits and one day, out from under the paperwork, you shout bingo, cos you’re in! Surely that should see an end to the paper trail but no, not in Qatar.
The Supreme Education Council, (SEC) are constantly working at improving, challenging and reducing the number of hours of isolated pleasure that expat wives enjoy while kids are at school. Every few months a new measure introduced, a new form, a ball to bat comes your way and every few months, you rise to the challenge and with a handy backhander, flick the ball right back into their court. But this time, not so easy.
This time they require that every student hold a certificate of equivalency ‘before’ starting school in Qatar. Equivalency to what you might ask, but not me, I robotically go about seeking out the documents required to get the certificate of whatever. Two previous, end of year reports are required, (in this case, Abu Dhabi and Jakarta) the reports must be authentic and original, I read sadly, as I fold over the greyscale print off in my hand.
The list continues, leaving letters from old school, acceptance letters from new ones, more passport photographs, more original birth certificates, circumference of the child’s skull, span from middle fingers when arms outreached, this time the list seems endless and a day to myself to spend on the beach at the Intercon, seems further away than ever before.
So a small note of empathy to other expat wives in Qatar, and a note of warning to those on the way, bring a mobile filing cabinet!