There is no doubt that everything in life is relative and your sense of achievement and accomplishment is naturally also relative to or even dependent upon where you live and who you are surrounded by.
There was a time in Ireland when pulling a sparkling red three year old MPV out of the local car dealership garage, saw my sense of achievement soar and when I completed a 24 week Fetac course by night in under 16 weeks and passed with a merit, my sense of accomplishment went through the roof, who was I surrounded by you ask? Mere mortals, that’s who, people who strived to keep their heads above water (financially speaking, not sea-creatures). My place in society was once well-held, the middle rung of a long ladder.
Now living as one of c. 1.5 million expats in Qatar, the richest country in the world and the home to approximately, only 275,000 Qatari nationals, the laws of relativity are returning a less desirable rung on the ladder, the second last one. The bottom one is at breaking point stuffed with laborers from South East Asia all trying to escape exploitation and abuse and scrambling for refuge beside me on the second rung up, where all the baggage (wives and children) associated with third rung, western employees, hang out. I will point out at this stage that those on the third hung without baggage have a more secure position. I will also point out that neither will ever make it to the fourth rung, reserved the very poorest of Qatari Citizens.
The ladder runs like so in Qatar with the top rung home to the 14% of the Qatari households that are millionaires. Herein lies the problem. How is it possible to hold yourself in palatable esteem when those around you are steeped in diamonds? How can we derive any satisfaction from a Nissan X-Trail when it’s surrounded by Range Rovers and Porsches? How can we in all earnesty pat the seat of our new IKEA sofa in satisfaction when the neighbours had theirs delivered from Venice? (along with matching mirror inlay side tables).
This is where the work begins, you teach your children about value, integrity, dignity, self-respect, fine art and all things that money can’t buy. (NOTE: this piece was written prior to a Gauguin being sold for 300,000,000 to a Qatari). Just when you’re at the point that you’re almost gagging on your own smugness at having nothing material, your child gets an invite to a Qatari Party (Note: Invitee, 15, curfew 9 at latest, budget, none). What do you do?
It’s a Qatari girl’s party in the ballroom of the 6 star hotel with dinner and entertainment included. From six o’clock to eleven, its way past standard curfew but these are exceptional circumstances so all rules are off the table. Faster than you can say ‘get on that moneywagon girl’ you stuff two hundred riyals into your little girls hand and hope she wings an invitation for the whole family next time. Your little girl, casts her converse to the side and dons the dress she wore to her aunts wedding in summer. Through rush hour traffic, the other side of the city you deliver her to the door of the ballroom, hoping to satisfy the real-life Arabian princess.
A line of maids await to accompany your child to the ballroom where the Qatari family can ooh and ahh and enjoy with mild amusement the company and presence of westerners and guess what, we’re delighted! Like jesters for the king, we pirouette and prance at their every whim. We flutter and blink and wear massive beams across our faces like we’re dolls that’s been wound up for the night and when it comes time to go home we hop into the hired Nissan X-Trail, as elegantly as if it were a limousine.
Value, integrity and dignity fade as quick as my false beaming smile and my place on the second last rung in Qatar never seemed so bleak. Never was it more blatantly obvious the difference between the classes but it was never more eloquently displayed, just how money can buy everything.