The term ‘expat wife’ is bandied around a lot, the illusion being that the wife of the expat is nothing other than a trinket that bobs along happily behind the her husband, happy with her new found finery and year round suntan and most importantly the envy of all her friends at home.
I myself am an expat wife, however I am the reality, not the illusion, I work full-time hours at the school for a humble crust and sanity. I don’t have a maid, I don’t have a tennis club membership, I don’t have sun-beaten leathery skin, I don’t have veneers and I don’t get a regular manicure. Life in Doha, for all its differences compared to Ireland, is strangely similar for many Irish expat wives; there are still school runs to be done, lunches to be made, washing, ironing, frying etc.
Of course the forgotten expat wives are those that stay home, tucked away safely back in Ireland while hunter, man, sets off for Saudi, leaving her home to face the economic downturn alone. So when a friend, one of the forgotten expat wives came to visit Qatar for a fortnight long compulsory, sorry conjugal visit with her spouse, the very last thing you want to do is let the side down and have her think that I emigrated for nothing. So I arranged to meet and decided to put my best foot forward to try to create the illusion of the glamorous expat wife, the one who spends mornings on a lie low in a pool somewhere while those at home are still slogging away at their desks for less pay.
Unable to meet her anytime between 7a.m. and 2p.m as these are my working hours, I arranged it for 4 p.m. Two o’clock to four o’clock is, dinner, homework and take in the clothes I hung out a 6.15 that morning, time. So I scrambled to make the 4 o’clock coffee because I would have to be back for 6, to make the expat’s dinner.
I walked into the mall and was almost immediately greeted by my good friend. We kissed, hugged and admired each other’s hair before settling down to a skinny coco loco latte frappe decaf and she had tea.
I talked a little about our 4 day holiday to Abu Dhabi and our days off by the swimming pool. She didn’t overtly display signs of being impressed but I imagined that coming out of winter in Ireland, she must have been. I further detailed my working day, at the school, ticking off registers and lining up paperclips, to pass the days until I returned home in July. Envy was surfacing, I could tell, I decided to throw her a bone and ask her a little about her own situation at home, I smiled and clenched my back teeth together, ready for the usual tirade, tightening the belt, downhill, downturn, negative equity, moratorium, I set myself to hear it all, but it never came.
She proceeded to give me a little insight into her day to day life. Of course she still resides in the family home, which she would never rent out and her children are still in the Gaelscoil. With the support of her family and friends she is able to maintain her career in her area of preference, not lining up paper clips. She limits her trips to Doha to three times per year, as she finds Doha a tad on the boring side she ensures that each trip is cushioned either side by a nice long stopover in Dubai, where she can tell me where to get the best Indian meal, despite the fact that I’m the one with the residents permit. Their family holidays are spent in far flung exotic destinations, not like mine that are destined to be in Ireland for as long as I’m abroad and to add salt to the wound, she has picked up a few of those new found trinkets which I have yet to acquire. As she drones on about entry visas for various countries and gold prices, my attention begins to fade, I needed to get home, get dinner ready and iron some shirts for the morning.
So I ask you, which is the reality and which is the illusion, the expat wife here, or expat wife at home in Ireland?