Switching blades…

…not switchblades, that’s a different thing.

International épée in Doha

International épée in Doha

“I think you will be a better épée fencer than you were sabre fencer.”

[Olympia Fencing Centre]

The different weapons and target areas [Olympia Fencing Centre]

My coach in Doha has said this a few times now in recent weeks. The first time he said it, I was hit by a mixture of emotions. There was the pleasure in the compliment, a rare thing among fencing coaches, a kind of latent regret that I was leaving my ‘favourite’ weapon behind, and finally a concern that if I had fenced épée to begin with, I might have progressed to the level I so desperately wanted to reach when I was younger.

The more I thought about it, however, the more I realised that while me now might have the “potential to one day be a decent épéeist,” (as I said, compliments are hard earned) my younger self would have been (and on the few occasions I was forced to try, was) a terrible terrible terrible epee fencer.

I guess, at this stage, I should look at the various differences between the two blades (and ignore foil completely because I know absolutely nothing about it).

The various weapons come with distinct rules and techniques but also very definite mentalities that make someone suited to it or otherwise.

Sabre - it is the slashy one...

Sabre – it is the slashy one…

Sabre – my original choice – is the fastest weapon with a target area of anything above the waist. It is slashy (technical term) as well as pokey (also a technical term) although the point is rarely used. It is so quick that instead of three sections of three minutes during a fight to 15 with a one minute break after each bit, you just stop for a minute after someone reaches eight points as it would be unusual for a fight to last more than three minutes anyway.

Because of its speed, you pretty much have to decide what you are doing between hits and then just go for it. If you mess up the next few seconds are run on instinct until one or other of you lands a hit. You have to adapt quickly and there isn’t a lot of thinking time.

This last bit is why sabre was good for me as a teenager and into my early 20s. One of the reasons I crapped out of competitions is that I had a tendency to over-think everything to the point where I was basically a ball of stress with a sword.

At the same time my concentration span was such that my brain would wander off in search of entertainment elsewhere after (at most) half an hour of thinking about the same thing. It is why I would regularly get y ass kicked playing chess, even if I had been ahead for the first half hour, my mind would give up and I would do stupid stuff and get slain for it.

So the need to think fast in sustained bursts and the fact that there was little room to think the rest of the time, made sabre the perfect weapon.

In épée, I discovered, being impatient to attack, or dropping concentration, is rapidly punished by a far more focussed opponent.

IMG_9991Epee, by the way, is the slowest of the weapons. It is exclusively pokey and the target area is anywhere on the body. When I first made the switch I was pretty awful and getting my ass handed to me by people who had been fencing a matter of months.

Muscle memory meant that successful parries were followed by cut cheek (not a hit), when I got tired my blade drifted into a sabre en guarde position (very bad times), I forgot to think  about my legs which were suddenly target area and my distance was all out of whack (which it had always been, but in épée I had no idea how to compensate.)

It was awful and added in to that was the fact that I was still too impatient. If someone didn’t attack for a few seconds I got bored and lunged in, not planning, not thinking, just going, and would be effortlessly hit for my trouble. My concentration would drop after ten seconds and suddenly the box would be beeping merrily, reminding me I just got beaten yet again.

I got more and more frustrated. I couldn’t use fencing as I had previously before the stress took over, as a way to relax, because when I relaxed my muscles were hard wired to do the wrong thing. It seemed to me then that the best thing would just be to stop, jack in the sport that I can’t really remember not doing and start something new.

Then, however, came to a new realisation. No one expected anything of me in this club. I wasn’t going to be expected to compete, or do well or be outstanding. I could just have fun fencing for the first time in possibly a decade.

With this turning point I started to relax. As I got used to everything and started to improve on the basics (one clue was when Christophe stopped having to yell “use your point” every few minutes) I started getting lessons again and slowly, slowly, I am starting to feel like maybe, one day, I could possibly be a half decent epee fencer.

Learning to be patient on the piste, to think while I am fencing, not to be distracted by the yells and gamesmanship, all that is still some way away, but I feel like it is reachable.

A fair while ago, while I was dealing with moving jobs, enforced unemployment, and a figurative landslide of paper work, I blogged about how I had rediscovered fencing at exactly the right time and how I had hated it by the time I quit in the UK.

Something I hadn’t considered before, but that my very wise coach suggested might be the case, was that switching blades was one of the reasons fencing became enjoyable again.

It is like a new sport without any of the baggage left over from the sabre years.

IMG_0088

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The things I miss…

… when I leave Qatar.

Ha! Weren’t expecting that, were you?

Most expats who haven’t brought their lives and families with them perpetually have half their brain at home, thinking about pub quizzes and jelly babies (although that could just be me) and fields and trees. And cricket. *Pauses to check scores.*

Oh yeah, and my family, obviously, goes without saying, ahem.

Moving on.

When I eventually do get back to all these they are just as wonderful as I remember them being, but being away from Qatar is also the time that I realise what I love about the place and what is keeping me here.

Within a few weeks of flying back in to Doha, though, I start pining for the things Doha can’t offer once again and it all goes round in a big loop that sees my always wanting to be somewhere I’m not.

Which is ridiculous because everywhere I have been/lived/visited has amazing things that you should focus on while you’re there rather than when you’ve left and it is too late to appreciate them.

So here are the things I miss about Qatar when I am in the UK, being thought about, for once, while I am in Doha.

1) People.

My friends in the UK are amazing and I miss them every day, but by virtue of the fact we have either grown up together, or had our formative university years together, or generally were drawn to each other, we are all more or less similar as far as upbringing, education and opinions are concerned.

The people here hit such a diverse range of nationalities, opinions, jobs, ages, opinions, upbringing and experience that I feel as though my understanding of the wider world as grown exponentially since I moved here.

Of course, you have the few that fit into the typical expat cliche of being here for the money and not much else, but it is easy enough to steer clear of them and seek out people that will add something to your life, either as a passing acquaintance or a close friend.

Having people to share Doha with makes Doha so much more full of joy than it seems when you first find your feet here.

2) Balloo.

I mean, look at the little guy:

I'm sorry, you seem to be under the impression that this bed belongs to you...

I’m sorry, you seem to be under the impression that this bed belongs to you…

He’s just a fluffy, vaguely sadistic, ball of adorable psychosis.

3) Work.

Yes, shut up, I miss my job.

I am still in the heady stage of loving my job and the opportunities I hope it will bring me.

I might have managed to and the same job if I had stayed in the UK, but it seems unlikely, and I will be forever grateful that Doha gave me the opportunity to do something I love to do.

4) The hidden joys.

Okay, a while ago I wrote a piece about how Doha isn’t boring, but that you just need to make more of and effort to find stuff to do.

The other thing is that, once you find something like the mangroves in Al Khor, or the random exhibits at Katara, or a cool display of swords at the MIA that your friend curated (go Bill), it means so much more because you found it and are able to share it with people.

Qatar is increasingly bringing in things to the country that might surprise people on the outside. Cirque de Soleil was here a while ago, today I am off to see Stomp, and there is a modern art gallery that is slowly becoming a pretty good place to be.

While I don’t specifically miss these things, when I’m in the UK there is less desire to do stuff I wouldn’t normally do, because I am doing the things I used to do all the time and now can’t.

Qatar is a place that encourages trying new things, because you’re old things don’t exist.

5) The down time.

When my mum visited at Christmas she observed “your weekends are real weekends”.

And it’s true (although now I’m doing shifts ‘weekend’ is any point I have more than one day off at a time). When we all have time off together we go and do things. Weekend things like shisha at the souq, or visiting the inland sea, or red bucket beach can just happen. No excessive planning, no worrying about the weather (most of the time) and no stresses.

Also, the head-clearing space and tranquility when you get there kind of makes you forget the construction noises the rest of the time.

The contrast almost makes the noise worthwhile.

Red Bucket Beach. I would tell you where to find it, but I don't want to...

Red Bucket Beach. I would tell you where to find it, but I don’t want to…

6) The inside spaces.

Green outside space does exist, don’t get me wrong, but it is getting to the time of year that Qatar’s five months of perfect weather are ending and the humidity and heat is beginning to kick, so being outside isn’t that fun.

When it is perfect for being out and about, everyone heads to the same parks and greenery, so Aspire Park and the MIA park both tend to be full of kids, as they should be, because they are parks, but it makes sitting out under a tree and writing kind of difficult.

However, some of the architecture in Doha is frankly amazing. The Museum of Islamic Art has one of the best foyers I have seen, and the QNCC looks like a frigging tree, so that’s awesome.

Also, it contains this.

Also, it contains this.

A room of one’s own…

…or making a home in a city of hotels.

 

As a result of the latest in a long line of inexplicable visa rules that seem to be controlling my life at the moment, I was given about 48 hours notice to return to the UK.

One set of cancelled flights to Beirut, an afternoon of ‘throw stuff at bag, take whatever lands inside’, an eight hour flight, and a drop of 26 degrees later and I found myself wandering around outside Manchester airport at 7.30am trying to find my friend’s car and rapidly losing all feeling in my ungloved hands.

I have been back since Friday and will be mooching around my parents’ house until my work visa is finally granted.

This will allegedly take 3-5 working days, so I might see the Dohaze again in June.

Being back in Sheffield is excellent. There is cricket, a sofa, and a steady stream of cups of tea and bacon sandwiches, but it is always a little strange to come back.

I haven’t really lived in my parents’ house since I was about 20. Summers at university were normally spent, at least in part, working in Durham. I did my journalism training in Newcastle and then went to work in Lincoln before hopping on a Qatar Airways flight to Doha for the first time.

Having said that, I have never really moved out either. Student accommodation didn’t exactly lend itself to holding an entire life and while the house I own has an attic full of the paraphernalia of my adult life, I did not live in it long enough to make it my home.

The remnants of childhood and teenage years are still very present in my Sheffield bedroom. The same posters adorn the walls (Shaolin Monks, Bruce Lee, Star Wars – what else would a teenage girl have on her walls?), the giant Taz I won at a theme park still sits in a green, high-backed armchair that used to belong to my grandmother, and the werebear I’ve had since I was five is as battered and hugged as I remember, but cleaner, I suspect he has been through the washing machine since I left.

As children, my sister and I shared a room, but she was older than me and very neat and I was (and am) one of the messiest humans who ever existed so eventually I was shuftied up into the attic, previously the play room, and the toys we had outgrown were hidden under the eaves.

Now those toys litter the floor once more, either to be thrown away (finally) or to be played with when my nieces and nephew come to visit.

Swords won at competitions hang from purple-painted beams while questionable teen fashion choices still hang from clothes rails.

It is a hotch-potch of my youth, a testament to my ever-changing identity from toddler to teenager, and it is a reminder that I don’t really have a home that displays any part of my adult identity.

My house is another couple’s home, and the rest of my adult life has been spent in a dusty city that everyone leaves eventually.

All the flats in my building are carbon copies of each other (apart from the ones that are mirror images, which leads to some very confused hangovers when you wake up on a friend’s sofa and can’t work out why there’s a wall where the kitchen should be), and so everyone tries to make little changes, little nods to who they are and how they live. Posters, plants, pots, anything that means you know you are in 2101 and not 2503.

We all try to make a home without buying anything that could be a pain to move to a different flat/building/country.

Bucking this ‘easy-to-move’ trend, my flatmates came with a piano, a drum kit, and a cat in tow and so our living area has a distinctive feel and the flat does speak of ‘us’ as flatmates, which I like because not everyone has the good fortune to find flatmates who are more than people to share the bills, but are people with whom you end up sharing your life.

For me though, apart from some photos, postcards, and a cricket poster, there is nothing in the flat that that makes my feel as though I have stamped my identity on the place in which I live.

Part of this is because I moved so much when I first arrived, and as wonderful and welcoming as my flatmates were, I always felt like I was renting a room in their flat rather than actually living there.

The new set up is different as we all moved in at the same time and have developed a shared history within the social hub of our living areas.

Still, there doesn’t seem any point in buying a lot of stuff when in a month, or a year, or two years, I could be moving house or moving country yet again, no-one wants to store, or ship, or sell a flat worth of furniture and artwork.

It might be different, I suppose, if I was with a family, or knew that I would be here for the next six years, let alone the next six months, but right now putting down roots only to have to rip them up again in a year or two, seems like an exercise in futility.

 

 

Forgetting how doors work and other tales…

…AKA ‘You know you’ve lived in Qatar too long when…”

Fellow Dohaze dweller and blogger ‘Bright Lights, Little City’ recently wrote this post about the sudden realisation that he called Doha ‘home.’ It is, indeed, a shock to realise that you actually live in Qatar.

I only fully came to terms with the fact that this wasn’t some kind of extended, slightly dusty, holiday when I moved into an unserviced flat and had to buy bedding.

But slowly, surely, and subtly, Doha creeps up on you until you stop paying attention to the weird ways that are now an almost daily part of your life.

Below is a list of moments, experienced by myself, my friends, or my ‘only-know-them-on-Twitter-but-they-seem-nice’ acquaintances, that reminded us we have been in the Gulf too long.

1) You navigate around the city using five star hotels as the only landmarks.

There are no post codes, Google maps is, at best, a vague suggestion of the road system you might experience not taking into account roadworks, new roundabouts that make no sense, or old roundabouts that *did* make sense being removed.

Sentences like: “Turn right when you see the sign for The Kempinski, go past the W, head right at the crossing and you should see the Mariott…” are worryingly commonplace.

2) This is a totally normal thing to see:

Spotted en route to the beach

Spotted en route to the beach.

3) When it reaches 20 degrees and you reach for a jumper.

I told my mum to bring a jacket when she visited in December as it was getting down to 17 degrees in the evenings.

I got a ‘look.’

For context, here is this week’s forecast:

Saturday evening is looking a little chilly....

Saturday evening is looking a little chilly….

4) When you land in another country and assume there’s something wrong with your ears because you can’t hear construction noises.

5) When you forget how doors work.

To be absolutely clear, this wasn’t me.

When I first arrived a man I was interviewing said he once went back to the States and walked up to a door. It wasn’t automatic and no-one opened it for him so he stood there for a full 5 seconds before remembering what he had to do.

6) You have never made a coffee at work.

The service culture in the Gulf is insane, but the thing I found most difficult was the fact that most offices have a guy employed especially to make your coffee. It was rubbish because it meant I couldn’t procrastinate through my usual technique of frequent kitchen visits.

7) Filling your own car up is weird.

I don’t drive, but friends have told me stories of sitting in petrol stations in the UK or elsewhere and becoming increasingly frustrated that no-one is there to fill the car up.

8) When people say sandstorm everyone thinks this:

But you think this:

Blurgh.

Blurgh.

9) You are excessively nice to shop workers/waiters etc because you feel extreme guilt about how they are treated the rest of the time.

10) You understand that speed limits, traffic lights and lane discipline are all things that happen in other countries. People making left turns from the far right lane no longer freaks you out.

11) Any road is connected to all other roads by a series of roundabouts.

Also, it is totally normal that these roundabouts are named after the thing on them or near them. Immigration roundabout, arch roundabout, Oryx roundabout, TV roundabout, and Burger King roundabout are a few of my favourites.

Slope roundabout is on a slight incline.

This was a remarkably common costume at a 'good, bad, and ugly of Qatar' party...

This was a remarkably common costume at a ‘good, bad, and ugly of Qatar’ party…

12) Your reply to being asked for anything is “Bukra Insha’allah.”

13) You know that if someone says that to you it means “maybe sometime next month, or never, whatever, where’s my karak?”

14) You are at least 40% karak.

15) When you head back to the West, the outfits seem shocking.

I mean, there were shoulders and knees everywhere. Scandalous.

16) You change lanes as soon as a Land Cruiser gets anywhere near you.

17) You use ‘shway shway’ and ‘wait’ hand gestures without realising.

18) Dropping £700 at a time in the offy is no big deal. Also, a lot of that will probably be spent on pork. Ahhh, QDC.

19) You’ve stopped checking Facebook on a Saturday night because it is depressing to see all your friends at home getting ready to go out when you’re getting ready for work.

20) Three months without leaving the country is too long.

21) Tax is a dirty word.

22) You get unnaturally excited about Ikea opening.

Props to my Gulf-ised friends who added their thoughts to this. At least we’re all going insane together…

All these things…

…that I’ve done.

This post is about more than my long overdue confession that I actually like The Killers (go ahead, take away any cool kid points you erroneously gave me in the past, I’m tired of living a lie…)

Anyway, that aside, I decided it was high time I wrote about Qatar again, what with it being where I live and all.

There is a backing track to most conversations you have with new acquaintances in Doha.

It goes like this: “Doha is so boooring. There’s just nothing to do.”

It’s an easy conversation starter. It is also a pretty safe bet as far as opinions go – all the cool kids hate on Doha.

The speaker is usually standing in a five-star hotel, wafting around an over-priced drink. Or dressed as a pirate/ninja/fairy tale character in the large kitchen of a relative stranger’s home surrounded by coolers full of alcohol.

We’ve all heard it. Most of us have said it, including me.

In fact, given my current lethargic state I am probably more guilty than most of tarring Qatar with the ‘boring’ brush.

But here’s the thing. It isn’t. It isn’t boring. It isn’t dull.

Granted, it isn’t a city of culture either. You can’t wander around and marvel at the history as revealed to you by enthralling architecture through the ages. Up until the 1940s the place had a population of about 12,000 and everyone lived in tents so it doesn’t exactly lend itself to having a wealth of shared culture and learning.

What it does have, though, is a lot of people who are trying, trying, trying every day to make it great. From house parties that transform homes into jungles, circuses, beaches, to plays and events and stand-up comedy. Everyone brings something to this supposedly boring city.

And what we mean when we say it is boring is that we can’t do the same things we could at home. But we’re not at home and we all knew that when we hopped on board a plane and prepared for an 8/14/two-day flight. (Time zones confuse me. I think Australia might be in 2025 already?)

So what, in the past 18 sun-drenched months have I done in Doha. I asked myself this yesterday as I was lying by the pool reading. Well, there’s that for a start.

But there are so many other things as well.

1) Witnessed international sporting events

Spain vs Uruguay at Khalifa stadium.

Spain vs Uruguay at Khalifa stadium.

The top female tennis players of our time were here last month, battling it out until Serena Williams got beaten. Golfers rocked up to the Qatar Masters and Chris Wood eagled the 18th to win. Spain played Uruguay in Khalifa stadium and if you forget the queuing, lack of food, and pubescent squealing behind us, when else am I going to see a bunch of Spanish first team players running around in shorts?

2) Been to gigs I would never think twice about

I miss live music, I really, really do. But, (The Killers aside, shut up) I’ve always had specific taste in music. Not limited, I’m generally speaking quite eclectic, but the UK would never have seen me at Calvin Harris one month, and The Commitments the next.

I also got to see Wynton Marsalis live, which was pretty f-ing epic.

3) Desert camping, dune bashing, and general fun in the sun

Dune-bashing on one of my first weekends in Doha.

Dune-bashing on one of my first weekends in Doha.

In January I was making use of the best Christmas present a girl could get and using my beach cricket by the inland sea. It was about 27 degrees and glorious.

In December it was still warm enough to go to the desert and lie out under the stars for a meteor shower.

Don’t get me wrong, for four months of the year when the temperatures start to rocket all I want to do is sit in a bath of ice, whimpering quietly, but when the weather is good it is oh so good.

The desert itself clears my mind every time I go and it, alone, is enough to let me forget that I live in a city under construction.

Kayaking in Al Khor's mangroves. There were flamingoes, and lots of clay.

Kayaking in Al Khor’s mangroves. There were flamingoes, and lots of clay.

Beyond the desert and out of Doha to Al Khor, we discovered kayaking through the mangroves, an island of flamingoes, and general wonderfulness was available on our doorstep.

4) Made friends with Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon, France, Canada, India, America, Sweden, Pakistan, Australia, the list goes on

This is probably one of my favourite things about Doha.

As I’ve said before, the people make the city, and the people are from all over the world. So I’ve hosted iftar during Ramadan, debated cricketing glory (or the lack thereof) with people who will happily brand me the token imperialist in order to win an argument (cries of ‘give me back my indigo’ are not uncommon during these discussions,) learnt that Americans are not, in fact, idiots, and that the French genuinely believe Brits eat jelly with most meals. (No, I have no idea where this came from either – maybe Asterix?)

5) Seen Kevin Spacey play Richard III

I mean… just… gah. Words fail me.

There are more things than the list above, two events in particular spring to mind and then jump up and down on a little trampoline vying for attention, but my total lack of self-editing ability means I will have to save them for another post.

And so, despite everything; the visa debacle, the constant construction noise that has pounded its way through my life and into my dreams, the dust, that time I got hit by a land cruiser, the rampant weirdness, I just don’t hate Doha.

(Detract cool kid points as necessary.)

One last thing:

I don't like cricket, I love it.

I don’t like cricket, I love it.

Unexpected side effects…

…of being unemployed.

OK, so I’m not actually unemployed, but with my visa still held up somewhere in the world unto itself that is immigration, I have no means of earning, no office to go to, and no idea when (or even if, I’m starting to get fairly pessimistic about the whole thing) this situation will be rectified.

In the beginning, the enforced break seemed like a brilliant opportunity. I could relax after being stressed out to the point of near mental collapse, I would be able to read, write, do all the things I never had time to do when I was working because I would come home and curl up into a ball of misery thinking about returning the next day and the one after that.

To a certain extent all of that was true, for a while. This week has seen a dramatic drop in my motivation levels. I am struggling to maintain the momentum I had in the first few weeks of what my friends are calling my ‘funemployment.’

I am beginning to see why people without jobs don’t have spic and span houses, aren’t physically fitter than they are when they are working, aren’t constantly reading or filling their days with productive (albeit free) activities.

The lack of routine, the fact that if I don’t put on clothes today, no-one will know or care, the general indifference that I feel towards nearly everything I do, (because would it matter if I didn’t do it today, I will have just as much free time tomorrow) is really starting to beat me down.

The final straw came today when I wandered down to my building’s mini mart wearing purple yoga pants normally reserved for when I’m on some kind of beach in the middle of nowhere and an oversized England cricket shirt. When did I decide that it was OK to leave my flat wearing what was basically one step away from pyjamas?

I got back to my flat, cooked eggs, was briefly attacked by my cat who likes to do his best to relieve the monotony of my days by acting like Cato Fong, and was halfway through watching a god-awful film when I realised something had to be done.

Naturally, rather than actually DOING anything I decided to write this post.

So here are some things I didn’t expect from unemployment:

1) My gym shoes are falling apart

In my more motivated period (so between Christmas and now) I was working out every day on the basis that there was nothing else to do. Those who know me or read my old blog will know that due to an unfortunate incident that put a land cruiser in the same geographical space being occupied by my rib cage I haven’t been at my most athletic recently. Determined to change that, off I toddled to the gym each morning (I say morning, if I see 10am I think of it as a good day.)

As a result of this combined with a few ill-advised runs outside, the soles of my shoes are falling off (and, in some parts, melted to the Corniche.)

This week, though, even exercise has gone out the window (apart from fencing) – I’m hoping some level of motivation will return, even if it is just not to look like crap if I end up having to go back to England if all this goes belly up.

2) Insomnia

I’m not the most consistent of sleepers. Sometimes I sleep more than the average cat, and at other times I’m lucky to get 3 or 4 hours. Weirdly, when I am stressed out I normally sleep like a baby as my body adopts a head-in-sand approach that can’t be too sound evolutionarily speaking.

Apparently, however, my frustration at not working does not produce the same effect and no matter how much I run, read, write, I lie in bed staring at the ceiling and wishing I didn’t already know how the shadows would change shape during the night. In fact, I sleep properly about twice a week on evenings I have been fencing. I think my coach is now slightly confused by my new-found obsession with having extra training sessions.

3) Hermitting

A friend of mine here used to get incredibly annoyed that I would bail on mid-week parties or dinners or whatevers at about 10. Starting work at 7am meant that I would go just long enough to have been and then bounce. It meant I looked forward to the weekends when I could hang out into the wee small hours.

During my first weeks of unemployment this pattern changed, and my friend was thrilled with the person she dubbed “new, fun, social Flip.”  As the weeks have changed to months, I have started to retreat further and further back into my shell until I have reached the stage that going out to see the people I love and who make this dusty city of skyscrapers and construction noises worthwhile is becoming a physical and mental struggle.

Being alone all day (apart from the ninja cat) has apparently made the thought of being with people a stressful one.

 4) I have the attention span of a child

And a fairly inattentive one at that. In an effort to make my mind as tired as my body I have started piecing together contacts and vague plans for a few stories I have been wanting to work on for a while.

The lack of deadlines and therefore, the lack of imposed prioritising mean that I might spend an hour reading about one country or story or project, and the next five searching out contacts in a totally unrelated field, and finally looking at the cost of flights to somewhere equally unrelated to both my original story ideas.

This post itself is slightly symptomatic of the side effects of my current predicament as I try to make sure I have something to show at the end of my day, that I am not just sitting around, watching the clock, waiting for whoever is wielding that life-changing stamp to crash it on to my paperwork with a satisfying thud.

I wonder if he understands that what, to him, is a second’s work will make the past two months, and the next 12, of my life worthwhile.

 

PS

Apologies for any copy errors, I have a cat sleeping on me.

 

Although he could just be lulling me into a false sense of security.

A Maternal Visitation…

…and Christmas in Qatar.

With the rigmarole surrounding visas and permits and other seemingly arbitrary passport stamps still going strong just before Christmas, it wasn’t clear if I would be able to get an exit visa to leave Doha for the festive season. (Unless you are on a multiple exit visa, your company has to give you an exit visa every time you leave. At the time I was still working for Qatar foundation, but serving my notice period and trying to sort out the debacle of my new work permit.)

With Christmas in the desert looming, my mum took it upon herself to fly over for a two-week visit.

At this point I should point out that this isn’t as self-sacrificing as it sounds, in her own words: “While I’m looking forward to seeing you, sweetheart, I mainly want to be warm and go sailing.”

Many of my friends commented on the length of the stay. Firstly, it is pretty much impossible to keep someone entertained in Doha for a fortnight unless you luck out with the random events and activities that are sporadically hosted in the country, and secondly, they all seemed to think that 14 days living with a parent would be pushing the bounds of sanity.

Mum actually acknowledged this a few days in, saying she had only just realised how stressful she would have found hosting her mother for two weeks.

However, I am incredibly fortunate in that my parents are two of my favourite people on the planet. Not only do I love them, I actually really like them, so Mum being in my home for two weeks was frankly brilliant.

As a frequent traveller (go check out www.notdeadyettravel.com) she is incredibly undemanding when it comes to what she sees and does in a new place, and instead tends to enjoy the experience of just being in a new place. Her trips are normally adventurous and so she was perfectly happy with the slightly more sanitised activites on offer in Doha.

After arriving 90 minutes late because the flight was delayed while they loaded a Ferrari on board (welcome to the Gulf) we spent the first evening chilling out and catching up, while mum wandered around my flat in amazement at the fact we all had en suites and there was a huge balcony.

I often think it takes a visitor to remind me about how word life is in Doha. Mum was amused by the fact that I direct the taxi driver to my home via the five star hotels on the way (a totally normal activity here akin to using pubs or bars as landmarks in the UK) she was thrilled to have a gym in the building and, though she doesn’t swim, commented on the pool. All these things have just become part of my life, but I was pleased to be reminded about how good y standard of living is here compared to how it would be if I had a similar job back in the UK.

Mum’s second evening in Qatar involved driving out to the desert to see a meteor shower. In the end it was more of a meteor drizzle, but lying out under the stars watching the occasional meteor fall to earth is definitely and experience I am pleased to have enjoyed.

I was still working for the first week of Mum’s visit, something I felt bad about but couldn’t be helped. The original plan had been for her to do a sailing course during the day, but this ended up not being possible (which has given her the excuse she needs to come back in a few months.)

I did get one day off in that first week, as Qatar National Day is December 18th.The military parade and display of dhows on the corniche are generally seen as the most impressive parts of National Day, but by the time we began our walk along the

People celebrate by dancing on their cars stuck in traffic jams.

People celebrate by dancing on their cars stuck in traffic jams.

Corniche, much of this had given way to the heavy traffic jams and congestion that have come to be synonymous with the day.

This year was my first National Day not working, and also seemed to be more well organised than the previous year, with the general atmosphere being one of happiness and celebration.

Dhows are traditional Qatari boats, formerly used in Pearl Diving which used to be the country's largest source of income.

Dhows are traditional Qatari boats, formerly used in Pearl Diving which used to be the country’s largest source of income.

Another popular way of celebrating National Day is to decal your car and emblazon it with the face of the Emir and the Heir Apparent. While discouraged this year, there were still many examples to be seen driving between the roundabouts either end of the Corniche.

After our stroll and taking in the feeling of celebration, we decided to chill out by going to see The Hobbit. This might not seem like the best use of time when someone is visiting, but my Mum is a great lover of films and cinema and so it was the perfect way to relax after a long walk in the sun. (Yes, it was sunny in December.)

One thing that drives me insane about Qatar is the fact that people will happily talk continuously through films, often on their phone explaining that they are in the cinema. On one occasion, when I kindly told a Lebanese friend of mine to shut up or I would rip his voice box out, he responded “but I’m talking about the film…” and was genuinely surprised that this DIDN’T MAKE IT OK TO TALK.

The VIP seats. Ridiculous.

The VIP seats. Ridiculous.

Aaaaanyway, we opted for the VIP screening, one because it was the next available showing, and two because spending 100QR on a ticket would presumably drastically reduce the chances of people chatting their way through the screening, unwittingly risking their lives in the process.

The traffic jam lasted well into the evening.

The traffic jam lasted well into the evening.

One of the benefits of having Mum at home while I was at work was that I came home to a clean flat, clean clothes, and a mildly perturbed cat who wasn’t really sure how to deal with the fact that he was having to share his alone time with the first human he had ever met who was totally indifferent to his cuteness.

In fact, it was the first time since I moved in to my current place that all my clothes were clean at the same time. My wardrobe is smaller than I thought. Or I need to get rid of some clothes. Probably the first one.

Souq Waqif, the main souq in Doha, was a good source of distraction for an afternoon and we went for food and shisha and mooched about the shops that alternate between fairly traditional-looking gift shops to brands like Haagan Daz and back again. As ever with Doha, general meandering resulted in the previously undiscovered treasure of a new art gallery in the middle of the souq, which contained a variety of calligraphy sculptures and other unadvertised gems from regional artists.

A visit to the Museum of Islamic Art, which offers an interesting mix of stunning artifacts and a total lack of information about said artifacts, also proved a hit as the building itself has one of the most stunning atriums (atria?) in the city.

The set collection doesn’t have a great deal of detail about the origin or purpose of the pieces on display, but the temporary exhibition that was on when we went was an exploration of the Arab renaissance  and the influence it had on the Western world and showed that leading British and European Scientists, including founding members of the Royal Society often learnt Arabic to be able to translate the work of their Middle Eastern peers.

The Museum of Islamic Art

The Museum of Islamic Art.

Katara – The cultural village is, as I said to Mum, “a collection of interesting stuff.” While she originally didn’t find this to be a very useful description, it is hard to say anything else about the place.

My normal tactic when I decided to while away an afternoon there is to wander aimlessly into buildings and see what is inside. When mum and I went we discovered an exhibition of photos from the Galapagos Islands, a study of the remaining indigenous rain forest tribes, a series of portraits of people who shaped the Middle East (from dictators and suicide bombers to athletes and great thinkers) and a Chinese artist’s exhibition on assassinated political leaders.

After a wander we had dinner at one of the restaurants, all of which are wonderful and

Not that I corrupted mum or anything...

Not that I corrupted mum or anything…

far cheaper than the hotel restaurants as they don’t serve alcohol. There was just time for some shisha and then we headed to the latest offering by the Doha Film Institute.

DFI is a great concept and works hard to bring films by independent film makers that would otherwise be over-looked to Qatar. Their patrons are largely ex-pats, but they also make a huge effort to show films by local or regional directors. Every year the Doha Tribeca Film Festival attracts more big names and more attention. Also, the ceiling of its cinema looks like it is made of stars and is one of my favourite rooms in Doha.

That pretty much brings us up to the big day – Christmas in 25 degree heat. Annoyingly enough, I got an exit visa in time for Boxing Day and so flew out at 9am on December 26th for two weeks at home.

Christmas itself was surprisingly excellent. A friend and I decided to host an day for Doha’s festive orphans in her place (a few floors above mine) and stocked up on food, games, and booze for the day.

My fellow-organiser managed to break her wrist putting up Christmas lights a few weeks before, and I perfectly happily took on the role of kitchen hand (boom boom) and did all the chopping and kneading necessary to accommodate her vastly superior cooking skills.

The thing I liked immediately when I came to Doha was how friendly everyone was. We have all been in the same position, new and knowing nobody, so houses are opened to relative strangers, who will more than likely turn in to friends.

Secret Santa.

Secret Santa. Helicopters are a great gift for a 20-something.

The morning’s activities were fairly low key, eggs benedict, Secret Santa, Christmas hats in the sun. As the day wore on, more and more people arrived, bringing with them favourite family dishes, traditional fayre from their country (Australians eat fish on Christmas -weird) and general good will. People who knew us but had never met each other were chatting, and sharing, and forming new friendships, some of which lasted beyond that one day.

With the perfect timing of the consummate avoider of housework, I ducked out to pack at about 10pm, and the party was still going strong.

I didn’t see the aftermath as I jetted home early the next day, my new noise-cancelling headphones blocking out the sounds of screaming children as I nursed a mild hangover, but I imagine it wasn’t great.

Sorry about that, Jessie.