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.

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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.