Taking the piste…

…and other fencing-related (s)word play.

See what I did there? Yeah, I hate myself a little too.

Four months in (yes, four) to my work visa saga and still no progress from *company name redacted due to wanting to keep my admittedly tenuous grasp on employment*.

People I rant at/cry on/mooch food off have started saying that they are impressed how together and positive I seem in the face of frustration and incompetence.

Would that it were thus. I fluctuate wildly between sunny and positive to woe-ist-me self pity (don’t worry, I’m aware that’s intensely irritating and I restrict talking about it to people who are obliged to love me forever.)

A while ago I wrote a piece about the ups and downs of unemployment, prompting friends and family to express concern that I was becoming depressed. I’m not, by the way, I’m just moody, but this in turn prompted me to look at how I was living while my fate rests in a pad of ink and the incomprehensible rubber lines of an Arabic stamp.

I needed something that was going to motivate me, but also something that I couldn’t just put off if I was feeling lazy (like writing, or putting on clothes) and so I turned to something that used to be an incredibly important part of my life, but that for various reasons I turned my back on about 5 years ago.

Fencing.

I started fencing when I was about 12 and did fairly well on the UK youth circuit, coming away from a few championships with medals and representing my county a couple of times.

I enjoyed it, not worrying about the fact that it ate into all my weekends, and I enjoyed the time spent with my dad on the way to competitions

It stepped up at university, but that is also where cracks began to show. I will be the first to admit that I never really did as well as I thought I could.

This was partly due to a tendency to fall off/into/under stuff and the reciprocal arrangement of stuff falling on/into me, resulting in various injuries.

Mostly, though, it was due to the fact that I would get stressed out at competitions, fence badly, get upset I was fencing badly, and fence worse.

I let other people get to me, and royally crapped out of the 2006 Commonwealths because of that.

Somewhere along the way it stopped being fun, which made everything worse.

So when I smashed my back up I was almost relieved that I couldn’t do it anymore. By the time I was fully recovered I lived in a city with no competitive fencing club or halfway decent coach and after a few token efforts of travelling back to my home city to train, I stopped and focussed on work.

Coming to Doha felt like a fresh start, in a new club, where no-one expected anything of me (largely because they all fence épée which, as a sabre girl, still confuses the hell out of me.)

The few times I went before the whole car-to-ribs incident (again with the colliding with stuff) were fun and I started to remember how fencing made me relax, helped me switch of every part off my brain that wasn’t to do with where my feet should be and what my blade should be doing.

So now, with healed ribs and time on my hands, I have massively stepped up my training. The generosity is astounding. I am allowed to train with the women’s national team (not the men’s – let’s not get crazy, this is still the Gulf), and my coach makes time for one-on-one lessons which have finally passed beyond the phase of ‘use the point’ and ‘why did you just do that?’

It is an expense that, given my current state, might not seem wise to many, but it is keeping me sane, it is getting me up in the morning, it is giving me specific places to be at specific times, which when I do eventually start work will prove essential in my readjusting to a life of shifts and deadlines.

Mostly though, it is making me happy and keeping me motivated. The feeling of triumph when you finally land that hit you have been attempting all evening, the sense of accomplishment when you beat someone for the first time after studying them for weeks. The weird pride when the coach says you’re doing better and might “one day become an okay fencer” (it turns out all coaches speak like this.)

I’m pleased I have rediscovered a love of something that has been both a positive and negative force  in my life.

And I am thankful that discovery came at the time I needed it the most.

Commonwealths - 2006 NIR vs Eng (possibly) (I'm not pictured as I'm taking the picture)

Commonwealths – 2006 NIR vs Eng (possibly) (I’m not pictured as I’m taking the picture)

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.

An adventure…

… through bureaucracy.

Bureaucracy is one of those words that I have to think very carefully about when I am writing it down. Previously, this never seemed like much of an issue. I never had call to write it with enough frequency that the time it takes me to work out how all the vowels line up had any real impact on my day.

Now, with my daily dose of paperwork, stamps, signatures, scans, originals, and visa runs I am ranting about the red tape that is wrapped around this beige country so often I think if I added up the seconds used thinking about ‘a’s and ‘e’s I would probably have enough time to listen to a song or run a kilometre. Not particularly time-consuming activities, admittedly, but you get the point.

My pursuit of the lesser-spotted work visa began back in November when I quit my job at Qatar Foundation.

Qatari employment law means that if you leave one job here, you have to get a letter (NOC) from your current employer saying they give permission for you to move to another company within Qatar. In the absence of this letter you can’t work back here for two years, which is a bit of an issue as all my stuff is here.

So QF gave me that letter. In Arabic. On the last day of my two-month notice period. Which wasn’t at all stressful.

Anyway, that done, I thought happy days were not far away and confidently skipped off to my new employer, letter in hand, thinking my new visa would soon be mine and proudly mounted on the wall above my bed.

But the work visa is an elusive beast and because my new job is a six month contract I apparently needed a different letter from QF’s immigration department saying I could leave the country when they cancelled my residency and then come back in on a six month business visa with the new company.

Now, stay with me, this is where things get complicated, or as I think of it, so unbelievably  confusing I just might cry on someone if it doesn’t get sorted out soon.

On requesting the letter from QF’s immigration, I was told they could only release it if my new employer wrote a letter formally requesting the first letter. Or something.

Again I went back to my new company and furnished myself with what I believed to be the weapon needed to finally trap my work visa in an unpenetrable net. (OK, I don’t hunt so this metaphor could be getting slightly stretched at this point.)

BUT NO! The letter must be signed by someone with a something something immigration number something something. I’m not going to lie, at this point I had tuned out when it came to the reasons behind me having done something wrong and just did as I was told without questioning the logic. If they had told me to go to North Korea to trap a unicorn and get it to sign my visa in triplicate I probably would have been on the first flight.

While all this was going on I enjoyed a very genteel temporary deportation as QF had to cancel m residency permit. This essentially involved a jolly to Dubai where I hung out with friends, drank coffee, moaned for a bit, and then flew back to Qatar on a tourist visa to give myself and my new employer a bit of time to line up some water fowl. And shoot them, if we’re going to continue the somewhat tenuous imagery I chose for this post.

So that is where I am. Paperwork floats around my new company’s HR department waiting for some mythical signature before I can be given a letter requesting a letter ok-ing my visa.

In the meantime I go to the gym, read a lot, and hit people with swords and the lesser-spotted work visa frolics free around the sand dunes of Qatar, its long ears flapping in the breeze.