Believe in Me, Beliefs in the ME ... (Rod Stewart - It's Over)

As we often find ourselves doing on many an expat weekend night in Doha, Smilin' Vic and I sat f2f across the kitchen island, sipping on wine, gabbing, and "YouTubing" for a laugh, an inspiration, and a touch of home.

We caught up on some funny parodies of Gotye's "Somebody That I Used to Know", a few flash mobs (including one in City Center Mall, Doha) because they're always fun, and some awesome old and new Bruce Springsteen tunes (check out "Death to My Hometown" about the 2008 financial crisis if you haven't already ... awesome celtic stomp tune).  

By chance, Smilin' Vic clicked on a video by Rod Stewart, for old times' sakes.  We didn't even know he'd released anything recently.  Giggles stopped, conversation ceased, we couldn't do anything but watch and listen.  

"It's Over" ... Rod Stewart ... 2013 ... 

How the f*@& does a 68-year-old maintain an almost 50-year career music high?  Competing with 18-year-old hot bods with techno voices and choreographed routines.  Seriously.  How does he do it?

I'm a child of the 70's.  Smilin' Vic was born in '61.  We both grew up listening to 'Maggie May', 'Sailing', 'Do Ya Think I'm Sexy' and so many other Rod Stewart tunes that we sing to this day a cappella in the car, the shower, when dusting and whenever we think no one's listening.  We keep on thinking his last hit is the last.  

Yet somehow he always bests himself and stumps us. 

He always seems to manage to capture something that really speaks to the soul.  From a good place.  There's no anger, no regret, no bitterness.  He sings about moments in life, captured in their beauty and their unsightliness, simple fragments in a journey.  And he puts music and magic to it, in a way that simple words cannot.

I ache to capture that symphony of words that conveys the voice of the heart.  What a gift he has.  His gift is his talent - what he gives to us.  His gift is his prize - what he's been blessed with.  The ability to speak to nations of souls who simply want to be reassured that their pain and their joy is not their's alone.

As we watched and listened to this latest video, both Smilin' Vic and I once again found something in his voice, his lyrics, his music, his imagery that touched our souls.  

It's Over ... 

Listening to the song, memories come flooding back.

Our union is not the first for either of us.  Thankfully both of us have turned the page, finished that chapter, closed the book.   

All of us come with a past, with regrets, with doubts.  But we both look back and wish our former spouses nothing but the best.  Looking back on the past is almost like watching a movie, where you can love the cast of characters (of which you are a part) while calling them stupid, where you can curse the plot (reality) while relating with the storyline (emotional journey), where you can actually cry for the villain and curse the protagonist.

I use this forum to talk mostly about moments.  Which is why politics, religion and sex rarely rear their head in my discourse.  

But sometimes reality is more than a moment.  It is an accumulation of moments.

You come to realize that society is judging you on a moment, when in fact what you should be judged on is what came before, during and after that moment.  All of it.  The sum of all the parts.

Sometimes I want to scream out to this society that I am not 'loose'.  I am not a 'ho'.  I am not without values.  I am not without faith.  I am not without regrets.  And I am not without feeling. 

I did not take my vows lightly.  Not the first time.  Not the second time.  

I am a Western woman who cried and struggled and screamed and lost her mind as she saw her first marriage and her world collapsing around her.  

I am a Western woman who tried and cried and prayed to find the strength to make things right.

I am a Western woman who rebuilt her faith, her beliefs, her self-worth, her self-confidence, her love for life by renouncing the one person she'd built her life around.   

But she didn't stop loving him.  She didn't stop wishing him the best.   

She stopped living with him.  She stopped enabling him.   

She stopped letting him define her worth.

She walked away in the hopes that both he and she would find peace, fulfillment and redemption.  Because what they'd become together was toxic and painful. 

I am an Expat woman.  One who struggles with the adulation and judgement that comes when this society discovers that I am a Divorced woman.  One who struggles with the pain and self-reproach that comes from failing at what I'd committed a lifetime to.

I am a Human woman.  With feelings, and regrets, and memories, and hopes and dreams.   

I am a Human woman who is proud to call herself an optimist, a survivor.  I am a Human woman who is strong in her faith, in her values, in her beliefs.

I am a divorcee.  I am a wife and a mother.  I am a believer.  I am a sinner and I am repentant.  

I am a woman filled with dreams and hopes and desire.

I was married for the first time in the Catholic church.  Which meant I entered into a covenant wherein I would honor my husband 'til death to us part.  Breaking that covenant broke me for a while.  Made me question my ability to honor my faith.  Made me question my strength in the face of adversity.  

Until I realized that my faith and my strength could not be broken unless I chose to let them.  Until I realized that sometimes loving someone does not mean living with them.  Until I realized that sometimes alcoholism, mental illness, anger and despair can poison even the strongest person.  Until I realized that a covenant is not one-sided.  

And I walked away.  

"I don't stand here trying to focus the blame ...

It's over

What's the sense in pointing fingers? 

Who's the Saint and the Sinner? 

There ain't gonna be a winner. 

It's over ... "*

I don't believe I negated God.  I believe I honored him.  I believe I redeem myself every night as I kiss Kiddo good night, as I hold Smilin' Vic tight, as I thank God for all he's given me, as I pray for those in my past whom I may have hurt or who may be hurting.

I am a Believer.  I believe that I am worth believing in.  I believe that my beliefs hold true.  Here in the ME, there in the West, anywhere.   I stand firm.

I am not just a divorcee.  I am not just a mom.  I am not just a wife, a sister, a friend, a co-worker, a neighbor. 

I am a Believer.  I believe.   

Thanks, Rod Stewart.  Sixty some years old and you actually made me reflect on 25 years of internal struggle.   

It's over. 


P.S.  How the hell can Rod still be so sexy? 


*Lyrics from "It's Over", by Rod Stewart. 


Who's Watching Me Now?

One thing Westerners, particularly North Americans*, just might have a hard time adapting to in the ME is the continuous tracking and CONTROL of movements and transactions that go on here during the course of an ordinary day.

While this can be somewhat disconcerting, there are undoubtedly benefits to be had from a certain degree of vigilance.  

Entering and Exiting the Country

The initial and most traumatizing realization is probably the fact that upon entry as a resident into this part of the world, all subsequent entries to and exits from Qatar will not only be tracked, but will also be subject to approval/rejection by your sponsor (if he/she is your employer) and in all cases communicated real-time via SMS to your sponsor.  

If your sponsor is your employer, you will need an 'exit permit' to exit the country.  If you are one of the chosen few, you may be granted a 'multiple exit visa' of set duration (e.g. 1 year validity).  Let it be stated that I have yet to meet the recipient of such a prize, but it does exist.  

Your sponsor is normally your employer (if you're a man) or your spouse (if you're a woman).  While there can be exceptions to the sponsorship rule, these are rare (e.g. for women hired overseas and brought into the country on "single status").  

As such, every time my daughter or I leave or enter the country, whether with or without Smilin' Vic, he gets a magical 'Ping!' on his mobile phone.  Whether or not I am gainfully employed in this country, my husband continues to be my sponsor, so he, and not any potential employer, will always be the receiver of the 'ping'.  His access and egress to the country are consequently monitored by 'his' sponsor (his employer).  In his case, his employer is the recipient of the ping. 


You will also be tracked as you drive.  Traffic/speed sensors have become more and more common and sophisticated in this country over the past decade.  Though road traffic stops are extremely rare (I have seen maybe 4 occasions where police had actually pulled someone over), I have yet to meet an expat who has not been the sad recipient of some type of infraction recorded by one of the above-mentioned sensors.  Whether for speeding, getting caught in the middle of an intersection at a red light, driving on the soft shoulder, even overloading a vehicle ... all manner of violation can be caught on tape.

Once these are recorded, the recipient of the fine (person to whom the car is registered) cannot exit the country until the applicable fine (usually steep ... some running well into the four digit arena) has been paid.  I must say, the guy who thought this rule up was absolutely genius.


Your credit/debit purchases are also tracked and communicated real-time.  My husband and I have a joint account (when we initially requested this six years back the Qatari bank clerk stared intently at my husband from behind his aviator shades and, as if I were not even in the room, said:  "Are you SURE you want her to have full access to your account?")

Since the fateful day Smilin' Vic answered "Yes", every time I buy eyeliner at Shiseido or foundation at Estee Lauder he gets ... you guessed it ... a 'Ping!'  Since the 'Ping' is followed by details of purchase price and store name, it makes it hard to hide something like, "ahem ..., cough, cough", a Dior lipstick fetish or some equally benign interest.

You can actually ask the bank turn this feature off.  But while it might seem really irritating at first, we found it to be a blessing last year when someone started using my credit card info to make random purchases in Uzbekistan, Syria, Brazil and China.  The magical 'Ping' allowed us to immediately contact the credit card company and let them know that trouble was afoot.


Your alcohol consumption is also monitored and tracked.  If you are an expat non-Muslim and earn 4,000 QAR a month or more, you are eligible for an alcohol permit.  This must be supported by your employer via a letter to the distribution center, stating your title and salary.  Your monthly limit is a set percentage of your salary.  Approval on all counts gives you a little blue library-like swipe card with a REALLY bad picture that you must present to the guards outside the QDC, to the guards inside the QDC and finally to the QDC cashier who will swipe it and proceed to charge you 200% the actual import cost of your beverage of choice.  

It should be noted that the security guards and cashiers NEVER miss this opportunity to ask to see your card, and make no effort to conceal their smirks, snide snickers, and the occasional shudder at the atrocity of the snapshot found thereon.

No worries, this does NOT dissuade expats from indulging in spirits.  But as the cashier totaled up my purchases today, I started to wonder a little about the deal with my card details.  I'm always slightly paranoid that one month the cashier will ring up my last item and strobe lights will begin to flash, bells will ring, confetti will fall from the ceiling as they announce:  "Folks, we have a winner over here at Cash Number 8 - Gypsy is our Big Spender of the Month!  Ladies and Gentlemen, please join me in a round of applause for the biggest lush in Doha!!!!"

The infamous 'black bag'.

The infamous 'black bag'.

Like maybe there's some guy in a room somewhere monitoring this stuff remotely, running a betting pool on who's gonna buy the most Budweiser this month?

That's probably why I always feel the need to defend myself at the till as the chugables get loaded into black opaque bags (to be transported directly to your home and hidden from view on the journey there).  "You know, I was here last week, but I bought mostly pork ... not booze.  Oh, this case of Valpolicella?  It's not all for me, we're hosting a wine and cheese, and I use a lot of red wine in my bolognese sauce, and ... sigh ... I just like wine, ok?  Just give me the horrendously overpriced bill and consider that my contrition, ok?"

More Boozing

Once you've exhausted your QDC budget, you can always go out for smart pops at  a local imbibery (prettied-up term for drinking hole).  And yes, you will be asked to buy a membership card there as well.  "Ahhhhhh, yes, Gypsy.  Your reputation precedes you.  So you've finally depleted your QDC budget, yes?  Just stand still and smile for the camera while we take another horrendous mug shot.  And remember, bring your card with you next time so we can all have a good laugh while scanning you through."

Having to show that hideous picture card is usually enough to ward you off visiting drinking establishments for the next few months at least.


And finally, worn out by all the tracking, you'll end up back at home, alone, blogging about nothing really.  And you'll decide you need to find a synonym for "sexy" to help enrich that post you've been working on.  And as you Google "sexy", you'll get a pop-up screen that says "Ooops!  This site has been blocked!"  



*My favorite "whatever!" source of info, Wikipedia,  "estimates that the number of cameras in the UK is 1.85 million. The number is based on extrapolating from a comprehensive survey of public and private cameras within the Cheshire Constabulary jurisdiction."... "This works out as an average of one camera for every 32 people in the UK, although the density of cameras varies greatly from place to place. The Cheshire report also claims that the average person on a typical day would be seen by 70 CCTV cameras."