I could continue to pretend, most days, that my Dad was nothing more than a phone call away. Being an expat would forevermore allow me to indulge in my own form of Alzheimer's - I forget he's gone and I reach for the phone. And when I realise my mistake, I make a virtual call and repeat the same old conversations in my head. And I'm happy.Read More
Sometimes I want to use bad words when we fly back into Doha from Canada. Not because Doha's such a bad place, but because it's at the back end of a 13-hour flight. Because it's so far from family. Because it's hot and humid. Because the traffic's insane. Because it's crowded. Because even though it's home, it'll never be HOME.
But a 9-year-old is good enough reason to keep my potty mouth to myself. At the very least, any toilet talk takes place in my head. Any expletives that might want to leap off my tongue are drowned out by enthusiastic claims of ''isn't it great to be home?'' and ''can't wait to sleep in my own bed.'' Kiddo's joy at coming back to her kitty cat, friends and toys is always reason enough for me to keep my disenchantment firmly buried.
Our maid is a wonderful woman who always puts up balloons and ''welcome home'' signs for our return home. I'm slightly ashamed that I can't muster up more enthusiasm when I see those signs as we walk through the front door.
I wish I weren't so disappointed that it's still so darned hot and humid. How quickly I've relegated to the back of my mind the 45C heat and 85% humidity of August. How quickly I've forgotten the frigid winds and 8C temps on that one afternoon in Callabogie, Ontario last week. 34C and 54% humidity isn't good enough for spoiled me today; I was hoping for a perfect 25C, with big white puffy clouds, a gentle dust-free breeze, and no humidity - oh, and maybe a light shower lasting no more than 30 minutes at some point in the afternoon. I'm nothing if not demanding.
Even the a/c is a major disappointment. I go to bed just knowing that the frigid forced air will have me clogged up like an old sink come morning.
After a 14-hour sleep to rid me of jet lag caused by a 7-hour time difference and 13-hour sleepless red-eye flight, I drag my stiff back out of bed, try to brush away the fur in my mouth, wash the grit from my eyes, and set about trying to re-adjust to life in Doha. Too lazy to go out for groceries, I set about thawing some bread for toast, crack open a few eggs, and sit down to 'breakfast' at 2:00 p.m.
Then I head up to unpack. Always my least favourite part of the return home. And I see that Smilin' Vic has already started undoing his luggage. And I'm brought to tears. This is what he's taken out of his suitcase.
It's a toilet paper holder. A toilet paper holder made for me by my Dad. All those years ago, when he first started scavenging for little pieces of discarded wood to indulge his newfound love of woodworking. I think this is one of the first pieces he carved out successfully. He made one for each of his kids, and probably for each of his friends. I wouldn't be surprised if there are dozens of my Dad's little toilets scattered around the world. I'm sure he's getting a good laugh up there in heaven, knowing that he's catching people at that one moment they're sure to be alone, when he's guaranteed to get their undivided attention.
This one had been left behind in our little summer cottage over 8 years ago. Given that the cottage has been rented out to a number of tenants who would have had no idea that a wooden toilet paper holder shaped like a toilet could hold precious memories, I figured it would have been used for firewood ages ago.
But on our very short trip to Canada last week, Smilin' Vic had to fly out to the East Coast to sort out the cottage for some new tenants. And while there he found the little wooden toilet paper holder hidden away in the damp recesses of a basement closet. And decided to secretly fly it back to Qatar to surprise me with it on the return 'home'.
And all of a sudden, toilet talk has taken on a positive twist. Smilin' Vic is upstairs working out, Kiddo's watching a movie on Mac TV, I'm sitting outside blogging, and it's actually cool enough that I'm not sweating. Our kitty cat is sitting at the screen door, preening as she watches me type. I'm catching up on pictures my nieces have posted of my nephew's wedding, the one we flew back to Canada for. I don't feel so groggy, and life doesn't seem so bad at all.
And in an instant it hits me. We're back 'home'. With all our quirky little mementos, our sweet little cat, our comfy couches, our own frames on the walls, a few more memories of another great trip to Canada, and 'us'. That's all we'd ever need anywhere I guess.
I guess a little toilet talk was all I really needed to figure that out.
A 13-hour flight saw us landing in Montreal, Canada yesterday. Not quite as simple as click your heels three times and repeat 'there's no place like home', but quite impressive all the same that you can wake up on one side of the globe and go to sleep on the other all in the same day.
Our journey wasn't done though, and we had no sooner landed than it was time to rent a car and carry the journey forward another 2.5 hours to Ottawa, where we'll be staying for the next few days in anticipation of our nephew's wedding.
We had started our day with a 4 a.m. (Doha time) wake-up call to make it to the airport on time for our 8:30 a.m. flight, and by the time all had been said and done, we would have been awake for 23 hours by the time our heads would finally hit the pillow exhausted at 9:00 p.m. (Ottawa time). There's no mistake in my math: the 7-hour time shift is always the very first difference we encounter on landing in our homeland.
The second is the presence of a Tim Horton's outlet around virtually EVERY corner. Case in point, it was our first stop at the airport after making it through Customs.
The weather is always a shock. Going sleeveless indoors where it's warm and toasty and stepping out into cool, crisp Autumn weather throws you for a loop for the first day or so.
The driving pace is radically different in Canada. Even making our way out of Montreal at rush hour didn't see us get side-swiped or cut off a single time. When people use their left signal flasher, they actually follow up by turning left! Red lights actually get cars to stop. It's eerie, almost, at how chaos is replaced by ''flow''. Even pedestrian walkways are marked to keep things moving smoothly.
Our apartment for the week comes not only with a garbage bin, but also with a series of recycling bins under the kitchen sink. I'm intimidated. I haven't sorted in years. I'm not sure I remember how.
The TV has a 24-hour weather channel. When I look at the 24-hour forecast, it shows me a range of temps from 11C to 21C, with everything from fog to cloud to shining blue skies to rain. Canadian weather: ''if you're not happy with it, just wait 5 minutes''.
It's 6:30 a.m. and sunrise is still at least 30 minutes away. In Qatar, if we don't make it home from our morning walk by 5:30 a.m. we risk melting in the heat of that blazing orb.
I'm sitting out here quietly blogging in the dark, as the city only begins to awaken. Thinking to myself ''Darn, it's good to be home.''
In another lifetime maybe.
I'm actually a 44-year-old wife and mother with an office job. The hottest thing about me these days is probably the occasional inferno flashes that threaten me with spontaneous combustion at the most inopportune moments.
Even my footwear has become decidedly un-hot, since I mostly wear sensible heels to work so I can take the stairs in an effort to counter my expanding @$$. My grey roots are an inch long because I'm trying to time a dye job perfectly for a wedding in October.
If I sit a certain way, my belly forms three rolls that vaguely resemble a burger between two buns. Oh, and for the last four days, I've developed pitted oedema in my feet ... apparently no reason to be exceedingly alarmed according to the disinterested doctor I consulted yesterday, but enough to furrow those wrinkles on my brow just a tad deeper.
And yet despite the granny flats, frizzy hair, constant air of bewilderment and exhaustion, ever-expanding posterior, Shrek feet and muffin top, I had a busload of labourers ogling me with unbridled lust as I got stuck behind them in traffic on the drive home from work.
These are the moments when I realise how truly lonely their life must be here in the ME. And while their sad plight leaves me disillusioned, I have no illusions that I'm the hottest thing to have crossed their path since Indonesian curry.
It's one of those things that's always irked me about Qatar: the inflated ego of many a woman in the desert. An impression that they're suddenly irresistible to the other sex. It's like a warped episode of Mudd's Women from the original Star Trek series ...
It's a scary sense of false flattery that's born of the shameless stares of a breed of desperate labourers thousands of miles from home. Men sharing living quarters with thousands of other like men. Men with no other distractions or real entertainment to speak of. Men who often don't even have a TV to watch in the evenings. Men exhausted from long hours of hard labour in exasperatingly hot conditions. Men who sometimes go years without seeing their families/spouses back home. Men whose noses have become so congested with the smell of their male roommates' sweat and stinky feet that they could smell a splash of Channel No. 5 from 20 miles away. Men in a country where the ratio of men to women is 4:1. Men in a country where approximately half of that female ratio is either veiled, under the age of 5 or over the age of 60.
So those dudes whistled at me on the drive home yesterday? No s&*t Sherlock! They'd likely flirt with a rotting papaya fruit if you sprayed it with perfume and put a blond wig on it.
Then there are the other men who hit on me shamelessly. Like the strange Turkish dude at Carrefour who shadowed me down the fruit and veg aisle one day. At first I thought I must be mistaken. He couldn't seriously be staring at my toes, sinfully bare and peeking out from under my floor length skirt? But sure enough, when I turned back with turnip in hand he'd edged just a bit closer and was by then completely transfixed by my left foot. I shooed him away with a cry of 'haram' and a threat to take his picture with my phone and report him to mall security. A few days later, sharing the embarrassingly sordid tale with a good friend, she realised she'd been trailed by the same guy at another Carrefour across town. I later learned he was a known freak with a specific MO and a preferred 'type'. I've hesitated to wear open-toed shoes while grocery shopping ever since. Blechhh!
The male fascination with me doesn't end there though. Once in a while the 25-year-old guy working on commission at the cosmetics centre at The Mall will wink at me as he tries to spray me with Coach perfume, whispering seductively that all Dutch women love this scent because it's so 'sexy' (imagine not-so-subtle purring as you read the word 'sexy'). This really turns me off. Number 1, I'm not Dutch. Number 2, I'm actually just passing through on my way to MegaMart to buy spaghetti squash. Sorry dude, wasted breath, no commission from this cantankerous Canuck ...
Should I even start on nightclubs? Let's just say that if a group of women between the ages of 25 to 50 decides to go out for drinks and dancing in Doha, they're sure to get hit on at some point in the evening. That's because in Doha nightclubs the ratio of men to women is likely to catapult to 20:1. And chances are half the men in the room are wearing beer goggles, have just returned from a 30-day stint offshore and haven't seen a woman in just as long. The other half are the guys who work at the Coach counter at The Mall; they're just hoping to bag a few free drinks from a disillusioned middle-aged expat wife. No amount of physical negligence will manage to make you unappealing to this crowd. Un-manicured nails, forty lbs. overweight, zit on your chin, greasy hair, cankles, hairy legs, smelly pits, baby drool staining the front of your dress, a run in your stockings ... there is truly no effective deterrent.
Finally, there's the gym. After 8 years in the ME, I've come to the conclusion that there's a running betting game amongst gym rats as to how many desperate housewives each can entice. Does the attention of unfettered muscles fool me into thinking I'm all that hot in my grey sweats, mismatched socks, 1980's sweat band and decades-old tattered Gold's Gym sweatshirt? Uhmmmm. NO.
It's a strange, strange world we live in here in the ME. The occasional reality check never hurts. A trip abroad is a must if one hopes to remain even remotely connected to the real world. I need only spend a single day in London or Montreal to realise that Mr. Mudd's Venus pills just don't work in other hemispheres ...
When we moved to the ME almost 8 years ago, we were planning to invest three years of our life into my husband's career for a chance to set enough aside for that much sought-after investment: Freedom 55, aka 'easy, early retirement'.
What we didn't count on was that I would land a great job and that Smilin' Vic would be offered a contract extension that would entice us to stay an extra three years. We decided that the extra three years would be a good opportunity to invest in Kiddo's early education, and enrolled her in a top-notch school with a reputation not only for developing young minds, but also for instilling core values into every aspect of campus life.
We certainly didn't count on sticking around beyond that initial six years. But when the time came, we asked ourselves 'Why not take the opportunity to stick around a bit longer to indulge in the great opportunities to travel from this part of the world. Let's invest in adventure. At the same time Kiddo loves her school, and she's getting a great education. And we've got good jobs. And Canada will still be there when we get back ... so why not stay a few more years?''
And so it's gone ... one investment in time leading to another ... not an uncommon tale for many long-time Doha expats.
And while all those investments are great, over time I've found myself investing less and less in 'Me'. I keep on putting off that annual check-up at the doctor's; I push back getting my roots dyed by a week and then two, thinking I may as well wait 'til they're really grey and it's really worth it; I delay hitting the gym or getting on the treadmill because I should probably be spending more time at work or with Kiddo; I deny myself sleep because there are dishes to clean or blog posts to write or chores to do.
Like many a mom and a wife in Doha and around the world, I find myself pushing aside things that would make me feel so much better about myself, opting instead for something I figure will make everyone else happy but won't really.
Little things like private bathroom time; why is it that every time I step into the shower I hear a piercing 'Maman!!!!!!!!!' calling me from downstairs? When did I start letting that happen? I don't think I've ever once said 'Bathroom time is my time; don't call out to me unless the house is on fire'. The one place that was a bastion of privacy before giving birth has now become the one place everyone knows they can grab my undivided attention.
Or telephone time. Every. single. time. You can be guaranteed that the moment I start getting engaged in a phone conversation with a sister or a friend is the very moment Smilin' Vic will start waving his arms desperately in the air to signal something 'I just can't miss' on TV, or perhaps a missing set of keys that he needs 'right now'.
When exactly did I give up those little moments? What I know is that it is in fact 'Me' who gave them up. No one took them from me; I just gave them, and realised a little too late that I wanted them back.
Don't get me wrong; I'm proud I've invested time into my family, and I don't regret a single minute. But through no one's fault but my own, over time I've stopped investing in things that are 'just for me'.
So this summer, I decided to put a little thought into my investments. What small investments could I make that would be all about me? And I actually came up with a few. They may seem silly, but they've completely changed my outlook. They make me selfishly happy. And usually, when Maman's happy, everyone's happy!
So what have I invested in?
- Novolash individual lash extensions. While on the surface these may seem purely indulgent and nothing more than an expat woman's vanity at play, they were actually a last-ditch attempt to remedy an issue I've been dealing with since THIS. If you've read my May 2013 post about my battle with conjunctivitis and seen the picture of the resulting 'lashlessness', you may understand my plight a bit better. You see, that bout of conjunctivitis resulted in subsequent issues and extreme eye sensitivity (common in the desert) that would cause me to rub my eyes constantly over the last year, leading to recurrent infections, resulting in sporadic lash loss, and so on and so on. So I invested in the lashes as a way to stop myself from rubbing my eyes. Kind of the way some people get false nails to stop chewing their own nails. And lo and behold, I've not rubbed my eyes in six weeks, and other than a small scare during week 1, it appears my eyes are healthy once again. No more sudden burning or tearing up, no more swelling, no more Klingon forehead. Maman's happy.
- MacAir laptop. Yes, we had MacPro for the family (that crashed in December of last year and has never worked properly since), and I had an iPad (that Kiddo had jammed full of Toca games and Barbie Design apps), but I didn't have a proper writing tool I could use comfortably, without fear of losing everything or feeling like I was cutting in on someone's air time. Writing my blog has since become fun again. Maman's happy.
- Personal trainer. By far my greatest investment in me in the last five years. Once an avid daily runner, the last few years in Doha have seen me deteriorate both physically and mentally. Shingles, sciatica, piriformis syndrome, pre-menopause (gasp!), quitting one job, starting another, the loss of my Dad ... all these contributed to a growing lethargy and sense of hopelessness of ever regaining control of my mental and physical health. After several failed attempts at getting back on track, I finally took the plunge and decided to put my money where my mouth is. About a dollar a 'gym minute' gets me 3 gruelling workouts a week, a meal plan, a non-gym-day schedule, aching muscles, hope, and a whole lot of motivation. Maman's sore, but Maman's happy.
- Imported organic vegetables from MegaMart. Spending a little more on novelty imported produce like Kale and blueberries has us back to juicing daily and feeling a whole lot more energised and satisfied. Sometimes the taste-bud pleasure really is worth the extra money. Maman's happy.
- A really happy confident kid. This came unexpectedly. I enrolled Kiddo in a Yoga Warrior Summer Camp focused on mindfulness, creativity and fun. For four weeks she was coached in yoga, kick boxing, capoeira, zumba, acro-yoga, drama, chess, art, music. Her confidence and her abilities have gone through the roof! Gone is the insecure Kiddo who still couldn't do a cartwheel after four years of gymnastics. Thanks to the amazing leaders and coaches at the Yama Yoga Studios Summer Camp, Kiddo now rushes through the door every day showing us her new-found skills. ''No Papa, you can't move your bishop that way.'' ''Listen guys'', as she plays 'Don't stop believin' by Journey on the piano. ''Look Maman'', she cries out proudly as she balances on her hands, practicing her 'crow' pose. No insecurities, no drama, just excitement and belief in what she's able to do, and more importantly in what she's able to try. Kiddo's happy. Maman's happy.
- An extremely relaxed and easy-going husband. Bonus perk. Because frankly, if Maman's happy, Papa's happy. And Maman's happy!
So remember to invest wisely when you're investing, whether it's money or time. Think about the payoff in the long-run. Sometimes investments are too far spread out and it's good to refocus a bit. An hour or a dollar well-spent on yourself and your own needs may end up being much more rewarding than weeks spent thinking about how to come up with more hours in your day. Even just an hour-long walk in the morning can sometimes give you an entirely different outlook for the entire day. Think about it.
What have you invested in yourself lately?