I was talking to a co-worker the other day. This guy has been living in Qatar for over 30 years. He's seen so much change in that time it's not funny. But he said one thing hasn't changed in all that time.
It's the phenomenon of the expat "WhenWe's" in the ME.
Our conversation had started out about past trips, and life in small towns back in our home countries (he's from England) and somehow I started in on a story about "when we" were in the Maldives last. And I paused for a moment as I actually heard myself as if listening from the outside. I said, "Wow, that really sounds indulged and pretentious, doesn't it?"
He started laughing and told me that when he first arrived in Qatar, he referred to every veteran expat as a "WhenWe" because of the sheer number of times he would hear that expression in a conversation.
We got to talking about how many Western expats here live to travel, and how we sometimes lose sight of how very blessed we are to travel to so many exotic locations.
We sometimes forget that in a past life we would save leave time and pennies all year for that one annual trip. We forget that we might have only hoped of making it one day to the Indian Ocean, or the Far East or Australasia. Trips might mean setting up for the weekend at an amazing campsite 2 hours from home. A vacation might mean heading down to a favorite cousin's for the week, or might even be enjoyed in the peace and quiet of one's own home, with day trips to the beach or skiing or canoeing. Vacations far less exotic, but no less precious.
But, having temporarily forgotten, we start reminiscing instead about our trips to Russia, Singapore, India, Sri Lanka, Bali, China, Vietnam, Thailand, the Maldives, the Seychelles, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, Europe, ..., just the way we used to talk about a really great camping trip. We don't notice it happening; that blasé approach to travel that one assumes is reserved for the Royals, the Beckham's and the Hilton's of this world. (Not that we're traveling in the same circles or staying at the same resorts, we're just alighting on the same shores.)
Yet every once in a while, you may actually catch yourself mid-sentence, ask yourself "Is this actually me, comparing our week-long holiday on the Mediterranean Coast in Spain to our short foray along the Dalmation Coast in Croatia last Spring?" "Did I just hear myself say that the beaches in Southern Thailand are far too spoiled by drunken tourists and waste?" "Am I actually wondering whether we should visit the Maldives a fourth time or try somewhere new like the Seychelles this year?" "Am I really planning a shopping weekend to Dubai or Bahrain with the girls?"
As a newcomer to Qatar over six years ago, I remember being blown away by the tales of travel woven by fellow expats. To hear them describe their amazing journeys:
"When we" rode in a Tuk-Tuk in Bangkok,
"When we" fell out of that rickshaw in Mumbai,
"When we" sat on that camel in Egypt,
"When we" rode an elephant in Sri Lanka,
"When we" went scuba diving in the Philippines,
"When we" took the family on an African safari adventure,
"When we" went swimming with a whale shark in the Maldives,
"When we" floated in the Dead Sea,
"When we" saw the kimono dragons in Bali,
"When we" swam with the dolphins in New Zealand,
"When we" were surfing in Australia,
I have to admit I catch the "WhenWe" in me every now and then. It appears this condition is inevitable if one is to remain in the ME for any significant period of time.
But I'm also happy to say that even though I may have become somewhat accustomed to the exotic travel, I've not become inured. I remain enchanted and enthralled with every new location. I am still just as excited to pin a new location onto my travel map. I am still thrilled to step off a plane into a new adventure. I still have so many amazing places to visit in this big wide world.
Yes, there is a "WhenWe" in me; I am a "WhenWe" in the ME, and I realize I will have to temper it so that I don't come across as a snotty wannabe world-experienced traveller.
Because that's not me. There is so much wonder and amazement left in me, so many great locations left to see, so many experiences that still make my heart flip flop and my eyes tear up.
I guess I'm a "WhenWe" with a lot of "HopeTo" left in me.