This was an interesting and eye-opening weekend. Smilin' Vic and me, the most anti-social of anti-socials, attending two social gatherings on two separate evenings with two very distinct groups of friends.
Our first invite, last night, was to a 'going away' party for a co-worker of mine. A bitter-sweet occasion. A harsh reminder of how occupationally dispensable we all are. A co-worker whose job was reclassified and whose qualifications did not meet the new JD.
"Shukran". "Thank you very much". Your services are no longer required.
No mind that you are a dedicated and loyal employee. Skip the fact that you have a flawless attendance record. Forego your attention to detail. Poo Poo your positive attitude.
Face the facts, someone wanted you gone ... and you're 'outta here'.
We'll be nice about it though. We'll give you three weeks advance notice. Then we'll send you home to laze out your 2-months' advance notice so you can let the humiliation, regret, fear and shame ferment just a little bit more. And then you've got three months to get your ass out of Dodge. 'Cos you ain't welcome here no more.
But in a sense, he's one of the lucky ones. As a male, being sacked in Qatar means you can no longer stay in the country, nor carry on sponsoring your family to stay here. Not only do you lose your job, you lose your house, your children's school, your spouse's job (she cannot work if you cannot sponsor her), everything. If someone wants you gone badly enough, you could be gone within a matter of days.
Yeah, he's one of the lucky ones. He even got an NOC (non objection certificate), which means his current employer does not object to him seeking and gaining employment elsewhere in Qatar.
Scary what you can end up grateful for.
So a few colleagues got together and did the only thing we could.
We exchanged gifts; bought him a bunch of Harley Davidson memorabilia, seeing how he's a fan. His Harley was a Bucket List item; something he'd always promised himself but never gotten around to. But he'd finally bought himself a Hog here in Qatar.
Sadly, as we gave him the loot he revealed he'd sold his bike that very day. Ended up being a somewhat twisted gift.
We'd arranged a going-away party fueled by Turkish takeaway, red wine, white wine, dark rum and Coronas. Stood around telling stupid jokes, trying to act like all was cool and we knew he would be moving on to something better. Tried to convince him and his wife that this was for the best ... that it was actually a relief. He didn't have to worry anymore. 'Cos that's what we all tell ourselves, isn't it? That if "they" eventually show us the door, at least we'll know in what direction were heading.
But in reality, we're all slightly crafty hypocrites. In it for the bigger buck, the generous annual leave, the hope for early retirement. We want to be able to choose when it's time for us to go home. We want to know that we still have that much power, that much control. But we don't. At the end of the day, every expat, no matter how talented, no matter how popular, no matter how loyal, no matter how committed, no matter how willing .....
... is ....
We wanted to say "until we meet again", but in the expat world we knew this was simply "goodbye". No prettying up required. We've seen it all before.
The night itself was a success. We talked, we laughed, we told silly jokes and really tried to keep the mood light. Hugs, slaps on the back, anecdotes and just a few near-tear moments. He's got hard days ahead. But last night wasn't the time to be bringing him down. We needed to let him know how much we'd appreciated him, how much we'd miss him, and how much fun we'd had with him. We needed to let him know that he mattered, and that he would be missed. Despite the sad undertones, the evening was filled with laughter and love. Hopefully he'll leave knowing that for a select few he actually did make a difference.
Fast forward to tonight.
Tonight was spent at my best friend's, for a purportedly completely different celebration.
We were celebrating her husband's promotion. His promotion to one of the most established and elite positions one could possibly hold within his company. To a position that brings him international accolade and recognition. To a position that few men of his age could even aspire to.
A position that he's filled for the last two years unofficially. But two weeks ago, he was finally given the title that goes with the position. Officially.
No company memo, no pay rise, no thank you, no bonus, no words of appreciation. Simply a letter stating that as of "date" he holds the position of "_____". Carry on. Thank you.
The celebration was marred by the lack of corporate enthusiasm. He was saddened by the lack of appreciation. We were marked by the undertone of disenchantment that pervaded the accomplishment. The disappointment was deafening.
It reinforced my belief that there is no professional accomplishment to be celebrated or redeemed here. There is no expat advancement or achievement that will be recognized or valued or celebrated. Professionally, for an expat, this land is devoid of merit.
It was very sad in a way. We should have been whooping and whaaping at his success. We should have been breaking open a bottle of bubbly. We should have been toasting his fortitude and drive.
But instead, because of his disenchantment over how the whole deal had gone over, we sat sedately with our flat wine and shyly whispered our congratulations.
Strange what you can end up disillusioned by .
But we still partook in meaningless banter. We feasted on amazing Thai dishes, white wine, red wine and Coronas. We exchanged gifts, both for the promotion and for a few missed occasions since we'd last seen each other.
Since the hosts, our friends, had recently been to Bali, they brought us back Kopi Luwak coffee, referred to in "The Bucket List" (if you haven't yet seen this movie starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson ... DO SO NOW!). It is coffee that has been ingested by and pooped out of a strange Asian wild cat named a Paradoxorus. ......
And as the night progressed, and we sat there with our friends, we forgot about our reason for being there and got back to really enjoying JUST BEING THERE. And my best friend and I drank wine, ate brownies, talked about cooking shows (Chopped, UK Come Dine With Me and Guy's Big Bite at the top of the list) and had some serious belly laughs. Serious. The kind of belly laughs that hurt, but in a good way. The kind of belly laughs that remind you that no matter what crap is going on, a good friend can take it away. The kind of belly laughs that stay with you for a lifetime. The kind of belly laughs that make you cry.
And I was struck by the differences and the similarities of the two evenings. But mostly the similarities.
The knowledge that, like the Kopi Luwak bean, all of us have been ingested by this country in some way. And the knowledge that all of us will likewise be excreted in some disenchanting way ... fired, retired or promoted ... In some way each of us will move on feeling just a tad soiled.
We all want to think we've made a difference. We all want to think we would be missed. We all want to be supported. We all want to know someone cares. We all want to laugh. We all want to cry. We all want to laugh until we cry.
We all have a bucket list ... and that bucket list likely includes but is not limited to all of the above.
Tonight, to you, whoever you may be, I wish for you this:
"May you laugh until you cry."
Odd what you may wish for.
Click on the link below "The Bucket List - Kopi Luwak" to see what life's all about.