I'm honored to have won the Gold Award for best blog in Qatar last year. To access the entry via the Expats Blog website, click here. Or simply keep on reading below for my winning entry in the 2013 Expat Blog Awards contest ... ;-)
Top 10 Things I Wish I’d Brought to Doha
When we first started packing for the move to Doha over seven years ago, I thought long and hard about what to ship over.
Which familiar items might help make the transition easier? Which items would bring comfort on homesick days? What Canadian memorabilia could possibly transform our new house in the desert into our old cabin on the lake?
In the buildup to the move, I racked my brains to come up with a perfect inventory of “life in Canada” odds and ends. Ever so carefully I boxed up family photo albums, precious Christmas decorations, favorite stuffed toys, Tim Horton’s coffee tins, and a stash of Cadbury’s Fruit N’ Nut bars (just in case).
All these things have served us well, and every year at this time we pull out the old Canadian Christmas tree decorations and pair them up with the new decorations we’ve since added from Thailand, Croatia, England, the Maldives, Italy, France, Jordan, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Dubai, Fujairah, Abu Dhabi, Morocco, Bahrain, Belgium …
If truth be told, our trinkets have never quite managed to disguise the sand as snow. But they have helped turn our house into a home. I’ve never regretted filling up our shipping container with a lot of cheap silly meaningful stuff rather than expensive pieces of furniture.
Yet in all my preparedness, I’ve come to realize that I still managed to overlook a few key items from Canada that I find myself missing more and more over the years.
Here is my list of top ten:
1. My waist.
I could kick myself for leaving it behind. I was quite certain I’d brought it; actually I’m pretty sure I had it with me when I landed.
I’ve looked into getting a new one, but a quality waist is really hard to find in Doha.
Expat legends are rife with tales of the mysterious accumulation of lbs. around one’s middle; in many circles it’s referred to in hushed and fearful tones as the “Doha Dozen”.
2. My patience.
Again, I was sure I’d packed it.
But there I was driving along the highway one day and “POOF!”; it was like it disappeared into thin air.
One minute I was singing along at the top of my lungs to an old Edith Piaf song playing on the French Hour of Qatar Radio; the next I was being cut off by a Toyota Land Cruiser and hurling out a string of expletives that would have made Quentin Tarantino blush had I been auditioning for Pulp Fiction …
I usually try to pick up a bit of patience when I go back home to visit, but it never lasts me long on the return to Doha traffic.
3. My get-up-and-go.
I’m not sure when exactly it got up and left, but I haven’t seen it in a long, long time.
We came to the desert armed with plenty of sunscreen and large-brimmed hats, ready to combat the sun and the heat, thinking we had it covered.
But while Doha dwellers had informed us ahead of time about the potential ravages of dust and sand, they never once hinted at how the desert air would seep into our bones and leave us drained of energy.
Hot and humid days, dust-laden oxygen particles, impassable walkways and 2-hour commutes have gradually depleted my vitality stockpiles.
Had I known back then, I would have studied those old Energizer bunny commercials a little more closely.
4. My luscious locks.
While I admit I’d started to grey prematurely in Canada, my golden tresses have become almost pure white since my arrival in Qatar.
The desalinated water, desert dust and relentless sun have rendered my formerly shiny mane lifeless and dull.
I can’t honestly say I would have ever qualified for a Pantene commercial, but there was a time when I could leave the house without looking like a Chia Pet.
5. My lunch box.
The one with the proper ham sandwich in it.
Granted, we can now buy pork in Doha at the “Special Store” (a.k.a. “The Qatar Distribution Center”, “QDC”, “Booze Shop” …). But at $18 a pack, ten paper-thin slices of ham somehow become a delicacy, not an everyday lunchbox item.
6. My sense of humor.
If there was ever a place on earth where it would have served me well ...
It would come in so very handy when the waiter mistakes my request for shawarma and brings me lemon meringue pie instead.
It would have really helped the first time they dyed my hair green (salons don’t get much practice with blondes here).
It would have served me even better the second time around.
It would definitely help every time I get cut off by yet another Toyota Land Cruiser.
7. The cold water tap.
Nobody ever told me that it’s virtually impossible to get cold water in the Middle East in the summer months.
It’s much like running out of hot water in the winter in Canada.
In Doha, if you spend more than 3 minutes in the shower in August you're likely to be boiled alive with no hope in hell of fully rinsing that Pantene conditioner out of your hair until November.
I spent my first summer in Qatar playing hot potato in the shower until a friendly maintenance man showed me how to turn the chiller on, thus extending shower life to about six minutes.
8. A proper grasp of the English language.
Who knew that:
- A.S.A.P. means “not in this lifetime”;
- “fanny” is construed as highly offensive by anyone outside of North America;
- "fag" is NOT considered highly offensive by anyone outside of North America;
- “brilliant” means “not bad” to a Brit;
- “career mom” is a term that causes great confusion in this part of the world;
- “stop” means “only if the other car doesn’t”;
- “pedestrian crossing” actually means “prepare to meet your death”.
Having properly understood these simple terms from the get-go might have saved me considerable heartache, frustration, embarrassment, and injury during those first few years in Doha.
9. Clear sinuses.
There was a time when, barring a cold, I would feel the need to clear my nose no more than once, maybe twice a day.
Alas, gone are the days of a booger-free existence.
Once the desert dust pervades your nasal passages it’s there to stay. Tiny grains of sand accumulate ceaselessly, attaching themselves to fellow grains by the second, tickling you constantly, causing you to blow your nose 15 to 20 times a day.
If for whatever reason you try to ignore the itch, it’s quite possible you’ll find a hardened mucous rock the size of your thumb forming inside your schnozzle.
My first words of advice to newly arrived Doha-ites? “Use that time stuck in traffic wisely. Look to your left, then look to your right. That’s right, everyone’s doing it. No one will look down on you for picking your nose.”
10. My sense of urgency.
After seven plus years of a dozen daily “Insha’Allah’s” (Arabic for “God willing”), I’ve come to expect little and receive less.
It’s the standard answer to pretty much everything in this part of the world. Conversations tend to go something like this:
Me: (to our compound’s maintenance help desk attendant): “Our upstairs toilet just exploded, and poopy water is seeping through the kitchen roof. Can you send a plumber right away?”
Help Desk: “Insha’Allah”.
Me: “So you’ll send someone?”
Help Desk: “Insha’Allah”.
Me: "A turd just fell on my head."
Help Desk: “Insha’Allah”.
(Seriously???? This is when I rue leaving # 2 and # 6 back in Canada. A sense of dejectedness and complacency sets in.)
“Insha’Allah”, I reply with a sigh …
Yet though I do occasionally look back longingly on the wispy-waisted, patient, energetic, bouncy-haired, pork eating, funny, freshly-showered, English-speaking, un-Asthmatic, determined woman that I once was back in Canada, most days I just thank my lucky stars that I didn’t leave hope behind.
On that note, I think I’ll go take out those familiar Canadian Christmas decorations. And be grateful for what I’ve “got” in Doha rather than for what’s “not” in Doha.