80 Days in Qatar – Learnings, Part 1. Culture Shock.

Ok. I’m going to ask you to do something.

Close your eyes. Imagine arriving into a strange country. It’s filled with a sticky warm air that you normally associate with holiday, not home. You are enveloped in new noises, smells, senses. Your nerves are at jangling point as you pass through immigration, getting the stamp that says you’re not a regular holiday maker but someone who might be staying here.

People from every corner of the globe are squeezed into a chaotic airport arrivals lounge. There are tears and laughter as people come and go. Trollies laden down with cases pass by. You see chubby toddler legs chasing his sisters’ into the open arms of daddy. Reunited, four months later.

Somewhere new is home. This is home. This alien environment. This city. Doha. A place that two years ago, you would have struggled to pinpoint on a map.

Driving home, wherever that now is, the horizon is filled with the spectacle of skyscrapers climbing to new heights. The sea is decorated with boats ablaze with dancing fairy lights and pumping out bass notes across the water. The roads are… well, that’s a whole separate blog post… suffice it for now to use the word “shit-scary”. And your husband, has learned a whole new set of driving skills with blue language to boot.

There is a perfume in the air of your new compound as you pull up. It’s quiet and empty now – your neighbours have not all yet moved in – so feral cats provide the only life you see as you unpack your lives through the door. Welcome home.

The culture shock is real. The people are different. Languages are different. It is hard to do things that would have been easy at home; harder and more frustrating yet with a hearing loss (yup, that’s a smallest violin moment!). The school system is different. Gone is the Educate Together informality, replaced with British School academic rigor and excellence. Life begins earlier; 5:30am alarm calls are no longer saved for early morning travel or special occasions.

And it’s dusty, so so dusty. The air is sandy and any greenery is maintained through careful irrigation, either piped or manual. The city is full of roadworks and building works. Roads that exist one day are gone the next. Buildings grow as if shaped out of the ground.

The heat, tolerable when you arrive, builds to a May crescendo, punctuated by the warnings of an imminent summer and the well-meaning threat that “you haven’t seen anything yet”.

However, some moments mark your first weeks. Punctuate the oddness with a feeling of home. The most consistent of these is the Adhan, or call to prayer, which echoes through the air five times daily, in the malls, on the radio, over the neighbourhoods. You hear it and feel at home. This is where I am. Even in the most commercial or crazy of environments, here is the sound of home. (Take a listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fe8qRj12OhY)

You stop feeling naked, no matter how well covered up you are, as you walk past the thawbs and abayas in the shops. You stop feeling self consciously different to the surroundings. You meet others in similar situations to you. The school has class mums, designed to answer silly questions like “What colour socks should I buy?” and gently help you to decipher the school system of multiple PE days, swimming days, library days, and recorder days.

You explore. You have your favourite restaurants. A routine at home. A house that has plants and pictures and life. Your life.

You discover blogs like “I Love Qatar” and start learning more about Arabic culture and a life that’s so vastly different to home.

You start to offer advice to newcomers. Your kids have playdates, away and at home. You cook your first roast dinner and can now list most of the city’s best day out options and some lovely options for food.

Only 80 days in, and this is feeling like home.