So this is the story of how I came to Doha for love, hated it, then eventually warmed up to it.
As expats, how did we get here? What was it that made it worth leaving home?
Most of us got here because of a great job opportunity. Some of us were born here and some of us moved here because we were expected to.
I came here for love. After years of heart breaking and bittersweet long distance, I took the leap and got here. At that point, I would have literally moved anywhere. Not to discount decisions made out of pure romantic sentiments, because I maintain that it was the best decision I have made, but after the initial euphoria, it hit me. Where the hell am I?
I knew no one. Going from living with family, then friends, always having surrounded myself with people I love all my life, I found myself having none. No family, no friends. My partner was expected to roll into everything at once. My girlfriend, my shopping consultant, my gossip buddy, my beauty expert. And he did.
He waited patiently and awkwardly outside changing rooms with his thumbs up or down while trying not to offend the women shopping around us. He helped me pick out the right shade of red lipstick (Diva-MAC!) and tried to react enthusiastically to irrelevant gossip.
Not to mention the pressure that was on him to not just be everything I needed him to be, but also be my sponsor, get me set up in Qatar with my residence permit, medical insurance, a home I love and keep me happy. In retrospect, I wasn’t the only victim in the situation. To this day, he is all of this. But I needed another outlet.
Another problem, I knew nothing. To feel at home in a city, you need to know where to go to get things done. You need a tailor, a go-to textile store, a grocery store, a shoe repair guy. Things you don’t find in a mall, but are hidden away in the nooks of the city.
The problem was turf. I wasn’t on my turf; I was living in someone else’s. And for someone who has to be in control of every aspect of my life, this situation wasn’t working for me. I had frequent melt downs when I would blame my partner for getting me to Doha, blame myself for making the decision to move here, indulge in self-pity and wish I was somewhere else. I found myself constantly reminiscing about the past or wishing for a future in which I wasn’t in Qatar. But I was losing out on the present because I wasn’t doing anything to change it.
Four things saved me.
First, I got a job. If you have the option to go out and work, do it. It made a huge difference for me. I was out in the city, meeting people, getting something done. I felt productive and at the end of a day, I had something to say when asked how my day was. There was also the satisfaction of earning a living doing what I love.
Second, I started driving. It’s not like I was under house arrest. I could easily have my partner drive me around or take a taxi. But the sense of independence and freedom you have when you have your own car and the potential to go anywhere at any time is like nothing else.
Third, I made friends. This was truly the hardest part. It is easiest to make friends in your student years. Your life is designed to meet new people and at that age, you are open enough to invite new people into your life and befriend them. The older you get, the choosier you are about who you allow into your life. Since I like to keep my work and personal life completely separate, I found it difficult to meet people. But I realized that I would have to put myself out there if I wanted to make friends. The thought of having to start from scratch frustrated me but I did it anyway. Slowly and painstakingly I started making friends. Though I felt vulnerable and uncomfortable in the beginning, it was all worth it. Through the process of elimination, by taking chances and making mistakes, I found my group of friends that are my family in Qatar today.
Fourth, and the one I took a while to figure out, I found a way to express myself. We’ve all left a small part of ourselves behind when we moved here. Some of us used to sing, dance or perform. Some of us used to ride or trek, bake or draw. Most of us had to let go of our creative outlets when we came here. I used to write and not writing since I got here used to gnaw at me constantly. So I decided to solve the ‘I know nothing’ problem by getting out there, figuring out the city on my own and writing about it. In the process, I’ve got rid of that gnawing feeling and I’ve found many people in the city who are doing the same thing I am. Finding ways to express themselves, be it through their online forums, blogs, podcasts, galleries or studios. And all these people are helping folks like you and me feel at home in this city.
I’ve since realized that it’s not the city to blame but the fact that I’d stubbornly left a part of myself behind. I didn’t give it a chance. And as soon as I started to, things changed for the better. Also, I was being commitment phobic with Qatar. And I’ve finally decided to commit…for the time being anyway!
So I’ve finally found my place in this tiny city. I’ve warmed up to Doha and Doha is slowly warming up to me.