Nat: Bright lights, little city
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Doha, etc.
Originally from the UK, I’ve been in Qatar since autumn 2012 with my wife and two kids (then aged 8 and 5). My wife was headhunted for a job here; we’d been thinking about moving abroad for some time, so we thought ‘what have we got to lose?’
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I actually started my blog before we left the UK, partly because I love writing — it’s how I process my thoughts — partly because I thought it would be good to try and capture the experience in some way, but mostly because I am a terrible correspondent! I thought a blog would be a better way of keeping everyone informed what we were up to.
That’s how it’s started… I now have more readers here in Qatar than any other country, so it’s subtly changed to be as much about daily life here as it our experiences as a family.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
Once in a while, what I end up publishing is almost exactly what was in my head when I started writing; Going Postal is an example of that, where I wanted to find the funny side of one of the frustrations of daily life here, without tipping over into whinging.
I’ve also found myself as an accidental campaigner for better access for kids cycling facilities. Two Wheels Good is an almost-happy ending to that process (until someone changes the rules again!)
I live in a compound and because they’re such an ordinary feature of life here, you quickly forget how alien they are to so many people, which is what I think I tapped into with my post Compoundland.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Doha differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
A lot of what fills our day is very similar — school runs, dentists’ appointments, playdates, grocery shopping, homework, all the normal ebb and flow of daily family life.
On the plus side, we spend much more time together as a family here, we all eat together most nights, our compound has a pool, which we are seconds away from, we have a live-in maid…
Like the UK, the school day ends a couple of hours before the working day in Qatar. Except there isn’t really a recognized system of after school clubs to bridge the gap in our respective days.
I was explaining to a friend back in the UK how we solved that problem and at one point caught myself telling them how we pay for a taxi to come and pick up our maid, so she can go to the school and collect the kids for us…
It sounds ridiculous when you say it out loud, but it’s just a fact of life here for working families.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Doha? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
Up to a point. But you’ll never be fully ready for a change this big, so at some point you’re just going to have to go for it. The question we asked ourselves was: ‘If not now, when?’ That focused our minds quite neatly.
But you need to be resilient; life’s going to put obstacles in your path wherever you are. Expat life sounds glamorous but you don’t have established networks of friends and family close by to help you cope when things get bumpy. So if you’re knocked off your path easily, expat life may not be for you.
I definitely hit a wall; I thought it was about six months in but after checking my archive, it looks like it was nearer to six weeks after I arrived. That was a pretty short honeymoon period.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Not so much a funny story, more an eye-opening observation: When we showed our maid her quarters for the first time, we were really worried that she was going to say it was too small, “I’m not Harry Potter”; instead, she looked in disbelief at what I would consider a small living space and asked if it was all just for her?
We said yes, of course, and there followed this look of joy and amazement on her face. At her previous employers, she had been in an even smaller space, which she had to share. It reminded us that this is a melting pot of a city people can look at life here from wildly different perspectives.
If you want a funny story, there was the time I was using the Metro, whilst on a visa run to Dubai. I was reading my book, minding my own business, when I started to feel like I was being watched — stared at, almost. I couldn’t explain it (we English tend to feel socially awkward at the best of times), so imagine my horror when I looked up and realized I was in the women-only carriage. I didn’t even know they were a thing, but I do now.
I didn’t just get off at the next station and switch carriages, I waited for the next train to arrive. Mortifying.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Doha?
- Pack your sense of humour and your patience; you’ll need plenty of both, every day.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions/for help; everyone else has been in the same situation so they know exactly what you’re going through.
- If you’re not already, get on Twitter — it really is the fastest and best way to find out everything locally from what’s on to which roads are jammed.
How is the expat community in Doha? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
Personally speaking, we’ve got a great community now, but it definitely took longer than we anticipated. My wife works for a very sociable organisation, and I’ve met all kinds of amazing people through my blog, but it does take time, so be prepared.
How would you summarize your expat life in Doha in a single, catchy sentence?
It’s different every day!