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Gypsy: Gypsy in the ME

In our InterNations Recommended Blog section we let you take the spotlight! Expat life in general is, of course, a perfect breeding ground for great, user-generated reads, and life in Qatar makes no exception. Take your time and browse the great blogs showcased in this article!

Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Qatar, etc.

Just a small town girl, livin’ in a lonely world; she took the midnight train goin’ anywhere … 

Sorry, my bad, momentary flashback to Journey and the 80’s.  But not so far from the truth, really.  My journey’s taken me from the East Coast of Canada to the Middle East. I don’t do well with the whole ‘just a little bit’ about me thing, seeing as how my blog is about ‘Me’ ad nauseam.  (So I guess ‘narcissistic’ would describe me well?). A 10-point bio might read:

French-Canadian born in Hamilton, Ontario, in 1970. Did a stint as an expat kid in Venezuela in the mid- 70’s, early 80’s.  Settled on the Canadian Cold Coast (New Brunswick and Nova Scotia) and dabbled in cold and colder for the next 20 years. Enjoyed a fairly successful career as a pencil-pusher.  Gave divorce a shot in my early thirties … it worked out well … Met and married Smilin’ Vic, my rock.  Two years later (October 2006) headed to Qatar with him and 1-year-old Kiddo to dabble in hot and hotter.  Tried my hand as a stay-at-home Doha expat mom/pampered princess for about a year before deciding I could do with a bit more pocket change and mental stimulation. Worked my bottom off to break into a largely male-dominated Middle Eastern job market in 2007. Have questioned that decision almost daily ever since…

When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?

I started blogging right after arriving in Qatar in 2006 as a way to keep family and friends up-to-date on our life in the Middle East without having to write the same thing 15 times over. That blog disappeared when Windows Live Space shut down, taking my early Doha memoirs with it.  In 2011 I made a half-hearted, short-lived attempt at blogging again on Blogspot (“Hand in the Sand”).  

In December 2012 I moved to Squarespace, my current host, and started blogging on “Gypsy in the ME” in earnest about my life as an expat in Doha. This time around, I consider my virtual writing space as more of a reflective journal than a blog, which is why I keep it semi-anonymous and use nicknames to refer to friends and family.  I didn’t even tell my family about it for months. It started as a coping mechanism - still is - and has really helped me define for myself the good and the bad of being a Western career mom and wife in the Middle East. I don’t really have a theme other than ‘driving, working, living, and breathing in the Middle East’ … which is pretty broad and lets me write about whatever I like, really. I’ve left it open on the off chance there might be something useful for someone trying to find out what it can be like to live and work in the Middle East as a woman.  

Knowing I’m going to take the time to write honestly about something (ok, so I occasionally embellish here and there) forces me to put a lot more thought and consideration into my daily experiences. And surprisingly, by writing about them I’ve often found in hindsight I end up appreciating the ‘not-so-great’ moments more than the seemingly great ones.  This blog lets me see and express the humor in petty aggravations, but also allows me to give an honest voice to some of the true moments of desperation and heartache you can experience as an expat.

But the short answer (at which I obviously fail miserably) would be: I started blogging because I wanted to capture and appreciate as many expat moments as I could.

Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?

Not really favorites, but here are a few that are relevant to the expat experience.

Tell us about the ways your new life in Qatar differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?

The best difference is the opportunity to travel to Far East and Middle Eastern countries I might never have seen had I stayed in Canada.  

Obviously the working and living conditions of some expats from impoverished countries was a huge shock. Thankfully worker welfare has become an integral part of the Nation’s agenda over the last few years.

The biggest adaptation for me was and continues to be the dependence on household help. As a working couple, we have no choice but to have a full-time nanny because school and daycare hours in Qatar are completely misaligned with working hours.  But I continue to struggle with having live-in help; like many French Canadian women, I once prided myself on successfully juggling a career, raising a family, staying active and shining in the kitchen.  Having a live-in maid just feels very un-Canadian to me. 

Oh, and the humidity. The heat didn’t come as a shock, but the humidity in summer really threw me for a loop!

Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Qatar? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?

I think we prepared fairly well for the move.  We read up on Qatar, asked about the do’s and don’ts, and learned how to say a few key Arabic words beforehand. I might have tried to learn a bit more Arabic, even though the Arabic you learn elsewhere will likely vary significantly from the Arabic spoken here in the Gulf, where it’s punctuated with quite a bit of Urdu influence.  

One thing I didn’t realize is that for the most part, though not always, this is still very much an isolated culture, both in terms of mingling of the sexes and mingling of Nationals and expats.  

I definitely wasn’t prepared for the beige - from the sand, to the sky, to the houses - there’s a LOT of beige.  

The biggest surprise was probably the contrast of old and new, East and West; a desire to preserve traditions coupled with an urge to be at the forefront of all the newest trends, technology and fashion. The sight of Louboutin’s peeking out from under an abaya never ceases to startle!  

Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us? 

Those funny experiences and anecdotes take up about half my blog; it pretty much always has to do with miscommunication. I get a daily laugh out of watching my husband and our Filipino maid attempt conversation. She has a tendency to invert her ‘f’s and ‘p’s in English. We have a friend named ‘Pat’. He’s a pretty big guy; it took us a while to figure out she wasn’t being outright rude whenever she referred to him as ‘Sir Fat’!

Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Qatar? 

  • Be patient… and enjoy the eight months of great weather a year.
  • Even if you don’t ship all your belongings, be sure to bring a few precious reminders of home (photo albums, Christmas decorations, a favorite cup or blanket).  You’ll really appreciate them on days when you’re missing your old life.
  • Never forget where you came from, but always remember where you are; let yourself learn and, when the time’s right, share what you know - with good intention, NOT superiority.  Nobody likes an expat with an attitude!

How is the expat community in Qatar? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?

Much like working parents elsewhere, we sometimes struggle to find the time to socialize much. Between traffic and commuting, after-school activities and homework, work and physical fitness, we often find ourselves wishing the day had an extra 8 hours. But there are loads of interesting and engaging people in Doha. We have made some life-long friends; an odd bunch of American, Dutch, Ukrainian, Irish, South African, Australian, Filipino, British, and others that we’ve met through work, Kiddo’s school, and compound life.

How would you summarize your expat life in Qatar in a single, catchy sentence?

‘‘We’re definitely not in Kansas anymore, Toto.’’

Juan Garcia

"The Persian Gulf is a long way from home, so I was especially glad to discover this super expat community for Doha. "

Amarilis Castillo

"I loved the InterNations expat gatherings in Doha, and I hope we'll have another opportunity to meet up at 'La Villa' or the golf range. "

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