thereluctantemigrant | from Ireland to Doha, Abu Dhabi, Jakarta and back to Doha
The Reluctant Emigrant, by Denise Hession is inspired by recession in Ireland and emigration to Doha in Qatar, Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, Jakarta in Indonesia and finally back again to Doha since October, 2014. The Reluctant Emigrant details and highlights various aspects of expat life abroad, particularly for an expat wife, and often adds a humorous twist to everyday happenings.
Just as society was grappling with how they felt about the Notre Dame accident and which side we all fell when it came to pledge extortionate amounts of money to rebuild it, Sri Lanka happened.
A calculated symmetrical trinity where three churches and three hotels were bombed killing over three hundred and fifty people, injuring hundreds maybe nearly a thousand more and crushing our faith in the presence of a greater good in each us. Instead it is the case that are people living, studying, working among us today that will in go on in the future to bring terror, hate and fear to the world by targeting and killing a random group and finally killing themselves.
Apparently, the homework was done long before the Christchurch attack and Easter Sunday, being the most symbolic Catholic celebration was agreed to be the most effective day to deliver such devastation. Truth is, carried out on any day, in any week, in any country, place of worship, shopping mall, hotel, housing complex, it would have been as bad. Suffice to say that the carrying it out on Easter Sunday, galvanising the hate, cements the intention and makes reform seem highly unlikely.
All seven of the suicide bombers were Sri Lankan citizens and it is reported that there were forewarnings of the attacks.
Online media has been highlighted that Notre Dame has been googled seven times more often than Sri Lanka. Not totally unexpected as the Notre Dame cathedral is recognised worldwide as a monument of significant architectural relevance, everybody feels they one a piece of it. Sri Lanka however, for many, is considered, far away. Christchurch is far away too, admittedly, but that attack, carried out by a white supremacist on a mosque during Friday prayer together with the amazing reaction of their prime minister constituted a good news story. A good news story is decided by what the audience find interesting of important. It should have be relatable, it should strike a chord, have a unique angle, unfortunately, this is where Sri Lanka falls short because, there it doesn’t have a unique angle, all this has happened before in, Kenya, Morocco, Australia, Egypt, Iran, Netherlands, Jordan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Belgium, Indonesia, France, Libya, Nigeria, Somalia, Spain, London, Germany, and so on. Likely the reason that our own Leo Varadkar, hasn’t make a formal comment, apology or statement on the six bombings, three of which were in Catholic Churches. Sri Lanka Easter bombings will fade by the day and are soon to resigned to history.
As terrorism has slowly become accepted as part of our norm, we have adjusted the goalposts to accommodate it and then we arrive at a sad day like Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka and unfortunately there are large chunks of the world where this devastation is passing by unremarkably. Three hundred and fifty people killed by seven people and all in the name of the terror a shocking epidemic and no signs of it to stop or an effective antibody.
The Emir, Sheikh Tamin bin Hamad al-Thani expressed strong condemnation of the horrific crime, stressing Qatar’s firm rejection of violence and terrorism. News of Sri Lanka has hit Qatar harder that other atrocities. There are one hundred and fifty Sri Lankan people living in Qatar, over 5% of the Qatar’s total population. Every year thousands of expats from Qatar take the opportunity to visit the east and set their sights on Sri Lanka, Thailand and the like for holidays, staying at hotels such as the Shangri la, perhaps going to mass in Colombo to mark Easter Sunday so for us here in Qatar, the bombings feel closer to home than comfortable.
Is that the upshot? are we all just concerned when terrorism, creeps a little nearer to threatening ourselves. Are the only devastations worthy of our serious attention those with new appeal. Surely as attack after attack brings acceptable after acceptance, surely there will come to time to stand and fight, but fight who – a suicide bomber? If feels pointless. It is sad. It is a reality that Three Hundred and Fifty people dying is not a sensation anymore.
As reports flood in about the Notre Dame fire which has left people saddened all over Paris and indeed Europe. For me, there are two take away items, one, the global and palpable relief that it was not a terrorist attack and two the absolute outpour of pledges of wedges to restore the Cathedral.
The relief that it wasn’t a terrorist attack can only be described as a sad indictment of the world we live it that the minute we hear of catastrophic accident such as this that we immediately assume that it was a man with an agenda that caused it and not god or a faulty cable somewhere in the lift shaft. The threat of the former far outweighs acts of god or faulty cables, because our biggest fear these days are each other, whether online or in person. God be with the days, we spent indoors looking out at thunder and lightning afraid it would hit the house, these days repossession is the biggest fear for the house or someone calling to the door to offer some scam or other, which is, perhaps more favorable than a full-on violent robbery.
Cathedrals are nothing new to us. There’s a Cathedral in Longford now. Every member of a parish in Ireland has at some stage fundraised for the ‘roof of the church’ and we didn’t have L’Oréal, Francois-Henri Pinault or Bernard Arnault throwing in a few bob in at the gate on Sunday morning to help the cause either. Not a chance. We had race nights in the local pub, table quizzes, raffles, fashion shows and family fun days. And for the patrons that prayed in them, christened their kids in them, made holy communion and confirmation, got married in them and were laid to rest in them it was much appreciated.
The media is awash with news of the gargantuan offers but we’re well used to billion euro figure sums, it might be enough to build the Notre Dame with treated timber, sculpted stones and hand painted frescos in France, but a billion is nothing to Ireland, we’d need at least 1.75 to build a hospital, that’s with no archaeological considerations or historical restrictions. The astronomical pledges are the byline to the Notre Dame Fire headline and no doubt the underlying pressure felt by the big players in France to engage in a bit of corporate social responsibility in this high-profile case is one the top of every marketeer’s to-do list. But why? Because beauty sells that’s why. And there was/is nothing more beautiful than the Notre Dame Cathedral, fact that it was a place of worship was besides the point, it was a tourist attraction, a monument, a building of architectural beauty, a symbol of the breathtaking power and wealth of faith that is overwhelming when you visit such places as the Notre Dame or the Vatican. Making the Catholic Church looks sexy, appealing and there’s a stink of cash when your there, reassuringly expensive, just like a Louis Vuitton shop. Forget the crown of thorns and relics inside, the building itself stood for what people want to believe the Catholic church is, mighty, great, worthy. Symbolism at its best.
Take away the rose window, the beautiful towers and the organs and see how many would pledge millions then. I don’t see L’Oréal springing for the investigation into the Tuam Babies investigation, or Disney giving 5 million to the victims of Bessborough Mother and Baby Homes, these are symbols of the church too, without the embellishments. Worth noting that while the billionaires of the world are quick to offer funding for the Notre Dame re-build, the Vatican have issued a statement saying that they’ll help with the restoration but have not assigned a monetary figure to that help, this perhaps the smartest PR of all, because if they pledged money to re-building a thing of beauty as eye candy for the eyes of the rich, it might cast a shadow on all the other worthy church related causes around the world, compensations claims and church roofs that have more significance to the poor than the rich..
Sad to see a beautiful building fall victim to a fire, but nothing money can’t mend.
I love animals as much as the next person, but when it comes to owning one, I have a strict criteria. They must not require affection. They must not scurry. They must not require food, every day. I must be able to leave them for long periods of time without them dying and consequently disappointing the kids. They must either be capable of living outdoors in a concrete yard in 50-degree heat or indoors in a very small contained space, they must not smell. The total investment time in any given week, should not exceed five minutes and the purpose of keeping the animal as a pet should be to teach the children the value of being selfless and showing responsibility by caring for an animal, within the above parameters.
Some argued it wasn’t possible, but I was determined. We needed to get a pet, fast. The reports all showed the keeping a pet between the ages of 3 and 8 underpinned positive well-being in children. The search was on, the doors of opportunity flung open to a world of pets which would flourish under our care and fascinate the children for months, possibly years.
We took to the Souq, the market here in Qatar when you can find everything from saffron to a snake. Applying our criteria to each section of animals we finally agreed on four beautiful pets. Ray, Casper, Nemo and Goldie and if you haven’t yet guessed, they are fish! Beside ourselves with our new found, low maintenance friends, we proceeded to buy a low maintenance tank. Just as we rounded the corner from our house, we witnessed a guard leaving our door, and the ominous envelope which he stuck onto the front door. What could it be, knowing Qatar, it was another rule or regulation, some new initiative to be adhered to, lest you find yourself out on your ear.
Just after we untied the plastic bag to release Ray, Casper, Goldie and Nemo into their new home (the Eu. 15 tank complete with light and water filter and small enough for one person to carry to and from the sink at change water time) I opened the envelope. A cold shiver came over me. It was a Pet Registration Form, no lie. On the very day that we brought four purposefully low maintenance pets into our home, there came the new initiative, ‘every house needs to register their pet’.
The form required, tenant name, address, telephone number (mine not fishes’), clarification of type of pet, Dog /Cat/Other, Pets name, description (Colour, markings etc), and the microchip number and vaccination and sterilisation details. The later requisite details felt a little stringent, particularly as given my history with goldfish, they would likely not live long enough to catch anything and given that fact, I felt it would be unfair to sterilize Ray, Casper, Goldie for Nemo and hamper their fun during their imagined short life span.
Reading the terms and conditions I felt relief that our chosen pets were silent fish because policy stated that barking dogs and crying cats were considered unacceptable pets. Also poop litter would be fined and wee, had to be washed, so to take rover for a walk realistically you would need a wheelbarrow for the accoutrements. So inoffensive were our pet choice that I considered not completing the registration form until I realised that unregistered pets would be treated as strays and thereafter confiscated, so I imagined it was compulsory for each pet to carry their registration details around for fear of being picked up!
So just like everything in Qatar, our new fishy friends arrived bright eyed, eager to explore their new fishbowl life but bit by bit their fins are clipped, and they’re laded down by wads of paperwork and red tape, welcome to life in Doha, Casper, Ray, Goldie and Nemo……. Where’s Nemo? Nemo is floating on the top of the water! A limp fish, more paperwork and an upset child. ‘He’s not dead’, I say trying hard not to bang the toilet seat, ‘he’s just missing’, I hoped a missing fish was less paperwork that a dead fish, so I opened the case, finding nemo.
Last year, at this exact time of the year I muttered about having an identity crisis of sorts. It was heavily prompted by three days of celebrations, International Women’s Day, Mother’s Day and St. Patricks Day. All these massively thought-provoking days ultimately leave me feeling totally inadequate and like I should write a vision statement for myself. Which if I take a few minutes to through out a few lines, would read something like, ‘let’s this year lose 5 kg, finish the book and enjoy a few days away somewhere nice’. That’s usually the vision I have of and for myself in February, but when March comes and all these days, come out of the woodwork, it’s a different story. Being an International Woman, a Mother and a Paddy, I should identify strongly with all three, and I do, but not in the way that perhaps that the media portray them.
Take International Women’s Day, social media was awash with accomplishment, achievement, acceleration, groups of women all the around the world, driving their position home, and leaving those of us, at home, feeling somewhat inadequate. This year, first time probably I sent a few texts, the replies were interesting, the young, entitled, just said thanks, my age, the appreciative of the strides in the women’s movement, all said, ‘you too.. may we know, them, raise them etc etc’. My mum replied, ‘there’s a day for everything now’ realism at its finest.
And the worst day to be living in Qatar, St. Patricks Day. Not alone can you not convey to anyone just how St. Patricks Day works, other nationalities pick it up, completely misinterpret it and fire it back in your face, just like as if they spent years of their childhood standing at the side of the main street, clapping and cheering while a tractor passes with 17 kids hanging off it. The real Paddy’s days were spent in the pub, doors open, no plastic shamrock glasses or general paddywackery in sight just straight up pints of Guinness and lots of them, but it was never about the drink either, it was about getting 10p’s for the arcade game in the corner and having coke in a bottle with a straw in it and playing in the pub, but it wasn’t about the pub either, because there was the parade, but that alone didn’t define it either, oh forget it, it’s too hard to explain and this year, I’m sorry to say, I didn’t acknowledge it.
Mother’s Day, which was celebrated yesterday here in Qatar, quite clearly needs a facelift. The same oul’ trodden ground, afternoon tea and facial in return for the 18 years of utter hardship is hardly acceptable any more. Be honest the only thing us mothers want on mother day is a day without the kids, there I’ve said it. So come clean all those on Facebook taking pics of themselves dusting flour off the kids noses, saying how precious these days are, you’d rather be in Fota for 2 nights, indulging in spas, walks and your book, the only interruption to your time being a text from the babysitter sending your pics of the kids you’re trying to forget for a night and you’re reply back, ‘you’re a star x’. Besides we’re so revved up from International Women Day, it seems a bit twee to identify so strongly as a mother these days, we’re nearly afraid to admit any sense of achievement from having children, these days it’s all about looking inwards, reflection, finding satisfaction from within, it’s not really pc to confess to gaining pleasure from raising kids, you do you, and all of that.
I thought it was over, the tsunami of thought-provoking days, survived for another years, and then the worst happened. International Happiness Day. For the love and honour of God, how are we meant to get any peace of mind with the calendar literally beating us up every morning with a new initiative facing us down every morning, as we’re struggling to get creative with the lunchboxes.
International Day of Happiness, to spread happiness, share happiness and feel happiness, get off social media is my number one advice, and we’d be a whole lot happier then.
Far from thinking I deserved special treatment just cos I’m Irish n’all, long before the time came that my 3-year-old daughters passport was due to expire, I applied for her new one because I knew that the passport office would likely to be flat our issuing passport to folks that fancied an additional travel pass to complement their British one, because that’s how Ireland works, PC to the detriment. to have a choice should their future travel plans etc run smoother by utilising either or possibly both.
I will point out that despite being born in Qatar, she is not entitled to a Qatari passport. I will also point out that an Irish passport is the only passport she is entitled to. Thus, our only means of escape, sorry, travel out of Qatar is to have a valid Irish passport. I didn’t stress this point on my passport application because a. I assumed that the straight renewal of a full-Irish would trump the issue of a first-time application whereby eligibility and entitlement would have to be established. B. there was no space on the form.
A stock of Irish passport forms in my bottom drawer here in Qatar I proceeded to fill one out and prepared to send it by courier, until I realised, yes, it was possible to make the renewal application online. Easy peasy or so I thought. Getting an Irish passport photograph in Qatar is not necessarily an clear cut task. Sure, passport photographs are big business here in Qatar given that 90% of the population are expats, but photo shops tend to specialise in Bangladesh, Indian and Sri Lankan requirements, and have little knowledge of the Irish passport requirements, being a white background, neutral gaze and shoulders but not elbows in the photograph. I shared these requirements with the photographer, bribed my daughter to stand still with neutral stare and was happy that we had met the requirements. When the four small squares were handed to me, my daughters fair curls were nowhere to be seen, instead the photographer had coloured her hair a very dark brown and styled it into something similar to a combover. ‘better blacker’ he said, ‘her hair very light colour’. Finally, I convinced him that the point of the passport photograph was that it be a true representation of the passport holder and that perhaps blacker was better but we’d have to stick with the fair colour for this one.
Reluctant but resigned he gave me the image, with the caveat, ‘but too much white’. I uploaded same to the online passport application and waited for the magic. The magic didn’t happen. Instead it informed me that while the application was received the signatures must be posted. I thought it was an online application, I said to the screen, there was no reply.
Posting from Qatar is about as reliable as commissioning a pigeon so the next person flying, took the sheet and posted it within Ireland, this was to complete the application. But aha, the passport office had planned to ring the signatory, the headmaster. Three hours behind, a working day of 6.a.m to 2.p.m. and a working week of Sunday to Thursday would see all attempts made by the passport office to contact the school, failed. Failed also were my attempts to contact the passport office who have applied a ‘we’re not answering the phone message because we’re too busy’.
So here we are, current passport now expired last week with the result that the residents permit is also expired, to clarify it is illegal to reside in Qatar without a valid passport/resident permit. Go to the embassy! I hear your scream. There is no Irish embassy in Qatar.
Full circle, from thinking initially I’ll apply early and be happy to wait in line until it’s my turn, I’m now furious that the simple renewals aren’t dealt with first and as for the online application service which provides no online chat facility and all significant documentation has to be posted anyway, how is that online?
Thanks a bunch, for leaving us high and dry. May I amend my first statement, ‘we should expect special treatment from our own passport office because we’re Irish’.
Almost everyone that comes to Qatar has an end goal in mind. They say that they just want to try something different, they say the want to gain valuable diverse experience that will enhance their career, they say that they fancy life in the sun for a while, but the reality is, there is only reason why people come to Qatar, and its, money.
Yes, the lure of that dirty tax-free salary and in return you are willing to offer up the best years of your life, to reside in a desert. That’s the reason people come. The reason people stay is because they’ve developed a sense of entitlement that is unsustainable in Ireland and therefore, pampered themselves to the point of no return. I’m not afraid to say that I’m afraid of the day when I return. The day when I have to pour a kettle of boiling water over the windscreen of my car then sit in traffic and thereafter, hoping to find a parking spot (which I pay for) to go to work for a salary non-commensurate with my ideal lifestyle. It’s frightening but the day will come.
Everybody has their cut off, some came to pay of their short-term debts, credit card bills, credit union loans, that kind of thing. Others came to save for a deposit for a mortgage, the ambitious want to return mortgage free. Me, I just wanted to get the two bigger of the four kids up and running and started in college. With one gone since last September and one to go, I could see the light at the end of the tunnel, they had arrived.
Number 1 just returned to Ireland to study in the humanities after a three week winter vacation here in the middle east and as she walked through passport control at Doha airport I looked on at casual manner in which she was clutching her jacket, in the same manner perhaps as one would if you were hopping on a bus to a match in the next parish, not in the formal manner I would have deemed appropriate for long haul travel, via Heathrow. It bothered me after she left and I pondered, now that she’s 19 and living away is she an adult or still a child?
By sheer stroke of coincidence, I stumbled across an article only a few days later, that revealed to me a shocking discovery. People are no longer regarded as adults at 18. There is now a new stage of life in existence and it’s called, the Emerging Adult. This stage is from 18-25 and the definition is a life stage characterised by: diverse experiences, lack of long- term commitments, unstable romantic relationships and employment.
The news left me rather disgruntled on two notes: One, this scuppered my plans to high-tail it from the middle east any year soon. Seems that while our ‘emerging adults’ are finding themselves and casually cruising through world class airports, we are to pick up the tab. With number 4 only three years old, it means that I’ll be in the middle east until I’m nearly 70!
And number two, how come I was never afforded the luxury of this stage of life and is there a claim form somewhere in the welfare office that I can complete to receive backpay for my loss?. in 90’s Ireland, emerging years were self-funded. How is it possible that from the year I finished school in 1993 to exactly twenty five years later, 2018 that this new stage of life emerged and I’ve missed the privilege of indulging myself, but ironically am struck with the responsibility for providing it for my kids!
The article went on to read, ‘how to parent emerging adults’. even worse, just when you thought you were finished there’s another 7 years to go! Outrageous that this is not being brought to the attention of young mothers and ‘emerging’ mothers today, it might certainly change the course of their family planning plans!
While my friends are one by one packing their bags and heading back, with their credit cards cleared, deposit saved or mortgage-free ambitions, met. Those of us with ‘emerging adults’ are left kicking the sand!
Nearly eight years ago when my blue-eyed boy was born, I was working in the office at the school enrolling children of the age of the 3 into their first year in formal school. Aghast at the sight of the dummy and blanky and nappy being swiped from the child and they being stuck in a uniform and saddled with a school bag of tracing sheets, I revelled in the sure-fire knowledge that my baby to be would never that boy, he would safely back in Ireland, starting school around 5 and a half, not a minute too early.
Eight years later, he’s in year 3, having completed nursery, reception and years 1 and 2. It was a compulsory start by the state of the Qatar and a reluctant one by me, who placed more value on counting clothes pegs in the morning with mammy, than being reprimanded for colouring outside the lines. I sucked it up, thinking to myself, never again…. but now I’m smack bang in the middle of the enrolment process with my baby girl, who just turned 3.
First thing to realise is that school places in Doha are like hen’s teeth. If it weren’t for the notion of one school being better than another, the places themselves might feel a little more available. Within top 5 schools there are a glut of applications and getting your prince or princess into one of these academies is paramount in the eyes of the competitive expat. Private English Schools, that’s the market and every ambitious Indian, Egyptian, Filipino is on the bandwagon, shunning their own schools for the best of British, making the British school places a hot commodity, increasing the demand and raising the standard and of course, the price. So, this time of year in Doha, all eyes are on the waiting lists and who’s likely to get enrolled and who isn’t. Having jumped through the application stage before with my son, sibling applications were open for my little girl. Generally considered a back-door entrance, bypassing the red tape of a ‘cold application’ I rocked up to the school to fill out the form and enrol her for September.
But my thinking of an enrolment process was a presumption. It may be such if we were back in Drinagh, Dunmanway or Donoghmore, but here in Doha, there were a few steps to follow first.
Step 1, fill out the sibling application form, making sure to provide a passport photo with a blue background and the child’s non-smiling but not grimacing face perfectly positioned in the frame. Also, the Qatar ID number, full history of vaccinations and copy of original passport. Oh, and Eu.60 please.
Step 2, get a call for an assessment of the child’s ability to hold a pencil, recognise shapes, numbers and letters, recognise their own name, display fine and gross motor skills and if possible, show a keen interest in the arts, Eu.145, please.
Step 3, option 1: Get refused admission after either step 1 or step 2.
Step 3, option 2: Receive a place on the waiting list and advice on applying to other schools.
Step 3, option 3: The grand prize; Receive an offer of a place and an associated bill of c. Eu.10,000, Hurray.
Walking into the assessment, I won’t lie, I could see the value of not winning first prize, I was willing to consider the benefits of a providing my child with a Sri Lankan education for a 10th of the cost of a British one. I had also resolved, when looking at my little girl who en-route to the assessment had decorated herself with shimmer and shine stickers and helped herself to a faceful of my lipstick, that not receiving first prize might be a very real option.
Alongside, two other girls, Menna and Aisha, Emer was led to the assessment room. Menna and Aisha had tight pigtails and held pencil cases, Emer had a haze of lipstick from being rubbed off with a dry tissue…. and no pencil case.
The assessment room door closed and the results were not disclosed. And so begins the waiting game, are we in, are we not, and are we better off counting clothes pegs out the back until five and a half anyway!
Every year brings change, some changes are barely noticeable, a sight shift of sands that only the very canny can detect, and some changes are Shut the Front Door. This week in Qatar, we got the Shut the Front Door kind.
Alcohol prices have been increased by a shocking 100% on Tuesday. Not known to do things by halves, Qatar have doubled the price of alcohol and other luxury items under a new ‘Sin Tax’. For fear that carrying a little extra holiday weight and feeling the effects of Christmas on the pocket wasn’t enough of a New Years downer, the news of the alcohol price increase has shocked the gin swilling, vodka drinking, wine supping, whiskey lovin’, beer slurping western expats of Qatar.
The Sin Tax, ascended on Qatar with only a few hours notices and left expats no time to stock on the items on the sin tax list. All the usual culprits featured fizzy drinks, cigarettes, alcohol and they doubled the price of pork too, just to give a little dig in the ribs to the non-Muslims.
Prices of booze in Qatar were already double what they are in Ireland and probably three times that of the UK, but these new prices see a bottle of Baileys currently costing Eu. 120, a slab of Heineken, Eu. 98, a 70cl Bottle of Hennessy VS will set you back Eu. 145 and an additional 75 Euro if you want to add the OP onto that. As for mother’s ruin, a bottle of Bombay Sapphire will cost you Eu.82 and if you want to down a glass of red at wine o’clock a bottle of Jacobs Creek will be Eu. 34, thank you very much. These prices are from the off-licence, if you have been lucky enough to have a licence in the first place. The prices in a hotel, are reportedly Eu.17 for a bottle of beer but I wouldn’t know, because my budget doesn’t stretch to leaving the price of a trolley of groceries behind a bar for a few glasses of anything.
Both the hike the speed at which it was implemented has left the expat community reeling, so much so that nobody has had time to appreciate the announcement of a 30% reduction in petrol and diesel prices, effective immediately. Before the hike, most people were making sounds about Dry January, however it seems that no beer for a year might be the only option, but now that it’s so unattainable, we never wanted it more!
Only days into this new regime, it’s impossible to know now what the full effect will be. Some say that the hotel industry or some portion of it, will go down the tubes. Still other rumours are that yeast sales will rise, and thirsty eager expats will sacrifice the family bathroom for a home brew facility. More are wondering how it is possible to host a World Cup when a beer in a bar costs Eu.17. Who knows, one thing for sure is when the Qatari Government applied this massive tax, they had no idea just how we westerners really feel about our alcohol.
Unlike a ‘normal’ country where a situation as this would hit the media and we’d get to read, listen to and suffer a barrage a reports from every angle, here in Qatar there is no discussion and the news headline reads, ‘Sin Tax for a Healthier Qatar’, end of. No discussion and no public comment. Every other country has carried the news though, but I fear that if it weren’t for the fact that Qatar are hosting the World Cup in 2022, it would likely not have made headlines anywhere!
Despite this disaster, the days tick by and life goes on as normal and it’s clear that we represent only a tiny sliver of society in Qatar and the majority are unaffected by alcohol price and while westerners quiver in the wake of the news, our Arab counterparts have a look of ‘Am I bothered?’ as they flick their beads and sip an espresso.
Is this the straw to break the camel’s back? Land locked, air restricted, contractually bound and now facing forced sobriety, the land where now only the filthy rich can get rotten drunk.
Here in Qatar we celebrated Qatar National Day on the 18th December. Businesses and schools closed in honour and there are events planned for a four-day period around the celebrations. Compounds, walled-in housing estates behind gates and a guard, are decorated by the property management companies. Qataris spray paint their cars in the maroon and white of Qatar and the scene along the Corniche is like the prom in Galway after winning an All -Ireland. If everyone in Galway drove a white 4×4, wore full Qatari national dress and celebrated without abandon or drink!
The motto of Qatar National day this year is ‘as long as it was proven by our deeds, Qatar will remain free’ and fair play the blockade has brought one great incentive for the nation of Qatar to revel in their nationalism and boy do they know how to celebrate. Images of the Emir, our leader, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, are plastered onto cars, murals and t-shirts and the whole of Qatar celebrated their identity and exulted in their national pride by attending air-shows, fireworks displays and formal marches, picnics in the park all of which were enveloped with a good dollop or joie de vivre, but there is one thing missing, alcohol.
See here is the thing, we understand talk of nationalism and celebration but to actually do it sober, without the assistance of alcohol is alien to us.
The Paddy’s Day motto for every year in my memory was, ‘we are where we are, have a drink, suck it up’. Feet frozen to the spot, rigid with negativity, self-deprecation and the cold, we cheered on the floats in the parade, a hospital bed on a back of a Hiace, a transit van with a few set dancers on the back, one of which to be a burly man dressed as a woman, the point of which no-body really ever understood but we laughed away anyway, and said ‘cheers’ to Ireland and Irishness, and agreed that apart from the boys band marching and playing whistles and the GAA representation, the rest was a mess. The only thing worse would have been if we were sober, and we certainly were not because that’s what Paddy’s Day was all about. A piss up, a no holes barred session and why wouldn’t it be, because that’s our thing.
Here in Qatar, watching sober celebrations of a national day, makes one wonder, why do we need drink to celebrate, when it can clearly be done without?
Is alcohol so embedded in our psyche and culture that the association between alcohol and celebration, occasion, event or even just Friday, now innate? We only have to look at Christmas and think back a few years, when the bottle Blue Nun or Black Tower, if you were posh, graced the Christmas table like a mystical guest, warm and unfamiliar the white wine rested in the Texaco stamp wine glasses creating an air of mystic, a sense of occasion around Christmas.
Fast forward a few years and Christmas morning wouldn’t be right for many without a bottle of champers and now this year, perhaps late to the party but I only found this out last week, there’s an advent calendar of drink, a little snifter for each day of December, beautifully packaged, and perfectly packaged to include the 21days it takes to break or make a habit, such as a-drink-a-day.
We truly are a marketeer’s dream. Like drowning kittens in a barrel, the alcohol industry marketeers are revving up the associations, a log fire & a glass of red, relax with a Baileys, have fun with Prosecco, craft beers, mulled wines flavoured vodka and fancy gins that boast flavours like rhubarb and elderberry, selling it as an almost holistic experience. Gone are the days when you’d have to justify a midday drink, guilt over a shoddy white at lunch or a flat gin at home. Now, just add fizz to the wine and a twist of cucumber to the gin and hey presto, justification and national acceptance of alcohol consumption received. Ingenious.
It’s the way of the world that people everywhere view things differently. A few scraps of information change the colour of the situation drastically, for some people. This week at home a lace thong was proposed as being one of these scraps of information that cause the paradigm shift.
I was curious to explore how this rationale could work in my favour and wondered whether the suggestion was, that more encompassing underwear would discourage rape or that bigger knickers would lead to a sympathetic hearing in court. Presuming that rapists don’t flinch at the sight of a big pair of knickers and carry their intentions out regardless, I then have to presume that wearing a fuller pants will, if needs be, be viewed on more favourably should you find yourself before a jury in a court in Ireland. I wish I had known this when I stood in court in Cork, 15 years ago, holding an expired tax disc and wearing a smile up until I got a fine of 150 euro for not having tax on the car. I would plea. ‘Your honour, look at my knickers, skin coloured, full seat, 11.50 in Marks and Spencer, can’t you see I’m not the type of person to let the tax expire, on purpose’. The response, based on recent findings would be, ‘ok, I can see the type of responsible person you are by your knickers, fine lifted’. Meanwhile the guy behind me that wears a brown mack would receive a suspended sentence for parking outside a school, most likely a child molester, given the coat.
It’s certainly an area that should be explored further, what kind of jocks will get you off with a charge of tax evasion and money laundering using an off-shore account. I think a stable Dunnes pair of Y- fronts could be the answer for the one and I only hope that if you caught with a nodge of Moroccan soap that you’re wearing 2 euro boxers from Penney’s and be charged with possession because if you’re wearing a tight fitting pair of Calvin Klein’s you’re likely under these new definitive assumptions be charged as a high-end dealer.
I had a similar situation myself only this week, I’m in the park, early morning, with my three-year-old, no brown mack but I did roll up my sleeves a little to reveal my shoulders, I’m sitting on the end of the see-saw, the sun is a glorious 31c. The park is quiet, other than me there is one man there with his children, Sudanese, judging by the garb, white dress, tight white cap. As the children play, I acknowledge their father and I smile. Twenty minutes later, I’m leaving the park and I hear the thud of footsteps behind me, ‘ma’am you come here again, you are alone’, my heart pounded in my chest, stuck firmly between feeling threatened by him and feeling restricted by current environment to have a right hop of him by telling him to F off and ask him who does he think he is. Losing your temper and appearing aggressive is a crime punishable by deportation in Qatar. I scuttle off, raging at his approach and furthermore not having a platform to have my say.
In a different world, I would report this man for harassment, the jury would find him guilty and send him off with a warning about hassling women in the park and all would be well. But in Qatar, Muslim, light years behind where I thought Ireland was, a different picture would be painted, ‘a woman, inappropriately dressed, exposing haram body parts, bobbing up and down on a see saw and smiling at a man in the park’. It would read different to what it was.
Up until recently I considered Ireland a step ahead, but is it really any different, really? Yes, we’re all PC in public but behind the closed doors of a courtroom seems the inferences are less ideal. Not only does it suggest the idea that what women wear is crucial to establishing a motive, a judgement and a sentence? The fact that such surely unethical statements are entertained within a formal legal arena is the real fail.