At some point last year, a new neighbour moved into our compound. Right next door to me. She knocked on my door the night she moved in, looking a bit frazzled. ‘Can I use your microwave to heat up this baby food?’ she asked, speaking fast and urgently. ‘Oh, by the way hi, I am from Australia, we’ve just moved to this compound! Bye!’
Before I could even tell whether I liked her or not, she disappeared. And that what is has been like with L, for a long time. She was always there, and I knew that, should I suddenly need an onion, or a quick advice how to find something in Doha (she has been living in Qatar for many more years than I have) I could always find her there, right next door.
I did not see a lot of her, and I never pushed for a friendship, assuming- maybe reasonably, maybe not- that having lived in Doha for so long, she already had a set of friends.
But with time, slowly, I was getting to see more of her. And I was beginning to like what I saw.
So, when she asked me a few days ago, whether I would like to talk about possibly sharing a new maid she was about to hire, I said ‘oh, pop round for a coffee and we shall talk!’ I was just coming out of the shower when I got a text message. ‘Sorry, can’t come!’, she said. ‘Things have just taken a turn, will explain later!’
I could not think of what might have happened. Was someone sick? Did someone die? Did someone have a car crush? All sorts of thoughts came rushing into my head. Finally, a text came, clarifying everything straight away. ‘My husband just lost his job’, she said. ‘We are now going home in less than 4 weeks.’
What? How? Why?
And I should not have been so surprised. I heard about people losing their jobs in Doha in this sudden, unexpected manner. No explanations given, no hints that it might be coming…Nothing. No longer required. Thanks very much for the last seven years. Bye.
‘Come on!’ my mother in law said, when I complained about the lack of stability here. ‘It is not any better in the UK these days, either! Nowhere is safe, nowhere is stable right now’.
Well yes, that is true. However, should your husband lose a job in the UK, you don’t have to uproot in the matter of weeks and leave the country in a rush. You don’t have to pull your child out of school, sell your car, your toys and your furniture, leave your new friends and maybe even your own job…leave everything and run. Run away, as if you did something illegal. You just don’t do that in the normal life.
And I realized- this is the kind of stuff that never even crossed my mind when we made a decision to try this expat life. It is not something you learn from travel books or some I-heart-the- country websites, advertising the joys of life in a hot climate with a pool and maids. This is the reality, and a mean one, too.
Tomorrow someone else will be asked to leave. Just like this, out of the blue. It might be our close friends. Or it might be someone we wish we were closer friends with. Or…it might be us. And it is not necessarily a bad thing, but something that happens when we least expect it, not on our terms or in accordance with our plans. And we just have to live our lives in this suspended, who-knows-where-we-will-be-tomorrow? Kind of mode.
And when a friend wrote to me the other day, asking if they could visit us sometime between Christmas and New Year, I did not know how to explain to her that I could not plan my life this far in advance anymore.
I said…We should be here. Inshallah, as they say in Qatar. But what I meant to say was…Who the….knows? Definitely not us.