Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Privileged. Seriously, for real?

I was having a chat with my sister in law during summer break. Perhaps, I sounded a bit whiny, complaining too much, as I do, about difficulties of expat life in Doha. To which she pointed out, that I needed to appreciate just how privileged I was.

And I thought afterwards that maybe, this is what it looks like from the outside, peeping into this Facebook enhanced window of glamorous expat life. Privileged. 

Well, let me tell you about this week I have had.

It started quite well, actually. I was driving from Souq Waqif with a nice friend and my toddler, having had a pleasant lunch, to a shopping mall to find a gift for my husband's birthday. And then, just like that, everything went wrong. Husband's colleague called me out of the blue. I should have suspected something bad happened as he never really calls me. Don't worry he said, but your husband is in Hamad emergency. Of course, why would I worry. I was stuck in a horrendous traffic somewhere in the Middle East, with my husband badly unwell somewhere in a local emergency hospital, and there is at least three hours of driving between us. I could, of course, panic. Fortunately, having children to take care of pulls you back together pretty quick. I had to get my older child from school, I had to take them all home, and only then could I go see what was wrong with Husband.

I drove to school, I sat in traffic, I drove back home, I sat in more traffic. I almost hit people, people almost drove into me...Every second of driving in Doha feels like it shortens your life by months. I spent the whole day driving, while worrying about what might happen.

Fortunately, Husband got home the next day. However, the suspicious symptoms needed more tests. More than the local hospital suggested. Husband was impressed with Hamad team. 'You can't really fault them', he said. Fine, I thought. But. I would still like a second opinion. Now, in our compound, there is a friend, who knows a good specialist in a big private hospital. A doctor with a ten-week waiting list, who, as a favour to my compound friend, agreed to see Husband the next morning. Of course, in our privileged expat life, we have a health insurance that covers cases like this. But of course, when I looked at the insurance card, it stated- very clearly- that the hospital network excluded this particular private hospital the good specialist works at. We, therefore, had to pay for the expensive tests ourselves, with the hope that we could, one day, claim back. That situation, let me assure you, does not feel particularly privileged. But, never mind that.

Having a sick husband means doing everything by yourself. Including drop offs in the mornings, which are normally done by Husband. Getting up at 5am and leaving the house at 6am with a 7 year old and a toddler, who, just to add to the fun, developed a nasty tummy bug and had to be changed three times before getting in the car, was a challenge.

Thinking of everything stressful going on made me want my mother to visit sooner rather than later.

Hmm, I thought. Where is this visa we have applied for weeks ago? I have chased up the guy who helps me with the paperwork and visa stuff. Oh, he said. The immigration sent the request back asking for your birth certificate to be attested by either an Azeri Embassy in Qatar, or the Qatar embassy in Azerbaijan.

This is when I thought to myself, paraphrasing a page i often read on Facebook. Seriously, for real?

Oh, yes. But she has visited three times before without this particular piece of paperwork? Yes, but the rules now changed. OK, I thought. OK. I can do this. I phoned the Azeri embassy where a pleasant young man assured me he could help. Just come over, he said.

I tried.

The Google Maps on my iPhone knew the embassy was somewhere right there, in the midst of all the other west bay embassies. But I could not find it. I drove around. I called people who knew where it was. I spent ONE HOUR AND FIFTEEN MINUTES trying to find it. I could not find it. There was no obvious address that Goggle maps would recognise. There was no map on their website, no directions. By 12:45pm I realised that I had to give up, otherwise I could never make it back in time to pick up my child from school. Which, theoretically, is less than five minute drive from the mysterious Bermuda triangle that is the embassy zone in Doha. However, with the crazy traffic, it would take five times as long.

Determined to find the Azeri embassy or have a heart attack, I picked up the child from school, and drove back now aiming from the completely opposite direction- the only way the embassy guy could explain to me. Finally, I saw the familiar flag. Never in my life was I more pleased to see it.

The guys were kind and friendly. They looked at my gray face and offered me to sit down in a cool waiting room. Finally, yet another stamp was placed on my frayed birth certificate. I felt somewhat relieved but not for long. 'Here, the embassy guy said, handing out a small piece of paper to me with the Azerbaijan Embassy account number printer on it. 'Go to this bank tonight and pay this, please". Then, when you can- No rush!- please bring the receipt back here.'

Seriously? For real?

Where am I, I thought, as I sat in the endless traffic on my way back. Where am I that I have to physically go to a bank to pay 50 bucks for an unnecessary stamp, and then drive back to the lost-on- the-map embassy zone to give back a receipt? What was I again? Oh yes. Privileged.

I then drove another hour to meet the guy with paperwork. 'Oh, nothing will really get done now until after Eid', he casually mentioned as I stood there clutching my birth certificate. 'And they might ask for another attestation, actually. From the ministry of International Affairs....'

I just want my mother to come.  I don't feel privileged. I feel absolutely and utterly exhausted. And, just to complete all of the above, I received a yet another hatred message from a patriotic Azeri girl telling me how mean I am to the whole nation.


  1. Fatma, the expat of 13 years9 October 2013 at 20:11

    I am just curious how long you have been married, and how much of your marriage years you have been helped by your mother. I think it is one flaw most of modern azeri women have - to rely most of their family responsibilities on their mothers. God bless our Mothers! But we should learn to be more independent. Sorry, no offense.

    1. Hi,
      Good point. I suspect yes, we do get help from our mothers more than a lot of western women. Saying that, I know women here who can't cope a day without their maids, which is not quite the same, but what I am saying is...Everyone is different, every culture has its own flaws. And, I would like to think, that when my babies are older and need my help ( moral or physical) I would also be there for them, like my mum is there for me when I need her.

  2. I just want to ask: how is your husband doing right now? I hope he feels better.

    1. Thanks, Gabby. He is better, but we still need to get the results back from some tests. Was very worrying.

  3. I suppose you are not privileged enough not to be brushed-off by bureaucrats, but you are privileged nonetheless. Need proof? Imagine running all these errands you describe using public transportation.

    1. Yes, you can always think that way. I could still be in Baku. i could be childless...i could be always worse off...I could be dying...But we, humans, still get pissed off when having a shitty week. It gets you eventually. The stress.

    2. Many will say being childless is a "privilege" ^^

  4. Oh that sounds like it's a story from some 19th century - I mean the Azeri embassy could have a dedicated website where you could have paid the bill with your plastic card, right? Why aren't they improving the bureaucracy - it became so easier today with all these online services etc.

  5. Isn't it just ridiculous? Even a Qatari lady in the bank asked me why would they not accept an online payment. But nope. They needed an A4 receipt of the cash payment. I still need to drive back at some point to deliver the receipt back to the embassy.

  6. Hi. I agree with you. You had a tough week. Hands down. At the same token, privileged people have bad days too:) I think what your sister in law was trying to say " see the bright side of things" Or look at the glass as half full vs half empty. She just used the wrong term:). I am mother of 4 boys. My days are crazy between running errands, cleaning the house, getting them to school while I have 3 and 1 year old tagging along. Sometimes I think I am going to go crazy. I don't have a maid. I do also get a help from my mom a lot. She helps me a lot with my 3 year old. So appreciative of that. However, with all the craziness around me, I still remind me how lucky I am , 1st for having beautiful and healthy children, for being stay home mom, for having my mom close by when I need her, for my siblings , for my dad, for having a bread on table, cloth on my children, health insurance, great country I am living in ( USA) , for friends I have.
    Yes, I consider myself privileged compared to so many people.