Finding a Space
Here I was, this young newly-married housewife living in a foreign country, completely uncertain of what to expect and attempting to create a life from an idea. Regardless of the groups I joined or the classes I attended, it was hard for me to forge a real connection with others. I was not working at the time, and that meant that I needed to put in a large amount of effort to get out and meet people.
Between this cultural group and that women’s association, this book club and that sailing academy, it was clear to me that Doha had no shortage of interest-based groups. It still doesn’t. And with a host of community groups to choose from, I felt overwhelmed.
Doha is filled with people who are here for either a couple of months or a couple of years. Others have often said: “We’re going back home some day, we’re not here for too long” or “Our contract is only for two years”. This temporariness blankets this city in a way that made deep relationships hard to cultivate, and I remained uncertain of my own sense of rootedness in all this flux.
Being the social misfit didn’t help either. In socialising with working women, I was ‘just’ a housewife. Around other housewives, I was much too young to be considered on an equal footing. Around mothers, I was child-free. With the younger crowd, I was too old. Neither here nor there, I floated along. Every month the listings screamed of new groups and activities, and every month I thought I should try something exotic and maybe make some friends. But I didn’t know where to start.
So I did nothing. And I filled that big space of nothingness with endless trips to the malls. That’s what we Doha residents are supposed to do, right? At least, that’s what I thought. I spent hours between The Mall, Doha’s oldest shopping centre, and City Centre, the largest one at the time. In learning to play housewife I scrutinized the supermarket shelves sourcing different brands, comparing prices and acquainting myself with all the types of mayonnaise on offer. Through trial and error my husband and I stocked our first pantry and readied ourselves for this big-living-abroad-married-life-story.
In constantly converting to the South African rand, I found things were more expensive than I was used to – particularly the fresh produce. For the price I would pay for a kilo of those lush USA peaches, my family in South Africa could afford a boxful of local organic ones. Instead of peaches, we bought big fat bunches of green bananas. While green in the store, they ripen very fast. A clear sign of a Doha newcomer is a trolley with too many green bananas.
Fast-track to a couple of years later, and I now know how many bananas to buy for my husband and me. I also know that I’m not the only misfit in town, and my friends – they are the best misfits I know. Beneath Qatar’s luxurious veneer and its large social vacuum, there is more. There are causes and charities; there are support groups and spiritual circles. There are groups of people creating spaces of realness and selflessness. There are spaces of love and healing.
It’s taken me a long time to find these spaces and create my own blend that fits me. And that nothingness I saw reflected on the glass panels of the Corniche skyline – it’s filling up.