June, in Doha, has a way of focusing everything in high resolution. Whereas the rest of the year you can almost forget that you live anywhere unusual, June doesn’t let you forget. The heat alone will jolt you into the crystal clear here and now. Walking out of an air conditioned building and feeling the almost 50C air blow your hair back and fog your glasses brings you abruptly here, face to face with the fact that you do indeed live in an Arabian desert. I still love it. I still marvel at the dry heat. It still makes me smile.
There are other things that I still love that make me feel like an odd man out. For example, the Call To Prayer that bellows from sometimes broken speakers, sometimes over the speakers at the mall and for those who live close to a mosque, always too early in the morning, is still a beautiful, haunting sound of deep longing for ritual and connection to the Divine to me. Not so much to others haha.
Airplanes coming and going over the city and over our apartment are a reminder of the personnel that is constantly transported in and out of this country. It’s a steady flux of hellos and good-byes, of people facing a new culture, struggling to make sense of it, trying to make peace with it and leaving it behind. The ubiquitous Home Center and Ikea trucks are the on-the-ground reminder of new settlers.
No one stays here. Ok, Qataris stay here. The 250,000 Qataris that call this home, stay here. The rest of the 1.5 million of us are transient. I’ve never worked anywhere before where regular threads of conversation were, “Are you staying another year?” and “How long have you been here?” If you’ve been here for 10 years you are looked at and revered as a trailblazer, a pioneer, almost a unicorn. As we finish our 3rd year we find ourselves among the ‘long term’ people at the school with only a handful who have been there longer.
Last year, on the plane back to Doha after a lovely summer, I said to Dave, “aren’t you excited to meet the new people coming to the school?” He looked at me like I’d just told him that our plane wasn’t in the air but was actually sliding across ice and going to the North Pole. It was a mixture of “you’re such an alien and after all these years I still don’t understand you” and “unless you’re kidding right now.” It’s not that he doesn’t enjoy new people, eventually, but this thought would have never occured to him. Never.
Sadly, for me, and my kind, the alien kind, this is ‘good-bye’ time of year. I am acutely aware, as each day of school passes by in the celebratory count down, that there are people I will be saying farewell to, and who I will quite possibly never see again. Almost for certain I will not see them on a daily basis. My heart is in such a mixed state. Like no other year (here) I am so ready for this year to be over and as I say things like “Yipee! One week to go!”, it’s followed quickly by a sinking feeling that there are souls I’ve grown to love who will be moving on to other adventures. Not the least of which….is Daughter #3, the representative of the final round of parenting. Of course this is mostly blocked. Which means that there will likely be tears all the way home because I’m totally NOT preparing myself for this pivotal moment.
It’s been an adventure parenting a teenager in a foreign country, a Muslim country, with so many unknowns, so many missed cues and second guessing. It’s been a pleasure, on the other hand, travelling with her, watching her grow, seeing her reactions and responses to the culture around her. And of course it will be a beautiful thing to watch her spread her wings and head out into the world. Gulp. Of course it will. What? You don’t believe me? You don’t believe this is how I’m feeling? (Please, join me for a cup of happy delusion).
Farewell friends. It has been an absolute honour getting to know you. With each encounter of another spirit in this world I am changed. You never meet someone, especially if you love them, and walk away unchanged. I am changed for the better for having known you. Even if saying goodbye is painful, it is all worth it.
Peace to all.