This month is my Qatarversary – the first year of living in Doha, Qatar, in the Middle East, after moving from South Africa in February 2022, to join the H who is working here.

If I was to leave the Gulf tomorrow, I would be forever grateful for the experience, the knowledge gained and the people of all nations that I have met. My life has been deeply enriched.

But since I’m not going anywhere just yet, I thought it might be useful to jot down some of the learnings and perspectives gained.

I’d like to think that, regardless of time, age, gender or place, these are helpful, universal reflections.  Whether you are starting a new job, moving into a new neighbourhood, or changing countries, the personal discoveries might be similar in many respects.

Call them lessons learnt, home truths or whatever you like.

I call them my “ten takeouts”.

The city centre in Doha with its shiny new skyscrapers and wide open, clean streets is a far cry from Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth) in the Eastern Cape, South Africa.

Ten takeouts

1. Culture shock

There’s nothing like a culture shock – something that is so different to what you know, understand, and accept as the norm – to grow your understanding and appreciation of another way of life (and the life you had).

Starting life in this wealthy land of sand, turned our lives on their heads as we went from:

  • A fledgling democracy with all its challenges and occasional triumphs to an independent sovereign Arab state that is a constitutional monarchy headed by the Emir
  • A largely Christian country to a Muslim country
  • A large comfortable home with lush surroundings to a glass rectory in the sky overlooking opulence
  • A country with 11 official languages to one that is the temporary home of at least 115 different nationalities
  • Church on a Sunday to church on a Friday in the one massive compound for the different Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox denominations

And so, the list goes on …

The shopping malls are massive and mostly opulent like the Mall of Qatar.

2. Money isn’t everything

It’s just that in a country where shopping malls are made of marble, and Bentleys, Porsches and Maybachs are commonplace, you appreciate this truth even more.

It does not buy you friendships, family, or values.

It does not buy you your environment, though the Qataris did spend $16m (R286m) on planting a million trees alone ahead of the FIFA2022 World Cup.

But, of course, money helps.

Despite being a desert, Qatar has one of the highest domestic water consumption rates in the world – 450 litres per person a day. Back home in Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth), South Africa, residents are restricted to less than 50 litres daily in the face of a crippling drought. This sad irony is not lost on me.

Qatar can supply desalinated water on mass because of its wealth from oil and gas.

Money can’t buy you everything, but in Qatar there is so much mula (money) that a massive greening campaign is underway.

3. Values

Regardless of wealth and culture, however, what you hold dear through your own value system, remains your bedrock. Or at least, it should.

Honesty, kindness, compassion, integrity, respect for one another and the like, are recognised and appreciated, regardless of cultures.      

The Qataris were quick to show their visible and financial support for the victims of the earthquake in Syria and Turkey.

4. Carpe diem

Life is short.

Since we do not know what life will bring us, it’s wise to “seize the day” – to do what we can, where we can, when we can. Coming to Qatar was an opportunity for us, but so is each day that we are granted.

Whether it’s answering a calling, exploring new-found places, or simply relishing the beauty of a sunset, the time is now to coin the football slogan.

We should embrace all opportunities.

Just do it.

If you get the opportunity to enjoy a sunset, learn a new skill or watch camels race under the scorching heat, then seize the day and do it.

5. Attitude of gratitude

I believe a half-glass-full-to-overflowing attitude makes all the challenges and learnings of being in a new environment so much easier. Even the negatives experienced as you navigate all things new, help you to better appreciate all that you left behind.

Comparisons are inevitable. But sometimes it’s best just to accept that things are different. Or, as I am often reminded, “it just is, what it is” and accept it as that.

Either way, we need to be grateful for the experience.

6. We all want to belong

Everyone wants to belong. I appreciate this now more than ever.

I still desperately miss my family, my friends and my day-to-day coming and going in Gqeberha. I miss interacting physically with my work colleagues, I miss book club, church and popping into the shops, where you’ll always meet someone that you know.

All this – the familiar – goes when you move to a new environment. And so, you start again, gradually making friends, building routines and slotting into new rhythms.

I witness the importance of belonging at our church, the Anglican Church of Epiphany in the Religious Complex, where Christians from around the globe gain comfort at a service they understand and meet others from their own countries.

Being part of a community where we feel like we fit in and belong is so important.  

(We have been blessed with a special friendship group, and a small circle of friends from church).

7. What unites us

There’s more that unites us, than divides this. A cliché, I know. But it is true.

We may have different cultures, backgrounds, and languages, but there’s always common ground.

A smile or a wave works wonders.

But so too does a chat about the weather.  I know my British blood means chats about the weather are part of my DNA, but it’s a neutral subject that generally triggers conversation wherever we find ourselves.

Less neutral, but often more effective in connecting with others, is a love of sport.

In Qatar, cricket conversations with anyone of Indian, Bangladeshi, or Pakistani descent is a sure-fire way of crossing barriers, much like soccer and rugby in South Africa.

Residents from the sub-continent love their cricket and will use whatever any open piece of ground to play.

Of course, the FIFA2022 World Cup was the perfect conduit to breaking down prejudices between the West and Arabic cultures.

The FIFA 2022 World Cup held in Qatar went a long way to breaking down stereotypes. Sport will always be a great unifier.

8. Embrace change

Wherever we find ourselves, embracing change is critical. Failure to do so, leaves us behind. As we know, the only constant is change. Our default might be towards the comfortable, but as the COVID-19 pandemic taught us, nothing is certain or always comfortable.

While part of me hankers for the before-times, the so-called “good old days”, we must be realistic and recognise, that change is the norm.

It’s better to embrace this change, than resist it. By embracing it, we learn and grow. (My word, I can actually upload a blog with links, something I would have baulked at 18 months ago!)

(PS. And, while I have resisted driving in Qatar, I will happily use the Metro Express, Metro underground or Uber to transverse the city. These were all new for me.)

Travelling on the Metro at night by myself is one of the many new things I have embraced in Qatar.

9. Age

I have also learnt that age is but a number. While you need special permission to work in Qatar if you are 60 or older, and you won’t get a teaching job if you’re over the 50, there’s nothing to stop you from living a full life.

Don’t let other people’s perceptions of your age, stop you from doing what you want to do. This works both ways, since many a wise head is placed on the shoulders of a young person.

Let’s not be ageist.

10. Perseverance

And finally, regardless of age or circumstance, I have learnt to “hang in” there. Starting life in a new land, just as with starting a new job, school, university, or anything in life, is not easy.

There were days when I wanted to jump on the next plane and crawl into the comfort of my old home. But we’re not called to be comfortable, we’re called to trundle on (“onwards and upwards”). For it is in the journey that we grow, learn, and evolve, and ultimately our lives are enriched.   

PS. One last thing about moving to Qatar is that my geography has improved. I know that Doha, Qatar, is not Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and that the Gulf is not the backwater many outside of the area perceive it to be.

Qatar map
This where Doha is, in Qatar.

I will be forever grateful for the opportunity. I may have finally moved away from the initial wide-eyed, jaw-dropping wonder of my surrounds, but I still learn new things daily. More especially about myself!

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