The landscape has changed just a little.
I dropped the little travellers at school and met a girlfriend at a new mall for coffee. I was back to following familiar directions, no numbers or street names.
“Drive through what used to be decoration roundabout, then past the old Aramex building, and take the first slip road on your right”.
When I parked out the front I scolded myself on my excitement over yet another new mall. Another venue to shop at the same grocery store, while buying coffee from the same franchise and ignoring the same clothing labels. Same shit, different shovel.
“It’s cold in here”
“Welcome back” she said slyly.
We both grinned.
G and I bought a new car before I left Doha. It’s not so much a car, more of a mobile living room. One of those monstrous people movers that sexy mothers of four get to drive. I was excited about the button that makes the back hatch lift open on its own, no I mean it, I was really excited.
I spent twenty minutes looking for the keys yesterday morning before the children reminded me that the car didn’t have a key. I then sat in the front seat staring blankly at the steering wheel, until I was forced to ask my nine year old “how do I turn it on?” There was eye rolling, “Seriously Mum?” they all giggled as he pointed to a switch.
“Don’t panic kids, It’s just a brief period of readjustment, now, left or right to get to school?” I was joking. And then I took the wrong turn.
I looked at my wardrobe and tried to remember which bits went with what. It was so much easier when it was throwing a shirt over a pair of bathers, and hiding my unwashed hair with a straw hat. I flicked past each hanger, the truth was, I didn’t want to wear any of it. I looked in the mirror at my rapidly fading tan and said “it’s not real life back there, that’s holiday life”.
There have been times when returning to our expat life has led me to lock myself away for a couple of days before venturing out to face the day to day. In the early years I would return to Jakarta, KL or Libya, and lay low in a self imposed cultural hyperbaric chamber until I was ready to face reality. My misery didn’t need company, it needed to settle, take some deep breaths and re-adjust its levels.
My drives are no longer filled with hills littered with grapevines and coastal views. My mother can’t choose which day to come to visit based on the heat and when she’ll water the lawn, and the idea of popping down to the markets for some of those gourmet sausages seems hysterical.
I now sit at traffic lights looking at goats in the back of cars, while pretending I can’t see the man driving next to me who is both smoking a cigarette, texting, and eating a bag of dates. Who said men can’t multi-task? This morning I rushed to the supermarket to buy one of the six remaining trays of chicken in what has now become the great chicken shortage in Doha. I giggled when friends told me their parents brought them vacuum packed chicken from the UK for Christmas, but I’m now wondering how I could have been so careless in my packing. Women speak about chicken in hushed tones, as if it’s a black market item.
“Some-one said the chicken arrives at 2pm”.
“I hear they’re bringing them in from Bulgaria”
Why did the chicken cross the road? To get on a boat to Doha.
It’s just a brief period of readjustment.