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.
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.