From new friends to no internet, Khadijah Stott-Andrew shares her first experiences in Qatar.
My first few weeks in Qatar sped by. I threw myself into my surroundings; I was exploring the area with my husband and focusing on furnishing the house to my liking. I didn’t want to dwell on the amount of time it would take to see my family again. Truth be told, the week leading up to our departure was such a whirlwind of chaos that it was a relief to finally arrive in a quite, spacious house and just breathe. We had a few days before my husband started back at work, so we enjoyed some quality family time together for the first time in two months. It truly was a sakina (small blessing)from Allah SWT.
Feeling safe and finding friends
However, being in the house without my husband was where things got a tad lonely. Now, unlike a lot of expats travelling to Qatar, we aren’t residing in the capital. We are about 40 minutes from there in a dusty desert-land area. Needless to say, the silence is beautiful and the views are breathtaking, but the local activities and human contact can be limited. I remember my first evening alone in the house (except for my children who were sound asleep). My paranoia skyrocketed. I was used to having my sister-in-law a couple floors above me in our building of apartments, my mother and father in law living two2 minutes away and my own family only half an hour’s drive. What would I do if someone broke in? I didn’t know anybody, didn’t have a clue how emergency response worked in my new environment, and I felt extremely vulnerable. That first night, my husband was on an errand in the capital, picking up some baby items for my youngest, and he found my anxiety incredibly funny. In contrast, I now feel extremely safe, safer than I ever did in the UK. With friendly neighbours and a surprisingly low crime rate, I feel comfortable and protected.
As the week wore on, my new mobile number got passed around to the wives in the neighbouring houses, and I made a point of getting to know as many people as I could. Having a beautifully varied circle of sisters in the UK, I was determined not to become a recluse in my new home! You see, the support network is where the blessing lies in a move such as this. All these women are in the same boat as me – we moved here for a better life, we don’t know how long we’re staying, we miss our families, are incredibly homesick, but still extremely grateful to have this opportunity. It was also extremely helpful to speak to these women and gain as much advice as possible about how to make my life here easier. It wasn’t long before we arranged a weekly study circle and got together as regularly as we could!
However, the friends that truly surprised and amazed me have been my non-Muslim friends. I was surprised to find that a decent amount of families in my neighbourhood were non-Muslim. They had moved out here for better opportunities, if not for religious reasons. Throughout my life, my main circle of companions had always been Muslim – the way I saw it, we had more in common, strove towards a similar lifestyle and experienced similar trials. But my non-Muslim friends have greeted me with kindness, welcoming attitudes and, most importantly, tolerance. Hostility and aggression from non-Muslims tends to be a harsh reality for most Muslims in this growing climate of Islamophobia, and it is one of the reasons we moved here. However, I have made some truly beautiful friendships that I will treasure even after I leave.
Although, it wasn’t all rainbows and parties. Settling into a new home took a lot of work. But the hardest trial we were faced with was a severe lack of internet! You truly take it for granted when it comes so easily. Although my husband ordered a technician more than two weeks before I arrived, there was still no WiFi. We called the internet company (the only one available, so we couldn’t exactly threaten to take our business elsewhere!) several times to chase it up and were usually met with the same response, “It is coming, Sir/Madam. Just be patient.”
The weeks drifted by and I became more and more anxious; I couldn’t video chat with my family, I missed my mum terribly, I couldn’t check my emails, and my freelance work was piling stressfully high. My beautiful SISTERS team remained admirably patient as I struggled to complete my work. In a bid of desperation I called upon my new friends and sat in their living rooms with my laptop, flying through as many internet-related tasks as I could. I’m not going to lie, I felt very cheeky. I didn’t know these sisters well, yet I was setting up shop in their front rooms, too busy to chat! When I felt too embarrassed to call on my neighbours anymore, my husband and I got creative. There were times I ended up huddled in a corner of the golf club, hastily answering emails – not as glamourous as it sounds, believe me!
I tried different approaches to plead with the company to hurry things along. It had been 8 weeks – 6 weeks longer than they had initially promised. Speaking to managers and supervisors didn’t help as it never seemed to be anyone’s responsibility and I was always handed over to someone else – an all-too-common occurrence in many businesses over here! I tried the desperate approach by telling them how difficult I was finding it without speaking to my family. Then, I got annoyed. Nothing was working and it was getting ridiculous. Thankfully, I stumbled on an internet-regulation company. Well, just dropping their name on the phone soon had them all in a hurry and a technician was booked to arrive in the next few days. By this point I was on first name basis with a few members of the staff. I’d made a complete nuisance of myself by calling them once, sometimes 3 times a day, never giving them a chance to blow me off, because they knew I would always call back!
Eventually, the technician arrived. Late, I might add. When I rang to find out where he was, I was told, “Don’t worry, Madam, he is on his way and I have told him how you talk.” After a good chuckle imagining what must have been said about me, I was glad to finally be taken seriously!
The wisdom behind the challenge
Now, as stressful as this series of events was, it was a blessing in disguise. When the internet finally arrived, I appreciated it so immensely, that my life became wonderfully easy. Talking to my mum became a luxury I truly embraced with gratitude – something I may not have felt had the internet been so readily available when I arrived.
Also, it is worth mentioning that TV and Internet was a combined package. Now, whilst I never thought of myself as being dependent or even appreciative of TV entertainment, I felt its absence. Relaxing with a cup of tea and a film in the evenings had become a bonding tradition for me and my husband. So, without this luxury, we came up with other things to do together. We read together, we talked, and we really connected in a way we hadn’t done since our early marital days. After all, we were in this together and we only had each other.
This article was originally published in the May 2015 issue of SISTERS Magazine.