Hijrah Diaries: The New Move Shine is Quickly Lost

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Finding  more changes than she expected, Khadijah Stott-Andrew explains how she adapted to new areas of her life.

Moving to a new country will come with a catalogue of various changes. Some you may expect and prepare for, but others can catch you off guard. When this happens, your creativity and patience is truly tested as you attempt to adapt to your new circumstance. There are many differences between my life in the UK and my new life unfolding in Qatar. Here are just a few areas that have changed, most I found challenging at first, but now, nearly 2 years into my move, they have become a part of my life to either embrace or manage.

Home

You’d think once all my furniture was arranged, my nice new bedding set up and my kitchen cupboards stocked, I would be done as far as the house was concerned. WRONG. Within two days of my super clean, the dust and sand blowing in from the windows and doors was extremely noticeable. Seeing this amount of dirt so soon after a Herculean clean up was discouraging. And so, the war began. It was a constant battle between myself and the dust, myself and the laundry (ever tried to get sand out of socks only to get all those little grains under your nails?) But then, the biggest battle of all presented itself – the ants. These little darlings had grown accustomed to sheltering in the house as it had been empty for a while. All it took was one grain of rice on the floor and we had the whole cast of ‘A Bug’s Life’ in my dining room.

“Get a maid,” the sisters told me. “Trust us, these houses are a nightmare to maintain! Spend your time with your kids”

Someone telling you to drop your housework and play with your children seems like a blessing. Unless you’re me. I’m not necessarily stubborn by nature, and I have always hated housework (ask my mum!) but the more people told me I was wasting my time, the more I wanted to become Supermum. The worst part was when my husband tentatively approached the topic.

“What if we got a cleaner once a week to do the floors?”

That lit a fire  my belly, and I was focused on taking on sole responsibility of the home. Now I’m not saying I always succeeded, in fact, I rarely succeeded and I am still experimenting with different strategies and routines in order to keep on top of the house. But either way, this is MY house, and I want to be the one to clean it!

Cleaning routines weren’t the only things I needed to shuffle around. After our first day in Qatar, the adhan sounded for Maghrib, the sun disappeared, and we all started to yawn. My boys were rubbing their eyes and clearly desperate for their beds. I glanced at my watch and saw we had a whole two and a half hours before their bedtime. We took a gamble and packed them off to bed. That evening was so peaceful and relaxing! My husband and I got to relax with a cup of tea, put our feet up and still have time for an early night.

And so that became our new evening routine. It is worth noting that “early to bed, early to rise” is definitely a cold hard truth when it comes to kids, and my munchkins graced us with their presence at a glorious 5:30am. But the truth is, this didn’t seem as early as it used to. Our perception of the day was slowly changing and over the next few weeks we adapted to the early mornings (I say “we”, but I’m still not a big a fan!) and rejoiced in our child-free evenings.

Another jumble of our internal clocks came with the weekend. In this part of the world, Friday is the first day of the weekend. Whilst this is a lovely change, it comes at a price: Sunday is a weekday. Two years on and I am still not used to the idea of being up and ready for school at 6:30 on a Sunday morning! But then again, being up at 6:30am on any day of the week still leaves me disgruntled for a few hours.

Schooling

In the UK, my plan was to homeschool my eldest son. There was no question about it, and I started early with him at the age of three. When we got to Qatar, we decided to take advantage of the school place being offered to him. Being an International school, it held the familiarity of home without a lot of the drawbacks that prevented us from sending him to school before. Also, with my husband working for the same school, albeit in a different building, it provided a little more comfort having an inside glance to the workings of the school.

Don’t get me wrong, I still homeschool, and if we were to ever return to the UK I would resume the position of my child’s only teacher! As I started early, my son was a little ahead of his classmates, and in order to remain at a consistent pace, his teacher advised me on some resources to use with him at home. Working with his teacher has opened my eyes to more areas of education than before, and I am happy to admit it has even helped to improve my homeschooling skills!

Healthcare

Before my munchkin could attend school, he was required to go through a medical assessment, as were we all when we arrived. This became my first encounter with the healthcare available to us. Before I unveil my experiences, it is important to know that I have only received care from the medical centre in my little piece of desertland. The other hospitals in surrounding towns and cities may have different practices on offer.

My first mistake was admitting to my natural living philosophy! Lesson learnt: don’t admit anything unless you have to! Unaware of even the most common controversies of Western medicine, my doctor was horrified at my stance on certain medications. Well, I haven’t owned up to anything since, unless I’ve had to!

My second disturbance struck when I burnt my hand, although ‘burnt’ doesn’t quite cover what I went through. Attempting to adjust the rings on my stove, I pressed my palm down on the surface of the ring – forgetting that I’d switched it on 5 minutes earlier. The pain rivalled childbirth, and after 3 hours on ice and still no relief, I had no choice but to hit the medical centre and see what they had to say. They attempted to bandage it, but I couldn’t keep my hand off the ice long enough for them to actually wrap it. So I was prescribed two forms of pain relief. One I recognised, the other I didn’t. I went as long as I could and then took one of the pills I recognised. Feeling the pain subside slightly, I decided to take a photo of my medications and send them to my friend who had just received her Pharmaceutical degree. Well, her response was rather alarming: “DO NOT take those two together,” she insisted. “You’ll be throwing up all night.”

Well, thanks for telling me, doctor! I quickly threw the unfamiliar pills away and stuck to what I knew!

It seems this isn’t the first time medication has been loosely handed out like sweets. Another friend was accidentally given a rash cream with steroids, and it made the rash flare up with a vengeance. All because the doctor felt uncomfortable saying, “I’m not sure”!

Being here has highlighted the fact that I must always check the facts and research the ‘whys’ before committing to a diagnosis and, more importantly, to treatment!

Customer Service

Although, doctors aren’t the only ones I’ve noticed who don’t like to admit they don’t know. Sales staff are fabulously helpful and polite – something I am not accustomed to! Shopping can be a pleasure with such friendly and helpful staff. But again, they seem so determined to be helpful, that they avoid admitting when they don’t have the answer. Walking into a baby shop, I asked the assistant if they stocked any cloth nappies. After having to explain their use to a clearly confused man who had never heard of this strange phenomenon, he then handed me a pack of Muslin cloths.

I left the shop feeling stunned and hit Amazon as soon as I got home!

You see, there are many pros and cons that you will come across when moving abroad. Not all the pros are mind blowing but, more significantly, not all cons are devastating. It is different, and different is ok, you just have to develop new ways to manage the challenges that come your way. You may even find that you prefer the changes! I find a lot of people complain endlessly about the inconveniences they are not accustomed to. Just hit the expat Facebook groups to see the mountains of comparisons and disgruntled rants about their new homes. The critical thing to remember is that your home country wasn’t perfect either. So much so that you left! Remember those reasons and focus on the positives.If you don’t, you’ll be unnecessarily and unhappily stuck in the “resistance” stage of expat adjustment … believe me!

This article was originally published in the June 2015 issue of SISTERS Magazine.

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