On Homesickness: Last Blog Post of 2017

Me when someone asks if I have been homesick

Lying Cat: (nothing)

Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve, and I will end 2017 in Doha. However, I have to work both New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. There are exams that I need to invigilate at Qatar University. Invigilate is a British word which means “to supervise students during an examination.” I will end 2017 and begin 2018 by invigilating.

In case you didn’t know, Qataris don’t really celebrate the “Gregorian” New Year—hence me working December 31 and January 1—because they follow an Islamic lunar year, which is eleven to twelve days shorter than the Gregorian solar year. The Islamic New Year will fall approximately on September 11, 2018. In the Islamic calendar, this year is 1439 AH, or After Hijra. Hijra is when the Prophet Mohammed first migrated from Mecca to Medina after being warned of an assassination attempt. This event marks the beginning of the Hijra year count. Recorded history prior to this event is BH, or Before Hijra.

Despite having to invigilate and Qataris not really celebrating the “Gregorian” New Year, there are actually quite a lot of parties and events taking place in Doha. I have made plans with some colleagues of mine to attend a performance at La Cigale Hotel of a Lebanese-Syrian singer named Georges Tawil. When I was looking at all the scheduled performance for January 31, I wasn’t even thinking about seeing non-English music acts, but I asked my Turkish friend to include me in her New Year’s plan, so that’s why I will be attending a Georges Tawil concert—which is perfect because I wouldn’t have picked this had I the choice. And part of the reason for me coming to this region of the world is to experience its culture, including its music and entertainment; something I haven’t really had to do because of how pervasive American pop culture is throughout the world and via the internet.

I haven’t been making holiday plans for myself, but because my department is so big, colleagues have invited me to join them on their holiday plans. The other week I was at a Christmas party for some expats in the Pearl. It was a lovely event with lots of good food, great company, and a secret Santa exchange. (I ended up leaving with a high-end carrot peeler!) I was having a conversation with a librarian, who was originally from Ohio, when she asked, “Have you been homesick yet?”

I responded immediately, “No!” However, I wondered if my immediate response suggested that I was being defensive, and I was in fact homesick, just not willing to admit it. So, very non-defensively, I then turned the question back on the librarian and asked, “Were you homesick when you first came to Qatar?”

She said that she indeed had been homesick during the holidays her first year here. “Really?” I wondered, “Why?”

Later, I did some reflecting, why haven’t I honestly felt homesick yet? At least during holidays? After all, I am a single man living far away from his two boys. Shouldn’t I be a little lonely and miserable?

No. I haven’t been. Here’s why.

First, in Doha, the whole holiday hype that sweeps up the US between late November and Christmas Day is almost non-existent. There are no mall Santas, endless loops of Christmas music, or the compulsion to spend your way into debt in order perform your Christmas duty. I ordered some gifts for my boys and nieces via Amazon and had the items delivered to my mom’s house. I wrote postcards and mailed them to my family and friends (see my previous blog post); however, Christmas Eve and Day passed rather uneventfully for me. I had the option of taking Christmas Day off, but I chose not to. I worked instead, covering a class for a colleague who did want to observe the day.

Second, the weather here has been warm to temperate—I can comfortably wear layers again! I don’t have the freezing Midwestern winter compounding my Christmas blues. Yeah, I have always said that I don’t mind the winter, but back in the Midwest, I really didn’t have a choice.

Third, things are starting to really suck in Wisconsin and the US for educators and thinking people. Times are tough for folks in my fields: higher education and international education. The leadership in my former state—and many states throughout the US—doesn’t value college and university instructors. Plus, international students don’t have the same impetus to study in the US like they once did. I am grateful that I made the professional jump when I did from the US to Qatar. It has allowed me to take a break from the depressing mess of the Wisconsin state and the US federal government. And, if I remain out of the US for 11 months in 2018, I will have to file but will likely not need to pay US taxes—which would be most excellent.

Fourth, yes, I miss my boys, but they are 18 and 16. One is in college, the other is in high school. I would be dealing with a half empty nest had I remained in the US, so why not just abandon the nest and fly somewhere warmer? I’ll see them soon enough in July, and then hopefully they can come visit me in Doha in the next year or so.

Lastly, I have been too busy teaching and adjusting to life in Qatar to feel homesick. In order to continue staying busy, I have adopted a policy of saying yes to every social invitation. Want to hang out and get coffee? Yes. Want to come workout at my gym? Yes. Want to visit the Al Jazeera Headquarters? Yes. Want to attend a Christmas open mic? Yes? Want to come to a Christmas party in the Pearl? Yes. Want to spend New Year’s Eve listening to a Lebanese-Syrian musician? Yes.

So, in all honesty, I haven’t felt homesick at all while living in Doha. The December I have spent here has been much more relaxing than any of the Decembers in my recent memory. But what if I start feeling blue in Doha in the next year or so? That’s when I’ll break the glass in case of emergency and make plans to visit a country that I have never been to before.

Hope that you all have a have a Happy New Year! Talk to you in 2018—or in 1439!

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