This past week I had a number of social engagements that kept me busy, and by writing about these rendezvous, I hope to provide a glimpse into my Doha expat life.
Because I am a single 40-year-old with two grown boys back in the US, I am a bit of an outlier here. Most of my colleagues around my age have young children and don’t necessarily have the time nor disposable income to make the same choices as me. Like I have said before, I made a point of saying “yes” to all social opportunities that came my way the first semester, and now those seedling socials have been sprouting into more and more overlapping possibilities. Additionally, I strongly believe that as I grow older, and if I continue to remain single, I need to form friendships with people of different ages. As some of you might know firsthand, friendships wax and wane—people get busy in different ways over the course of their lives, and it’s not always possible to keep the connections with friends and acquaintances that we like. If I am to lead a full life here, or elsewhere, I need a variety of friendships with people of all ages and backgrounds to provide me with options.
Last Wednesday night, after work, I agreed to meet the Moroccan family that I have written about before. The husband has been very warm to me, and I believe that he enjoys hosting me and practicing his English. This time his wife and two young daughters were present in the entertaining room while I was visiting. The wife broached a lot of very interesting topics during my visit, but I think the most memorable item from our conversations that night was when she asked me, “Conan, how come American and European children are so well-behaved in their car seats?”
In case you have no experience in the Gulf, it is not uncommon to see young children monkeying around unsecured in the back of moving automobile. You may even see a child peeking out of the sunroof as their father is barreling down the highway. The wife said that her nieces are so naughty in the car that their parents have great difficulties taking them anywhere. I explained that in the US, car seat culture begins once the baby is born and the parents wish to take their child home. A nurse has to make sure that the parents have a car seat and that it is securely fastened in the correct manner in the car. The wife then added it is so nice that American parents have boxes for their kids to sit on so that they can see out the windows. I then explained, amusedly, that booster seats are for small children so that seat belt straps fit on the children in the appropriate manner and don’t decapitate them in the case of a car accident. The wife laughed at her misinterpretation of booster seats.
Then last Friday, I had two social engagements. At 1pm, I agreed to meet some mutual friends of a good friend of mine back in Winona, MN. The husband, wife, and 20-year-old daughter were in Qatar for the next six months, and our mutual friend wanted us to meet. We agreed to rally at Festival City and had lunch at the food court. It was nice to meet some other expats from my old neck of the woods, and we all agreed that we didn’t miss the Midwest winter. After our brief chat, I had to rush home and get ready for a BBQ party at 4pm.
The BBQ party was hosted by a colleague from work who lives in a compound villa. Married couples with children are provided with larger dwellings by the university. Single individuals without children, like me, have to make do with our rent-free two-bedroom apartments. Anyway, during the party, I was trying to talk with as many of my colleagues as I could simply because this semester I am too busy teaching during the day to idle in the office and talk with people. As I was making conversation with my first-semester mentor, he was taking the piss out of me (he’s British, hence the Britishism) and caricaturing my life as a single guy. I told him that earlier that morning, workers were installing curtains in my apartment, and now I had curtains to block the light from my reading chair in the living room. He responded, “What? You have a reading chair? That’s something that I could only dream about before I got married and had children.” I didn’t realize that a reading chair was fodder for any envy. He acted as if I casually mentioned that I was dating a woman in her mid-twenties. Later, I discussed with him my plans to travel to Oman during our Spring Break. He was probably imagining me embarking on some bacchanal spree while I was there.
Finally, Saturday morning, a friend of mine who is a new hire in the Architecture department wanted to drive out to the west side of Qatar in order to visit Al Zubarah Fort. My friend wanted to visit Zubarah this past weekend because in a week or two, it would be too hot for us to explore during the day. Since I had driven to Al Khor the previous week, I was comfortable with the idea of driving around Qatar to see more of the country. So, we got up early and drove to see the fort. While there, we explored some more and located some abandoned dwellings and an abandoned fishing village. It was about 36 degrees Celsius as we wandered around the sites taking pictures. Our road trip took us all the way to the northern most point of Qatar, Al Ruwais, before we drove home. As we drove back, my friend was playing 70’s and 80’s classic rock from his phone through the car speaker. Maybe he was trying to school me to music, but both of us are Gen X-ers. However, he tends to be on the older end while I am on the younger; he had his formative experiences in the 1980s while my formative experiences were in the 1990s. As a result of our differing tastes, I found myself trying to justify the merits of Post Malone’s single “Rock Star” to him. He didn’t feel much of the song was audible English. While I am not a huge fan of Post Malone nor his music, I probably have a softer spot in my heart for autotuned vocals and drumbeats than my friend. Thankfully, we arrived back at my place before I had to become an apologist for mumble rappers.
Before I knew it, my weekend was over. Still, my engagements for this week and weekend are starting to come in. As I write, I can already hear my first-semester mentor’s voice in my head if I were to tell him about my plans, “What? You are able to make plans without your wife and kids two weekends in a row?” I might as well be telling him that I broke up with my girlfriend in her mid-twenties for another woman in her mid-twenties.