Tag Archives: Qatar

Recreating is Creative Recycling: an Expat Woman Experience

By Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar

I’ve lived in the Middle East for seven years. Along with appreciation for flexible ColorfulPencilsstarting times, humus with meat, and the women’s garment, the abaya, I have developed a list of axioms for success as an expat.

Many of these apply directly to the setting of the Arabian Gulf and specifically to daily events in Qatar.

One: In a high concept culture, the absence of a yes can be read as a no.

Two: The longer you sit, the wider your hips.

Three: Expat life is like a pressure cooker, the pressure of the unfamiliar forcing out whatever is inside.

Number three, however, could apply to any country in the world. What happens when your creature comforts- in my case catchall stores like Target, and a wide circle of friends- are taken away? When you find yourself in an entirely new environment and have to invent your own fun?

There are two stages. In the first you may find yourself working and sleeping in copious amounts. I alternated between an eighty hour work week and a docile weekend the entire first year I lived in Qatar. Coincidentally I also gained 15 pounds from my suddenly sedentary lifestyle.

Eventually (read two years later) I was literally sick of sleeping. I forced myself out of bed and took stock of the situation. This is when I entered stage two: the stage of invention. I wondered to myself what was interesting enough to keep me awake. None of the ladies coffee mornings or social groups had what I wanted, some expat grousing and home sickness mixed in with cultural stimulation.

I did the only thing I could: I created groups of my own. I put a small, free ad in the local events leaflet, advertising a writing group.

Writing, it turned out, was the first of many activities I would embark on to keep myself entertained. And in the process I not only found friends, but made several career changes. I went from being a university administrator to the editor of a series of books. A few years from that transition I found myself talking to the CEO who published J.K. Rowling and agreeing to work for his new company starting up in Doha. A few years from that (yes, I mentioned I’ve been in Qatar quite a while) I resigned from that job in order to pursue my writing full time and publish seven Ebooks on Amazon.

None of this could have happened if I didn’t live overseas. Or perhaps to state more accurately, none of this would have happened as quickly if I were shopping in Target every weekend or flying to my college reunion. Not that retail therapy or friendships aren’t important: I enjoy them on our holiday trips home.

But I found the treasure of expat life is the very fact of being taken outside your comfort zone. Once the irritation, anger, and realization hat in fact, no, your life is not “just like it was at home” because there is a McDonald’s down the street, wears off, you may find you have the greatest gift a person can be given. You have the time to mindfully choose how you want to spend your days, weeks, months – all those hours that stack up to years.

The first few months of a new year are the perfect time to ask yourself how you want to showcase the new you. What skills, passions, or projects have you been talking about for years that now lurk in a back closet, shaming you into silence with their persistent procrastination?

I’ve been writing since I was in my twenties. It took me a twelve years and another continent to recycle that passion from a hobby into a full time occupation. I now teach writing to undergraduates and stay up late at night scribbling away at my own work.

What is it you love to do and yet never have time for? That’s why they call it the gift of the present.

Mohana is still in Doha. You can read all about it on her blog: www.mohanalakshmi.com or follow her on Twitter @moha_doha.

Mohana is also a co-trainer for the “Living and Working in Qatar” cross-cultural course available online 24/7.

Introducing QATAR

Qatar is one of the countries that’s profiled in the Global Coach Center Academy within the course “Living and Working in Qatar” In this post we interview one of the course’s co-trainers on some of the most interesting tidbits on Qatar.

Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar is a writer and educator who has lived in Qatar since 2005. A scholar of literature, she has a PhD from the University of Florida with a focus on gender and postcolonial theory. Her work has been published in AudioFile Magazine, Explore Qatar, Woman Today, The Woman, Writers and Artists Yearbook, QatarClick, and Qatar Explorer. She has been a guest on Expat Radio, and was the host for two seasons of the Cover to Cover book show on Qatar Foundation Radio. She is the Associate Editor of Vox, a fashion and lifestyle magazine published by Vodafone Qatar. Currently Mohana is working on a collection of essays related to her experiences as a female South Asian American living in the Arabian Gulf and a novel based in Qatar. She believes words can help us understand ourselves and others. Catch up on her latest via her blog or follow her on Twitter @moha_doha.

Global Coach Center Blog (GCC Blog):  What would be 1 to 3 tips you’d give to someone who is moving to Qatar?

Mohana:

  • Be prepared for heat for 4 months of the year (May – August)
  • Ramadan is a time when restuarants are closed during the day and most shops; plan ahead and avoid driving on the roads at peak times
  • Make the effort to get outside of your ex-pat work/compound bubble to meet new people

GCC Blog:  What was the funniest cultural misunderstanding you’ve experienced in Qatar?

Mohana:  People often think that the five pressed together fingers — which is a symbol to wait — is an insult or rude gesture.

GCC Blog:  What’s the most popular proverb and why?

Mohana:  There are so many Arabic proverbs but one of my favorites is “one hand cannot clap” meaning that teamwork is important.

GCC Blog:  What do you love about Qatar?

Mohana: Qatar is booming and everyone from Hillary Clinton to Wycleaf Jean has come through Doha in the last five years that I’ve been here.

GCC Blog:  What do you dislike about living in Qatar?

Mohana:  The pressures of living in a city that is still being built (new buildings, new roads, the sounds of construction) can sometimes be frustrating.

On June 9, 2011 Global Coach Center and Mohana hosted a free teleclass on “Culture Tips for Qatar”.  Please listen to the recording here.