Friday, August 12, 2011

Greener on the Other Side

I must be Home.

I can say this with some confidence because in the last 24 hours since arriving back in Doha after eight weeks in Canada, I rediscovered how much I like my own bed, my own dishes, and my own car.  Basically, my own stuff, in its own place.  As Ben put it this morning, "I'm just happy that I don't have to try to keep track of all my clothes anymore."

Funny, that.  On arriving here for the first time last August, it was hard to resist the temptation to contrast everything with "home":  It's too hot.  The drivers are insane.  Everything tastes funny.  But after a few months, we all reached a really sweet groove, and for me, the thought of going "home" had me a little worried.  Would we find fault with every little thing about Canada?  Or would we remember just how great our birth country is and have a difficult time coming back to Qatar?

I needn't have worried.  When the kids and I landed at YYZ, our entry point into Canada, you would have been hard-pressed to wipe the grins off our faces.  And that was Toronto, for Pete's sake.  I joked that I had kissed the Immigration Agent who had said "Welcome to Canada" to us.  Full on the lips and everything.  I'm surprised she didn't deport me.  And while it's difficult to be homeless for two months, our friends and relatives, both immediate and slightly removed, showed us outstanding hospitality, changing God-knows how many of their own plans, not to mention umpteen beds, to accommodate us visiting nomads.

It's easy to think that the grass is greener (or the sand is beige-er) on the other side of the fence.  But surely there are some things that really are going to be better in one place over the other.  I've done a tally - here's a random sampling of things in our everyday life, and their respective scores:

Running:  I was able to run outside in Doha from about December through March.  Of course, this was at 7:00 in the morning, and it was cool enough to wear society-sanctioned exercise wear, and it hardly ever rained, and it was at sea-level.  In Calgary, I spent the first week back avoiding going for a run, or going outside for any other reason.  Dr. Seuss probably would have described Calgary as Too rainy, Too chilly, Too windy, Too hilly.  But after a couple of weeks in three provinces, with actual scenery and topography, I think I know which one I prefer.  And yes, I may or may not have been pursued by an angry black bear and mosquitos the size of the Airbus 330, but it was more interesting.  And I got to wear shorts and a sports bra outside without being deported (sorry for that visual, my friends).  Point:  Canada.

Sunlight hours:  After living in Doha for a year, we’ve gotten used to nighttime being dark, and daytime being light.  But then we returned to roughly twice the latitude in the middle of June.  At 4:30 on the morning of June 21, Summer Solstice, I desperately tried to locate my eye-cover thingy.  You know what I’m talking about:  that eye patch deal you get in the zippered case when flying Business Class on your maiden voyage to your new assignment, that conveniently comes with earplugs, socks and a toothbrush.  The thing you pack in your carry-on and guard jealously on all subsequent flights in Cattle Car Class.  Failing to find it on that particular morning, the longest day of the year, I had to make do with what I had on hand.  In case you’re wondering, those weren’t the dark circles of just lack of sleep under my eyes; they were underwire imprints.  And while it's great to go to an evening soccer game without the need for lights, I know the flip side:  in the winter, it's no fun walking your kids to school at the crack of dawn (i.e. 8:30) and turning your headlights on at 4:15 in the afternoon.  Point:  Doha.

Scenery:  Don't be fooled:  Doha is not as pretty as the artist's rendition you so often see of The Pearl, or the skyline.  You have to drive for about 45 minutes out of the city before leaving behind the gravelly sand and reaching a dune of any significance.  Canada, on the other hand, has the best vistas in the world.  I visited three provinces across 2000 kilometres, and even though I wasn't able to see even one of Canada’s three spectacular coasts, I experienced the Rocky Mountains (on Canada Day, no less), the Alberta Foothills, one of the Great Lakes, a hundred smaller lakes on the tremendous Canadian Shield, and the beautiful yellow canola flowers on the rolling Prairies.  Point:  Hands-down Canada. 

Food:  Well, this one’s a no-brainer.  Canada has baby back ribs.  And beer in restaurants.  Sometimes baby back ribs and beer together in restaurants.  Point:  Canada.

Weather:  At first blush, this category hardly seems fair, as Canada is the only competitor with actual weather.  But I can tell you that I’ve lived for a whole year in a place where the sun shines every single day and I never wear a jacket.  And I don’t recall ever having to shovel anything white and cold.  Point:  Doha.

Traffic/Driving:  I have to admit that this one makes me a little uncomfortable.  I've spent the better part of the last year making derogatory references to drivers in Doha.  Then I went back to Canada and got behind the wheel.  And while I was no longer being tailgated by what I'm sure would be a kindly gentleman in a thobe and a Landcruiser going 140 km/h (him, not me), I still encountered scads of people who drove just as recklessly.  Speeders, tailgaters, not-paying-attentioners.  Some people blatantly texting in a 80 km/h zone, going 60.  And that was Alberta.  Then I visited Winnipeg, which I'm sure is the jay-walking capital of the world.  "Hit-the-Pedestrian" could be a more interactive and much more lethal version of Wack-a-Mole.  In Ontario, if I saw someone on the corner waiting to cross the street, I'd stop and wait for them to cross, smiling like a mad fool at them while they looked at me like I was nuts.  Turns out, after a little research on my part, that that province is the only jurisdiction in North America where the pedestrian does not have the right-of-way.  News to me.  Regardless, this all makes me think of two traffic rules that are standard the world over:  1) everyone going faster than you is a maniac; and 2) everyone going slower than you is a moron.  Point:  'Fraid this one's a draw.

Home:  My good friend Inge, who moved here with her family at the same time as us, is sadly moving to Houston next month.  Clearly she's not following through on our agreement to stick together for our time in Doha 'til the bitter end (or three years, whichever comes first).  Inge and her husband have been expats for 11 years, living in many different locations.  She has a painting in her house that I absolutely love, entitled "Home is Where You Take It", by Laura Amiss (see picture to the right).  That title pretty much sums it up, don't you think?  There are many places that we can call home:  our place of birth, the place where our children were born, the town where our parents live.  But right now, for the five of us, Doha is home.  Point:  Doha.

Looks like a tie to me.  I guess it’s true what they say:  the grass really is greener on the other side.  It just depends on which side of the fence you’re standing.

Several people have told me that they've had problems posting a comment on my blog.  I've tweaked it a bit, and now you can post comments anonymously (don't need to have a Google account).  If you are still unable to post, please email me at  Any other bloggers out there with a similar problem?


  1. I think I need to demand a recount...
    Great entry - glad you guys are back safe & sound. Happy moving! Natasha

  2. Ok wait now... a "draw" in the driving category? You've clearly been here too long!
    Love your blog - Colin

  3. must have omitted what the Qataris do behind the wheel on the grounds that it can't actually be considered "driving" :)

  4. First day of school? New place with vortex ceilings in bathrooms? Adventures in camel decorating? Come on, I am waiting for a new blog. Geeze. - NC