Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Time Zoned-Out

A serial expat friend of mine once declared that jet lag didn't affect her.  "What's the big deal?  You're really tired on the first night, so you sleep well, and by the next day you're turned around."  I remember gaping at her, incredulous.  I also remember secretly wanting to sneak out to her driveway and let all the air out of her tires.

Dan's parents have come from Canada to visit us in Doha twice.  (The fact that they made that trip more than once affirms my opinion that those 26-hour journeys are a lot like childbirth:  long, painful and unpleasant, but the horror is instantly forgotten, leaving the optimistic feeling of wanting to try it again in a year or two.)  On both trips, my father-in-law behaved like any normal person for the first week:  he was up at the ungodly hour of 3:00 am for a few days, kept trying to catch a nap during the afternoon, looked vacant and pale just shortly after dinner, and begged off to bed well before the rest of us.  My mother-in-law, however, acted like she had been living with us for the whole year, or at the very least taking a well-scheduled combination of melatonin supplements and Red Bull.  She'd get a solid 10 hours on the first night, up at 8:00, and then proceed to do all the dishes, play three two-hour games of Settlers of Catan, dead-head my petunias, and clean out my Tupperware cupboard.  She'd turn in only after completing the border of a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle, long after the rest of us had given up and gone to bed.  This was her pattern for the remainder of her stay.  Sleep-of-the-dead, up, frenetic pace, repeat.

Is it possible that the two women described above are superhuman?  I ask this because last week, after a 13-hour overseas flight, followed by a 4-1/2-hour flight across four provinces, I felt quite a bit less than human.  In fact, not to put too fine a point on it, but I felt downright short-tempered and bitchy.  Kind of like my normal self, only kicked up a few notches.

For those of you who have experienced jet lag, you know the drill.  Night One, after being awake for 30 hours in transit, you are delirious with exhaustion and sleep a good eight hours.  "Ahh, 6:00 a.m.!" you might exclaim upon waking.  You will think, mistakenly, that you are "turned around".  But Night One is all a big set-up for your pending and most certain disappointment.

The best advice I can give for the day after Night One is this:  don't sign any legal documents and don't drive heavy machinery.  It is also a good idea to avoid attempting any transactions that are complicated and confusing.  (Note:  all transactions on this day will be complicated and confusing.)  On Day One, I made the mistake of visiting my local mobile phone service provider to get my phone working here in Calgary.  My recollection of the conversation is something like this:

"We have a plan that allows for free messaging, with 25 cents a minute for local calls for the first five minutes, or calculated at a rate of the integral of the speed of the call, whichever is greater, unless they are calls made to numbers consisting of only prime numbers, in which case unicorns will fly over rainbows, and...ma'am?  Ma'am?  Could you get your head off the counter?  We try to discourage the customers from drooling on the pamphlets."

Nights Two through Four are cruel, cruel times, indeed.  During dinner, the whole family will be unable to stay conversational, all of you holding your forks above your plates, silently chewing, your gaze just slightly to the left of your placemats to an intriguing spot on the table.  You'll order the kids to bed at 7:30 (there won't be a big fight), and force yourself to stay up until 9:00 in the hopes that you'll get another solid eight hours.  This will not happen.  Here's a tip:  no matter what time you go to bed, you will wake up, for good, at 4:00 a.m.  Go about your day.  Look cheerful—remember, you're on vacation!

The next few nights following these will be short, and the days will drag on.  You'll find yourself high-fiving the kids for sleeping in until 5:45.  You'll stubbornly refuse naps and watch a load of crappy TV just to stay awake until 10:00.  Your brow will be furrowed, and people who are a) related to you, and b) shorter than you, might get on your nerves.  This may or may not pass.

The rule of thumb for figuring out how long it will take someone to overcome jet lag is one day for every hour of time difference.  Tomorrow marks Day Nine in our struggle with the nine-hour time difference between Doha and Calgary, so by this estimation, we should be turned around.  I think the kids are already there.  As for myself, it's a little hard to tell.  I'll know I've reached complete turn-around when there is only one 6 o'clock in my day, and when I don't have the urge to take my still-non-functioning cell phone outside and beat it to smithereens with a tire-iron.  I think you'll need to give me another day or two.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

I Thought We Were Still Friends, Canada

Chances are if you're an expat in Qatar, you've got access to your some of your home country's government services by way of an embassy here.  I know this because of the highly scientific research I've done, which consisted of looking at my "Marhaba Map of Doha, 2011 Edition" and counting up all the little flags.  Based on my rigorous analysis, I was able to compile a list of embassies here in Doha:

Japan, Korea, Iran, Pakistan, France, Somalia, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Sudan, Kuwait, Philippines, Syria, Turkey, Mauritania, Cyprus, Thailand, Macedonia, Algeria, Sri Lanka, Yemen, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Algeria, United Kingdom, Swaziland, Venezuela, Bahrain, Greece, Hungary, Libya, Kazakhstan, Brazil, The Netherlands, India, Vietnam, South Africa, Cuba, El Salvador, Afghanistan, Singapore, Eritrea—


—Palestine, Indonesia, Bangladesh, United States of America, Germany, Belgium, Romania, Senegal, Iraq, Russia, Poland, Italy, Malaysia, Spain, Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Dominican Republic, and my personal favourite, Djibouti (no, I did not just make that one up).

Notice anybody missing?  Maybe a sweet young thing that's overly-polite and smells a little like maple syrup?  Talks incessantly about hockey?  Puts bacon on everything?  That's right.  At the time of printing, my map did not include a Canadian Embassy here in Qatar.

Ever since we left Canada two years ago, there's been talk about a Canadian Embassy opening here.  So, we've been waiting, along with our compatriots, but after awhile it didn't really seem to matter.  We haven't had to have a passport renewed, or need anything notarized.  Our point of contact, should we need anything, was the Canadian Embassy in Kuwait.  We'd get the occasional email from the Consulate, telling us about upcoming visits to Doha and inviting us to come to their make-shift office if we required their services.  We never went.

But it was still nice to know they were thinking about us.  And I day-dreamed about what an embassy here would be like.  It would open to great fanfare, all expat Canadians gathering on our newly-minted patch of Canadian soil, waving flags of the maple leaf, unitedly finding respite from some of the more frustrating aspects of Qatar.  There'd be a cardboard cut-out of Prime Minister Stephen Harper that many of us would mistake for the real thing and try to shake his hand.   We'd lament the time difference and the lack of a decent pub in which to watch the Stanley Cup play-offs. We'd share Tim Horton's coffee and donuts, and complain about the weather.  Jian Ghomeshi would MC.

And then a couple of weeks ago, we received another email from the Canadian Consulate, this time asking for volunteers for their Warden system, a communication network designed for responding to an emergency in Qatar.  I gave it a cursory scan and then did a double-take at the signature:

Embassy of Canada
Doha, State of Qatar

More extensive scientific research (Google) led to me to discover that the Canadian Embassy in Qatar was officially opened in March.  They have an ambassador and everything.  Apparently our Governor General and Minister of Foreign Affairs were here for the opening.  Frankly, I was a little offended that they never called.

Opening an embassy in a foreign country without inviting or informing the expatriate citizens in that country is a little like David Cronenberg premiering a movie on a 20-inch TV in his basement to his two next door neighbours who don't even have an interest in movies.  Talk about not knowing your target audience.

Let me present this metaphor:  Say I'm me, and Canada is my ex-boyfriend.  If you had an ex-boyfriend that you were still on pretty good terms with, and you still maintained written correspondence, and in turn he always let you know when he was going to be flying in for a couple of days, and even if you NEVER took him up on a single one of his dinner invitations, wouldn't you expect him to, at the very least, let you know that he's moving to town?

I would have come, Canada.  I would have made a big deal about it.  Maybe I even would have made Nanaimo bars.  But now, guess what?  When I go to Canada next week, I'm not calling you, either. The only difference will be that you will definitely know I'm there.

* * *

Embassy of Canada
Tornado Tower, 30th Floor
Corner of Majlis Al Taawon Street and Al Funduq Steet,
P.O. Box 24876
Doha, State of Qatar

Postal Address:
P.O. Box 24876
Doha, State of Qatar

Telephone: (974) 4419 9000
Fax: (974) 4419 9035

Hours of operation
By appointment only

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Not Forgotten

Over the weekend we noticed that we were almost out of beer.  This is an unacceptable state to be in at our house.  Clearly, action needed to be taken.

I mentioned my planned trip to QDC to a friend yesterday morning.  She had been there the day before, and told me that she heard that they were getting a wider variety of pork products in the night before.  And by "wider variety", she meant something other than the Italian luncheon meats and overly salty bacon currently on offer.  Pork chops were going to be available.  Also, they had now started opening an hour and a half earlier, which wasn't yet common knowledge.

So when I arrived at QDC, well ahead of the most of the general public, I was over the moon to see pork chops, baby back ribs, and tenderloin.  I filled my cart (read:  cleaned out their freezer), and really had to put my shoulder into it to wheel it to the till.  While I stood in the store waiting for a friend to return my call with her 'order', I went on FB and checked-in, and wrote a mildly humorous line about finding happiness in a cooler full of pork chops.

The light-hearted banter on that FB check-in continued throughout the day.  And then last evening, a good friend posted a comment on my post about finding happiness in being with her children, and the fact that she still had them.  I knew what she meant.  I knew she wasn't chastising me for being so flippant, for posting something so inconsequential.  For her, it wasn't time yet.  It was too early to be happy about anything.

The last seven days have been difficult.  The profound sadness I felt after the unthinkable in our city last Monday brought me to tears for the better part of the week.  And while this loss was not personal, it managed to become so.  I didn't know any of the families that lost children, but I know people who knew them.  Two degrees of separation.  Too close.

Grief continues to blind-side me.  A dad pushing his baby in a stroller on the compound.  A thought about stopping in to Villaggio to pick up a new shirt for B, impossible now, but the reality being so incongruous that in my subconscious, possible.  The first drive past the mall since the tragedy.  All of these things bring me to tears, unexpectedly.

And still, the question of why lingers, always.  Why that day?  Why not the middle of the night?  Why that specific, small location in what is, by all measures, a very large mall?

On Thursday, the kids' school held a memorial.  That day I signed fifteen books of condolence.  Fifteen.  Can that number be right?  Did I really stand and write something in each book?  It seems impossible that I did.  Two of those books were for families that had lost three children each.  Cue the rage.

On my way home from QDC, in my contented state, trunk full of The Forbidden Meat, I ended up driving behind a small white car that was going too slow for the speed limit and weaving back and forth across the middle lane.  No way I'm following this, I thought, and moved over to the left lane.  As I passed, I saw that there were three small children in the back seat, not one older than four-years-old, all climbing and jumping on the seats, not a seatbelt in sight.  Their mother, who was completely covered, save for the glasses poking out through her face covering, drove on, all the while reading a map that she held up on the steering wheel.  Two weeks ago, this would have been an anecdote to share with Dan later that evening with a smirk and a shake of the head.  Now, I wanted to pull her out of the car, grab her by the shoulders and scream at her.  Do you not know??  DO YOU STILL NOT KNOW ANYTHING??

I think of grief like a deep pit, with a rough, scratchy rope ladder to help you climb out.  For every rung on the ladder that you climb, there is always a little slip back.  Maybe you don't always pull yourself all the way out.

You can find me now, yelling at my kids for not putting their dishes away, posting something funny, and complaining about how long it takes to get N's phone fixed here.  But that doesn't mean that there's not an hour that goes by that I don't think about those 19 people who died here last week, and that sometimes, it still moves me to tears.  It will go on:  the yelling, the jokes, the complaining, and the grief.  All of this, all together.  To be continued.