Under Arabic Sun
A permanent relocation to the Middle East could be celebrated as my most character enhancing journey until now. Unlike a fly by holiday that is logistically pre-empted, moving overseas requires substantial energy, mental accuracy, and frequent reality adjustments. It is a constant navigation through and beyond a web foreign faces, corporate and cultural refinements. The attainment of one goal only leads you to another point that is always shifting. Your world can feel destabilized as though you are living on earth that floats above fault lines.
I left Sydney for the Middle East in January 2010 to embrace a line of work that more closely resembled me. I charged toward the Arabian Gulf, targeting a rather subdued yet escalating city called Doha. After months of circulating my regional options both mentally and physically, Doha inside the State of Qatar, evolved into the final and current stop. It is from this intensifying desert space that I write these words but the words encompass observations about Doha and parts of the Middle East that I have galloped through before.
Pockets of people who did not seem to surface in Sydney intersect here. Inside an intimate and unarranged sandy city; an international buffet of personalities arrive at your personal and face book fingertips. Working within the dimensions of global enterprise delivers an unrivalled opportunity to connect with many civilizations. It is the ultimate prospect to extend your own personal and social borders.
“The entire experience not only certifies you as an authentic citizen of the world, but you come to reflect on your own heritage, cultural comprehension and upbringing.”
It is a learning curve that cannot be extracted or plagiarized from a text book – even though at certain moments you hope for a manual to pilot you out of alien situations. Globalism certainly provides an enriching showcase of cultural cues incomparable to what is available in multicultural Sydney.
Growing up in Sydney with Arabic legacy emphasized the urge and the urgency to travel in the direction of the desert. Over the last few years I have touched the land of Lebanon and Syria, those parts of the world where I apparently stem from. But working amidst traditional and tribal Arabia has cemented me deeply to the world and perceptions of my father. I have come to comprehend him in a different way because I am engrossed in the parts of himself that he left behind many lifetimes ago. Being intensely engaged with my parents’ way of life here, their society has grown before my eyes and heart with intense warmth and attachment, becoming more recognizable than the foreign language it was when growing up in the far spread streets of Sydney. Perhaps I have even romanticized and engrained their customs, because I found myself falling in love with a life that was never supposed to be me.
The Arab world generally is logistically incompetent, somehow illogical and nonconforming. There is no consistency and solidity in landscape, modern sky scrapers are clustered before concrete waterfalls that tumble onto unlevel roads – a butcher shop rubs shoulders with a fashion store and cars are piled along the waterside road in an unruly and abrupt manner. Business hours are quickly interrupted by long afternoon lunches and the work day repeats itself close to sundown. The unpredictable atmosphere forces you to slow down, and to finalise your do to list in desert instead of business hours, depending on what is happening on that particular day.
Despite the greater observance of moral codes, there are fewer formalities on this side of the earth. Punctuality is not highly regarded and the serving of red sugared tea in someone’s office is a must. Breaking appointments is not considered offensive and smoking indoors is rather expected than forbidden. This fluidness seems to affect every aspect of life here and striking a proportional work to social life ratio can be a time consuming task. Being away from home without unfamiliar faces, Sydney social boundaries are quickly smudged. Your colleagues immediately transform into best friends and nobody is required to fit any social slot, people are just people. Nobody is a stranger; people want to know where you come from, what you did before they knew you. They want to witness your personal accounts of home life and share a meal with you in a communal space. It is acceptable to admire and interrogate others over their dress, style and make up.
“Nothing is private and to drop a blunt bomb like “it’s none of your business” is dreadfully offensive and antisocial. In some regard there is no escape.”
There is a different spectrum of colour in Arab desert – not so much coloured by tones painted on the earth but by spices, scents, nuts, icons, ornaments and traditional tapestries sewed onto Arabic dresses called abayas. In this part of the world, an earthy vibe dominates the atmosphere and you literally feel both close to the sky and the ground in the same instant. I have witnessed the most breathtaking sunrise and sunsets shortly before wind blasts and storms. There are countless occasions where I am pleasured by the mystic moon, many times when I have looked at the sky and felt terribly blessed to peak at the natural night sky.
Maybe after all of this, I will return home a much fitter and equipped woman for all my experiences and memories made here - making the rage of Sydney’s urban energy a harbour breeze. After months of working here, it is only now that I am gathering momentum – as the days here are subject to an inescapable time warp and your bearings seem to be far too transient. But working in a place like Doha or anywhere in the Arab world holds radical potential to diversity you, encouraging an inner stretch that you definitely were not measured or prepared for…… but in the end you realize that you were truly brave enough for.