In which Family Little City goes away on holiday and returns…home?
Finally, after six long, dusty months for me and the kids (and nine longer, dustier months for Mrs LC), we left Doha.
OK, so we only left for a week, but you get my point. There was a palpable sense of relief at a change of scenery.
Anywhere with hills, seasons or vegetation would have done, to be honest. One of the reasons we originally accepted Mrs LC’s job offer in the first place is that, geographically at least, Qatar sits at the centre of the world.
And with direct flights to new destinations being added to Qatar Airways’ schedule all the time, there’s basically a huge chunk of this planet (“that you’ve seen none percent of”) available for exploration at four hours’ flying time or less.
Which is how I came to book a holiday in Goa to celebrate Mrs LC’s birthday – never been there, heard it’s great, let’s go exploring!
So, one short flight later and there we were. The region itself is a perfect introduction to the country – whoever described it as ‘India lite’ was spot on.
It’s incredibly relaxed. The people are friendly; the food amazing. There were hills, humidity, brightly coloured houses; lush, verdant, fecund countryside; crickets; roads you can ride a bike on; beaches you could walk on for free…
And how can you not love a place where the police roadblocks are sponsored by the local casino? Or somewhere where you can have a haircut and head massage and a beer (yes, all at the same time) at a roadside barbers?
Basically, it was a delightfully laid back mini-festival of things you can’t do or get here in Qatar, which would be the point of a holiday.
And we packed in trips and excursions and days out, and it felt like we’d been there for twice the time we were. I even managed to get a suntan which is an achievement so remarkable – the only person paler than me in Doha is my own son – that Mrs LC posted a commemorative photo of me online with a caption along the lines of “this is what he looks like when he’s alive”. It’s that kind of place.
There and back again
The direct flights are a cinch, even if the return leg takes off at 4am (although I wasn’t the one who had to spring into work on touchdown; I just headed home and put the kids to bed.)
But as our return flight circled above Doha, waiting for a landing slot to open up, and with the rising sun creeping through the windows, a strange thing happened.
A thought was slowly taking shape, like a newborn foal wobbling to its feet for the first time. I was thinking: it’s good to be home.
Home? Where did that come from?
I’m not from here. I’ll never be a citizen. I’m back to being here on a tourist visa again. So how can this dusty, beige, gridlocked place suddenly be home?
But there it was anyway, a thought as loud and clear as the call to prayer.
Like Dorothy tumbling into Oz, I’d passed through some mind-altering expat vortex of my own.
But clearly I’m on a well-trodden path, because at school the next day, I was talking to a friend (the kind of legend who had not only watered our fledgling garden while we’d been away, but who had put milk in the fridge for our return). She asked how our holiday had been, knowing it was the first time we’d all left Qatar since we arrived.
Then she said: “Did it feel like home when you got back?” I must have looked a little slack-jawed with amazement. How did she know that?
But she was right. We’ve deliberately stayed away from our old lives for long enough to carve out a clear and distinct experience here in Qatar, and it seems to have worked.
Yes, it’s about family, or a support network, or a comfy sofa, but above all else, home is a state of mind. (But the sofa’s pretty important, too.)
The transitory nature of expat life will be compounded this weekend when we play host to my best man and his family.
They left their home in Sydney (in the other Oz) this week after 13 years and are returning to the UK via a weekend with us in Dubai and a stopover here in Doha as a kind of decompression chamber to prevent them getting the bends on re-entry. Because where better to prepare for a return to the coldest spring in British history than 30 degree Doha?
His kids have never called anywhere else home, so a whole new set of adjustments lie in wait for them. Their state of mind is all over the place right now.
Obviously I’m looking forward to seeing them, just because.
But I’m also looking forward to showing them round Doha: the alien concept of a compound, and a city with few pedestrians and fewer street names.
And to showing them my dust, my beige.