Living the Confused Expatriate Life

Has it Been Five Years Already? – My thoughts on what I’ve learned as I hit five years of expat living in Qatar.

Living the Confused Expatriate Life
Has It Been Five Years Already?
By: Ms. Hala

On June 30th, 2012, I landed in Qatar thinking I knew what to expect. I had never lived in another city in America before, let alone another country so… of course, I was wrong! I thought I was only going to be expat living for a year, a year and a half tops. Of course, I was wrong. I thought I was going to make a dollar out of 15 cents, gold out of dirt, something out of nothing. Of course, I was wrong.

 

It has been five years –FIVE YEARS– since I got off that plane and was hit by the summer’s humid air, freaked out when the cold water taps were boiling hot and learning to sleep with the AC on full blast. I have learned to expect the unexpected and struggled through those last five years to make something out of myself.

 

Along this journey, I’ve made life long friends, laughed my heart out and experienced things I don’t think I would have staying at home, or anywhere else in the world for that matter. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, the world is so grand but our bubble is so small. If I learned anything, anything at all, from being living the expat life, it’s to go beyond the bubble, even for just a moment and live a little in this grand world. Despite it all, for the things I’ve learned, it’s so worth it.

 

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“Qatar” – image courtesy of @ftmalthani

Qatar has an odd charm to it, flaws and all. The expat life here is not perfect but it’s a blessing to experience. As I start packing, not knowing how much longer I’m staying in Qatar (more on that later), I’m at peace. Alhamdulillah, I worked hard, surrounded myself with good people, ate some delicious food and discovered as much of the region as I could.

 

My time in Qatar will always be unforgettable. I can’t image having the experiences I’ve had else where. I’ll always pray for God to continue blessing this beautiful nation and the people within it that make it up it’s beauty. Qatar may be small but mighty and come to think of it, so am I.

Your Right to Vote…

Your Right to Vote… and my right to be dumbfounded.

I respect your right to vote for what you deem is best for you whether it’s a presidential candidate or a state policy. However, I have the right as a minority to be dumbfounded by those who voted for someone that ran their campaign on hate or a policy that marginalizes a population.

If anyone one of my American friends voted for Trump or didn’t vote at all with the excuse of “it’s rigged” or “my vote doesn’t count”, please unfriend me.

Your vote for Trump or lack of a vote has put a huge number of the American population such as many of my family and friends at risk of deportation, injustice, violence and death.

Your vote for Trump or lack of a vote also means a win for the KKK, which in turn will undermine the efforts taken to try to bring the discussion of race relations on the table.

Your vote for Trump or lack of a vote just determined a supreme court judge that will push Trump ideologies not just for your generation but generations after you.

Your vote for Trump or lack of a vote is partially responsible for all the wrong that could happen in the next four years and it will not be making America great again.

I hope you can sleep tonight.

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My Public Letter to Mayor Bryan Cadogan

I’m not asking you to solve the refugee crisis nor am I shaming you into taking refugees into your town. I’m just curious that a town in need of people has not pushed to take in people in need of a town.

Good Day Mr. Cadogan,

I hope this letter finds you doing well.

 

I’ve read the SF Gate article from this past summer on your efforts to recruit people to move and build a home in the town of Kaitangata (Clutha District, New Zealand). After researching a bit about the beautiful town and seeing the the need for a stronger population and the unemployment rate of two people, I just had to sit down and write this letter to you.

Has your town considered taking in some of the many highly educated and experienced individuals whom have found themselves in refugee camps in many parts of the Middle East and Europe?

I’m by no means middling in New Zealand’s immigration system nor do I understand how it works in such a situation. My country’s immigration system has failed the refugees with ignorant, discriminatory and Islamophobic politics.

I’m not asking you to solve the refugee crisis nor am I shaming you into taking refugees into your town. I’m just curious that a town in need of people has not pushed to take in people in need of a town.

I’m a product of immigrants, like many of my generation in America. My grandparents and parents immigrated from Egypt since the 1960s to California, New Jersey, North Carolina and New York. I have watched them work hard, pay their taxes, vote, speak out and volunteer to support the local communities. This is the same scenario with almost any other immigrant family from any part of the world.

No one takes welcoming, humane open arms for granted.

I’m sure this is what Kai is looking for. Amazing, hard working families going above and beyond because Kai welcomed them in with open arms after the suffering they have endured in the last several years.

Thank you for your time and God Bless.

Signed, Ms. Hala

The Masks They Wear

It’s always entertaining when a rant of mine strikes a few nerves. In my recent rant on what I’ve learned over the past two years as an expat, I wrote, “Don’t be surprised that there’s just as much fake people as there is fake designer wear floating around.” Why?

Ever since my decision to move to the Middle East, it hit me hard how fast people can change on you. People are not what they appear to be. I can no longer take people at their face value. I can no longer judge, trust and love people so easily. Only in good times and bad, in distance and closeness, in richer and poorer did I know whom my friends really are.

I have literally gone through a social detox several times over the last two years. (And no, cleaning Facebook friends doesn’t count, although it does help, because Facebook is a digital high school… am I right?) My most recent detox was during my last visit home this past spring. So many people went out of their way to see me. To err is human and in the back of my mind I wondered about those I cherished that didn’t even bother to send their regards. I spent some quality time with family and friends that made my trip so memorable. Even as I heard the lovely rumors about myself – from how rich I was, to my new found snubbiness and everything in between – this was a bonding yet eye opening trip to say the least.

Landing back in Doha was no different. I was determined that after what I had been through back home, I needed to reevaluate the company I kept. I let the “please, please let’s remain friends” retract the request without hesitation. I let the negative energy from the whining and complaining about the blessings taken for granted drift away. I didn’t save the wrong number of the “call me if you need anything”. I did not accept the digital apologies as I preferred human contact.

Its the only way I can remain being the family and friend I want to have.

Sometimes one needs to step away from the theater for the actors to remove their masks during intermission. Then return to the theater before they have a chance to put the masks back on and continue the act. Sometimes the masks are necessary to show the world strength when there’s weakness, confidence when there’s uncertainty and a smile when there’s tears. But not all masks were design with the same hands. One must then decide whether or not the masks they wear and what’s underneath is acceptable.

Is the person real or as fake as the “fake designer wear floating around”?

FGM in the West

AlJazeera’s The Stream will be doing a piece about female genital mutilation (FGM) and it’s growth in the west, mainly the UK, later today. I was approached to include my comments which I’m sharing with my readers below. Click here for the link to a very important story!

The fact that this horrid act continues into the 21st century says something not only about the worlds education system but also about the worlds health system.

There needs to be a global initiative to be educated people on FGM, the myths behind it and the health risks. First and foremost, this whole obsession over female virginity is absurd! FGM has nothing to do with keeping a lady a virgin, her choice to be celibate (or a virgin) until marriage does.

Second, FGM is a health risk, many die under the knife during this procedure, especially when done to girls as young as 12 years old. I was in Egypt in 2011 when a girl not far from my family’s town had died under the knife of a doctor whom was an “expert”.

Finally, and I’ve had this argument with many people, FGM has nothing to do with religion. It is not Islamic in any way shape or form. Islam dictates that only men are to be circumcised after birth if health of child allows for procedure to happen at the time.

And that’s my rant on that!
@Ms_Hala
https://mshala.wordpress.com

Living the Confused Expatriate Life – Part 3 of a Few

“I just held that phone with a tight grip and gave it to this imbecile, cursing and screaming amongst a culture of appropriate and polite manners.”

Living the Confused Expatriate Life
Part 3 of a Few… Unprofessional
By: Ms. Hala

I have to admit, being part of a management team in a growing industry in this part of the world has it’s perks. Even though I’m technically an entry-level manager, I’m the only female ever to hold a managerial position in the history of this company. Females in this company are about 10% of the entire workforce. So I think that in itself is a huge perk.

I’ve been warned one too many times by colleagues with the phrase, “You’re not in America anymore. Welcome to the Middle East. This is how things work.” Yet I would always remind them that in my opinion, professionalism is universal. You can’t convince me that the lack of professionalism is the reason behind the Middle East’s successful economy despite the rest of the developing world’s economic downfall. It was the lack of professionalism that caused US taxpayers to bail out stupid big banks whom brought our economy to a  recession. So yes, I’m in the Middle East – thanks for the warm welcome – but that shouldn’t mean professionalism is dead.

Right?

Ummm… to some extent. You see, it’s not necessarily where you are working in the world but whom you are working with in the world. Yes, certain cultural etiquettes need to be understood and respected. However, many misinterpret these etiquettes to their advantages. Sounds a little too familiar? This is when I discovered that half the staff, a mix of various languages, nationalities, levels of management, are scared of me.

Yes, scared. Lack of professionalism is the culprit here.

Here’s the shpeal, I manage the logistics of this global division. I deal in large part with clearing and transporting agents, Qatar customs administrators and global suppliers in over 15 countries including the USA. On one lovely day unlike today, I realized that the term “professionalism” to some extent did not exist in the eyes of some people I deal with on a daily basis. I was only about 3 months into my position and the idea of how my job was to deal with extremely unprofessional people hit me, hard.

What the hell am I going to do? How the hell am I going to make it in this industry? How the hell am I going to even last in Qatar?

Damn.

There I was on the phone with the most incompetent person representing the clearing and transport agents behind the delays for our division in receiving units sitting at the ports for days. Paying customers threatening to cancel sales. Sales team members freaking out fearing losing those sales. Managers scrambling to meet their goals before month end just two days away. Our division simply trying to, you know, do business!

It was just me between my division and this incompetent imbecile whom was oblivious to the importance of his work for us. He kept going on and on with this bullshit, one lie after the other in the most unprofessional manner I’ve ever dealt with in my entire working life… I couldn’t take it anymore.

I hold two masters degrees in business, I have multiple years of experience dealing with people of all personalities and here I was unable to take this waste of oxygen anymore. I became the very thing I feared being in my career… unprofessional.

I just held that phone with a tight grip and gave it to this imbecile, cursing and screaming amongst a culture of appropriate and polite manners. “If your fucking company can’t get my shit done on time, I have 20 other cheaper and more competent companies that can! Don’t fucking bullshit me man because I don’t give a fuck! Just. Get. My. Shit. Done. Now! Do you hear me?”

The man on the other line just froze, sniffled and broke down like a two year old kid. He would get it done he said, by the end of the day. I slammed the phone, took a few deep breathes, checked I didn’t break the phone, then placed my hand over my dropped jaw… the entire office within sight had heard every single word I said. I turned around to one of my sales managers applauding me, “YES! It’s about time someone showed them who’s boss! They are always screwing us over!”

I just giggled in disbelief as I whispered, “I made him cry.”

Some had their jaws dropped while others laughed, “you made him cry?!” The rest continued to give me this wide-eyed stare, unsure what to make of me anymore. Conversing what had just happened, this apparently wasn’t the first time these agents had been delaying work fulfillment. They were behind lost deals and damaged goods in the past. Then, my boss called me into his glass office.

Damn.

“What the hell is going on out there?”

“Ummm, I was on the phone with what’s his name trying to figure out what was taking them so long to get our units delivered. And honestly,” I was trying to find that professional lady, she’s here somewhere, I know it. “I couldn’t help it when he started BSing me so I just gave it to him pretty bad till he cried. I know it’s-”

“You mean bitch!”

“Hey!” I responded, that the professional lady was now lost forever, or the rest of the day maybe. “This ‘mean bitch’ just saved your ass there. You’re fucking welcome!”

My boss just laughed, “Good, thanks! Please keep me posted, we need get these units to our customers ASAP. We have to meet our deadline and goals in the next couple of days.”

“We shall, we shall.”

The rest of that day, everyone gave me odd wide-eyed looks. Everyone asked me what happened, whom got the wrath of the American. In a few hours, our work was cleared, units were delivered, everything was good. It shouldn’t have taken me being unprofessional, was the thought at the back of my head. By the end of the day, I was shown an invoiced by one of our accountants, “are we responsible for these fines?”

Of course things didn’t end there, it got worse. The agents had sent us an invoice for their incomplete services, dated days before the shipments even arrived, with fines they racked up leaving our shipments for days at the ports. When I brought this to the management’s attention, they had a fit.

“We need to review all their back invoices.”

“This is a matter of principle.”

“Hala should be in charge of reviewing all these invoices before they go to the accounting department.”

“Right, she deals with them daily, she would be the authority approving whether or not we are responsible for these fines.”

Damn.

A little irked, I shot an email to their head honco on vacation for like the millionth time that if I didn’t get a corrected invoice, they wouldn’t get paid a dirham (thats pennies for you American folk). He of course complied by sending me the imbecil to my office to “clear things up” the next day.

Everyone slyly watched as the guy again started with his bullshit and knowing I might just explode, I took a deep breath and with a loud but very calm tone, “Listen man, don’t fucking start with me again. You guys fucked up and left our units out there for days. You need to own up to that, period.” I found her, I found the professional lady again and this one is awesome! “So you either get me the corrected invoice by the end of the day today or it’s free. Plain and simple, ok?”

He just stared at me and when he teared up, he walked away because he had to “take care of work.” No yelling, no scream, just slightly loud and straight in the face. Professionalism at it’s best, I thought, until I looked around again to the wide-eyed faces. It was official, I was the scary person in the office.

Damn.

“I heard she pushed him against the window, threatening to throw him over if he didn’t get us our stuff.”

“I heard him cry when she yelled at him… why did he even come to the office?”

“I watched her scare him straight while she sat there casually. He’s so much taller than her and he is scared of her. A girl!

“Now she knows how things work in the Middle East.”

Damn.

Living the Confused Expatriate Life – Part 1 of a Few

However, living this expatriate life comes with a couple of interesting confusions. Maybe I just lived in this wonderful tolerant city that is San Francisco to have to deal with this identity confusion that I’m dealing with now. I’m a Muslim Egyptian American expatriate who talks in a lovely California accent but “looks” and talks Arabic like an Egyptian. Confusing much? Apparently so!

Dear Faithful Readers,

Thank you all for your kind messages after noticing my absence for the last month. It’s been rough living with limited access at my place and working hard to prove myself at this new turn in my career. I have been writing a lot, believe me! I’ve written a few parts about my expatriate life in Qatar. Let’s start it off with the piece I wrote about identity…

Living the Confused Expatriate Life
Part 1 of a Few… Identity
By: Ms. Hala

I have lived the expatriate life here in Qatar for over 8 months now. There’s still a few bumps in the road to smooth out but overall, life is good. I’m enjoying my very busy and challenging job in a new industry. I’m apartment hunting for a third time now that my temp rent will be up soon. I’m following my 2013 resolution to a tee thus far… so life is good! Oh, did I mention I’m a legal resident of Qatar now? Oh yes baby I am! Got my residency permit a couple of weeks ago, now I can do stuff like get a monthly mobile phone service… hehehe Yes, mobile not cell… I’m catching on to the popular Euro lingo here. 😉

However, living this expatriate life comes with a couple of interesting confusions. Maybe I just lived in this wonderful tolerant city that is San Francisco to have to deal with this identity confusion that I’m dealing with now. I’m a Muslim Egyptian American expatriate who talks in a lovely California accent but “looks” and talks Arabic like an Egyptian. Confusing much? Apparently so!

When I first took on my new job, the grapevines of the office announced there’s an American among them. Aside from the fact that everyone thought the American was getting paid a bazillion dollars (that’s another entry, I promise you!), no one could tell whom the American was. Many didn’t realize until I started talking to everyone, introducing myself and getting the question, “Where’s your accent from?”

Say Whaaat?
Say Whaaat?

I reply, “I’m American”.

“Really?”

“Yes, I’m from Calfornia.”

“How long did you live there?”

“Born and raised.”

“Wow…”

“Uh huh…”

The major problem in Qatar is that everyone here is labeled based on their nationality. Even those born and raised in Qatar don’t even get a Qatar citizenship. They do get treated like Qataris with regards to “Qatarization” but aside from that, they are not even legally Qatari.

There’s this thinking that one or the other has a look, has a personality, has a way of thinking or a way of doing… and everyone’s judging you based mostely on those ideologies and stereotypes. There are so many ridiculous notions about every ethnicity out here, it’s unbelievable.

Let’s start with being an American girl and how exhausting it is to overcome that terrible stereotype. What’s the stereotype here about American girls you ask? Drum roll please… American girls have non-stop wild parties, get drunk all the time and the rest is flushed down a toilet in the morning. Mind you, many conservative expatriates here have come to this conclusion from the many movies and television shows that “always show you American girls drinking and having crrrazy parties.”

*sighing and shaking my head*

Finding an apartment under the American girl banner has simply been the most annoying experience of my life, twice! Having to do it so many times now is just torture at this point. I’m repeatedly asked where I’m from and have to answer with Egypt just to get a viewing appointment. Once they see my “Egyptian look” but hear my “berfect ingelesh”, I get asked, “Where are you from, exactly?” After going through an identity explanation, I have to further explain that the idea that us American girls are drunk party animals is just plain false. I’ve even had to emphasis that family will be joining me in Qatar permanently just so that they don’t think I will be in fact living alone and using this “extra space” for my wild parties.

*sighing angrily*

During my time as a temporary English instructor, I was asked to take on a group of young children. To my hesitation, I accepted and on the first day, disaster. One of the parents whom signed up his very disrespectful son only signed him up because it was exclaimed that the instructor was an American lady. Seeing that I wasn’t up to par, the Egyptian expatriate bee lined it to the director’s office exclaiming false advertisement. What did he expect? A tall blonde woman like the Americans he sees on television. Upon hearing this, I rolled my eyes and walked away before the ghetto San Francisco girl in me came out to bitch slap the stupid outta him!

I’m trying my best to overcome this stupid ideology that I can only be either Egyptian or American. I had an argument with an Egyptian fellow a while back over a remark I found quite offensive. He went on to say, “oh, is your American turned on? I forgot you don’t get some of our jokes.” I didn’t even know we could switch between our bicultural identities… WTF? Apparently, there’s a stupid stereotype about bicultural Americans, especially Arabs… Those whom hold an American citizenship think they are better than everyone else, act like they don’t get some traditional lingo and will use their American identity for beneficial purposes. As a first generation born Arab American, this stereotype is so far from the truth, you’ve got to wait for the six o’clock train to get there! Half my family from both sides hold an American citizenship after immigrating from Egypt in the early 70’s and 80’s. They’ve all worked tirelessly, raised their children and grandchildren, paid their taxes, contributed to the American society just like any other immigrant family from any corner of the world. They all deserve the same respect as every other American out there.

I’ve learned over time that I’m not alone in this odd confusion. The citizens of Qatar themselves are also in this weird situation where stereotypes about them isn’t only false, but many act upon it to the point of disgraceful. The stereotypes about Qataris… they are extremely conservative, snubby, spoiled and unkind individuals seeing all others as second class citizens. Not only is this stupidity far from the truth, but many dress in traditional Qatari attire in an attempt to act upon these stereotypes and intimidate others. Yes, this includes bullying people on road to outrageous behavior towards others… just disgraceful!

On New Year’s Eve, a Qatari lady was discriminated against for, get this, looking and dressing Qatari… WTF? According to Doha News, a Qatari lady was not allowed into a hotel restaurant on the said day because it was deemed inappropriate for Qatari ladies to attend. Again, WTF? Sadly, this this happens a lot across Qatar.

I must say however, for the most part, Qataris are the complete opposite of these stereotypes just like any other ethnicity being treated according to whatever stereotype is drawn up of them. Qataris are quite polite, kind and generous. They may be wealthy but not many act like it’s their forsaken right to the wealth or OK the ill treatment upon others.

An interesting example I see all the time: in Qatar, you are not to fuel your own vehicle (similar to the law in New Jersey), you are to stay in your vehicle or go to the many shops at the station while an station employee fuels your vehicle. On any given day, as I sit comfortably while another fuels my car, I’ll see a Qatari gentleman step out of his vehicle, have a small talk conversation with the employee fueling and washing down his car, before tipping and driving off. Every time I see that scene, I see the employee with a huge smile on his face. Many of these employees can use the extra tip for phone cards to call home or even save up for an occasion.

Other times, I hear of stories of how someone had their tires blown out and a Qatari pulled over in their designer attire to help out hands on. That I’ve personally experienced personally when I had my car accident. Yes, people from various backgrounds pulled over and offered to help but I gotta say, the Qataris were the ones whom stepped out of their vehicles, yelled at the rude police officer on my behalf and moved my car because, “She’s a lady and should be treated with respect.” Chivalry is still alive and kicking! Even the Qatari police officers at the police station gave it to the non-Qatari police officer for discriminating against me because I was American. “That doesn’t matter, she’s still a lady, have some manners brother!” Thank you. =)

I do have to admit that my identity has brought up many a  funny conversations.

At an event a few months ago, I was blessed to meet some wonderful people. One of them was an elder businessman whom owns one of Egypt’s first timeshare businesses. We got to talking business until I mentioned how the timeshare business in the USA works. Once I stated that yes, I was an Egyptian American, he just stared at me. “And you wear hijab?” I couldn’t stop laughing before it was like, man you just opened Pandora’s box! I went on and on about the wonderful community that is the Muslim American community; from the San Francisco Islamic School where I volunteered to the advocacy work of CAIR to the masjids where I’ve prayed at. I had to stop myself at one point because I realized I was missing my community to the brink of tears.

I know Qatar is trying really hard to create a tolerant, diverse and welcoming community. I know it will not happen over night and not by one feeling superior or the other feeling intimidated. I see the problem in Qatar as people coming from the many corners of the world with ignorant, close-minded and/or just confused and conflicted as I am. The thing is, it’s going to take a long time before the ignorant to be educated, the close-minded to be tolerant and the confused to take it all in one day at a time.

I’m in the process still of taking it all in, one day at a time.