This was the name of the Christian fiction series published over a twelve year period about the rapture of the church or the period of time on earth after the second coming of Christ. The books tell of what it’s like to be left behind by all those who believed and the struggle for control between good and evil.
I was reminded of it over the last few weeks as many of our friends from the last two to three years in Qatar have packed up their (expanded) belongings including rugs from India and Iran, silver from Oman, and plunder from their Eid, Christmas, summer, and other travels. Having moved 9 times in my life before coming to Qatar, I guess I’m used to being the one who is saying goodbye.
Instead, in a country of transients (which I’ve written about before here on this blog) I’ve managed to become someone ‘permanent’ just five years later.
The irony being that five years is a blink in most places: New Yorkers or Londonites would scoff at the idea that you have any status as a ‘local.’ But in a country where the average contract is three years and most expats are saving in order to get home, people take a step back when they hear that we’ve been here since 2005.
This week five people we’ve known for the past few years are moving on/back. And it’s hard not to feel slightly abandoned as you go to various masalama parties.
I’m in a strange moment of life: I came here as a single woman at the age of 26, am now married, finished my PhD and expecting our first baby any time in the next four weeks. (I say first baby, not because we are planning on having others but because that is what he will be.) I feel the city of Doha and my own growth apace – we are both experiencing the swirls of delight in development and also growing pains.
Even in this city over the last five years, I’ve lived in four different houses. Going from constant movement to standing still is a major change.
When I first came here, I thought logically the right thing to do is was make friends with the Qataries as they were the ones likely to stay here and help me learn Arabic. It has been really hard to get into the local community because, as I’ve started to experience, growing close to people who only move away eventually is a very repetitive and draining task.
I came here with the full force of my extroverted personality in the middle of my twenties (which was a frighteningly nuclear thing to behold) as I would make friends with anyone, anywhere: next to me on airplanes, in the security line at the embassy, answering the same three questions at parties. In college a friend would get frustrated with my continual interest in all the people around me.
“What’s the point?” He would say after a wedding when I got close to yet another set of people. “When will you ever see them again?”
His argument was that all that interest was a waste of energy — not that he had suggestions about what else to do with it than play video games.
When I first got to Qatar, the tiny community of the expat bubble quickly popped: I who loved the variety of friends in so many of the cities I lived in, now found my world reduced to ten or twelve people and three or four restaurants.
My husband had a new strategy for making friends: letting it happen naturally. This had never happened to me before. Slowly in the superficiality of the expat community and repetitive nature of life in a small community, I felt my energy atrophy. And then, after I slept more than any one person should in a lifetime, it came back and redirected me towards writing and freelance projects like editing anthologies. My penchant for ‘clubs’ became the way to invent my own fun and create my own community among people who were also looking for meaning.
I have been able to establish some really wonderful links with Qatari and expat women who are also interested in writing, being creative, and trying to make meaning of their lives between social, familial, and personal expectations.
And I am also coming to terms with the fact there is no easy answer to the question of whether or not investing in a friendship with someone is really worth it, if they are just going to move away eventually. At our wedding my husband had friends all the way back to his elementary school days; friends he had grown up in the same neighborhood with and had photos dating back to childhood birthday parties.
One of my bridesmaids fit this category: the rest were a montage from the various stages of my life – high school, college, first full time job – from four different states. Bridal showers, baby showers: the traditional pieces of ‘womanhood’ have never been easy for me for this reason since even my parents live in another city now than the one I consider myself to have grown up in (having spent 7 years there).
I contemplate all of this during the last four weeks before our child’s birth overseas to parents of mixed ethnic heritage, unsure of how much longer we’ll be here in this county, or even in this house (depending on what maintenance issues arise). Uncertainty is a part of life and my upbringing clearly gave me the confidence to deal with change.
Now I realize that the charge that always kept me fresh and looking for something new –change– might not be part of the yearly formula and the itch to move on can’t be scratched because now there are two more people to take into consideration. I might actually live somewhere else for 7 years and stay at the same job for three years in a row. This makes me wonder who I am or who I will be as time continues to pass.
Do you prefer stability or change? Or is one better than the other at certain points?