Deserted in the Desert

The flavor of your summer depends on where you live. Like anything in life.

Qatar Airways (Photo credit: Flygstolen)

But I can’t shake the suspicion summer here is unique from life elsewhere, unless you have lived in a beach town during the winter. The impulse towards uniqueness must also be a human compulsion. Hear me out, though, on summer in the desert.

Unlike a beach town which has a seasonal peak, rather than escaping to the desert, those who can, escape from the heat, leaving behind a skeleton population, which in a disaster movie, would most likely be described as “essential personnel” by a big chested general with muscular arms as he strode through the street.

For our family, this summer is no different than the others preceding it. Except maybe that we are going away later than everyone, which again conjures up  survivor-like feelings, though this time of a social apocalypse. We, along with the others that are left behind (“to work” as my husband gruffly puts it) band together against the zombie causing level of heat, which when combined with boredom, can be lethal to the pursuit of happiness in these the most idyllic months of the calender.

People are taking advantage of Ramadan occurring over summer this year, overlapping with the school holiday, to travel for longer than normal. The requisite one month stretches to two months (you read that right my-reluctant-to-take-two-consecutive-weeks-American reader). They wave with glee, a sticky hand of each child in their grasp while climbing the metal staircase into the plane’s belly.

Friendships are challenging to maintain in such a seasonally driven place. You may be facing the pressure of work, family, and the unfulfilled desire to see friends who live only a mile up the road.

In a nomadic place like Qatar, which may have migrated from tents into skyscrapers, associations between people are still based on place. Your interaction with a person will start up, be paused – either by the long summer or winter holiday – and then end. Because sooner or later, everyone leaves.

Whether expat or national, whether because of summer, winter, a degree, secondment, or wedding, everyone leaves. The leaving may be temporary, it may be permanent. Ten years later people have been known to return to find the entire landscape of the country unrecognizable.

The intermittent quality of relationships here is reminiscent of the friendships you had during school. Thrown together by a particular context, making friends (or enemies) with those in proximity, and the tearful promises to keep in touch.

The average expat/family stays for three years before moving on or moving home.

I thought I was safer blending into the national social scene.

But my Qatari friends go to graduate school in roughly the same cycle; they come back, work a job, and then are off for the next degree.

We have buffeted two and a half cycles of leaving. No coincidence we have two children. Averaging a child, a semi-permanent social connection, guaranteed to need you for at least seventeen years, or six cycles, means we need to leave soon. Or consider adding to the family.

And no matter how hot it gets this summer, that’s an idea I’m not yet ready for.

What’s ahead for your summer?

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The Ghost of Summers Past

Whether you are a parent or a child, a singe or married, American or Qatari, you have expectations for the months of summer. Depending on your financial situation your choices for a summer holiday could range from a day trip to the beach to a month in Paris.

Cinderella Castle by day
Cinderella Castle by day (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I remember summer being a time when my South Indian father wanted us to ‘get ahead’ in the reading for the next academic year. And also my mother taking us to the free morning movie at the local theater (who drew out mothers and young children in hopes of concession sales) or trips to the library. We never made the pilgrimage to Disney World for the requisite week long getaway of other North Florida families. The standout year was two weeks of YMCA day camp –while the rest of our friends went away overnight to the nearby Camp Crystal. There was no way they were going to let me, a girl, spend the night away from home. All of these factors meant I never had anything interesting to say for the standard post summer writing exercise, that first essay back from a three month break.

As kids in the ’80s, it didn’t seem we had that much to lose; there was danger, but rarely of the kind that could cause death. This nostalgic feeling of innocence tested came back to me as we watched the new film Moonrise Kingdom. Though the kids in the film engage in some pretty hair raising antics, you can’t help but root for them to succeed or remember longing for such an adventure when you were twelve years old and home with the family. The male and female protagonists write letters back and forth to each other; I used to send postcards to friends away at camp. Do children now text and use BlackBerry Messenger? No anticipation which makes me wonder if there is less longing (and therefore more relationships).

College was a welcome relief because in the late ’90s the study abroad trend was building. I went to China for language study, even explored Turkmenistan as a possibility for a new group location, and as a grad student, volunteered in Costa Rica. Maybe I was making up for all those years of reading the biggest books I could find on the rare occasion we spent three months in India.

Becoming an adult, and being a woman without a child, summer meant the overflow time to squeeze in anything that didn’t fit during the year. Overseas wedding planning, dissertation writing, moving overseas, and then later, having a baby.

Paris Sunset from the Louvre window
Paris Sunset from the Louvre window (Photo credit: Dimitry B)

But like the idea of a Sabbath, or day of rest, after nearly six years of marriage, this season, my husband and I have been able to have a week in the three week summer trip where we do nothing but rest, play, and eat. The indulgence of this week has helped me loosen the foot which has been pressed into the floor board all year on the writing, teaching, and grading accelerator. Screen time is limited and we even manage to squeeze in some exercise before a show at the cinema. The mere fact we have a three week vacation demonstrates how much has changed and much relative life is: our friends in Qatar (both expat and Qatari) exclaim “So short!” while those in the U.S. eyes us with envy.

There’s a lot to be said for relaxing in the digital age. I won’t bore you with exhortations to unplug and go off the grid when you need to post your Facebook photos or Tweet to keep your followers interested, both of which eliminate any of mystery that the “What I Did on My Summer Vacation” essay assignment conjured up.

I do hope when we return to the pressures of daily life at the office we come back refreshed with enough juice to make to the next holiday.


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