Where in the World is Mohadoha?
A guest post by Mohanalakshmi RajakumarSeven years ago, when I told people in the U.S. I was moving to Qatar, most people had one of two reactions. “Why?” was one. “Where?” was the other. The prevalent stereotype was of oil rich countries was of places like Saudi Arabia where women cannot drive and houses were rumored to have gold inlay on the doors or doctors living on the family property. I found it difficult to navigate between these two extremes and avoided conversation with the uninitiated when at home in order to save myself time, aggravation, and the risk of offending with curt replies. There was a minority who knew of the place where I was headed, but these were either engineers, oil industry professionals, or—as I found out at my 10 year high school reunion—people in the intelligence community (that’s right, one among us was in the CIA). He was the ONLY person at our meet and greet for whom I did not have to go through the standard questions about the heat, clothing, and food. He knew no one had lived in tents in at least two generations and that camels were not the major source of transportation—but rather luxury SUVs. If there has been anything positive from the many political and economic crises in the last seven years, from international banks in a tailspin to the overthrowing of dictators during the Arab Spring, it has been a shift in perception about the Middle East. Now when I make acquaintances and mention I live in Doha, the capital of the city state of Qatar, people are not only more familiar with this region of the world, but also their questions have changed. “Do you like it there?” They ask. When I moved here for an experimental year, I was single, hadn’t finished my PhD, and was twenty pounds, one marriage and two babies lighter. The country has been my greenhouse for personal and professional development. I met my husband at work, eventually finished that degree, and had our first child here. Five years flew by in this flurry of activity. My local friends were going abroad for graduate work while my expat friends were moving on to other careers. Being the one who stayed behind was strange for me; I was so used to the role of adventurer. Loneliness sank in. I had copious amounts of time to myself. In boredom, I picked up the Doha Stone—the equivalent of the collegiate Freshman Fifteen pounds minus the bustle of campus life. I worked in an office, so I was different from many expat women—stay-at-home moms who could socialize during the day. Since I didn’t have a strict 9-5 schedule, I was outside the category of those who work American hours. I was at home, alone, for at least three hours a day. Everyone I knew in country was at work; everyone I knew on the other side of the world asleep. At the edge of despair, I did the one thing I knew best: I wrote. I considered my new life—being part of a multiracial couple, being so close to India after so much time abroad, being a young woman in the male-dominated field of academia. Writing was fun and yet a solitary activity nonetheless. As an extrovert in an insular society, despairing at the idle conversation at coffee mornings for expat ladies, I started a group of my own, one for writers. Writing in a group became a way of making a lasting bond with others. I started a blog. I dug out old manuscripts and began tinkering. I experimented with Twitter, starting with 170 followers while I tweeted my daily observations. I co-edited the first published volume of essays by expats and locals in the country. Then came a second. Soon a series was created. Last year I stepped off the corporate track to give my writing my full attention. Eleven months and six E-books later, I’m proud to say I’m an indie. Being in Doha has changed my life in both fundamental and superficial ways—not the least of which is the time and space it’s given me to build a brand around my “Mohadoha” persona. I’ve been able to dabble in fiction, explore my interest in creative non-fiction, and hammer out my style. The two books I’ve written set in Qatar, From Dunes to Dior and Love Comes Later, may not be the only ones. After all, who knows how much longer my family and I will stay; it could be quite a while.
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