“Howzit? All ok? Everyone ok? What’s new?
“All good, not much, same old, same old”
So, I get on with living my expatriate life in Doha- Qatar. Living with enthusiasm…you need it in a city built in a hurry and now bursting and cracking at the seams, with innocuous cranes dotting the skyline; a country of rapid change with a population of 2.5 million people, and a fascinating history.
I love my job. It helped me to grow on a personal level and reaffirm my love for all things creative, something I could never have foreseen. It gave me the opportunity to meet so many people from diverse cultural backgrounds, each having their own customs and traditions, how this has broadened my views on the human race.
The freedom and joy of road tripping around traditional towns versus the big city and endless sand dunes with new friends has been memorable. The arrival of a family member, a friend or a friend of a friend, who is also stopping over in this part of the world, is eagerly anticipated.
This is a country where the simple pleasure of commuting in the scorching heat seems like an un-ended journey; yet in the winter the rolled down windows, cool breeze against your skin; a place where you cross paths with humans from such diverse cultures and backgrounds; where hospitality involves as much rice as possible, the frequent stops at your favourite karak store causing further traffic congestion but making every sip of it worthwhile.
Now, everything had changed…like everything else in life.
“stable, but still critical and on a ventilator”
That Thursday, I heard that she was fighting for her life, suspended in a bubble somewhere between heaven and earth. The next day, she was gone.
It’s the dreaded call that comes to all of us who live abroad. My race against the clock had begun. Searching for the next available flights from Doha to Johannesburg, at short notice, the loneliness struck home. Visiting every immigration offices from Gharafa to Mesaimeer but failing to obtain an exit permit due to administrative processes, the relentless pleading with my Creator to grant me the ability to accept what was to be, and grant her all that was best for her, eventually came to pass.
I zombied through Thursday evening, blank on the outside, turmoil on the inside.
News from home and abroad was stuttering and conversations were tough, verging on tears, I shared the news with friends living in Doha, phone calls from around the world, offering their condolences. The following days were brutally tough.
An amazing human being, a loving and protective sister, compassionate friend, caring daughter, who celebrated life and freedom, youth and happiness dispatched. Let me give you a picture of this fallen angel for without it the story has no soul. Love and compassion personified, she somehow managed to touch the lives of everyone she came into contact with, her purpose for living was to make everyone around her feel better, always so kind and generous, with an infectious personality and no stranger to human suffering, her caring behavior cemented a place for herself in the hearts of everyone she met. As is the way of things and due to her compromised body, she faced enduring tests, still blessed with a dazzling personality and a shining spirit, I was so blessed to have her as my baby sister. We shared a bond only sisters will understand and a great friendship that spilled over into talk of glorious times past and the possibilities, speculation and planning of future dreams. Now, that’s all turned to sand.
Now, what I remember about those seven days is the way the South African Muslim community in Doha and friends all around the world, reached out to me by texting, Skyping, phone calls and leaving messages. The compassion, tenderness and comforting words and actions of the South African Muslim Community was a constant reminder that there is still love and humanity in this world. Despite receiving many messages referring to my being on my own out here it was in those days that I felt closer to my “Doha Family” and friends across the globe than at any time as an expat. This family of people was cherished, united by something so real, yet crushingly so intangible and unfathomable.
My family is entirely gracious in how they respond to whatever choices I make about when to return to SA and when not to but no matter the grace they extend to me, I still feel burdened by the simple fact that I was not there during her final moments. Anything can happen over here, but it’s tough when it happens thousands of miles away. Rest in peace sweet princess!
Being far, far away means saying I’m sad and giving in to those emotions brings with it the burden of being afraid.
She passed away well surrounded by loving family and I wasn’t there.
She was buried well, surrounded by loving family and I wasn’t there.
Of course I want to be there and of course I want to be here, that is not the point. Or maybe it is. That is the fundamental reality of being an expatriate, of loving two places, of living in two worlds.
It is a lack of being with. I was not with those who were mourning. I was not with those who gathered around and shared memories. I was in an abyss, the absence, the space. I was not with ‘my people’ to close the door on that life.
When someone you love dies and you are far, far away, you are outside that warmth of family and communal grief. And, one begins to question and wonder if you are in the right place.
I was reminded that death does come to everyone, anytime, anywhere. As obvious as that sounds, until it happens to someone you love it’s easy to feel immune or blissfully oblivious of that possibility. You know everyone is going to die sometime, just not now, not this year, least of all, not your youngest sister.
I don’t have to like it, and I will certainly need ample time to grief, but the sooner I can accept the reality, the less I will suffer.
Often, in times of silence and solitude, I imagine us being together reunited with my mother. This has brought me hope on many difficult days.
I believe in the Will of God, tonight as I sip my karak, I salted the “chai” (Hindi for tea) with my tears while saying Thanks to the generosity of others!