Friday, September 7, 2012
Our Qatar Exit
This last March Brett received a terrible birthday present. He was visiting Finland with a group of students on a work assignment. On his birthday the students all wanted to experience the snow up close and personal so they went sledding. Well Brett wanted to celebrate a little and decided to join them. He promptly crashed, hit his head, and woke up the beast he had been fighting for years: long-standing back and neck pain from long ago injuries. When he got home, life got very difficult in Qatar. The medical system there is chaotic, confusing, and behind the times, especially when it comes to managing pain. It took him a month just to get in for an MRI (thank goodness there was no serious head injury) and another month to see the specialist and have him tell him that physical therapy is all they could offer him. Because he had aggravated an already existing condition that he had had for years, the pain in Brett's neck and back was so constant and so debilitating he couldn't even think of attempting physical therapy.
That's when we realized he might have to live with the pain for months before getting home to the states and then we were in for a complicated summer. We would have to get him home, in to see a specialist, and repeat this whole process. We tried to set up appointments from Qatar via Skype but getting the MRI results from the Qatar doctor and then sending them to the specialist in Utah took weeks. My health had really gone down hill since moving to Doha so I knew I needed some TLC from my team of health care professionals too. The more we talked and thought about what would be required to happen this summer the more we realized that our summer might have to be extended. We probably wouldn't make it back in time for VCUQ's fall term or for Abbey's start of school at ASD.
Expat life is tricky. There are so many things to consider when health issues come up. We knew that home in Utah would be the best place for us to get the medical care that we both needed, but Brett's job is in Qatar. Abbey was just finishing up 5th grade at ASD and was excited about the prospects of middle school and 6th grade. As Brett's pain increased and his ability to even work part of the day lessened we had to make some decisions.
In the middle of all this VCUQ informed Brett that VCU in Virginia didn't want to take on the liability of signing villa leases in Qatar anymore and so we would have to take a personal financial risk by signing the villa lease ourselves - not what we wanted to do. Brett asked when the lease would be up and when the human resources department checked, it was up that day, the day Brett was sitting in the office hearing this for the first time. There have been other surprising issues come up at VCUQ over the years that have not been conducive to a peaceful life in a very unnerving country so this wasn't as big of a surprise at it could have been, but it seemed to be the tipping point. In addition, even though Brett was enjoying working with students and faculty and researching in the Interior Design Department, he was getting anxious to get back to architecture and design. (VCU eventually relented and signed a year's lease for everyone when the dean made a trip to Virginia for her annual pow wow, but by then we had made our decision to just find another villa when and if we came back to Qatar.)
So with all of these issues stacking up, and others I cannot mention here, there seemed to be many arrows pointing us toward the Qatar exit signs. So we got on our knees and turned to the Lord. The final answer has come slowly over the summer, but we felt then that we should get ready for whatever was to come. So we began to make tentative/unofficial plans to move home. Breaking the news of the possible move home to Abbey was easier than we had thought. She was sad for awhile about the possibility of leaving friends and especially the leaving ASD and be in middle school, but surprisingly, she was the most energetic as we made preparations for all contingencies. Only the summer would tell us if we were leaving Qatar for good or if we would be back for a fifth year.
We began selling things: cars, bikes, electronics and household goods we had purchased, clothing, and the enormous amount of odds and ends we had accumulated over four years. We told close friends and neighbors that we were moving because our lease was up, because that is all we knew for sure. We had to wait until Brett saw the neurosurgeon in Utah to know what was in store for us in the fall. We left the door open for us to come back, because truthfully, we didn't know if he would be recovering from back surgery, if he could be helped with simply the right medication, or if he could even find another job if medical issues forced us to stay home. When it came right down to it though, we purchased one way tickets home to Utah because if we had an extended summer, Abbey would have to start school in Utah anyway and then we would be in Utah at least until Christmas.
Three days before flying home, Brett received an email from a former co-worker. Chad wanted to let Brett know that the boss at his former architecture firm had mentioned that he wanted to hire a head designer and lead architect and he had mentioned Brett's name. There was a series of emails back and forth and then when we arrived in Utah, the emails turned to phone calls, which turned to an interview, salary negotiations, and then a job offer. Brett accepted the offer because he wasn't sure how we were going to pay for all the medical bills, especially if surgery was down the road. We felt like the Lord's hand was in all of this so we couldn't wait around for the medical decisions to be finalized. We had to move forward on faith.
Because it was such a long and involved process for him to even get in to see the neurosurgeon who had been recommended by several friends, Brett finally saw him a few days before starting his new job. The neurosurgeon wanted to take a conservative approach to Brett's injury and recommended physical therapy, traction, and a series of cortisone injections. It was clearly going to be a chronic condition that could not be solved in a matter of months. Because our family doctor and the neurosurgeon were managing Brett's pain with the correct medications, this seemed possible and hopeful but not quick enough to make working in Qatar a reality. Brett gradually was able to work a full day and came home smiling and happy from feeling so at home at the office and having the ability to create again. The decision seemed to be making itself. Qatar couldn't offer him or me the kind of medical care we need, a new job had fallen into Brett's lap, and we have been feeling blessed beyond measure, in spite of the difficulties.
So saying good bye to Doha means that we say good bye to some great friends we have made during our adventure. It means a tighter income and a lot less travel. It means less family time with Brett now that he is working regular office hours and all through the summer. Being a professor at VCUQ has had its perks but Brett and our family earned every perk, believe me. With all the amenities comes a lot of expat chaos that can tear a family apart or bind them together like never before. I think the latter has happened to us, thankfully. We have put up with the heat, humidity, and the driving insanity. We have had to hold our tongues and smile instead of complain and scream for some common sense to be used in every day life. We have been able to laugh at the amusing clash of cultures and have sorrow for those inequalities that still exist in this so-called modern world.
The workers of Qatar will be my favorite take home memory from our time in the Middle East. To see the hard working faces of the Filipino, Indian, Nepali, and Sri Lankan workers in the unbearable 118 degree heat with 80% humidity, and know that they feel lucky to have a job so they can send a small amount of money home to family is humbling. To watch the masses of working men walking around near the old souq on a Friday afternoon, trying to enjoy their one day off, is overwhelming, especially thinking about all the wives and children some have had to leave in their home countries and might not see for years. Whenever I saw the brilliant smile of our guards as they waved us into our compound it gave me courage to face my trials with a brave face. To look into the sweet face of the woman who cleaned for us each week and see the beginnings of trust develop between us made my heart hope, hope for a more civilized universe where everyone is treated with love and dignity. And to see a friend's Nepali nanny take a giant step forward in her life by being baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, see her learn to drive a car, see her meet a Mormon man online and get engaged, then to see her marry him in Nepal with all the brilliant oranges and reds of a Hindu wedding was unforgettable and life-changing. These are just some of the miracles of our Qatar adventure.