Theater 4 – a short story from Qatar.

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In the summer of 2001 I boarded a near-empty Qatar Airways flight to Doha. Reuniting with my family who’d recently moved there for my father’s new job, it was my first time living abroad.

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Back in the early noughties Qatar wasn’t the most exciting place in the world for a single guy. There were virtually no pubs or nightclubs to speak of, a non-existent dating scene and as far as live music went things were drier than the city’s surrounding deserts. (I’m going to pretend UB40’s depressing stop in Doha never happened).

The Sheraton Hotel – Doha.

For those literally unable to survive a few days without a drink, (all my fellow English teachers) there were just two options. A) Get an expensive license that allowed you to drink alcohol strictly in the comfort of your own home. Or B) Drag yourself over to one of the city’s soulless hotel bars (usually The Marriot or The Sheraton).

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The Little Pronghorn – a short story from Qatar.

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In the summer of 2001 I boarded a near-empty Qatar Airways flight to Doha. Reuniting with my family who’d recently moved there for my father’s new job, it was my first time living abroad.

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It was the winter of 2001 and I’d just finished an uneventful evening’s classes at The Language Institute. Gathering up my books and more than ready to head home, I hadn’t noticed Mona shuffling over.

‘‘Mr Lie-ton… my husband would like to speak to you’’. 

‘‘Oh?’’ I replied, the last of my students trooping off towards a squadron of waiting jeeps. Surely I hadn’t said anything even vaguely flirty? Been culturally insensitive? Or perhaps I was in for a weekly lecture on the benefits of converting to Islam?

‘‘He is here. Will speak to you now’’.

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Like It Too Much – a short story from Qatar.

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In the summer of 2001 I boarded a near-empty Qatar Airways flight to Doha. Reuniting with my family who’d recently moved there for my father’s new job, it was my first time living abroad.

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My first English teaching job came at a run-down old school called The Language Institute. The facilities were basic, the materials outdated and dreary, while the students were a right bunch of characters who quickly helped me develop as a teacher.

2 With Level 1 classsmaller

My elementary circle – a right bunch of characters.

My all-male classes were incredibly challenging, albeit for very different reasons. First were my intermediate guys, a depressing combination of tardy, lazy, disinterested and unnecessarily wealthy. Then there was the elementary circle, a collection of sullen-looking men who behaved as if violence had been threatened against their loved ones should they ever attempt to produce an English sentence.

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Baptism of Fire – a short story from Qatar.

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In the summer of 2001 I boarded a near-empty Qatar Airways flight to Doha. Reuniting with my family who’d recently moved there for my father’s new job, it was my first time living abroad.

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‘‘This is your classroom’’ said Jamla, switching on the lights. They flickered dubiously for a bit before finally illuminating the room, revealing merely the latest in a long string of anticlimaxes.

About to head off for my first day of teaching.

About to head off for my first day of teaching.

Like everything else during my tour of The Language Institute, the room was less than inspiring. Dingy, run down and with a dank smell I couldn’t quite identify, I tried to picture it as a place my students could one day be excited about coming to. But it was a tough sell.

Faded posters advertising French coastal towns adorned the peeling walls. Three rows of elephantine wooden desks and chairs looked like they’d been transposed from a Dickensian orphanage. My own table, set in front of Planet Earth’s oldest blackboard, resembled a dusty old grand piano. I set my books down on it and the whole thing slid to one side with a dull thud.

‘‘Someone will fix’’ said Jamla sternly from behind her veil. ‘’I will be in my office Mr. Lie-ton. Enjoy your first day at T.L.I’’. Turning on her heels, she swished out of the room, her black abayha trailing behind her.

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Pulp Friction – a short story from Qatar.

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In the summer of 2001 I boarded a near-empty Qatar Airways flight to Doha. Reuniting with my family who’d recently moved there for my father’s new job, it was my first time living abroad.

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I’d been kicking around Doha for a good six to seven weeks by the time I finally decided my life needed some purpose. Not that lounging around the pool or making my umpteenth visit to the markets wasn’t pleasant. But I was starting to get fidgety and funds had begun to run low.

Taking inspiration from an old school friend who’d recently come to Doha to teach, I decided to enroll in a TEFL course (Teaching English as a foreign Language) at The British Council. This, I’d been told, would be my key to the world! A chance to make Qatar the first of many international adventures.

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Khalifa Dreams – a short story from Qatar.

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In the summer of 2001 I boarded a near-empty Qatar Airways flight to Doha. Reuniting with my family who’d recently moved there for my father’s new job, it was my first time living abroad.

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It was another boiling hot afternoon. Ducking out of a taxi into the insane heat, I made the short dash over to City Center, Doha’s premier shopping mall, where a latte awaited me in a café on the fifth floor. I was sitting with a hot jumbo-sized mug in my clutches reading a magazine when a voice called across from a nearby table. ‘‘Hello friend, you are soccer fan?’’

Looking up, I saw two Qatari men dressed in traditional white ankle-length thobes, their red and white headdresses fluttering in the overzealous air-con. Momentarily confused, I realised the man had been referring to the blue and white hoops of my Q.P.R. shirt.

Smiling, I confirmed I was indeed an avid follower of the beautiful game, a revelation that saw the two men swiftly transfer the contents of their table to mine. ‘‘You know… Qatar now play qualify for World Cup. For South Korea-Japan” said the taller of the two, the owner of an impressive chest-level beard. ”You should support them!’’ 

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Ashraf – a short story from Qatar.

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In the summer of 2001 I boarded a near-empty Qatar Airways flight to Doha. Reuniting with my family who’d recently moved there for my father’s new job, it was my first time living abroad.

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Beverley Hills Gardens, Doha.

My first weeks in Doha were about as pleasant and stress free as I could have hoped for. I lived with my family in an expat compound called Beverly Hills Gardens, a fifteen minute drive from the city’s commercial district. Row after symmetrical row of terracotta villas, it had everything young unemployed me could have possibly needed. A gym, saunas, squash courts, a small shop and a gargantuan swimming pool complete with wooden bridge. Not to mention an illuminated waterfall that came on in the evenings.

Then there was our home, a massive space that easily housed my parents, brother, sister, dog and I, without ever feeling restrictive or cramped. Whenever I felt the need to escape this suburban bubble, I’d grab a lift into town with my dad. Or hail one of the many orange-white taxis driven by Indians, Pakistanis and Sri Lankans.

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