Departure time is looming and I can feel the tension rising within me as the minutes slowly tick. Sometimes I feel as if they are paused, waiting for me to conquer my anxious thoughts so they can proceed. It has taken two years to reach this climactic point so time is not going to relent that easily.
The airport is a hub of lively activity as everyone anticipates their Summer holiday journeys abroad. In true national form, the airport is swollen to capacity and I grit my teeth at the thought of missing my flight.
I glance out of the window into the harsh desert land that spans the horizon and feel gratitude for our impending departure, especially in my condition. The unrelenting sun projects its hot rays on to the white sand like a shower of bullets.
There is a sense of panic as the crowds flock to their gates to escape the merciless heat. Many will not return until the end of Summer when the assault has concluded, however, our journey is one of finality.
I have many fond memories of those desert lands and the people among them. I will miss them dearly. But the sooner I am on that plane to a new destination and this country is a speck in its on constricting dust, the sooner I am at peace.
I can recall the phone call vividly. ‘Just pretend that you are married if anyone queries you.’ This was part of the unconvincing conversation that took place two years ago during our phone interview for a job in a land that, at the time, we hesitantly pronounced incorrectly as ‘Quatar.’ Our naivety shone through.
Nevertheless, they were clearly desperate for a teacher, because with my rawness and my partner’s wealth of experience in comparison, I am convinced he secured the position for me. We were hired as a package deal despite the deceptive nature of the phone call and the erroneous way we asserted the word ‘Qatar’ with a flawed confidence. They cared little for our apparent ignorance of Middle Eastern geography and hired us without a moment to spare. They needed teachers and we needed money.
Despite this limited knowledge of the mystifying Qatar, aside from its more popular Dubai neighbour, our yearning for travel was too dominant and we eagerly accepted the teaching positions in this Middle Eastern country. Deep down we knew that there were questions lingering, but our blinkers were on and our ‘worldly’ sense of adventure took charge. We were oblivious to the fact that I was going to break the law when we made the compulsive decision to reside there.
So with two weeks remaining of our stint in London, and in a newly formed relationship with a kiwi (yes I know) who I had met in Egypt (unknown to my parents at this stage), we quit our jobs and basked in alcoholic greatness to celebrate our time in London and our newly anticipated two year venture in a country unknown to us.
There was no turning back. We were now penniless backpackers surviving on a loaf of bread; we needed the tax-free Riyals and a charitable bed. And this fit our bill.
Life in Qatar was one of extravagance. We resided in a two storey house in a nice compound among families, most having their own maids. This made it easy to keep up the marriage pretence that was so subtly mentioned before our arrival. We had moved from a neglected old house with 20 occupants in thriving London (some living in the garage and closet), rats and smashed windows, to what felt like a complimentary mansion all to ourselves.
The view from our balcony.
This life of luxury provided ample opportunity to frequent five star hotels, an absence of bills, $8 tanks of petrol, free flights home, tax free income and a lucrative tutoring deal on the side; things that were unfeasible in our Western lives. We even had the opportunity to play rugby in the gulf countries and wakeboard on a weekly basis. We had stumbled upon the dream destination.
Or had we? Perhaps. If we had of been married.
Once we had overcome the gloss of the surreal five star hotels and luxurious way of life, we were left with something more sinister; we were breaking their laws under our own roof. Unbeknown to us, we had broken the law the minute we had chosen to move there together unmarried. Underneath the shine we always knew, but ignorance was bliss.
This harsh reality was truly exposed when we moved to the one bedroom flats in our second year. While living in a compound of families, we had played our fictional marriage roles well, but the idea that we only had one bedroom to share was slightly more difficult to fathom.
The day that it happened is still etched into my memory like a stone carving. The two faint red lines, protruding out at me like a smack in the face for my naivety and inexperience. A reimbursement for my foolish ways. I told you so, they would be saying.
Those breathless moments that followed, only for a brief moment, cut so deep that I longed for the feeling of waking from a perilous dream of no escape. But Reality is a tough bitch at times; stalking you around every corner, ready to pounce on her prey at any weak moment. That day she hung me out to dry. I was pregnant.
Questions flooded my mind like a river about to rupture. What if I go to jail? What are the consequences? I didn’t want to ask the wrong person. Should we apply for an exit visa for the weekend and run away? What if there is a complication? Who can we trust? Who can we tell? We certainly didn’t want this news to slip into the hands of a threatening bystander.
This was supposed to be the happiest day of our lives, yet our feelings contradicted each other; we were both happy and desperate. How is that possible? Strong feelings of confusion were all that we were left with when the waves of despair and joy washed over us.
Time was frozen that day, as it is today in the airport, as if to purposefully intensify the searing pain of that rare, but punishable crime in a country many miles from the safety net of our home.
There were two options available for us: stay for four months and finish our contracts, but with the risk of a jail sentence, or apply for an exit visa and fake a trip to Dubai for the weekend, taking a trip home to Australia from there. The former would involve a lot of lies and uncertainty, but with a hefty sum of money, while the latter would relieve me of my criminal status and ensure we were safely home. The other possibility was to have an impromptu wedding, but at our family’s expense, and to avoid a marriage bound by all the wrong reasons, this idea was out of the question for us.
With dollar signs in our eyes, we chose the first option. In hindsight, this option’s merits were based on stupidity, but at the time we enjoyed living on the edge and we were green parents who had not yet experienced the love that comes with a new child, so perhaps we were a bit selfish in our thinking.
We had also been living in an uncomplicated fairytale life for the past few years so it was difficult to fathom the severity of the crime or the idea that a pregnancy might be with complications.
Over the next few months we concocted a trail of lies and deceit amongst our work colleagues and friends. We felt shameful for this but it was too risky to confide in anyone. Pregnancy is meant to be an exciting time of life, but for my first pregnancy it was all secrecy and scandal.
There was many a student’s face that I caused to flush pink with humiliation when they inquisitively asked, ‘are you pregnant miss?’ I would knock their comments down like a hammer to a nail, recoiling with my replies. If they had of ripened a little more with age, perhaps they would have deciphered my shadowy eyes like the police officer parent who relentlessly quizzed my partner on his absence of a wedding ring. But kids still see the good in people.
Towards the end of our time, I read an article in the local paper about a Filipino woman who was jailed for six months with one hundred lashes for a pregnancy out of wedlock. Its insignificant positioning in the paper exposed the harsh reality of these crimes: they were common and dull, and there was little care for the fate of the woman. Urgency grew inside me. Had we made the right decision?
We are on board the plane and I clutch my seat with trembling hands in anticipation of take off. The doubt is still unwavering.
Will they break down the door and rush me to jail? I don’t thinks so. We are not that significant. However, I will feel a sense of liberation when those wheels put air between that hot and dusty, unforgiving desert land and we fly like a bird into the horizons of freedom.
I take a final glance at this chapter of my life. I glimpse the sweaty foreign workers, struggling to haul the luggage into the planes on the ground below, amidst the ruthless heat. I wonder what deep dark secrets they are carrying, not unlike the mysterious luggage they handle. The only difference between them and myself is that I am blessed with the money for wings to evade my prey when life turns rough. They have to stumble on foot.
I quince at the thought of the long tedious twenty hour flight ahead of us towards a land of uncertainty. I am glad to be leaving, but to what I am unsure.
However, no matter how rough or perilous the road is, or how lost I get along the way, the paths will eventually reconnect with reason or purpose at my destination. Life is an around the world ticket; you choose where you want to get off and we had made our own choices.
Our plane was headed into the frightening path of the dark unknown, but life is about the journey, not the destination and sometimes it is the only direction you need to go to experience the light. Little did we know then, that the darkness would lead us to the three most incredible blessings in our life: our three beautiful children.
As the plane roars towards our next chapter, I wonder where our next stop on the path towards destiny will be. I am certain about one thing; I am going to get my money’s worth and take as many stop overs as needed on my journey to get there.