After almost three months in Qatar, it was time to touch base in London…
I spent hours trawling through various flight options, connections and combinations, trying to find a price I could justify. I umm-ed and I ahh-ed, I fought battles in my head, then I looked up and saw a man in a “London Calling” t-shirt, decided that was my message from the universe, and I booked my flight back to London.
I’ve been in Doha, Qatar for just short of three months. I’ve got a new home, a new job and a whole new country to get used to. I’m getting there. I’ve made some new friends, done my best to fit in, and even fasted every day of Ramadan to better understand what my colleagues were going through and gain a new experience.
As soon as I pressed “confirm purchase” a rush of adrenalin and excited swept round my body. “I’m going home” I beamed.
There was only a matter of hours between booking and take off – 17 at most – and I had an appointment with Wales v Germany to fit in. I didn’t care about sleep, I was delighted, and relieved.
Upon arriving back at Heathrow, I was met by familiar signage and typefaces, and Spandau Ballet’s ‘Gold’ playing in the airport loos. I felt alive – and almost gave in to the temptation to sing along (this from a girl who’s never braved Karaoke).
The tube! Swiping in with my Oyster card, seeing the patterned seats and the iconic roundel again – I was home. It was rush hour – trains and underground tunnels were packed with people – the man next to me stank, but this was London. My London and was so glad to be back.
Seeing so many people, from all walks of life, all walking, crammed together into the underground burrows of tube stations and tunnels all felt so natural. I’ve missed this. I’ve missed public transport, and people, and all the different colours and styles of outfits.
I’ve been watching from afar. I know that politics has lost the plot and I’m as upset as the rest of you to see reports of post-EUref racist attacks. I know times are grim, without much hope in sight, but Londoners, you live in one of the (if not the) greatest cities in the world. You’ve got history, architecture, culture, diversity, transport, style (in all forms), music, art, and a city with a true beating heart. You have more in common than you have differences. You can feel a real sense of pride about this place. Never forget that, even in these dark times. London
has strength, character and personality. It’s a wonderful place where anyone can belong. Where being different makes you normal. Where you can taste the world, be constantly surprised, and hang out in places where the lights aren’t so blindly bright you feel like you’re in a dentist’s room not a place for chatting with friends.
I can’t quite explain how coming home makes me feel. The closest thing I can compare it to is after the time that I wore a full Muslim veil for a week for a radio programme. Nothing about it stopped me living my life, it was just a bit different to what I was used to. When I took it off for the first time I suddenly felt like I had the ability to express myself, the fit back into the shadows and not be conscious of being different, to wave my arms around and grin across my whole face. To be free to be me again. That’s what coming back to London has been for me.
There is nothing about Qatar that really stops my living life and doing what I need to do to survive, but I do have to check myself a little. I can’t talk about wanting a bacon sandwich, or dying for a pint after work. I have to choose my outfits carefully so as not to attract unwanted attention. I have to remember that I’m the outsider in this situation and act accordingly. None of these things are a big deal in isolation, not at all, but I realise I’ve had far fewer animated conversations, been aware of biting my tongue at times I would normally speak out, and I miss the blunt humour and gentle ribbing that I’m used to.
Being on constant high alert to prevent unintentional offence has taken its toll, so it’s a relief to be back, even for a few days, to catch up with people an a place that know me backwards and forwards and be able to say whatever I like without holding back.
London, you’re great. Londoners, thank you.
Note to self: Schedule regular trips back home to keep in touch with your reality. London is your anchor.