Finding inner peace in the Middle East
Sports Facilities Lead at Alleyn’s School, Joel Stewart describes how a visit to Qatar changed his world view – and his life.
Not just a vacation
It’s not everyday someone close to you moves to the Middle East for an amazing new job opportunity that they cannot turn down, but this is what happened to my cousin and his wife in 2013. After a few years a friend and I decided to pay them a visit in the month of March 2015 for a 10 day holiday that changed my life forever.
As a holiday destination, we loved Qatar. We had an amazing time traveling around Doha and taking part in most of what West Bay has to offer from jet skiing around a man-made ‘Venice’ lookalike, enjoying the corniche, dune buggy days in the dessert and dining out at one of the many 5-star hotels/restaurants Doha has to offer.
However, I also began to realise that Qatar was beginning to have a deeper impact on me, There was a vibrancy about the place and it wasn’t just about the World Cup. The country seemed full of genuine people all willing to help each other for nothing in return but a smile from God.
I have been lucky enough to travel to many countries but have never felt the amity, safety and appeal that Doha gave me for the 10 days I was there. Originally, I thought the feeling would pass once I got back to London, and it would be another holiday destination I could highly recommend to anyone interested. But Qatar had got under my skin and when I got back home, I started to google “jobs in Qatar” and to my amazement several opportunities came up that I was qualified for, interested in and felt that Qatar could be part of my long-term career. So, with zero hesitancy, I sent off my CV and cover letter even if it was with no great optimism.
New job, new life
Lo and behold I had a response from one company within 2 days, an interview in central London the following week and a job offer with flight and accommodation on the table within 2 weeks . . . Wooow!
I wondered why I felt so at one with leaving my comfort zone to go and live in a completely different part of the world where the rules of the land, climate and the people/culture were so different from England. Perhaps it was because I had felt completely safe while I was there and had an inner peace I’ve never experienced before.
This might seem a little ‘over the top’, but I thought this ‘inner peace’ would allow me to relax more, enjoy life more, which in turn might allow me to have greater focus on the tasks at hand (work, play, family, etc.) without having to look over my shoulder or worry much at all. It felt like an opportunity I couldn’t turn down, so I sorted out my affairs in the UK to embark on this “opportunventure” of a lifetime.
Starting work was amazing. On my first day I remember looking out the window for most of it in awe of my new surroundings, the incredible architecture of buildings in West Bay and probably disbelief that I was even there embarking on this new way of life, with the start of the week being a Sunday and ending on Thursday!!
I soon got into a routine of my new life that included tailored suits, business lunches and lots of time on the phone ‘doing deals’. On my travels I started to interact with the local people and others from around the world that have moved there permanently. Most people living the country were Muslim, but not all. After a while, whenever the call to prayer would happen, subconsciously I would spend 5 mins asking /hoping for a blessing also which turned into meditation in the evening when at home.
I was also asked where I am ‘from’ by local people which was understandable as whenever I said I’m from England, I was given a peculiar look and was asked again “No but where are you from?” to which I replied, “Jamaica” and repeatedly got a response of “Ahh… Bob Marley” a big grin and a look of acceptance. Research shows that being friendly to strangers does make you happier and will rub off onto others, while at the same time you learn a lot more about different cultures. After speaking so freely to strangers, I was able to bring that back to London and open conversations with absolutely anyone.
A new calm
After about 3 months I was very settled and living in a great flat share 5 minutes from work with a pool on the roof, a gym and café area all within the building. I came to find this is pretty standard in most Doha city accommodation. I had made friends and had a good social life even in what I thought would be ‘the deserts’. Every weekend felt like a mini-holiday away as I could go to the beach, rent a boat on the corniche or just spend time by the pool in perfect weather. It was wonderful, and that’s when the realisation began to kick in that what started as a holiday has now become a way of life. Having an extremely low crime rate reduces the social anxieties and invisible tensions floating around the fast pace of London city which creates further calm and inner peace. I was very happy and grateful that I had made the move, often wondering what I would be doing if I was back in London.
A new me in the UK
After 18 months I had a decision to make – whether to stay in balmy Qatar or move back to wintry London and spend time with my daughter who was starting secondary school in the UK. I knew I had to come back and be close to my family after living the dream and earning a tax-free salary. So I left Qatar to fully support my daughter and was able to get straight back into work. It didn’t take long before the London hustle and bustle crept back in, and I swiftly realised the atmosphere on the ground in London is far away from the one on the ground in Doha. This gave me a greater appreciation for the tranquillity, culture, and laws they have implemented there, as well as offering great opportunities to people from all over the world who would like to experience the country.
It’s not everyday a close friend or just someone you know completely moves to the other side of the world, but this could be a catalyst for change in your life too, as it was in mine.
Turn a holiday into a way of life . . .
My daughter is 18 now, so my next adventure may await . . .
Joel Stewart is Sports Facilities Lead at Alleyn’s School in Dulwich.