From Barbados to Qatar! Charmaine Gill never imagined that at 25 years old she would be living and working in an Islamic country –– away from her family and friends.
But sometimes, as she readily admitted, you have to do what needs to be done to follow a dream.
From her school days at the Alleyne Secondary, Charmaine had an interest in the tourism and hotel industry, and always dreamt of working for an international brand.
“From at school, I was always interested in different cultures and different food, and I always had an interest in working for an international brand like Fairmont,” she said.
With this dream at the forefront, Charmaine, who holds a degree in tourism management from the University of the West Indies, took the necessary steps she knew would lead her closer to what she so earnestly desired. And it was simpler than she expected –– so much so that when the opportunity presented itself, she thought it was a scam.
“I did some research on their [international brand] websites and I found that they had some job opportunities online. I sent the application, and maybe two or three weeks later I got an email from the HR manager on a Sunday at around ten in the morning. I’m saying this has to be a scam because there is no way in the world HR opens on Sundays –– except for the Middle East, of course.
“They are seven hours ahead; so by the time I responded, the manager would have left for the day. So I was thinking, ‘Yea it really was a scam!’ –– until the Monday when she replied. Then I had a television interview the Wednesday and a Skype interview the Thursday morning, and I was informed Thursday afternoon that I was successful.
“And they requested my passport details, and I got the visa maybe four, five days after; and that was it. They actually wanted me to come in December last year; but because it was really soon –– and especially soon for me to tell my family that I had to pick up and move to a whole other country –– I prolonged it to January; and then I went off,” Charmaine told Barbados TODAY in a relaxing interview while on holiday in Barbados.
Yes, she was off to become a food and beverage specialist in Qatar, a country whose culture is much different from what she was used to.
And while being in an Islamic country would be daunting for some, Charmaine was up to the challenge. She said she elected to go to Qatar because of its rich and interesting culture.
“I chose Qatar because their hospitality industry is now growing, their appreciation for it is getting better, and they have the money for it. So it’s going to develop faster. And I know it will be bigger than the Caribbean. Theirs is more business than leisure, and it is something I wanted to explore.”
And Charmaine did just that: explore! It was as though she went with a clean slate ready and willing to learn all things new. She told Barbados TODAY she was determined not listen to others’ opinions about Qatar.
“I didn’t have any expectations going there. I’ve lived abroad already, but I was going to a whole new part of the world. I really didn’t want to listen to what people had to say and what people wrote in the magazines,” she explained.
She even took on the challenge of learning Arabic. She admitted it was not and still isn’t easy.
“I didn’t have to learn the language; but I chose to because I found it quite interesting . . . . It’s very difficult to learn. Even speaking it sometimes I still have a challenge, because I’m not accustomed to it. Writing is okay, but speaking is very challenging. I took a three-month course for beginners in Arabic, and I plan to take an advanced class,” she said.
Charmaine told Barbados TODAY that being so far away from home, in a completely different hemisphere, had taken some getting used to –– especially having to work on Sundays.
“When I got there, the first week it took a lot of adjusting. The food, the time, the culture. Their weekend is Friday-Saturday; but I’m still in a Saturday-Sunday mode. So having business places open on Sundays was very strange. Nonetheless, I went there with a plan in mind. I focused. I had to concentrate.
“I had to call home frequently, but I was determined to make it last and to make it work,” the bubbly Charmaine said.
She explained that while their laws, in terms of dress and the role of a woman, were a bit frightening at first, she got used to them.
“They [males] do have more say, but that is their culture. I understand that. If you are going there, you have to accept that also. There was never a situation where I felt disrespected, although women don’t get the respect they deserve. I’m not from their country, so they tend not to really take it out on me more or less. So its kind of normal for me.
“I go about my business normally. I’m in their country; I respect their laws.”
But to Charmaine, an avid race car lover, seeing how the Qataris “roll” was quite exciting, and a welcome surprise.
“It’s amazing, when you can be in traffic and you look to your left and see a Ferrari, or you look to your right and see a Maserati or Lamborghini! It was a bit overwhelming coming from a small Caribbean island. I’ve got into it now.
She said however that the weather “is a whole different situation”.
“It’s either very hot or very cold. There is no in-between. When I went, it was about five degrees Celsius. For some parts of the world that may not be cold; but, for someone who is from the Caribbean, it was freezing.
“In April going into May, it was 37 degrees. Outside was super hot. That took some getting used to. You try to put it behind you and do what you have to do,” Charmaine said.
And coming from a country where they aren’t that many dress code rules, if any at all, to one where women have to be covered at all times, Charmaine said with a chuckle: “It’s their country; so you have to respect their laws.
“The shorts thing is definitely a no-no. It’s an Islamic country; so showing of the skin for a woman is very offensive, especially around Ramadan time. That’s their holy month; so you can’t wear certain things. There a guideline on what you can and cannot wear, because you could be arrested.
“They don’t want us [outsiders] to come in and corrupt their local people,” she said on a more serious note. And as the saying goes, “everywhere you go you meet a Bajan”.
Charmaine found this to be quite true because she was not the only Bajan roaming the streets of Qatar –– although meeting them didn’t happen right away.
“It took some time for me to meet Barbadians. The tennis coach at the hotel I worked at is Jamaican and he was training someone who is Barbadian. Her husband is a geologist for SOL –– that’s how she arrived there. And then I met the reggae band Bougie.
“Meeting them, we had our macaroni pies, and baked chicken, fishcakes. It still wasn’t the same, but the friendliness was there. If there was anything I needed, I could always call on her for advice. She was there for three years. She has now moved to Australia. So they knew the place. It was good having someone like that there.”
Charmaine believes she has found what she loves and intends to continue with it until she is ready to do her Master’s. At present, her career is her main focus. Settling down is still a way off for the Bajan beauty.
“The culture of the Middle East is that they work very hard and very long. So there’s no space for me to settle down; and at this stage of my career I’m not really ready yet. I want to do my Master’s in two years after this work experience. And from then I would like to go preferably to Europe or the US.
“So I wouldn’t see myself settling down until another four or five years –– even if I wasn’t there,” she said.
But for Charmaine, no matter where she ends up, Barbados will always be home.
“I believe home is where the heart is; so definitely there is no place like home. There is no place like Barbados,” she added.
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