4th February 2012
It’s Month Two here in Qatar and I have been slowly recovering from a rather unpleasant stomach bug which I picked up somehow. I think there are a few things that Europeans should be careful about in this regard. The first is eating any fruit or vegetable that is peeled and which has not been washed. The second is drinking untreated water from the tap. I am not sure which of these things caused my problem, or whether it was having food from a bain marie in a cheap restaurant, whatever, you do need to think about these things.
Just another word on the food, on the upside this time, there are an unbelievable number of restaurants in this town and the food is very, very, good. You can eat in small Indian restaurants that generally cater to people from the sub-continent who are over here working on building sites and the like. Food is commensurately very cheap and is also very authentic and very good. Typically though you will need to eat with your hands (there is always a few sinks to wash up before and after the meal but a shortage of paper towel!) or with a spoon. These establishments generally don’t stretch to knives and forks as this would not be familiar to their usual clientel. Typically a meal in such a place might cost 6 or 7 riyal (about $2) and upward by very little. Up form that of course there are more traditional establishments, Lebanese, middle eastern, Indian, Sri Lankan, Philipino… and so on. In these sort of place a meal might cost 30 or 40 riyal and the food is also generally good. Of course, alcohol will not be served.
Then there are all the usual fast food chains, McDonalds, KFC, Chillis, and so on. Not a lot I can say about those except that the KFC coleslaw is more in the “tangy” Australian style than the “creamy“ English style and the chicken is also tastier than the stuff they dish up in the UK.
At the top of the tree there are fully licenced restaurants that serve a wide range of cuisines and cater to well heeled European of American style dining with prices equivalent to what you might pay in the UK. Most of the hotels also serve quite sumptuous meals.
A quick word about the weather, when I came here in November last year for a few weeks it rained several times, however in the last month there has been almost nothing in the rain department. When the weather is fine the sky is blue and temperatures generally get, at this time of the year, up to around 25 degrees. Occasionally you get a slightly overcast day and one day it was even cold (the weather dropped below 10 degrees with a bit of a breeze) however this is the exception rather than the rule. I am told it gets so hot in the middle of summer that it is too hot to swim in an outdoor pool!
The weather here last week was not the best, the last few days were quite “murky” as a result of a constant breeze which raised clouds of dust and kept them airborne. There is really no soil here, just a sort of white sandy substance which, under pressure from car tires turns into an almost talcum powder like consistency, this then gets lifted via the wind and plastered all over anything in its way. This means the cars are often gritty and dirty and you have to be very careful leaving windows open otherwise everything inside the house very quickly gets covered in a fine layer of dust. Sadly this means that a lot of the buildings, which are in other ways quite stunning, end up looking run-down and dirty as if they are not cared for. The reality is that washing windows does not achieve a lot as the first shower of rain.
I am going to get my blood tests done tomorrow which is a precursor to obtaining a residency permit, without which I cannot get a driving licence, buy a car, or even rent a car for more than 6 days. Once I have blood tests and chest Xray taken, I will have to be finger-printed, blood-typed and then issued with a wallet sized card stating that I am a resident of Qatar and hence able to stop carrying my passport around everywhere.
The first month or so here as been quite frustrating as each day I have to have driver pick me up and drop me at work and then I rely on colleagues to give me a lift into City Center where I catch a cab home. I could have my driver take me home but the expense tends to accumulate and the visit to City Center gives me the opportunity to do some grocery shopping, or a pint after work, and just generally get out and about a bit. The ride home is always a little interesting in as much as you never know what the nationality will be of the cab driver you get. There seems to be a fairly equitable split between Indians, Kenyans, Eritreans and Ethiopians with the odd Sri Lankan in there. While it is interesting talking to any of the drivers I prefer the African taxi drivers, their English is excellent, they are politically aware, know the history of their nations and are always interesting to converse with. It is such a shame that their governments seem to be so corrupt and they are so lacking in any opportunities in their own countries.
I am looking forward to getting a car mainly for the additional freedom it will afford. Just the ability to get to a restaurant for some tea, or to go shopping in some of the less “western” areas where the prices are better and the diversity of goods is generally better as well. When my wife gets here I hope to be able to take her outside Doha and to visit some of the beaches and the inland lake, which apparently is worth a trip.