20th Mar 2012
Well Yuliya has flown back to the UK last Thursday and left me to my own devices. This always takes a little readjustment as I need to re-hone my self-sufficiency skills. While she was here we both took an almost complete holiday from washing and ironing, electing instead to take business clothes to one of the local laundries which are cheap and efficient. Without any effort you can get a shirt washed and ironed for 5 Qatari riyal (around one dollar and fifty Australian cents or one UK pound). Hence I am simply going to continue this practice.
I will also be looking for a regular cleaner who can come in and deal with the dust that is part and parcel of living in this part of the world. It seems every locale has its drawbacks. In most other countries I have lived in there is some aspect of nature which seems to be sent to try your patience and stamina, in England it’s the damp and cold during the winter months, in Australia, a range of crawling, web-spinning and flying insects, in New Zealand it was the sandflies and here it is the all-pervasive dust. This requires a frequent, regular regime of wiping, vacuuming and sweeping to keep the house live-able. My advice to newcomers, bring a really good vacuum cleaner and be prepared to use antihistamines if you have any allergy problems.
Other than such mundane matters as the cleaning I am afraid life has not held much in the way of excitement here.
TV and the media!
I managed on the weekend to tune my television in to Al Jazeera which was something I had been wanting to accomplish for sometime but never seemed to find the time to do. Al Jazeera is a Qatari venture and I find it to be source of news and information that is much more balanced and intelligent than most of the alternative options. When I think back over the various places I have lived and work there is only one other service that I can recall (SBS in Australia) that offers such a sophisticated, intelligent and balanced range of content on television. Now, if you could take the quality of BBC radio 4, mix it with the balance and depth of ABC Radio National in Australia and then give it that Qatari polish we could have some decent radio here as well.
Hunting for a home
I have promised for some time to let people know about the housing here in Doha and now that Yuliya and I have spent some time looking at the house market I’ll try to share what we have learnt. Be aware that we have both lived and worked in a variety of states and countries across the world and this summary reflects our experience in other places.
Housing in Qatar is, despite first impressions, abundant and does not have to be expensive. Your choice of housing will very much depend on what you are willing to pay and on your family circumstances and expectations. First let me explain some terminologies as I know from personal experience that some of the words have implications for Westerners that are contrary to the facts.
Almost everyone here lives in a “compound”, a walled collection of villas (detached or semi-detached houses) and apartments; or in a high-rise apartment block. I hasten to explain that having a wall around the compound does not imply that it is either dangerous or undesirable to venture outside the compound, in fact the opposite is true and Qatar is without a shadow of a doubt in my mind the safest place I have ever lived in terms of being able to roam freely (woman or man) anywhere at any time of the day or night. The wall around a compound really seems to serve two much more practical purposes. It delineates those with the rights to use shared facilities within the compound (these may include swimming pool, spa, sauna, gymnasium, and club room with TV, pool table etc…), and it provides an environment where children can roam freely with relatively low-fear of being skittled by a passing car.
Often the compound gates are watched by a “security guard” who will ensure that those who should be inside the compound (the kids) remain there, and those who may not be welcome inside (door to door salespeople) stay out.
Some compounds have all of the amenities described above, others do not. Some of course have more features, and one that we looked at had a bakery, small shop and a laundry on site.
High rise apartments are generally well serviced with the same range of amenities as compounds. The major difference being that in a high-rise you will be limited to a balcony on which to pursue outdoor activities.
Villas can be very large, 6 big bedrooms is not atypical, or can have as few as two bedrooms. quite often the villas will have a maids room as well for those who wish to have live in home-help. typically the rooms are spacious, much bigger than one would expect to find in any house in the UK and more in line with rooms in Australian houses.
Apartments in tower blocks tend to be reasonably spacious as well. These can vary from “big enough to swing a cat” (although I am not sure it would be legal or desirable to do so) to “very comfortable”. We haven’t seen anything that approximates the sort of “cupboard for rent” that one would expect in big cities in the UK.
Any accommodation will either be full or semi furnished. Fully furnished generally means just that, lounge suit, dining furniture, carpets, curtains, beds, wardrobes, clothe spaces, sometimes even pots, pans, cutlery and crockery.
Semi-furnished accommodation will typically include nice curtains, stove and oven, refrigerator, dishwasher and washing machine.
Quite often, it seems, electricity, water and even Internet and telephone costs are included in the rental price of apartments. It is however worth checking on this before you sign on the dotted line. If you had to pay the electricity and water costs on, say a six bedroom villa, I am told these would typically run to around AUD$150 (GBP100, QAR 560) per month in the hottest months when you have to have air conditioning running constantly.
Now the prices. These vary of course based on size of accommodation, whether it is furnished or not, and where it is located.
In, arguably, the most “prestigious” location (The Pearl) you can find a waterfront, two bedroom apartment with all services included in a tower block, fully furnished for around AUD$3,313 (GBP2,250, QAR 13,000) per month, a similar apartment in a West Bay tower (where many Europeans chose to live – for comparison think Melbourne South Bank, London Canary Wharf or North Sydney) might cost around AUD$2038 (GBP1,385, QAR8,000) per month but could cost much more if larger.
In other parts of town it is quite reasonable to expect to get a fully furnished two bedroom apartment for around AUD$1,529 (GBP1,038, QAR 6,000) per month or even less.
In the ‘burbs a house in a compound could cost anything between AUD$1,529 (GBP1,038, QAR 6,000) per month and AUD$6371 (GBP4,328, QAR 25,000) per month depending on the number of bedrooms and amenities that you want or need. Yuliya and I saw a really nice villa, three bedrooms, three toilets, maids room, lounge, formal dining room, semi-furnished, in a compound with pool, club-room, and small gymnasium for AUD$2,293 (GBP1,558, QAR 9,000) per month and we are contemplating that we may have to “make do” with this sort of place.
Many expatriate immigrants when applying for roles here find themselves in the difficult position of trying to compare costs here and costs at home. This is difficult, mainly because it is often an “apples and oranges” sort of comparison. My advice when negotiating a contract with an employer, understand the market, be sensible and keep the stars out of your eyes. One of the things that you quickly come to realize in Qatar is how lucky many of us are to have the opportunity to be born who we are and how much harder life is for many other people in the world. In summary; cheaper than London, Sydney, New York, Boston or Moscow, more expensive than many other places in the world.
On the home front (I have two home fronts, one in Australia and one in the UK) life sounds like it is continuing pretty much as it has for some time. The two youngest members of the family are struggling with trying to find meaningful employment in their respective home countries while facing a dreadful recession period. Both are working toward improving their education and skills for the future and considering various options to keep this happening on an ongoing basis.
Finding your first job is always a very difficult period in one’s life. I can see real challenges where young people very limited, if any, experience in the workforce, but have a sound education and an abundance of natural talent and enthusiasm. Employers, by necessity have to be able to see a return on their investment in employees and proving value without a track record is always difficult. I am confident that James and Michael will get through this, I just wish there was more that I could do to help.
The two oldest step-siblings are getting on with their lives, Alan has started a role with a prestigious building company (Wholagan homes) in Western Australia where he has settled for the time being near Bunbury in the south-west. This is a beautiful part of the country, near to the Margaret River wine growing district and a few hours from Perth. The beaches and lifestyle are to be envied and Alan seems very happy there with his dogs. His partner is planning to join him later in the year. Mariya has returned to study at University of Newcastle following her major back surgery last year and is continuing to show just how talented she is. In her spare time she is also providing tutoring support to local young people and, together with her partner, she is looking for a larger house as, when his mother comes to live with me permanently later this year, she will be providing support and accommodation for her younger brother.
That leaves my middle daughter, Ash, who is enjoyed her job with a successful electronics repair firm in Frankston (Vic, Australia), has a busy social life cooking brilliant meals and entertaining cousins from both sides of her somewhat large and diverse family. Ash is planning a trip to Thailand later this year and is very excited about that. She is also planning her 21st birthday celebration. This is going to be a fairly major event I think and Yuliya and I are very much looking forward to being a part of it.