25th Jul 2012
Here we are late July, the holy month of Ramadan has started, the temperatures are averaging mid 40’s, the skies are clear, our personal effects are still somewhere on the high seas, we experienced being in the middle of a twelve car pileup this week, we arrived back from a trip to Sri Lanka and Australia last month and we are off to enjoy the delights of Istanbul and Crimea next week.
Where to start?
Ramadan is a month long tradition for Muslim people when fasting (no water or food) occurs between a predetermined time in the morning and evening (currently about 3:30 am to 6:30 pm). The objective is to refocus on God and to practice self-sacrifice. This is taken very seriously here in Qatar and working hours are reduced to between about 8am and 1pm for most people. The shop hours are also adjusted to reflect a life that is lived largely at night for the month.
Of course, it is in the nature of people, even while practicing self-sacrifice, to make the most of life, so fasting is often broken, after prayer, with feasting and celebration and many of our Muslim friends look forward to this time of year with some anticipation. That said, I harbor some concerns about the impact on the health of many people of not drinking for more than 15 hours in these temperatures.
After the windy, dusty conditions of June and the earlier part of July it is great to wake each morning to clear blue skies. The humidity has risen so the evenings give us very little respite from the heat. We have tried swimming in the evenings recently but, sadly, the pool is just too hot to make that much fun. I am guessing the water temperature is well above 40 degrees because it is quite hot when you get in and when you get out it is definitely cooler just standing in the open air. A good shade cloth over the pool would probably make a huge difference.
At the risk of being controversial, I am going to put up a health warning here.
Qatar Health Warning
You will see at right a device that is widely deployed in toilets in the Middle East and across much of the sub-continent. This is surely an act of genius, and it is astounding how rarely you see one of these bum guns in European countries, they save on paper and are very hygienic and convenient. The warning: Do not use in Qatar in the middle of the day when the water in your cold-water tank is about 50 degrees.
A 12 Car Pile Up
On Monday we received an object lesson in leaving enough space between yourself and the car in front, and a reminder as to just how STUPID some drivers can be.
Yuliya and I were going to arrange delivery of our personal effects with the local shipping agent prior to going to work. We were driving across the west of Doha on the Shamal Road, a three lane highway at that point. We were travelling in the left hand lane (the fast lane) at about the speed limit (100 kph). This is never a comfortable experience in Qatar (travelling in the fast lane) because there is always some clown who believes the speed limit doesn’t apply to them, comes within a metre or two of your rear bumper and starts flashing their lights or tooting the horn. Hence when in the left lane you tend to be very alert.
So, on full alert, I was able to bring the care to stop in time when, about six cars ahead of us, someone stopped in the express lane to change a tyre. Unfortunately the five cars between us and the guy with the flat tyre were not so alert, and apart from the car directly behind us, neither were the next three cars. The result was, as you might imagine, six cars in front of us nose-to-tail with steam, smoke, and water pouring from various orifices. Behind us the car immediately following managed to stop without touching my Landcruiser but a split second later he was heavily rear-ended by another car. The result? My follower slammed into the back of my car and we were pushed into the car in front. The results can be seen below.
Luckily, and thanks to the engineers who design modern cars to absorb shocks like this, it appears that in the whole fiasco that no one was hurt, and after we had all shaken hands and introduced our selves (in what other country does that happen?) we settled back to wait for the police to come and sort out the mess. I rang work to let them know I might be a little late and, of course, the first question that was asked was “Are you both OK?”, the second question was a little more unusual though; “can you still use your air conditioner?”. Thankfully, the answer to this was also “yes”.
I have to say that I was impressed from this point on with the efficiency of the Qatari road Traffic Police and the way in which the formalities have been handled (so far). The police were on the scene within 5 minutes and, bearing in mind that this was rush hour, arranged for all the cars to be moved onto the shoulder on the right hand side (the correct place to stop and change a tyre) quite quickly and for the car behind us to be towed from the scene. Then, within a half hour they had taken statements and details from all the people involved and advised us to pick up our police report (one cannot get a car-body repair of ANY sort done in Doha without a police report) at 5pm from the main road-traffic office.
As arranged we arrived at the road traffic office in Madinat Khalifa at about 5:15pm to find that, due to Ramadan, there was one person working out of perhaps a dozen who might normally have been there. Because we had arrived reasonably punctually we joined a fairly short queue and 15 minutes later we were able to leave with completed police report written completely in Arabic. As you might guess, I was a little concerned about this and asked my good friend Waqas if he could arrange to translate it for me. He did and I was surprised but pleased to find that the traffic police had got all of the material facts completely correct. I am not sure what the process would have been had they been wrong but I’m guessing that early intervention would have been the safest course.
Being fully insured by QIC, the next day I fronted their claims office in Wholesale Market Street to submit my report and make a claim. A few notes about this: The QIC claims office fronts the street directly, there is no obvious door, no obvious place to park and no driveway, a hand scrawled sign says that parking is around the back. To reach the parking you must drive your vehicle up over the curb, across the footpath and drive down a steep rocky incline into a large open area of desert where you will see a dozen or so cars that have clearly been written off and left to decay peacefully in the sun. After you park your car you will find a door in the back of the building and upon entering you go up to the first floor where there is a large modern office. The staff are very polite and helpful and I found they spoke good English. Following the obligatory “take a number – wait for it to be called” routine you are processed quickly and efficiently and taken back downstairs so that photos can be taken of the damage. You are then issued with an approval to get your car repaired.
So that’s it, the car is having a vacation in the Toyota repair shop from tomorrow evening and I am hoping that it will be sorted by the time we get back and that it will be none-the-worse for wear. Especially since it is effectively a new vehicle.
Sri Lanka, Australia, Turkey and Ukraine
I went to Sri Lanka with my first wife, Suzanne, back in 1983. That was a two week stay when we visited many of the amazing historic sites and enjoyed the hospitality of these wonderful people. Last month Yuliya and I spent a week there on the way to Australia and my observation, as an outsider, is that there have been some changes, not for the better, but that the people despite a long and horrible civil war, remain as friendly and welcoming as they were nearly 30 years ago. I will write a separate post about our trip to this lovely country.
We would not normally have elected to visit Melbourne in June, however this was a special occasion. Not exactly a land of ice and snow, but miserably cold and grey, southern Victoria is not the place to be mid-winter. My daughter, Ashlee, was turning 21 and we were there to help her celebrate. I have posted some photos here of the festivities for the family and friends who were involved. It was a great opportunity to see many people, family and friends, and to enjoy some excellent Australian food and wine. It really is the lucky country.
We stayed with my sister Clio and brother in-law Terry and our thanks again to them for their hospitality. Next time we will hopefully be well enough to do another round or two of traditional Russian toasting!
The Ongoing Saga of Our Personal Effects
Following on from my last post, we have now been told that our personal effects will arrive here in Doha on 30th July. Two days after we go on holiday, slap bang in the middle of Ramadan (slow work time), and three weeks later than originally promised.
I have arranged for the goods to be cleared through customs and in return, been informed that this process is going to cost nearly another thousand pounds (well over 4,000 ryal). If anyone is considering shipping goods to Qatar, be aware of this. Customs clearance, paperwork and anything to do with the port here in Doha is incredibly expensive by local standards and not to be considered lightly.
More information will be posted as it comes to hand.
…and Yuliya’s residence permit is nearly ready. There is a whole new story here but I simply can’t bear the thought of writing it down. Suffice to stay, get your residence permit sorted as quickly as possible, procrastinate NOT under any circumstances.