Holy Hallowe’en

So – today’s post is about the interesting part of being of Christian heritage and living in a non-Christian country.  Who’d of thought Hallowe’en was such a big deal around here?  Well it is and not necessarily in a good way.  Hallowe’en as we celebrate it in Canada is a night for children, for candies and games and dress-up, all associated with ghosts, goblins, witches and generally spooky things.   Its origins go back to Pagan times, when some believed the dead could walk the earth (some of us still believe that!).  Is it Christian?  Likely not, but it is a good fun and spooky time.

Well, around here, despite big orange pumpkins in the grocery stores and little (Caucasian) girls dressed up like fairies and

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princesses, Hallowe’en is frowned upon and taken very seriously by the officers of the law.  On Thursday, the officers of the law (I dare not use the p word) raided the Canadian School (filled with mostly kids of Canadian citizens here) and tore down the decorations and detained (hauled off) one of the teens who was apparently dressed as a ghost.  One of the compounds was the visited upon and the decorations torn down.

Today, in my spin/fitness class – all 10 of us were either Canadian, American, Australian or British – our instructor came to the facility in normal clothes, then once she got into the centre, got into her orange witches’ T-shirt and hat.  Apparently people with witches’ hats are being detained, too…..

During our 1 hour class, behind closed doors, she played every (North American) Hallowe’en song known.  As loud as she/we could…    We sang along and laughed when ‘Highway to Hell’ came up on her playlist.  Because, as far as the countrymen here are concerned, we are disrespectful heathens who are on a highway to hell.

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How weird life is here.   From one extreme to the other.  I can go to an exercise class wearing disrespectful clothes as you can see my shoulders and knees.  But behind closed doors, we achieve some sense of ‘normal.’

Sorry for the careful choice of words today…..

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Why it took 7 weeks to start a blog Part 2

I was moved to my second apartment.  It was huge – 3 bedrooms, an airy kitchen with a window view from the 5th floor.  But problems arose very quickly.  The gym was in another building that was owned by the same landlord.  That gym wasn’t open most of the time and most of the equipment was broken down.  It was the kind of place that you wanted to take a pressure washer to.  The workmanship in the building was pretty sub-standard.  Grout crumbled away every time you cleaned the bathroom.  Baseboards were falling off, etc.

We had a one of the longest rides to work of all the accommodation sites across town and we got to see first hand the crazy snarled traffic in Doha sitting back on the employee bus to work.

Our biggest problem was not the gym, the commute or the crumbling interiors – it was the overflowing septic systems that existed under each apartment and commercial building in our crowded area of the city.  We were on a very minor downhill grade and all that overflow collected in front of our building.  It was horrid.  I started nicknaming the place ‘The House at Poo Corner.’

You see, there isn’t any real infrastructure as we know it in North America or Europe.  Each building owner has to arrange to have his own power and water brought in.  You’re just not part of the ‘grid’ by virtue of being a building.  And because he (they’re all men) has to bring water and power in, he has to bring things out too.  Not only had the building owners up the street cheaped out on the septic systems, we also had squatters in an abandoned and crumbling low-rise building around the corner and overflowing garbage bins on the street.

Every morning, we took pictures and documented.  We sent in letters of complaint – to everyone we could think of.  Every day, and sometimes numerous times during the day, we all emailed health and safety, facilities, etc.  But, because the problem was not our building, but buildings that sat just a little higher than ours, ‘we’ didn’t have a facilities problem.

But, I figured it was my new home and I better get settled in.   I had only the SIM card in my smart phone, and no cable TV or Internet, but that’s the way things were.  I used my iPhone for a hotspot, when I absolutely needed to, but did It ever suck the life out of my phone.  Laptop use was pretty limited still.

I made my first of two major household investments.  A top of the line Nespresso single serve coffeemaker and a water cooler.  Life was coming together.  First, I didn’t have to lug litres of water back to may apartment every 2nd day or so, and in the morning, I could savour a latte.

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Bright red – that Nespresso Latissimo coffeemaker cost half a month’s salary, and I will never be able to bring it home (220V versus 110 in Canada).  But my oh my, that latte is good each morning.

And now, I had Nestle (yes Nestle foods just like Nestle Quik and Nestle chocolate) delivering water to my flat every week.

All I needed was that precious Residents Permit/QID …

My wish was granted on September 6th.  I got a phone call from a member of the immigration team in HR to come and pick up my State of Qatar I.D. Card.

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A couple of days later, I headed down to the state internet provider (aka monopoly) and stood in line at what felt like a 3-ring circus act at one of their numerous downtown service locations.  Ooredoo, formerly QTel provides land lines, cell phone service and Cable TV.  Vodaphone has a toe in the market and can provide cell service to anyone, but they only provide Internet in a small section of the city.

Anyways, after waiting in line for my turn (about 45 minutes), I presented my QID, along with my QTel number and my electricity number, all which are posted on plaques by my apartment door.

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Since we don’t have street addresses like other parts of the world, these plaques seem to be the key to locating your dwelling.  I signed up for basic service – I figured I could add on once I got the lay of the land.  Now, I had to wait.  It was a minimum of a one week delay between applying for internet at home and Ooredoo coming to install it.  But now I had a date.  It was a workday afternoon, but we had all waited so long, having to take an afternoon from work to be connected up seemed very minor.  It couldn’t happen soon enough.

Almost as important – I now had the ability to leave the country…

Part 3 coming soon

Why it took 7 weeks to start a blog Part 1

It all starts with getting an internet connection at home.  Let me walk you through that…

Before I even got the formal job offer from my employer, I needed to get a criminal records check done at home in Calgary, have blood work done to test for AIDS, and have a chest X-Ray to test for tuberculosis.  AFTER all that was done and everything came back OK, my prospective employer then applied for a work visa.  They wanted the work visa approved in advance so that when I entered Qatar, I did not enter as a tourist, but rather, an expatriate worker.  Once the work visa was approved, I then had a formal job offer.

The morning after I arrived (and 24 other people who were also new employees), we woke up in the Movenpick Hotel in Doha and headed in to the first day of almost 2 weeks of orientation.  Before we even had a chance to sit down, we were all, one by one, photographed.  Head and shoulders only.  The picture, as I found out, was used both for our employee ID card and for the QID – Qatar Identification Card.  That card – the QID – was, as we soon learned – the key to ALL things in Qatar.  Wihout the QID, you pretty much can’t do anything around here.

On Day 2, we were shown our new accommodation and went shopping at IKEA and LuLu, one of the local grocery stores.  Our apartments had furniture, but not much else.  We needed towels, bedding, cutlery, plates, bowls, glasses, cutting boards, irons, everything!  What a surprise that was!

We then discovered that the work week starts on Sunday.  We moved into our apartments on Saturday night and Sunday took the first of our bus rides into work.  We spent the rest of the first week in large group orientation sessions.

My apartment was quite depressing and dark and was advised to start lobbying our Facilities and Accommodation apartment for a relocation.  And I’m glad I did.  With no gym, no groceries within walking distance and a ‘funky’ neighbourhood, it wasn’t a good fit for me.

But, before week 2 started, I had the joy of an emergency room encounter with the Qatar public health system.  I somehow got food poisoning and spent the night in the closest hospital to my apartment block.

At the same time, Facilities and Accommodation had granted my wish and offered to move me to another building.  I had just been released from the hospital and was told to pack up my belongings and I would be picked up by a college van and moved to my new apartment.

I thought it was a winner.  Fabulous location, close to the Souk and within walking distance of two grocery stores.  Even if it was 45C, I could still manage to walk there and back with two bags of groceries.  One store – MegaMart was definitely the ‘white’ person, expatriate store with inflated prices.  But it also had  things you just couldn’t find anywhere else.  The other store, Al Meera, was not the ‘white  persons’ store, but prices were 20% lower if you didn’t mind getting stared at and always giving your place up in the line to a local.  More about that ‘winner’ apartment later….

However, none of us yet had our very very valuable QID – Qatar Identification Card.  Without that card, we couldn’t get a phone or internet.  We couldn’t go to a hotel bar and get a glass of wine or a beer.  We couldn’t get a QDC card – a permit to buy alcohol or pork at the government distribution store.  We couldn’t rent a car or get a driver’s license. Even more limiting, you were not allowed to leave the country.  Without this government ID card, you had no real freedoms.  Some of us found out that if we went to the local Vodaphone dealer, we could show a copy of our passport (with the official stamp of our employer on the photocopy) and buy a SIM card for our smartphone or even a USB hotspot.  I opted for the SIM card and am still using it.

Part 2 coming up soon…….

Dhow Cruise

Dhow: an Arabic word used to describe traditional fishing and sailing vessels

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On Saturday afternoon, courtesy of the social club at the College, about 35 of us went out on a Dhow cruise.  For about 4 hours, we cruised the harbour of Doha and spent most of it jumping off the boat or floating around with pool noodles.  The water was bathtub like temperature, but wow – was it salty!!  While we were anchored just off one of the small islands, half a dozen jets-skis were screaming by while as many other Dhows were also out.  It was definitely not a ‘booze cruz’, although there was some nice punch 😉  Supper was prepared on board while we were all out splashing in the warm Arabian Gulf, acting about as normal as we could be given our location.  The weather was absolutely perfect.  The temperature is starting to drop, as is the humidity and days are become much more comfortable.   And, it was wonderful seeing some of my co-workers’ spouses and even some teens on the cruise.

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Flip flops for slippers

Yes you read that correctly.  I’m wearing flip flops for slippers.  First – even with air conditioning units in my living room, the two bedrooms in my apartment and my kitchen – my normally cold tootsies don’t need slippers to stay warm.  In fact, cheap little flip flops from one of the grocery stores were amongst my first purchases here in The Oven.  It didn’t take long to realize that walking around in bare feet in my apartment was not a good idea.  The problem is, no matter how much I clean, wash, dust and mop, this place is dusty.  It’s dusty all the time.   There is no real grass or vegetation to hold the sandy gravel in place, so the air is filled with dust.  And with no effective weather stripping on the window, the dust comes in.  So, the tile floor (along with the furniture!) is always dusty unless I’m cleaning frequently.   Slippers and bare feet are out of the question.  Both become filthy dirty pretty quickly.  So, these cheap little flip flops, along with a couple of Crocs are my de facto slippers.

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I learned also that just like the floor I walk on, the flip flops become dirty too.  It has become routine to rinse, then scrub with soap, rinse again and let my flip flops dry at least once a week.  Just imagine how much fine dust is in my curtains, even with the windows closed!  YUCK!

Jazz at the Lincoln Center Doha

One of the great things about living in Qatar is the wealth of this country and because of that, the sponsorship of events, venues and happenings.  Last night was a great example.  A few of us went down to the park at the Museum of Islamic Art (http://www.mia.org.qa/en/)  to go to a free concert offered by internationally renowned jazz musicians from around the world. (http://www.jalcdoha.com/) The Lincoln Center in New York chose as its second home the St.Regis Hotel here in Doha.  So, we have these great musicians here, performing for free.  And, just imagine – a free, live, outdoor concert, in a city where you never have to worry about getting rain or snow.  And not only was the weather perfect, the event was free and the musicians were fabulous.

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Concerts like this seem to happen all the time here.  The Museum itself – the MIA – is also free.  It was one of the first things we (the new employees) went to see on one of our first weekends here.  The architecture of the building itself is stunning.  The collections were outstanding.  And, for a couple of $, you can have tea in this most beautiful cafe and stare out at the Doha skyline.   I’ve included some of the pictures from the museum with this post.

The list of ‘things to do’ is endless.

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Flu Shot Day

So – today was flu shot day on the CNA-Q  campus.  A week ago we all got an email from the campus nurse with a form requiring our signature for consent.  The form needed to be printed out and signed, then returned to the office of the campus nurse.  Fine.  Done.  All in order.  Day and time in my calendar.  Yesterday a reminder email came out to all staff reminding them that the flu shot clinic would take place today, October 21 between 8:30 am and 12:30 pm in Building 13.  The Library is in Building 14, so I’m only a few minutes away.  In fact, it takes me longer to find my sunglasses in my purse and put them on than it would take to walk to Building 13.  At about 8:50, I decide to take a break from  my desk and get my Influenza vaccination for the ‘winter.’  When I enter the building, a table is set up – I check my name on the list, and sign.  A few other people are there, waiting in chairs.  The front row is full, so I go to the row behind and chat with my colleagues.  I’m not surprised people are waiting; usually you are supposed to wait 15 minutes after the injection to find out if there is a reaction.  So – I thought they were just waiting.  BUT  – no one is getting up to get their needle.  We’re all just waiting….

FINALLY  AT 9:20 THE NURSE AND HER COLLEAGUE ARRIVE!!!!  (They aren’t Canadian and were hired locally, but aren’t Qatari’s)  The nurse is LATE!!  People are getting agitated and more are arriving.  The first person is called and things start to get going.  We haven’t been given any numbers, but we know who goes next and who was after us.  No big deal.  One of the instructors has a class starting and asks if she can jump in line – we all agree.  But we know who goes next.  Then one of the maintenance staff walks in (remember this was a clinic for faculty and staff – all staff).  He’s not Canadian either; he’s been hired locally and isn’t a Qatari either. He just walks up to one of the shielded privacy booths (2 booths, 2 nurses, about 25 people waiting now).  He walks right in front of the instructor who is now nervously looking at her watch.  He talks with the nurse; she gets some paperwork for the guy and tells him (not in English or Arabic) to sit down.  The Instructor jumps up and dashes for the next booth.  We’re all respectful but wondering what’s going on.  The nurse does 2 more people, then stops and goes to talk to the guy. She’s got a blood pressure cuff and is talking with him.  She doesn’t even seem concerned, but we are starting to grumble.  At least 5 minutes pass and only one nurse is doing her job.  Nurse #1 tells the guy to leave and goes back to her spot as if no one has been inconvenienced at all.  More staff are arriving.  She finally calls for the next person in line, but of course, only the Canadians are respecting the sequence in which we arrived.

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What can I say?  The nurse arrives 50 minutes late and a guy jumps in front of people who have been very patiently waiting as if nothing is wrong and the campus nurse doesn’t see what has happened as a problem!

Again – time, clocks, calendars, schedules and meetings are meaningless.  I guess I should be happy they even showed up in the morning??

Souq/Souk Wahif/Waqif

After work this afternoon, I had the opportunity to get down to Souq Waqif during daylight hours.  That’s pretty rare.  My bus home from work made good time and I had a free evening.

These pictures from the Souq show only a very small part of it.  Like many other Souqs in the Middle East (including the Grand Bazar in Istanbul), the Souq’s are arranged so that the like ‘stores’ are together.  So, all the Pashmina hawkers, all the Abaya stores, all the handcrafts the restaurants, etc. are together in their own place.    In fact, in Doha’s Souq, there are at least 4 boutique hotels, and likely dozens of coffee/sheesha shops and as many restaurants.  There are so many fabric stores, that there is a separate fabric Souq.  There is also a Gold Souq and a falcon Souq.  The alleyways and walkways in pictures are mostly empty, because it is late in the day time.  Qatari’s are basically night owls and we westerners are pretty much morning people.  I think it has everything to do with temperature dropping in the evening.  HOWEVER, the temperature right now as I’m writing this at 6:30 pm is 37C! Come the evening, the walkways will be packed.    I also managed to catch a picture of the local (Souq) constabulary, just as the sun was dipping down.

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Only in Doha

So, I don’t think people wash their cars here.  After all, it doesn’t rain.  In fact, it doesn’t rain at all.  So, people ‘dust’ their cars.  I don’t think it would be worthwhile washing a car – because the dust in the air would only turn to mud on the car as soon as you finished washing it.  So, I saw someone dusting their car early in the morning on Sunday.  A driver was waiting outside our building for a passenger he was to pick up.  While waiting, he brought out is poofy multi-coloured duster and dusted down the windshield and hood. Wish I had my camera with me when I saw that one. Only in Doha….

Tailors, fabric and notions

So, about a month ago, a seasoned Canadian friend of mine took a group of us to the fabric souk.  Imagine, a 3 story building jam-packed with every fabric and colour under the rainbow.  Well – I was like a kid in a candy shop and bought fabric for enough blouses to last quite awhile.  The week following, the same seasoned Canadian took us to a tailor who only specialized in women’s clothing.  Three weeks later and we picked up our new blouses, dresses, jackets and skirts this evening.  On the way, we popped into a notion store.  I was looking for a kind of elastic and a friend for some buckles or buttons.  The store was so impressive, I asked the owner if I could take some pictures inside.  You can see the owner in the first of these pictures. Enjoy!

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