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…….