Rain! In Doha!

It started raining last night here in Doha for the first time since May.  It’s so strange having the weather pretty much the same, day in and day out, and now this!  We were told that rain can be expected between November and February here in Doha.  Total annual precipitation though is only about 75 mm.  Compare that to Calgary at an average of 420 mm.  This first rain that came down is quite interesting.  It rains mud!  Well, initially anyways.  There is so much fine particulate matter (dust/sand) in the air, that this first rain is not too fresh smelling.  We hope it continues though and cleans everything up.  There is a lot of dust here – we are in the desert after all- and that the rain does a lot of good.  The rest of the year, all the trees and bushes are watered with ‘grey water’ as there is no source of fresh water in the entire country.

To make things more interesting, the roads though are not built to handle rain.  There are no drains on the streets for runoff, nor are the streets contoured to direct water in any direction.  Frankly though, why would you?

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Along the road on our way to work this morning (November 24).

So bring on the rain!

Boodle Fight!!

Just recently, I had a chance to join my colleagues in the library and their families at a Boodle Fight!  And no – there was not fighting. Here’s what it is:

Well, it’s a trendy & fun way of dining in the Philippines and its origin traces back to the traditional Philippine military way of eating which they call a Boodle Fight.

So, here’s what happens in a Boodle Fight – rows of banana leaves are set on a table with an array of different kinds of Filipino food placed in the center with heaps of rice, meat, and seafood and veggies.  At the end of each table there are water basins to wash your hands before you eat, while you eat and after you finish eating.  There was no silverware :O) as the tradition is that you have to use your hands…it gets more interesting than that!!  In order to get the authentic method of gobbling this style of food everyone must stand up and use one hand to eat.

To view a video on this AWESOME style of eating please click on this link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rntqk8KdVr4

So – we all arrived at our colleague’s home to huge banquet tables lined end to end to end.  I’m guessing there was at least 20 of us (plus children) and did we ever eat well.  Now I know that some of you are going to say “But you’re vegetarian?  What did you eat?”  Trust me – there was not shortage!

Here’s some pictures from the night

Our hosts for the night
Our hosts for the night
LC girls
The girls from the Learning Commons
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My, my manager Cathleen in red and Winnie, our host
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Yes – there was alcohol to be had!
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The whole group – from Nigeria, India, the Philippines, Egypt, Iran, and Canada!

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Why it took 7 weeks to start this blog – Part 4

On September 16th at lunch hour, a new home was found.  Better workmanship, an onsite gym open 24/7, obviously better sanitary conditions and a quicker ride to work.   The only downside was that we weren’t within easy walking distance from a ‘good’ grocery store.  We were leaving our funky-Yonge Street-type neighbourhood.

On the 16th, we all selected our apartments during the walk-through and set our move-in date for Friday September 19th.   The sooner we could leave our unhealthy apartments the better.  And we weren’t about to let our Facilities department change its fickle mind, either!

This all sounds wonderful, but you may recall that my internet installation was set for Thursday September 18th and my shipping crate had arrived and cleared Customs.  I already was getting water delivery from Nestle at my old apartment.  But, I had already learned how time was a somewhat ‘fluid’ and ‘elastic’ concept here and was slightly dubious that my internet installation was going to take place at the set time and date.  Nonetheless, the date was in Ooredoo’s calendar and it was in mine. (Ooredoo aka QTel)

No big deal, right?

Just phone them, right?

WRONG!  Trying to call the customer service/installation department of a huge Crown Corporation where English is everyone’s second or third language is an utter nightmare. Especially when their first language is Sinhalese or Hindi or Urdu or Farsi – all of which are spoken very rapidly. You can’t understand a thing they say in English over the phone.  You need to be standing right in front of them and looking at their face to understand what they say.  It meant a trip to a mall go into one of their customer service centres.

I arrived at work super early the next working day.  The mall closest to work had an Oordeoo office that opened at 9 am.  I arranged a driver to pick me up at work and get me to the mall at 8:45 am.  Only 2 other people were in front of me… thank goodness, in shallah.

When I got to the front of the line and explained I needed to cancel my internet installation because of a move, the Ooredoo employee looked at me like I was loosing my mind.  He knew how long it had taken me to get my appointment and now I was cancelling it. But I was making things worse, I was not really cancelling – I just wanted to have my internet installed in a different location.  So, we needed to get a supervisor involved, because in the end, I cancelled an installation.  Which meant I needed to start the process again…  The paperwork took about half an hour.  And now I had to wait for the text message with the next installation date.  I went back to work and my colleagues told me I would be lucky if anyone showed up at all on that second installation date!

September 18th arrives – early in the morning I get a call on my phone confirming my internet installation for tomorrow, September 19th at my old address…….

And in part 5 of this saga  – the installation finally occurs….

Shots of the downtown area

I had the chance on Saturday morning to be downtown on a sunny, comfortable day.  iPhone camera in hand, I got some amazing shots of the fantastic buildings and architecture.  Weekends are uncharacteristically quiet days.  Most Qatari’s are home, and the roads are virtually empty.  So, if you decide to Google Map my walk, here is my route.  I started out at the Beverly Hills Tower in an area of downtown called West Bay, and started walking in the direction of the Marriott and City Center Mall.  Along the way, I came across the building site of the new Waldorf Astoria Doha.  I turned left at the end of City Centre Mall and started walking towards Tornado Tower, the home of the Embassy of Canada.  I was diverted by the large construction site for one of the Doha Rail stations being built in preparation for World Cup 2022.  My goal was the French grocery store, MonoPrix.  It was as overpriced as I expected it to be, but it did have a fabulous bakery producing baguettes and croissants.  And, it had a fantastic organic foods section.  The best I’ve seen so far.

The construction site of the yet to-be-built Waldorf Astoria
The construction site of the yet to-be-built Waldorf Astoria
Another view
Another view
More construction!
More construction!
In the background - the Qatar Financial Center
In the background – the Qatar Financial Center
The empty downtown streets.  Tomorrow morning the four lanes will be jam-packed, and at sometimes will be 5 lanes wide with every second or third car honking at the person in front of them urging the driver forward...
The empty downtown streets. Tomorrow morning the four lanes will be jam-packed, and at sometimes will be 5 lanes wide with every second or third car honking at the person in front of them urging the driver forward…
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In the background on the right, the ‘mesh-wrapped’ tower – Tornado Tower.
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Construction site for one of the Doha Rail Stations.
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You can only guess what we expats call the tower in the background…..
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A beautiful reflection of the downtown in this mirror like tower downtown.
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The blue topped building with the mesh front is part of a mall called ‘The Gate.’ It’s one of the most exclusive malls I’ve ever seen, with guards out front of each store, and brand names you’ve only seen in advertisements in Vogue magazine.
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A government department building – and it’s not boring old red brick! This one in the Ministry of Economy and Commerce.
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The base of Tornado Tower and home to the Embassy of Canada.

Some pictures from Campus

I arrived at work at 7 am this morning (Thursday November 13th), to a beautifully sunny campus, clear skies and comfortable temperatures.  It was a perfect time to take pictures.  I had taken some in my first few days, because everything was so new, but frankly, the campus is so beautiful, I just had to take more.  I hope you enjoy them.

Another view of the central courtyard.  It was so early in the morning, only a few students can be seen.
A view of the central courtyard. It was so early in the morning (7 am) that none of the students can be seen.
An example of the shade awnings (top right corner of photo) designed for architectural appeal as well as function.
An example of the shade awnings on campus (top right corner of photo) designed for architectural appeal as well as function.
Another view of the library entrance/front.
A view of the library entrance/front – and yes, those shadows are palm trees.
The sunny courtyard looking from the library entrance.  To the right is the co-ed cafeteria.
The sunny courtyard looking from the library entrance. To the right is the co-ed cafeteria.
The sun sheltered walk between the women's cafeteria on the right and admin on the left
The sun sheltered walk between the women’s cafeteria on the right and admin on the left
The sun sheltered entrance to the library
The sun sheltered entrance to the library
Outside the admin building for the courtyard
Outside the admin building looking sideways along the courtyard

Why it took 7 weeks to start a blog – Part 3

When I last posted on the progress I was making trying to get a normal life with TV, Internet, cell phone, etc.; I had just received my QID – Qatar ID

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See that number on there?  Here’s how to decipher it:

http://www.qatarliving.com/forum/qatar-living-lounge/posts/do-you-know-what-your-qatar-id-number-means

Almost as soon as I signed up for internet in my flat, I learned how to apply for an exit permit and get an ‘e-gate’ pass.  The e-gate pass allows  you to breeze through security at the airport, as finger printing and eye scan information gets embedded in your QID card – if you’re willing to jump the hoops, stand in line and pay the fee.

I didn’t know it when I arrived in August, but we had a one week holiday called Eid al Adha scheduled for the first week of October.  And, aren’t we lucky…we have a travel agent who has set up shop here on campus.  I had a chat with the guys, told them I wanted a resort in Cyprus or Greece and let them do their jobs.

About the same time I was planning my respite, I started inquiring about the shipment I had arranged from Canada.  My life was somewhere in a crate waiting for me.  And in order to have that very large crate leave Canada, I needed to provide that very precious QID.  Once the QID and my arrival in Doha had been established, my crate could make it’s way half way around the world to the Middle East.  I was so so happy when I got the call saying ‘my stuff’ had arrived and was in Customs.

But, I (the person living in Doha) had to be linked to the crate in Customs before it could be released.  I got a call from the broker who said they would come to my workplace and pick up my QID, drive directly to the Customs Hall in the airport, link me, my QID and the crate together and then bring my precious QID back to me ASAP.  The time was set for Thursday, September 11th at 1 pm, lobby of building 3.  I waited and waited and waited.  By 2pm I gave up and went back to my office.  The driver had been delayed in traffic.  This was a thing I was starting to get used to.  Problem was, Thursday is our last day of the work week and now how was he going to find me?  Broker tells me the guy will come to my apartment on Friday.  And he does.  On September 12th around lunch, he takes my precious ID and has it back to me in about 3 hours.  Joys!  One step closer to getting my stuff.  Now I have to wait for Customs to snoop through/X-Ray my stuff and clear if for delivery.

Problem was, we were still lobbying the College to relocate us away from “Poo Corner……”

I get a text message from Ooredoo (QTel).  They have set the date for internet installation at my apartment for the morning of Thursday September 18th.

On Monday September 15th a bunch of us at work get the all-clear to view some new accommodations.  Our voices had been heard. We arrange for a driver on Tuesday September 16th to take 4 of us over during the lunch hour.

Part 4 coming soon….

Finally – art for the walls!

So an empty apartment with empty walls.  Colour and art was needed quickly!

I have made it a habit in the last number of years to buy art when I travel.  It needs to be something meaningful and of course, it needs to be beautiful – to me.  Well, since arriving in Doha I have been looking and hoping to find that piece of art.  Last weekend, I did just that.  I have mentioned the Museum of Islamic Art (http://www.mia.org.qa/en/) before.  It’s beautiful architecturally, the view is stunning and admission is free.  Just as wonderful is the massive green park surrounding the MIA (http://www.mia.org.qa/en/mia-park).  Well, now that ‘winter’ is approaching in Doha and the temperature has dropped and it’s more comfortable outside, the park at MIA has come alive.  Last weekend was the first of the monthly bazaars at MIA park.  There was food being served up, Sari’s from India, piñatas from Salvador, handmade jewelry and more.

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And I found ‘my art.’

Stephen Watkins, the artist, is also an architect living in Doha.  He apparently has time to spare and in his free time, interprets the landmarks of Doha.  Like many of us (in fact 80% of us), he is an expat.  In this case from Britain.  (http://www.stephenjwatkins.co.uk/)

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I like this painting for a number of reasons – the background colour is the colour used in the Qatari national flag.  The landmarks I see whenever I’m out and about are all there – Aspire Tower, Tornado Tower, Fanar (http://www.fanar.gov.qa/), the MIA, even the Sheraton hotel.  His eye and his rendering have managed to capture the busy chaos that is Doha.  It is ‘western’ and ‘eastern’ at the same time.  It will fit just fine on a to-be-determined wall in my apartment one day soon.

Getting around Doha – Employer Buses

So – getting around Doha has been quite the learning experience.  The city’s population is now pegged at 2.2 million.  Last month, 6,500 cars alone were added to the roads.  The city has no civic address structure, but does have districts and street names.  Just no house or building numbers.  The roads appear to be built for a city of about 300,000 – 500,000.  Roads are jammed.  And the price of gas is so ridiculously low (around $0.25/litre). that the incentive to share rides, car pool or use public transit (there is none, but an LRT-type system is being developed in anticipation of World Cup 2022) just doesn’t exist.  And, because of the price of gas, there is no reason to buy or drive small, fuel-efficient cars.  So, Land Rovers, Toyota Prados/Land Cruisers and Mitsubishi Pajeros seem to be the vehicle of choice.  Fuel –efficiency as a concept does not exist here.

Work days are usually pretty easy.  Our employer (the College of the North Atlantic-Qatar) operates nice air-conditioned buses that run about every hour in the mornings and then again in the afternoons.

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The buses pick up and drop off at all the various accommodation locations throughout the city and take us straight to work.  It’s just like riding public transit – the drivers are fantastic and we just sit back and relax, read, chat, list to podcasts or sleep.  Many employers here provide transportation for their employees – either by providing buses like ours, or giving staff transportation allowances.  We however (at CAN-Q), are among the fortunate.  Everyday we see buses full of labourers or service industry staff (all ex-pats like ourselves)  sharing the roads side by side with our bus…and the buses have no air conditioning.  The seats are plastic or even vinyl covered.  The buses are crowded.  Yet, these buses are better than the buses they had in their home countries of India, Nepal, Bangladesh and the Philippines (amongst others).

Here’s a 2013 demographic survey of Qatar that gives you an idea of Qatar’s explosive population growth. http://www.bqdoha.com/2013/12/population-qatar

Translate that to vehicles on the road and you have road chaos!

Given the choice of taking a bus or driving on congested roads with drivers who seem to have their own rules, I’ll take the bus any day.