Being without a car in a growing city of more than 2.3 million has proven to be at times expense, at times convenient and other times frustrating.
There are at least 3 different types of taxis in Doha.
- Karwa – the corporation that provides actual taxis. They appear to be some kind of department of the Ministry of Transport or a massive corporation. They are all the same light teal colour, with different colour roof-tops to indicate what part of the company they’re from. Karwa also seems to run the ‘transit system’ (which I think is an oxymoron here!), and provide school buses. All the fares start at 4QR (about $1.25), and few of the drivers speak English. Lots of pointing, short sentences and simple directions. Many times I’ve just asked them to stop, paid them out and walked home because it would take less time. Not sure how these guys get their taxi license. Either way, they’re plentiful and cheap.
- Private drivers – One of the first guys we were introduced to in August was ‘Johnson.’ Johnson, over the past decade has developed a relationship with CNA-Q (College of the North Atlantic-Qatar). Johnson is a guy, and that’s his first name. His brother is called Eric – although they look nothing like brothers. Johnson probably has 20+ drivers under his organization and they are totally reliable. Safe, pleasant and every single one of these guys is from Kerala, India. All the cars are spic-and-span clean and the gusy know their way around the city. No matter where you go in Doha, Johnson is 30QR (about $10). We usually tip, because they are so good. Driving to the airport though is different, it’s 70QR. Great thing is, somehow Johnson keeps records of all our cell numbers and names and know exactly where every CNA-Q lives. I just call him up about half an hour in advance and he shows up. Even better, Johnson will wait for you while you run errands (for 10QR each stop). He knows how to do the drivers’ license game – 3 stops, 3 different buildings, waiting time, etc. He picks you up at 6:30 am, we start the driver’s license game at 7 am and we have our official government license by 8 am and are at work by 8:15! Fabulous. So, long or short, a ride with Johnson is 30QR. We could be jet-lagged, have imbibed, or just plain cranky and his team gets us to where we’re going with no muss, no fuss and 30QR.
- Uber – with complete un-regulation of the taxi industry, the taxi service called Uber is thriving here. Completely banned in Canada and much of the western world (where taxis are regulated), Uber is a great alternative here. Thanks to the GPS on my iPhone and a fee Uber app, I ‘request a driver.’ The GPS system on my phone determines my exact location. Then I type in where I want to go and a driver is dispatched. The driver, at the same time, receives the same information on his phone. I can watch on an interactive map on my phone a watch as the driver is approaching. I get a countdown timer that shows me minute by minute how long I will wait. The cars are super clean, the drivers speak good English normally. Again, most are from Kerala, India. The price is cheaper than Johnson, but more expensive than Karwa. The Uber app is linked to my local Qatari credit card and the whole system is cashless. There is a manager of the service who handles complaints (I did have one, and got a refund). Better yet, in a city with no addresses, sometimes explaining to someone (like Johnson) where you are exactly can be quite a problem. However, with the GPS in the Uber app, I don’t need to explain anything.
- Gypsy cabs – these guys are hanging around grocery stores and shopping malls and try to get your business. They honk at you while you’re walking outside (and sometimes I just walk because it’s nice out!). Totally un-regulated and no meters. Never used them and based on what I hear, never will!
Today for example, I walked just over 4 km to the ‘white peoples’ grocery store – MegaMart in al Muntazah neighbourhood. I got my groceries and just as I approached the cashier, I opened up Uber and requested a driver. He arrived 5 minutes later and the drive home cost me 19QR – $6.25. So, my grocery bill always has taxi charges on it. In the winter, I can walk to the grocery store and get a taxi home. In the summer, you can’t go outside for more than 2 blocks before heat exhaustion and dehydration become noticeable. So, in the summer, my taxis to the grocery store will cost me double.
And – that’s the tale of getting around Doha by taxi!
The high today in Doha was 14C. And guess what, our concrete apartment building has no heat! And neither does the water for our showers….
The reason is because every home, apartment, villa and complex uses the heat of the sun to warm water that’s stored in huge tanks on rooftops, and for houses, in back yards. As the temperature outside goes up and down, so does the temperature of the water that runs through our water lines.
Occasionally, these rooftop tanks develop pinhole size leaks and or get critters in them…
So, the first thing I learned was not to take a shower in the middle of the afternoon in the hot months. No matter how hard you try, you cannot get cold water out of the shower. It’s either very hot, super hot or scalding hot! There isn’t a drop of cold water to be found. And, no matter how sweaty you are because its 50C outside, it’s just not worth getting a 3rd degree burn in your own shower.
And now it’s winter. How do we cope?
Well – in the bathrooms we have this ‘lovely’ water heating tanks that are wall mounted.
In the fall, I would turn on the electricity to the tank about half an hour before I wanted to shower. And now, and since the beginning of December, the electricity to the water heater has been on 24 hours a day.
The funny thing is, you still can’t really regulate the temperature. The heater only heats the water so much….. You have to test the water every time before you dip your toes into that shower. What the setting was yesterday morning for a nice warm shower is not the same as this morning.
These water heater tanks are not all wonder and light though. Many leak and you have a cascading flood of scalding hot water. Some tanks have even fallen of the wall and crashed through the floor! My electrical light indicating the power is turned on or off seems to glow inconsistently. Is the bulb starting to burn out, or am I going to have a ‘maintenance and repair’ event?????
So, we had a water problem in our building last week and it got me to thinking that I hadn’t really explained the water situation around here. There is none. It’s as simple as that. There is no fresh water at all in this country. There are no rivers, there are no streams, there are no lakes. And, there is no rain. At all really. The rain we’ve had here is so insubstantial, I’m surprised it can be measured. We (those of us living here in Qatar) are living on a peninsula that juts out into the Arabian Sea. We are surrounded by the salt water of the ocean and there is nothing there to drink.
So – how does one supply water to a city of 2.3 million?
Desalination plants. Huge huge desalination plants.
And where does all that salt go? Into the Arabian Gulf, of course. In fact, some of the water just off Doha’s coast line is approaching the levels of the Dead Sea when it comes to salt.
Our tap water is desalinated water, but the sodium levels are still pretty high. So, everyone has delivery of drinking water and coolers in their homes/flats. (It’s like a subscription service, with delivery once a week.) Today, I saw the water truck – In this case, Nestle water – pull up to our building and two workers jumped out of the truck to start bringing into our building those huge jugs of water. We have 72 apartments, and we all need drinking water. I know for me, just getting that water jug onto the top of my cooler is quite the weight lifting exercise!
So – if you ever wonder why all the pictures I post on this site look a bit dusty – well, they are! There’s no real greenery, and the trees and bushes are watered with grey water. So, the trees are a bit ‘ripe’ at times!
I just came across this article in the Huffington Post.
I must say I agree with all the points and have decided to share the article with you on my blog. Perhaps the most difficult event was the actual decision and process of moving. Life fell apart as I knew it in a matter of weeks. Those old Psych 101 classes where we learned that ‘moving ‘and ‘accepting a new job’ are high up there on the stress charts are true. I’ve never felt so torn in all my life.
I promised everyone some pictures from the vacation. I’ve selected a few of the best and hope you enjoy them.