Q & A in Qatar – Part 1
How do you start an ex-pat blog on Qatar? Perhaps with a map indicating our location in the Gulf? To be honest, it’s not something I’ve done before. My journals from Tanzania and China both started out as circular emails. “Tanzania Tommy” commenced as a cry from the heart, alienating some readers, “The Thoughts of Chairman Mark” only ever saw light of day as correspondence, “The Gwailo in Guangzhou” was relatively short-lived and “Suzhou’s Prodigal Sun” did not even appear until two years ago and, for the first year, it too was in email form. I’ll make a stab, but I’ll be trying to be careful not to offend any local sensibilities. It has been suggested we avoid subjects such as religion, politics, drug use, examinations and school house systems, so I’ll do my best!
Here goes...the first episode of “Q & A in Qatar”.
For those of you who don’t know, Qatar is situated on a desert peninsula jutting out into the Gulf, once known as the Persian Gulf. It is to be our home for the next two years at least and I wanted to get down my first impressions, not only to share with you, but also as an aide to my failing memory. Looking back on the six years in China, and how my initial views compared to those I had when we left, there were startling differences; I suspect it will be the same here.
It’s only been a few days, a week really, since our arrival in Doha, the capital of the State of Qatar, an Islamic emirate. The Emir’s Palace, a working building, is shown here. We flew in at rather an odd time really, as Ramadan still has nine or ten days to run and there are some rather strict rules in operation during this month. Both next year, and the one after, Ramadan will probably fall during the summer holidays and we may well miss the experience, it’s therefore worth outlining some of the restrictions.
Firstly, there is no alcohol to be purchased anywhere, although orange juice is available in all good supermarkets! We were aware of this restriction before we arrived but it is not one that can be avoided by bringing in duty free, as imports of alcohol are banned at all times for individuals. We did manage to take in a few pints at Dubai airport’s Irish Bar, perversely our first experience of Middle Eastern hospitality, but since then we have been teetotal. For Qataris, and I believe all Muslims, Qatar does not permit alcohol throughout the year; basically for the other eleven months you are supposed to be an expatriate and a non-Muslim to partake. It would seem that sales are through one of four of the more expensive hotels and through one retail outlet, named the Qatari Distribution Centre, or something like that, although it distributes alcohol rather than Qataris of course.
So tea, coffee and soft drinks are the order of the day, and having sorted out the plug on the vacuum and organised the plumber to fix the sink, Andrea saw fit to make me a cup of tea. A beer would have been nice but it seems fitting and respectful to abstain, even if involuntarily. We’ve been to two supermarkets and, as yet, we haven’t discovered anything we would want that we cannot find, with one exception. Although it has been relatively easy to find what we need in the shops, the problem at the moment is getting to them, a matter I’ll deal with later.
In any new country it is always exciting to go shopping and to pick out exotic new brand names. This particular find was at Mega Mart. Git’s Maast Bombay Mix is pretty impressive stuff; it even comes in a re-sealable bag, the first Bombay mix I’ve come across to do so. The brand is Indian and Indian companies are usually too savvy to use an awkward name in the United Kingdom, so don’t expect Git’s products to be arriving at your local Tesco! At around £1.20 for 400 grams they were good value for money and for once the photo on the front of the package is an accurate representation.
The constraints of Ramadan do not stop with alcohol; all Muslims are supposed to fast from dawn until sunset and non-Muslims are not expected to be seen eating or drinking during that time. This is fair enough, in that it is very hard on fasters to cope with people guzzling down lamb kebabs while they look on. Eating in daylight hours becomes a covert and highly discouraged activity. The problem of course is water intake, for this too is banned in the hours of daylight, and for an individual with a western constitution and the temperature hovering around 45°C (somewhere around 112°F), it becomes an impossibility. As smoking during the same period is also inappropriate it is possible to go into a state of dehydration and anti-toxic shock simultaneously. To date this has not occurred!