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Doha: First Encounters Of The Expat Kind

Author: Judith
Nationality: United Kingdom
Current Location: Qatar
Other Countries Lived In: Barbados, Bahrain, Russia, St Lucia, Syria
Type Of Woman: Traveler,Partner
Biography: I come from Merthyr Tydfil; a small town in the Welsh valleys, from where I made plans to travel the world, fall in love with an exotic stranger, whom I would eventually marry and gain an exotic new surname. Well I have travelled the world - with a Welshman I went to school with and who offered me the surname of 'Jones'. I couldn't be happier. My husband and I are happily child-free and enjoy immensely our nomadic lifestyle; despite the agony at airports with excess baggage fees and in between postings when we worry where our next mortgage payment will be coming from. I left art college many moons ago for a career in the fashion industry. On becoming an expat I needed more flexibility and have since taught English in Russia, walked dogs in Barbados and wrote magazine articles in Bahrain - from fashion designer to multi-career bird. Whenever our family ask "When are you ever going to settle down?" we tell them we are never more settled than when travelling.
 
Doha: First Encounters Of The Expat Kind
 
We reluctantly left Syria in September. Thanks to the fiscal downfall severely wounding the construction industry, the project my husband was working on had bitten the dust. So with short notice, we found ourselves relocating to Doha and grateful to be moving to another job instead of joining the dole queue back in Blighty. Surely Doha would not be too drastic a move? Having lived previously in Bahrain, we were told Qatar was a similar kind of place. The infernal heat upon stepping out of Doha airport should not have fazed me – but it did. Syria was sweltering, but Qatar is stifling. Thankfully we’ve arrived at the back end of the blistering temperatures and venturing outdoors on foot should soon be a possibility.

We were met by Mohammed, the Company driver; whose car could not accommodate all our excess baggage, so spouse followed on in one of the dozens of taxis swarming the airport. My Qatar informants (expat acquaintances having done a stretch here) warned me that aside from at the airport, flagging down a taxi in Doha is not always an easy task (as opposed to Syria where zillions of yellow cabs swarm the whole area like buttercups in a field). So seeing the turquoise turtles in abundance was quite a relief and certainly didn’t look to be few and far between – I was soon to be proved wrong.

Our temporary accommodation was in Al Muntazah – an area that could well have been located on the dark side of the moon for all I knew. I was completely disorientated, despite sifting through endless Doha guides before coming: now having landed, I felt like an alien. The seemingly endless lanes of traffic and the super-sized vehicles were a tad intimidating I admit: my initial thought being I will never get behind the wheel of a car here and will certainly need a direct line to Karwa taxi firm.

As usual, the day after landing, hubby is whisked off to work whilst wifey ventures out in search of supplies: food and phone cards. On unfamiliar territory such a basic task feels like a mission. Would I experience any hassle from curious males (western, female walking – a rare species)? No bother whatsoever I’m pleased to say. Bearing in mind I was walking in nine million degrees or thereabouts of heat I was relieved to find that Al Muntazah is laden with grocery shops – the second one I entered stocked Hala ‘pay as you go’ Sim cards (I own more Sim cards than lipsticks these days). I needed a copy of my passport to obtain the cards. Luckily I’d taken it with me and there was a copy shop right next door. Mission accomplished in no-time. The Sim cards cost QR50 each - QR25 of which was credit. I had no idea whether or not I was being fleeced: I was just grateful to once again be text friendly (the price was correct). The factor 40 sun cream I’d slathered on before leaving the apartment, was soon sliding down my face and neck like molten lava as I made my way back home. Water! I needed water (take a bottle with you if you venture outdoors in the desert sun – the mad dogs and Englishmen do – I’m Welsh so what do I know?). Fortunately, taking a slightly different route back to the apartment (I’ll not admit that I took the wrong turn) I happened upon Al Meera supermarket. Hurrah! Within staggering distance from our abode. Al Meera has several outlets in Doha and is good value, no frills shopping I think you could say.

Midway through that first week I arranged to meet a friend who was sadly soon to be leaving for pastures new. I still didn’t know my exact address (apparently street names mean very little and it’s advised to find out the nearest landmark instead), or how to give her directions to pick me up, so I confidently stated I’d get a taxi to her apartment. She lived nearby in Al Saad. An hour later I was on the verge of spontaneous combustion, staggering past the Holiday Villa, ranting loudly like a demented woman. Fortunately to nobody in particular as I was the only human on foot. Past Al Muntazah Park, down a nameless side street stumbling aimlessly to the point of no return: then I saw an oasis in the desert – Karwa man! My saviour - albeit almost too late.

When I finally arrived at Al Saad, my thoughtful friend armed me with a detailed ‘Marhaba’ map and promised I could overdose on shopping malls in Doha – she was not wrong. Having been starved of such retail havens in Syria, I was at squealing point upon entering Villagio (who cares if the fake, cloudy sky feels slightly depressing?). It seems best to avoid evenings there when SUVs bully the car park. Days later, Landmark Mall didn’t disappoint either. City Centre Mall was slightly overwhelming and not in a good way (my mistake I entered the squat toilets) as I wasn’t too excited about most of the shop brands; but loved the cinema. It seems Carrefour is the big daddy of supermarkets in Doha, dominating most of the malls. For Westerners needing fave rave foods from back home though, dear little Mega Mart shall provide – at a severely high cost, but who can live without an OXO cube?

A weekend drive along the Corniche road made me feel I had achieved something – I can drive in Doha! The rule being ‘get out of their way, they are bigger than me’ which applies to almost every vehicle that (literally) crosses my path. The Corniche scenery is nothing to complain about and the harbour is a welcoming sight. Entering the glass-structured frenzy of tower blocks that is the West Bay Metropolis, excited me enormously. A cosmopolitan soar into the future without stomping over Doha’s heritage. Strangely enough I have yet to speak to a Qatari. They are everywhere of course, but seemingly private to a certain degree. To them I say “Shukran” for the opportunity to experience their precious culture. Yet another expat has landed and is happy to stay a while.
 
 
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