Friday, November 25, 2011

Let's Have a Drink on it


Everyone contributed to the Doha Thanksgiving Feast held at Curtis and Mary’s villa yesterday.  There was turkey, stuffing, dessert and Al brought a roasted lamb.  Bob donated to the liquor fund.

There is drinking in Qatar.

You can go to a hotel and enjoy a beer or two for $8 to $10 (each), or you could purchase a liquor license for 1000 QR (about $340 now) and buy your liquid in case form for much, much less (per bottle).

There’s only one place to buy alcohol in Doha and that’s the government run Qatar Distribution Company.  You can’t enter the building without a license, so Bob stood outside like a delinquent furtively awaiting an older sibling’s naughtiness.

For the record, it is considered Haraam (forbidden, a terrible sin) to be publicly inebriated or to even hold a bottle (open or closed) on a Doha street.  According to Islamic law, a Muslim caught drinking might be lashed!  Once purchased, your alcohol must be covered, taken immediately to your car and driven straight home.

“…To obtain an alcohol permit you need a letter from your employer written in English. This must be signed and stamped by an authorised person in your company and be addressed to the Qatar Distribution Company. It must state the applicant’s position, basic salary (must be above 4000 riyals or 1100 dollars, and the letter must use the word basic), state if an accommodation entitlement is received or if the applicant receives free accommodation and whether the applicant is married. The applicant must also provide their ID/passport and residence permit (photocopies are acceptable) and a 1000 riyal…returnable deposit…”

Private consumption of alcohol, like the existence of a Catholic Church and pork in the grocery is a Very Big Deal and unique to this tiny Islamic state at the heart of the Gulf.  In other words, don’t expect to buy yourself some Pinot Noir in Saudi Arabia, Iraq or Iran just a hop, skip and jump away.

How do Middle Easterners celebrate?  Some Middle Easterners consider breaking bread a bonding experience – “fi’ akul” (with food).  If you’re ever offered a cup of sugary tea (“shay”) in Egypt, you must accept it, for example, or risk offending your host.  Along the same lines, many Westerners consider a lifted glass or tipped bottle a shared moment, sip-in-time, union of spirits (pun intended).  It’s nice to have a beer with dinner - especially during the holidays.

Of course, Qatar’s history involves Bedouins, pearls, fishing boats – and the discovery of natural gas and oil - not starving pilgrims.  So until party time, Thursday, November 24 was a regular workday for Bob. Most party-goers were other expats: a few coworkers from Missouri, the World Headquarters of Burns & McDonnell, and others from literally every corner of the globe…New Zealand, the Philippines, Syria, United Kingdom, Wales to name just a few.  Most are, like Bob and me, “of a certain age” with kids grown or mostly grown – while others are in Qatar with small children in tow.  One young family is preparing to have their third child in country, due December 5!

Together, they filled Curtis and Mary’s house.  Food, fun, frivolity, family skyped-in – and a glass of wine with the holiday meal.
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