Friday, December 30, 2011

Driving in Doha - the temporary license...

An expat milestone:

Bob achieves his (temporary) Qatari driving license!
Once upon a time all an American needed to earn a Qatari driver's license (required to drive legally after expiration of the initial 30-day visa) was an International DL (costs about $15 at any US AAA office) and the ability to pay a fee.  Then, in the way things happen here - one day someone decides the rules need a facelift...and bing-bang-boom, without warning...everything changes.
Bob's coworkers obtain their licenses the pay-a-fee way.  No one expects Bob's experience to be any different.
First up: an eye test.  Bob passes.  He's off to a good start when the examiner notes that Bob appears in his photo without glasses.  There is confusion over the meaning of the "F"on Bob's US license (it means "full privileges") and - Bob is sent away: "Come back later."  (Bukura, bukura...)
Bob arrives at 5:45am the second time he makes his way to the little driving school.  He is the 401st man in line (men and women test on separate days).  He waits 45 minutes and is given a surprise "signal" test for which he is unprepared (it's not "no passing", it's "no overtaking" - that's not a "no parking" sign; it's "no parking OR STANDING").  Again, Bob is sent away.  "Come back in three weeks."
At his third attempt, Bob's reviewed hard-to-come-by study materials.  He carries copies of his passport, sponsor permission letter, US and International driver's licenses.  He arrives at 5:00am, is among the first in line...and passes the signal test in four beats.  He climbs on a bus full of men from all kinds of other places - and follows a little car around Doha for a couple of hours...until finally it's his turn in the driver's seat.
Manual transmission.  He shifts, drives 200 smooth-as-butter feet. The examiner waves his hands.  Pass!
Mabrook!  Al humdu'il allah!  Wunderbar!
No more riding as a passenger in someone else's vehicle.  No more gritting his teeth and hanging onto the door as Wife spills in/spits out of the roundabouts (hey, that's how it's done!).  No more waiting on a taxi or walking to lunch.
Bob is back in town.  Watch out, Doha!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

A washing machine that washes and dries in the same drum.  (As goofy and non-productive as it sounds.)  Light switches on the OUTSIDE of doors.  Kitchen and hallway windows that look over the elevator lobby and doors that open to a wall of sheetrock.  A pulsating shower, electrical sockets that need to be turned on before use and exploding water faucets - soak ceilings if spigots are turned on too high too fast. 
Cars catch on fire so often here that portable hydrants sit on street corners, hoses wrapped around drums on wheels.  Since there's no street sewer system, water puddles where it lands until it's sucked into another drum and carried away.
Much of the city is under construction - housing developments, high rises, malls, streets and highways, parking lots and more.  Doha is a maze of barriers, don't-go-this-ways and "diversion" (detour) signs.  Buildings are constructed every which fancy, strange, archictecturally intriguing way...the new grocery is in the zig-zag building, a high rise is shaped like a bullet; here's a round office building and there another curves like a C.
Strangely, many of these interesting structures and concrete/stucco-style homes stand empty.
Natural born Qataris don't celebrate Christmas - even so, the commercial trappings of the holiday outline the walkways and mall windows (Christmas trees, holly and ivy, tinsel and shiny holiday balls).  Classical music plays 24/7 outside our window - from speakers placed at the base of imported palm trees lining the bay's walkway.  Birds chirp from another set of speakers inserted into the tree's branches.  :)  No (real) birds or bugs here, so no screens on doors or windows - ours stand open to let in sound, smell, light.
Ice is at a premium - we still don't know where to get it (for coolers and swollen ankles).
There are rules about who can be at the mall and when (men - unless they're American - must be accompanied by families on certain days).
And most people don't speak Arabic.  Qataris are outnumbered 3 to 1 by a mix of hawagas - Americans, sure, but we're a minority to workers from the Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, and other places.  The checker at the grocery is an Indian working for a Philipino, making change in Qatari Riyals for product advertised in English. 
Oil and gas revenues are shared by natural born citizens, so they don't need to work for money...and (for the most part), don't.  One expat said POINT SIX Qataris work in the private sector.  (The exception - all of the highest level positions are held by locals.)
How do we know who's a local and who isn't?  Well, locals speak Arabic - to each other.  They dress in Middle Eastern clothing (sheyla, abaya, dishdasha, gutra).  Their license plates have fewer than six digits.
After a fun filled couple of days motoring around the city, climbing sand dunes, learning the we rest.  We'll do laundry (a never-ending task), visit the beach and lounge in (one of) Bob's jacuzzis.  We'll wander the Carrefour (the local Walmart) so there's food to nibble and cook.  We'll figure out the tv, read, eat and clean, do email, blog.
We'll (continue to) miss Chris and his beautiful babies.  We'll remember Popo and skype our extended families (once they wake up). We'll (ie, I'll) study our (my) Arabic (even though I'm talking to myself).
And we'll look forward to the days ahead - full of all kinds of interesting, new and different things...

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Hello Doha

A bus.  We stand, balanced by smooth poles, beside a man in western clothes and two others clothed in long white dishdasha and red headpieces called a gutra.  A little girl dressed in a pink kisses her jeans-garbed daddy, while mommy smiles nearby; she's covered head to toe in black.  Women in niqab mingle with girls wearing pants and long, loose hair.  Behind the tinted glass a red neon sign hangs in a clear,dark sky. It reads "Food Barn" - in English.
A ride around the airport.  Windows, lights, palm trees in pots, exhaust, horns, squealing brakes.
At our stop, the bus empties quickly. I'm slow thanks to a tree trunk sized ankle.  Katie and Kimber wait, carrying my bags and theirs too.  Inside, choose: one quickly moving line for arrivals from GCC countries or three congested entrances for Other us.
Yallah, yallah.  Ta'allah.  Hurry.  Come.  We are pressed forward.
A woman alone carries a baby in a basket, toddler at her side.  Women in saris and jeans. Men, families. People from everywhere.
A long wait.  At last, our turn.
Salaam alaykum, I say.
Alaykum al salaam, she replies.
Stand there, look here; Camera snaps, a green light flashes, becomes two letters, "OK."  Your passport?  Do you have a visa?  Why are you here?  Where are you staying?
And finally: your card?  I give it to her.  I don't ask "how much."
Shokran.  Il awf.
Four big bags (one is Bob's) and three small loaded onto a rolling cart.  We aim for a sign marked "exit" in English and Arabic.  Through the door, a wide, tiled room surrounded by glass on three sides.
Behind the glass? Faces.  Lots and lots of faces.  Piled up one behind the other.  Whoa.
We file toward a door on the other side of the wide, empty room.  More faces here, only these are attached to bodies, all male. Behind them, a stream of traffic hums.  Horns honk. Exhaust, gasoline smells. Hesitation.  What's Dad's phone number?  Kimberly says.
And then, there he is!  Al humdu il allah!
Hello, Bob.  Hello, Doha!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Rock, Roll and Hobble!

The large red bag - Bob.  Turquoise - Kimber’s annoyingly neatly (oooo, double illegal adverbs) packed supplies.  Black – Cindi’s overstuffed case.

What, crutches?  Are we seriously still messing with this?  Yes.  Sigh.

And the fun is just beginning!
Visit me online at:

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Qatar National Day

(CORRECTION to an earlier post: the correct pronounciation is “KAHt-tur” NOT “Ka-TAR”)

December 18 is the day Qataris celebrate the founding of the country with a full day of great, grand festivities ( Decorations, disco ball, camels, parades...and car wrecks?:

National Day commemorates the day in 1878 when Qatar achieved national unity under Sheikh Jassem bin Mohamed Al Thani, first celebrated in 2007.

...Watch out for decorations going up, flags, banners, stickers and more going on sale, and even camel sightings in the lead up. Military drills and parade formats are practiced...a giant disco over the Corniche. Also, tradition comes to the fore, with camel dressage competitions, falconry demonstrations, and more...

This is the time of year when people paint their cars with the flag and images of Qatar and the royal family, and drive up and down the Corniche, often sitting on top of their vehicles or hanging out the windows. It’s great fun if you want to join the parade, but just make sure the driver keeps their eyes on the road: National Day is no time for car wrecks! ...the Corniche and the areas around it will be jammed. Although the full schedule of events isn’t usually released until just before the event, expect fireworks, parades, and more. It’s also a national holiday, so expect bigger than average crowds at public spaces like restaurants, malls and cinemas as everyone gets the day off work.

Due to the high likelihood of TRAFFIC, Bob is not attending National Day events.  If fireworks light up the sky near his apartment perhaps he’ll take pictures – from his balcony - and share.  If so, will post.

Please forgive this short message as Katie, Kimber and I prepare to head east, hours and hours over land and sea to join Dad and hubby for Christmas and the New Year. I will endeavor to supply more detailed information about this interesting place as the week goes on.  J

Friday, December 9, 2011

An Email From Bob: Walking the Pearl

It took about an hour to walk to Tower 31 at the Pearl.  The beach is small with no waves except from passing boats - but it IS a beach!  There are umbrellas and chairs set up and ready to use on a first come/first served basis and a sand volleyball court too.

 The West Bay is right across the water - looks great during the day, even better at night. 

A temporary Christmas store was set up in an empty building – about a dozen tents with a very small selection of gifts like tee shirts and jewelry.  Nice, with Christmas music playing in the background.

After my two-hour walk (there and back), I decided not go to the (grocery) store tonight and instead just eat some curry spice noodles I already had on hand for dinner.  Yum.

(editors note:  Bob would referring to those square .10 cents-to-buy-em, jippy-tummy inducing college-student packs of Ramen noodles that you quit eating as soon you’re graduated and hired, whether it’s dishing up fries at McDonald’s or…oh, I dunno…working as an architect in Qatar.  J  Sad, huh?  He needs me.)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Doha Happenings

Bob’s been to the camel races, souq, and dined at a wide variety of fine establishments, but there’s plenty more to do in Doha.  Follow the links below to see what Bob’s coworkers and their onsite families are up to.  There is the inland sea, singing dunes, old forts, malls, Souq Waqif and…well, take a look!

The Sartain Family:
Mike and Tracy Sartain just had their third child – in Doha! Look for a picture of Bob at the Thanksgiving celebration.  The Sartains head back to the states in June.

Myers Family:
This young family travels – a lot!  Israel, Scotland, Ireland, Ethiopia, France, Holland…I want to go!

Here are pics of their trip to the inland sea - a place Katie, Kimber and I hope to spend some time.  Directions:  “…go to the end of the road and head south for about 20 km.”  I understand the sea is surrounded by dunes and is a hazardous drive (Bob says we are not to go alone – in case the car eats sand and dies).  Looks like the trip is worth it:

Dune jumping looks like fun!

There are also four malls, the Corniche, seedo rentals (in the bay outside Bob’s window) and, of course – one may shop, jog, ogle at the Pearl...right outside Bob's front door.  (Assuming I can walk by that time.  Think positive thoughts.)

More coming soon…

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Doha Driving - and Other Stuff

Bob and I talk every day. 
Like most people who’ve been married 26+ years, we love talking about our fabulous, remarkable, wondrous, charming, awesome kids: 

Our darling, delectable, delicious, squeezable grandkids:

Money (which, Bob claims, does not grow on trees):
And, of course, he never forgets to tell me how beautiful I am:
skype action photo
Since Bob’s in Qatar we also discuss a wide variety of other topics like the washing machine that washes and dries inside the same drum and how when he went to the mall for lunch his group could sit in the food court’s family section only because there was a woman in his group.  That his apartment boasts not one, but TWO windows that open into the elevator lobby and that Qataris don’t give change – everything is rounded to the nearest QR (Qatari Riyal).
No matter how varied the conversation, however, there’s one subject that always comes up -


The city of Doha is arranged around a series of traffic circles, which it appears one is required to take at warp speed.  Road lines are merely a suggestion.  Trucks, compact cars and SUVs compete for available space by approaching slower moving vehicles (ie, Bob) from behind, lights flashing, horns honking.  If space is unavailable (as is usually the case), well, there’s always the sidewalk, median, or opposing traffic side of the street - if you can do it without getting hit.
what happens when you go against traffic at warp speed
Don’t look for police wielding ticket pads, either.  Drivers are expected to check regularly to see if there’s an “offence against your vehicle” posted and arrange to pay the fine.  Or else…you don’t get to leave the country.
How bad is the traffic?  Bob’s apartment is approximately 6 miles from his office – yet it often takes 45 minutes to get to work.  So every day, we talk about how awful the traffic is.
And then?  We talk about our kids.

Aren’t they beautiful?