Friday, October 25, 2013

Evening at the Souq

سوق شعبي
Souq Sh'bee: The Popular Market
aka Doha's famous Souq Waqif
listen -

many calls
to prayer
guy in green
scoops and
disposes of
what falls when
horses are out
wait -

horses circle tile streets
over and over and over
clip clop

 sup -
salad and
bread with
fried halloumi cheese
served in a pan
too hungry
for pictures

wander -
into the souq's
You want pashmina?
Red pashimina?
Blue pashmina?
Pink, purple, green?
Pretty pretty, pretty
need a sign:
no pashmina, thanks
 follow -

shopping and
old guys in
burgundy vests
moving stuff
stall to stall
here to there
by wheelbarrow
one sits
in his cart as

 watch -
how to create
gifts for
the folks back home

shop -
rows of bright
 buy - 
plastic shoes, dolls, ceramic camels, bobble head toys, mother of pearl boxes, book stands, tee shirts, blankets, towels, pillows, kitchen utensils, blenders, bracelets, clocks, watches, baskets, lights, lamps, clothes, pots, pans, prayer rugs, abaya, sheyla, beads, coasters

whatever you want
it's here
Hanging out at
Souq Sh'bee
One cool winter evening
Where it's
All Things Qatar
(and other places)
All day
Every day
(after 8:30am-ish
and excepting Friday mornings
or any afternoon
between noon and 4pm-ish)

Saturday, October 19, 2013

This Week in Doha: Oman

R&R time
Qatar-bound Westerners trek to Oman in the way that Missourians "go to the lake."  This is Middle America-Speak for: run up to Hy-Vee for chips, hot dogs, buns, marshmallows.  Gather fishing rods, floaties, towels, waterski equipment, barbecue tools, sleeping bags.  Drive 2-4 hours (in any direction) where holiday-making ensues.

The only way out of Qatar overland is through Saudi Arabia - a complicated endeavor that requires weeks of embassy hoop-jumping, reams of paperwork, proofs of things like income, nationality, marriage.  There are limits as to how long a person may be in country, rules about with whom and how a woman may travel and many, many other considerations that make a road trip out of Qatar difficult to, well, not feasible.

So when it's vacay, git outta Dodge, needa break time (most Qatar expats and others) fly - a quick trip to Dubai, UAE or a short hop to Oman (other weekend possibilities are Bahrain and Kuwait).  Inexpensive, one hour (and less) flight to history, culture, shopping…food, fun, beach.

This trip, Bob and I did Oman, where we stayed at a "cute little place" just outside Muscat:

popular getaway location for Qatar's expats and locals
we stayed here
this is what we did: ahhhhhhh

The official national language of Oman is Arabic, just like Qatar's.  There is sun, desert, men in dish-dashas and ladies in abayas, just like in Qatar.  Money is the Omani rial and only comes in paper (ie, no coins).  There are souks stuffed with people…
Mutrah Souk
overlooking Mutrah bay
interesting historical displays in front of official looking buildings…
seen enroute

overlooking Corniche

beach camel ride, anyone?

and a Corniche crowded with men from (India, Nepal).
expansive Corniche overlooking the water between Muscat and Mutrah

Unlike Qatar, Oman features miles of beauteous rocky mountains
GOHJUS - but very little vegetation (wouldn't want to get lost out there) 

Also unlike Qatar, we met local people…everywhere.
"With limited oil revenues…a policy of 'Omanisation' in every aspect of the workforce is rigorously pursued…" (Oman, UAE & Arabian Peninsula, Lonely Planet, 3rd Edition, September 2010.) 
Omanis are taxi drivers, hotel maintenance staff, managers, servers, shopkeepers and more.  Many spoke English, but most seemed to prefer a slow mix of easy-to-understand colloquial Arabic.  No rapid fire, head spinning language lessons here:  "Kayf hal?" (How are you?) said the bellhop.  "Matar?" (Airport?) said the taxi driver.  And to our affirmative "aye-ee-wah, matar, shukran" (yes, airport, thank you) - nobody laughed. 


Friday, October 11, 2013

Happy Anniversary, Baby

Wednesday, October 16, marks Bob's two year anniversary as an expat architect.
Two years living in a resort with yachts floating in the bay outside our window.  With people to clean our apartment and laundry services at our fingertips.  Without oil to change, shelves to dust, yards to mow, gardens to weed.
Two years studying languages, learning cultures, travelling. 

Bob climbing rocks, up-country Qatar
I wish I could say we've immersed ourselves in local culture.

In Qatar, local's faces and bodies are hidden behind traditional clothing, homes are tucked behind ten foot walls.  Traditional men and women do not mix with one another or (generally speaking) non-Muslim outsiders.  We've never been to a Qatari wedding, visited a Qatari home or enjoyed a cup of Qatari tea (in a non-tourist setting).  We don't know the language (English is the expected mode of communication), dress in local attire, eat local food (restaurants are American chains or private enterprises featuring Turkish, Thai, Asian or European cuisine).  Qataris own 51% of every business but do not work in shops or restaurants, answer phones at hotels, ride buses, chat with strangers on the street.
There are days that the crazy making, surreal you-wouldn't-believe-it Doha traffic keeps us from venturing out at all.
Light traffic at six am (ie, intersections not yet blocked)
Yes, really.
No, I'm not exaggerating.
We have, however: learned to drive Qatari style (over curbs, through vacant lots, between lanes).  (Cindi) has met Qataris at the Islamic Cultural Center while studying classical Arabic, visited Qatari schools and attended Qatari traffic court.  (Bob) has worked closely with a Qatari building project from plans to foundation to high-rise.  Together we've visited Qatari mosques, forts, beaches, archaeological sites, museums; climbed rock formations, trudged shell islands, smoked sheesha, shopped the souk, cruised the bay on a dhow.
(maybe local) family picnics at Islamic Museum Park
overlooking West Bay
We've seen the world (some of it!) - Italy, Greece, England, France, UAE.  We've toured the Vatican, climbed the Eiffel Tower, circled Big Ben, battled crowds in Venice, sipped Chianti in Tuscany, enjoyed margaritas at the Hard Rock Café in Florence.  We've wandered the Plaka in Athens, basked on Greece's Karpathos Island, scaled a mountain to visit Olymbos -
and stood at the top of the world (sort of) after a speedy elevator ride up Dubai's Burj Khalifa.
January 2013
We've racked up enough frequent flyer miles to warrant priority boarding, special onboard meals and occasional upgrades on Qatar Airways.  Met fabulous people from everywhere, including Egypt, Syria, Azerbaijan, India, Pakistan, China, Korea, France, Lebanon, England, Scotland, Germany, Philippines, Italy, Australia, Sri Lanka and even America.
Bob's coworkers and spouses, Cirque de Soleil
September 2013
Bob's coworkers, Dhow Ride
Christmas Day 2012
To celebrate Bob's big day, we'll be in Oman where, we're told, there are deserts, souks and locals working the shops who speak Arabic.  We'll visit Muscat's marketplace, wander its Corniche, then head to an exotic Middle Eastern resort where we'll ride rafts down a lazy river, sip cocktails at the beach, jog in shorts, sleep, read and watch the movie channel.
And think about our favorite place and people in all the whole, great, big, wide, crazy world:
love them, miss them, can't wait to squeeze them

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Show Me the Money

I pressed the button for teller services and took my number from the wait-your-turn machine.  I sat in the middle of five rows of metal and foam and watched for my number to appear on the electronic board.
You didn't really think I'd take a photo inside a Qatari bank and post it here, did you?
I gave the man behind the bullet proof glass my passport and payroll check, endorsed the middle of the back by writing my full name, cell phone number and adding my signature.
The cashier slid a stack of bills under the glass.
What about the coins?  "And the fifty dirham?"
He raised his shoulders and shook his head, the international gesture for "ma'alesh - it doesn't matter."
It seems that this bank, like Qatar's grocery stores, clothing outlets, H&M, McDonalds, Fridays and Turkey Central Restaurants don't "do" coins.  Like most establishments here, they simply "round to the nearest riyal" (or thereabouts).
Money money money money
Qatar's paper money is called the Qatari Riyal (QR).  It comes in denominations of one, five, ten, fifty, one hundred and five hundred notes.  Coins are called dirhams (dh) and come in coins equaling 1, 5, 10, 25 and 50.  It takes 100 dirhams to make one riyal, and there are 100 one riyal notes to every hundred riyal.
Fifty and twenty-five dirham coins
We don't own any 1, 5, or 10 dirham coins.
A short history of Qatar's currency system:
Until the 1950s Qatar was a British protectorate and traded with the Indian rupee.  In 1965 Qatar and Dubai formed a currency union with money called the Qatar and Dubai riyal.  In 1973, after Dubai joined the United Arab Emirates, Qatar established its own Central Bank along with a new form of the riyal.  This currency is still in use.
Generally speaking, "rounding" in Qatar means that if your total due includes coinage and the amount owed is 51 dirhams or more, the amount due equals the next riyal.  If your total coinage due is 49 dirhams or less, your debt is to the riyal indicated:  21.49QR equals 21QR owed, but a 21.51QR bill becomes 22QR.
If your purchase amount is 15.10QR, and you hand over two tens, expect a five note back.
If your total comes to 15.75QR you may pay with 20 and get 4 Riyal back.  Or you can pay with a ten, five and one and receive no change.
If your total due includes a bull's-eye 50 dirhams, there will be change.  IF you ask.  IF the cashier has it.  And IF he/she is so inclined.
Of course, you can always pay to the riyal and offer the shoulder roll for the difference.  Ma'alesh.
Lately some shops frequented by penny conscious, where's-the-rest-of-my-money expats like Megamart and Forever 21, have begun dispensing exact change…sometimes.
Now showing at Ezdan Mall
(for Katie and Kimber)
What's the big deal?  It's just 50 dirhams.
In fact, we have lost many riyal to rounding.
As for the bank…if my 50 dirhams entered a pool that included 500 customers/day, that's 250QR ($68.68USD).  Multiply that by 6 days/week; that's $412.09.  Now figure this amount over a year and factor in the bank's branches (let's say there are ten to make it easy).  That's a cool $49,450.55/year.
Some say the reason for the rounding is that locals didn't like the heavy money taking up space in pockets and purses.  Others claim that there's a shortage of dirhams.
But, hey, it's all good.  Mafee mushkilla - no problem.  It's true that most businesses here wave the customer off when it comes to doling out exact change.  But some local shops give out sweets instead of coins.
Yum.  Who needs money?