Here we are in Doha, Qatar. After months of considering, negotiating, packing and preparing, we are actually here. At different times we have each had moments where it seems quite surreal, as though we went to bed at home on an ordinary night and woke up in this foreign city, transplanted to a completely different world. It has been fascinating and exciting so far, though this life we are living at the moment, staying in a hotel, and eating out 3 times a day is not quite what we are used to, or what the future holds.
Our flight from Dubai was short (only 45 minutes) and thankfully we retrieved all our luggage intact. We arrived on a Sunday, which is of course the first day of the working week here. We are in a hotel for the first week, and quickly settled into our room. We were welcomed by Andy, a colleague of Keith’s who has lived in Doha for around 7 months, which qualifies him as an expert. He gave us lots of advice about procedures (applying for a residence permit, looking for accommodation) and about who are the important people to ask for help. Most importantly he gave us the name and number of his driver, Shihab, who I was invited to text any time I wanted to go anywhere. Andy was incredibly helpful, though I am not sure we were quite ready to take it all in – hopefully he won’t mind us asking the same questions a few more times!
Our hotel is conveniently located next to Doha’s largest shopping mall, and there is a direct connection from the hotel to the mall, avoiding the necessity to venture outside. Most people look at us as if we are a little crazy arriving at the start of summer – pretty much every ex-pat we have met so far is going home for the summer. The weather ranges from extremely hot to ridiculously hot, with the only variation being the presence or absence of the (hot) wind, so going outside is really to be avoided at all cost, pretty much until September, I’m told. To be able to go shopping, or out for a meal, or even just to get out of the hotel without stepping outdoors is quite a bonus. On our first evening we headed down to the mall, partly just to have a look, and to do a little shopping. We certainly noticed a number of familiar brands, and were amazed at the size of the supermarket – Carrefours, a French chain – it is absolutely huge. I haven’t managed to take a photo that captures the size, but we certainly don’t have anything that comes close in Australia that I’ve ever seen.
It’s now Saturday evening, and we’ve been here for almost a week. It’s been go go go all week, let me summarise for you.
Monday was Keith’s first day at work, but also the start of the process of applying for his Residence Permit (RP). He was taken for blood tests and chest X-ray, and on Tuesday for finger-printing, fortunately by a local who understands how things work. He must have passed the tests because he has been approved, and we are just waiting for the official documentation. (Hooray!)
I did some pixels2Pages work on my computer, and explored the mall, attempting to walk along every aisle of every floor, and fix in my memory where the important resources were. The layout of the mall is quite confusing, with a number of circular hubs, connected by spokes at various angles. I’m not sure that I achieved my goal, but I did get my 10,000 steps up!
On Tuesday we met with Ramy, who is our “relocation agent”. He is very nice, and seems to be the answer to most questions that begin “How do I …?” He drove us to look at a couple of apartments. We liked them both, but one in particular. We were almost ready to rent it, but it felt wrong to take the second apartment we’ve seen with out looking at a few more. While we deliberated, Ramy emailed to say he had found some other even better apartments, so we hope we will see those this week. It does look likely that we will find something comfortable and affordable, so we are very encouraged about that. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take photos of the apartments. We are focussing our search in an area called The Pearl, a residential development on reclaimed land which is surprisingly less expensive than living in the city.
After the apartment viewing, I met with Andy’s wife Niki for lunch. She filled me in on the life of an ex-pat wife, and has offered to introduce me to the Doha expat crowd. Apparently there are regular coffee mornings for ex-pat women in different cafes. You just turn up and say hello, and you meet new people. Niki & I chatted like old friends and I had a lovely time with her.
We had dinner with two of Keith’s colleagues (John, from England and Kees, from the Netherlands) at a Brazilian restaurant in the hotel, where we had a Churrascaria (pronounced chew-ras-kurrea) – 15 variations of sizzling meats on skewers, carved at your table. Delicious food and excellent company, a very enjoyable evening.
Keith spent a whole day at the office, catching up. I had an appointment at Kempinski Residences, an all apartment hotel we were considering moving to for the first month. The company provides a month of accommodation while we look for a rental property, and get ourselves settled. I expected a 10 minute quick look, but in fact spent most of the morning being shown 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom apartments, and having a fresh watermelon juice with my charming guide. The apartments are really lovely, we are waiting to hear if they have availability for the time we have requested.
In the afternoon I called Shihab (the driver) for the first time. We are travelling light, and have brought almost nothing apart from clothes and personal effects – except my Thermomix. I did not think I could manage without that! Unfortunately, in our haste to pack we left a significant component behind (the simmering basket, for those who are wondering). I was very pleasantly surprised to find a TM distributor right here in Doha!! Shihab drove me to her villa, waited while I picked up my basket and drove me back to the hotel. Too easy! It was interesting driving out of the high rise district of West Bay to the ‘burbs. Most people live in 1- or 2-storey villas in compounds, and this one was particularly lovely, with surprisingly lush gardens around each villa.
On Thursday I pottered while waiting to hear from Ramy about whether we were going to see those other apartments. They are still tenanted, so he needed to get permission to inspect them, which apparently did not happen, since he did not call me. I stayed in, set up my blog (finally!) and did some work. I had heard about the dust haze that covers the city whenever the wind blows and on Thursday I got to experience it first hand. These photos show the difference from one day to the next (view from our hotel window)
For dinner we headed to Jones the Grocer, the famous Sydney providore who has expanded prolifically in the Middle East it seems. Since the first Jones the Grocer store was in Woollahra, where I grew up, I was keen to go & have a small taste of home. (Not that I actually ever ate there when it was in Woollahra!). It is just across the road from our hotel – I can see it from our window – but it took around 15 minutes to walk there, and longer to get back, dodging extensive roadworks, and looking for lights to cross the 8 lane highways. I gather that is a common Doha experience – there is construction and roadworks everywhere! It was worth it – the food was amazing! The restaurant is in the Gate Mall – very upmarket shops and decor, full of expensive brand names, and very few customers, it seemed.
Well, I haven’t quite caught up, but I’ll stop now, at the risk of getting too tedious. We had a full weekend (don’t forget the weekend is Friday & Saturday now) but that will have to wait till my next post. Rest assured I won’t be posting daily updates for the whole time we are here!! For now every day is a new experience. This city really is a melting pot – we have met people from Egypt, Greece, England, USA, Spain, India, Sri Lanka, the Netherlands, the Philippines and more. Everyone is friendly and ready for a chat, the heat is oppressive but less so than we expected, and we are still filled with optimism about our time here.