I’m assuming the pace of life will slow soon, but it’s been all action since we arrived. Our life is a strange mixture of getting to know a new city, setting ourselves up with visas & permits, bank accounts etc, and house-hunting, meanwhile trying to hold down a job and live a semblance of normality. Never a dull moment.
The weekend here begins on Fridays, as that is the Muslim holy day. Since Sunday is a normal working day, church services are also on Fridays, for all denominations. The ‘Religious Complex’ is quite a sizeable property on the edge of town, donated by the Emir for use by the various Christian organisations. There are several substantial buildings, mostly shared by the different groups. I did not take any photos of the buildings (no photos are allowed inside), perhaps when the weather cools down I’ll go for a bit of a walk & get some shots. We attended Grace Fellowship, which meets in the Anglican building. It is a large congregation (around 600 I believe) which has grown from small beginnings only a few years ago. The congregation are expats from all over the world, it was great to see so many different nationalities worshipping together. The service was a little different to what we are used to at home, but we enjoyed it and feel sure that we will fit in nicely there. I felt very warmly welcomed and everyone I met was so nice – I hope I remember at least some of their names next week!
After lunch a large group gathered in one of the malls for lunch, and we were invited to join them. There were around 20 adults, and assorted offspring, and I really enjoyed chatting & hearing people’s stories and backgrounds. Many expats leave Qatar at this time of year, either to go home for the summer, or because their term here has ended, so some of the people we have met we won’t see again. They say it is not a bad time to come though, because it is easier to get to know the smaller group who remain, and there are good deals around on second hand goods – we have already been offered two cars! We did a test drive in a car one of the departing ex-pats was selling – a Honda Pilot, a big 4×4 – a far cry from our little Toyota Echo! We actually decided we would buy it, but in the few hours we deliberated it was sold to someone else. We were not too upset, and in fact we are considering managing without a car, since taxis are cheap, and we have our driver Shihab that we can call on as well.
Saturday was our first day off since we arrived. We took the opportunity of a slow start to the day, and then had a swim in the hotel pool. The pool was lovely, but I can’t believe people lying sunbaking in 40+ degrees and full sun in the middle of the day. The water is actually cooled for the pool, otherwise it would be too hot to swim in! In fact we learned that houses need water chillers as well as water heaters. With water tanks generally in the roof, without a chiller you simply can’t get cold water. We met someone who doesn’t have a chiller and he told us the water is too hot to shower in!
We spent the afternoon at Villaggio Mall. Complete with canal, bridges and gondolas, it is styled as an Italianate village and is really quite attractive. It is a large mall with shops, restaurants, an ice hockey rink, a large fun fair, a cinema complex and more. There’s a whole section dedicated to the top designer labels as well as another huge supermarket and lots of sporting goods stores. In this climate, people look for indoor entertainment at this time of year, and it was full of families from all nations strolling, eating, and generally enjoying themselves. We had lunch, strolled, shopped a little, and generally blended in with the crowd. It was fun.
On Monday we moved from our hotel to a serviced apartment, where we will stay for a month while we look for long term accommodation. The apartment is very comfortable, and huge. We had booked a 2 bedroom apartment, but were upgraded to three, which is really 4, since there is a “maid’s room” as well (no maid though!). We are on the 40th floor and have a panoramic view over the city and suburbs to the west. It is nice to have some room to move, and space to properly unpack. Hotels are nice when you are travelling, but a bit of a challenge when you are working and trying to live a normal life. The only down side is that we have lost our internal connection to the mall!! We actually have to go outdoors occasionally!
On Monday and Tuesday we went apartment hunting some more. We saw 12 apartments, any one of which we could live in, though they all had some negatives, so we are still looking. We have a viewing arranged on Saturday which I am optimistic about. Some of the nicer apartments had kitchens which were closed off and around a corner from the dining room. Since open plan kitchens are more common these days, I was surprised to see these enclosed kitchens, until it was explained that was because the kitchen is for the maid! It’s moments like this which remind me I am in a different country and culture, even among the ex-pats!
Many of the people here are long term expats, and have lived in a number of different countries. When you meet new people the first question is how long have you been here, the second is is this your first ex-pat posting? When I say yes their eyes widen a little, and then the offers of help, advice and contacts flow. It’s both scary and encouraging! This week I stepped way out of my comfort zone and introduced myself to a group playing Mah-jongg in the coffee shop of the hotel. As there were two games going, I thought they might be a club, so summoned up the courage to bowl up and say hi. They meet every week and I was warmly invited to join them. I chatted for a while, and received lots of advice (and an offer of another car). I was told I must attend the weekly coffee morning at Jones the Grocer on Sundays, and one of the women took my email address to add me to a mailing list for expat women in Doha. It’s all happening here!!