The first time I ever set foot in Qatar, it was in March 2006. The story starts where my studies in Scotland, ends, as, following a series of joyful moments in the Arabian Gulf. After a work proposal, from a previous colleague, my reaction was a big surprise, as I had no idea where this country was.
I found myself checking maps and realizing that it is located in the Persian Gulf. Panic! How will I able to work in a Muslim country?
After a discussion with my colleague and his reassurance that it is not necessary to wear a burqa (a veil was known), I decided to accept the offer. Besides that, the attractive working position, the enticing salary (without taxes) and my travel bug led me to the Arabian adventure! I had a month to leave Scotland, travel to Greece and move to Qatar.
Doha Asian Games
Qatar at 2006
On departure day, again with overwhelming panic and doubt, but at the same time with a craving for the unknown, I depart. So it was that four hours later, at night, I found myself standing at Doha airport (capital), one suitcase in my hand and the only white woman. The airport was very small, with many Arabs and Indians (mostly men), feeling that everyone staring at me. On the exit, a kind Indian who speaks broken English greets me, with my name, shake his head and he repeats with enthusiastic and stubborn tone (“Welcome mum, Yes Mummmmmm”). On the exit, I feel the humidity and the heat all over my body. I tell you, at that moment, at that night, I jump with joy! What a nice weather after the freezing temperatures in Scotland. I feel very happy!
Gradually, my anxiety began to fade. We arrive in the apartment where the driver informs me that I will be staying in the house with another girl and two more who will be arriving by next week. Then he pointed to a room behind me, I look at him with a great surprise and ask. “Where is the other girl? Will I be staying alone here? “, as the room was not just a simple room, it was huge with a king size bed, desk, lounge, interior room for a wardrobe, ensuite bathroom with bathtub and I had the impression the room is for two people. Recollecting my memories from Scotland, this room looked like a palace that moment.
He informs me that at 7 am, next day my duty starts. I stay for a while staring the huge room, my anxiety began to rise again and I wonder whether I took the right decision. The only thing that consoles me that night, is the lovely, huge bed. Some hours later, I wake up fearful of loud “songs”. I wonder about the noise, 3 in the morning. Suddenly, I realize that it is the Muslim prayer time. It sounds so clear and as I find out the next morning, the mosque was directly next to the accommodation.
The next morning, at 6:45 am the driver drives me to the office. The first fleeting taste of Qatar felt like the answer to some unspoken question. The landscape is completely different than I had accustomed up to that moment. A sandy uniform color, dusty, big construction sites and countless Land cruiser cars driving in fast mode. Catch myself from despair and start wondering how will I manage to live here for nine months.
My Qatari colleagues
I feel relieved to meet my colleague and to my surprise, our department has two more Greeks, John and Myrto. We are four already! Oh, what a happiness! Suddenly I hear the shrill voice of Beverly. Who is Beverly? Our Canadian boss were, from the Athens 2004 Games. She welcomes me and introduces me to the rest. Our department consists of Greeks, Italians, Egyptians, Canadians, Qataris, Australians, Filipinos, British, Indians, and Koreans. That was the first thing I loved in Qatar, the multi-ethnicity!
Regarding Qatari colleagues, like many foreigners in Qatar, I suspect, I encountered kindness and consideration from them and they were very welcoming. For them, it was something special to socialize with so many foreigners and I can tell you that they really enjoyed it.
On the same day, I meet my flatmate named Dina (yeah yeah Greek also!) And our adventure for house hunting begins, as we decide to live together. (During the first 2 months we were having company’s accommodation, but afterward, it was our responsibility). It was that difficult period where taxis are in bad condition, taxi drivers speak bad English, no public transport, no road addresses, we could not easily accommodate ourselves around the city, the heat was unbearable…we were literally like flies amid milk (as we Greeks say) and really seemed strange to them that two single women wish to stay together. Haram! How is that possible!!? 🙂
Yet although has happened to us too many grotesque incidents, we really had fun and we had the opportunity to know the city and its culture better. Our favorite part of the city is Corniche, which extends for several kilometers along Doha Bay and the old city market – the Souq Waqif – known for selling traditional garments, spices, handicrafts, and souvenirs. It is also home to several restaurants and cafés with traditional Shisha. The house hunting along with my friend was really an amusing experience.
Eventually, for our good luck, we were informed by our company that we can stay in the newly renovated apartments with other colleagues. It looks like a busy Asian Games neighborhood. Although my flatmate is Dina, we have frequent visits from Sarah, John, Myrto, Agnes, Kostas, Noha, Yota, Jerry, Joyce and many other colleagues, all ages. Once we met, of course, the craziness would only accelerate. Towards the end of the games, a Greek girl Myrto move with us also, and the apartment takes a special form! 🙂 As you may understand, Greeks were the most “crazy” ones.
As more and more experiences began to crowd in on me in Qatar, I was finding it harder and harder to believe Qatar’s enormous construction, that continues up today. It is mainly in the capital, Doha, and the traffic was amid the madness because of the various roundabouts around the city. Often, moreover, as a resident, I did have to enter those roundabouts with a cold heart and the driving part was a big challenge, indeed. Nowadays the traffic jam has changed and improved though.
The situation away from Doha is quite different…the landscape changes shape and it is dominated by the power of the desert and speed. Big roads, with huge roundabouts, no traffic lights, limit lighting, no speed control cameras and big jeeps leading the way. On the other hand, you could enjoy the exotic landscape of nomads and their camels, and one of the most beautiful sunsets you could ever imagine! The horizon becomes bright red and you think that the sun is on fire. We could measure our days by the sunsets we saw…
As the Games period eased on, the rainy season begins, quite unusual for Qatar. Sometimes it rained, but when it did, it truly poured, other times, everything was the radiance of pale tan color. Despite the bad weather, Opening ceremony it was really impressive. Mohammed bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, Emir’s son, appeared in a horse from a platform, from the center of a field. He ordered his horse up the stairs to the top of the stadium to light up the giant cauldron in the form of a giant astrolabe. The flame was transferred electronically to the Aspire Tower just outside the stadium, and fireworks soon went off, signaling the start of the 2006 Asian Games. Each spectator was given a gift pack, allowing them to participate in the celebration. Magic! You can view related video Here (watch after 4:20 min). It was really something to watch.
And so, in time, the days in the city began to find a rhythm of their own with a lot of work, parties in apartments, villas, swimming pools, desert, sea, joys, sorrows, travel to nearby countries and food, too much food. The gastronomic hit was the famous Shawarma! It’s a kind of a wrap with Arabic bread stuffed with meat, vegetables, and sauce. Along with my friend Katerina we had the pleasure to taste this delicious wrap almost every single day! Yummy!!! (Separate post of the toothsome Arabic food and my friend Katerina will be published soon :)). Everything in Qatar was different and interestingly different…It was as if we were cut off from the outside world, we lived inside our little world, in a big party…Our party.
The dressings of my colleagues above – the ones with the same hats – are from a trip to Oman. The third person is our Qatari colleague wearing the traditional Qatari dressing code. It did not take me long to realize, that this person is one of the funniest and kindest Qatari person I ever met in Doha.
One sunny day, we were informed over some extension in our contracts (two months) and we could not be happier. And so, as little children enjoy the last minutes of a game, who had also come to enjoy the last two months.
Of course, was hard to believe that, the end of our working days in Qatar comes to an end. Eyes bulging from the sadness, the last goodbyes, kisses, hugs, gatherings and it is a fact…the party is over and the Qatari dream for the most of us ends here… As Arabs wished us: Inshallah we will meet again. Inshallah, you will return back to Doha. As I returned back, in a very unexpected way.
Qatar back in 2006
- Early 2006, Qatar’s population was just 750,000 only, by mostly local nationalities, Indians, Pakistanis, Saudi Arabia and Iraqis. Now the populations are almost 2.500.000.
- Qatar back then it was one of the richest countries in the world. During 2012 was voted by Forbes as the richest country in the world, because of it’s oil and natural gas resources.
- The Asian games 2006 was organized by David Atkins and the ceremony was attended by 5000 people. Jacques Rogge was one of them.
- Expat women were not allowed to dress with uncovered shoulders and knees and men with short shorts.
- The taxis were in yellow color.
- There were only two major shopping centers, the City center, and Landmark with fewer shops and restaurants than today.
- Bars were limited and the entrance was without any presence of identity card or membership.
- Souq Waqif (the old district of Doha) had just been refurbished.
- Doha was mainly the area around the souqs, Ramada Hotel and near the shopping center Villagio. In Al Rayyan, Al Gharaffa, Pearl was a desert with constructions in their bloom.
- Opposite the Corniche amid sea was the organized Palm tree island where you could go and enjoy the sea, restaurant to eat and drinks. It was closed during 2007.
- The resort of Sealine and the Intercontinental Hotel was a great attraction for many expatriates.
- The first hotel was in Sheraton which was opened in 1979. The large hotels in 2006 were limited also.
- Single men and women are banned to stay together in the same house.
- In the place of today’s museum, there were three large restaurants in a ship shaped, overlooking the sea, offered the best fish in town!
- Opposite the supermarket, near hotel Ramana, it was a fantastic Egyptian restaurant with amazing umali (Arabic sweet) and Shisha.
- Alcohol is allowed and permitted only in bars and some restaurants. To drink alcohol at home you should have a special permission only by a central store.
- During Ramadan and until sunset all shops were closed (even supermarkets).
- The cuisine was mostly Arabic and there was little choice of other cuisines, mainly Asian.
- There was only one telephone network option named Qtel (today Ooredoo).
- The price of gasoline was 0.10 cent per liter!
- The prices of supermarket, restaurants, cafes, clothing and general life of Qatar (except accommodation) were very cheap.
- The services of spa, massages, fitness, memberships to gyms and pool were very cheap also and we often enjoyed them.
- A very safe country.
- Major highways were under construction.
- All the parking areas were free of charge.
- There was not National Sports Day.
- There was only one theater.
As-salamu alaykum (Peace upon you) 🙂
P.S. If you are an Engineer and looking for a job in Qatar there are a lot of opportunities out there! I wrote a relevant article with more that 100 companies that you can apply to How to find an Engineering job in Qatar