Author: westwardfive

About westwardfive

I notice a lot of stuff. I forget a lot of stuff. So I blog about the stuff I notice so I won't forget it.

Family Life in Qatar

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We’ve nearly completed one academic year and it’s clear this is the time of year for many to move on. Furniture is being sold, gift collections are being passed around, last nights out have been booked, plants are being re-homed, animals are being shipped and cars are being polished to sell.

Qatar can be a tricky place to live as an expat, however it can also offer the most fantastic family experience, ripe with adventure and opportunity. Here are some of the things we love about living in Qatar:

  1. The feeling of sunshine on your face, everyday.
  2. Cloudless blue skies.
  3. A newfound appreciation for things we simply took for granted. My current favourites are green grass and big old trees. Actually any green vegetation. Oh, and Autumn.
  4. Seeing camels. Camels are just comedy.
  5. Seeing palm trees. For me, they will always be reminiscent of summer holidays.
  6. The sea and knowing you can dip your toes in it everyday if you wanted – and knowing it will be warm.
  7. Stunning sand dunes are your new landscape – plus you’ll experience the exhilaration of driving down them in a 4×4.
  8. Camping in the desert and learning that a shovel, 10 litres of water and tyre traction pads will become your new best friends.
  9. The freedom of the ‘compound kid’. Seeing our children playing out with friends, on bikes, in the playground, at each other’s houses. Children knock for each other all the time here. No doors are locked behind them. No texts are exchanged. No diaries are checked. No numbers are given. No pickup arrangements are made. They just go out and play… until they need to come in for dinner. Those who can tell the time may have a watch, some will have a phone, while some will simply use the evening call to prayer or the powering up of street lights as their indicator to make their way home. It’s a simple life.
  10. Seeing our children grow in a multi-cultural environment.  On average there are 11 nationalities in each of our children’s classes.
  11. The speed in which friendships are made.
  12. Sitting by the pool with friends, a glass of wine in hand and an occasional quick dip.
  13. Fridays always feel like you’re on a skive as Thursday night marks the end of the week.
  14. Being part of a neighbourhood community, where people say hello and often know your name.
  15. Going swimming without getting in a car or packing a change of clothes.
  16. Access to sports. Our children’s school sports day was held in one of the leading sports arenas. They have learnt to sail, play tennis, football, gymnastics and of course swim.
  17. Staff! There’s always someone willing to fill your petrol tank, your shopping bags, your car, your washing machine.
  18. Throwback radio stations – being reminded of some pure classic tunes each day. (Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of dross too, but this is a positive list!)
  19. The warmth of the sun on my left arm in the car, while my right is almost frozen by the air conditioning.
  20. The need to wear sunglasses every day – it’s not even an option. The quickest, easiest way to hide your 5.30am eye-bags.
  21. Dry air and no drizzle sees the end to frizzy hair.
  22. Access to a new list of travel destinations, all within a two hour plane ride.
  23. Languages. Our children study French and Arabic as part of their national curriculum.
  24. Watching our children’s confidence grow with all of these new life experiences.
  25. Easy access to some top rated restaurants.
  26. Cheap petrol.
  27. Cheap energy bills.
  28. Free parking (99.9% of the time).
  29. Cheap or free arts and culture.
  30. No tax. Of course. No tax!

Things You Just Don’t See In Qatar

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Apart from the obvious, such as the colour green, lush rolling meadows, craggy mountains, lakes, woods and forests, here’s a collection of things we just don’t see here. The list is ongoing, so feel free to add to it.

 

1. Roadkill. Unless you count street kittens and that one flattened lizard out in the middle of the desert. Poor thing – what were the odds?!

2. Beggars (illegal).

3. Homeless people (illegal).

4. Recycle bins. Not one thing from our household waste is recycled. Not. One. Thing.

5. Drunken behaviour on the street (illegal). Ahem.*

6. Westerners walking on the pavements. It’s too hot and everything’s too far.

7. A peloton of cyclists, not even a small one. We’ll see maybe one, lone, crazy guy, once a week, with no helmet.

8. Motorbikes. Well… maybe one a month, and he (I’m yet to see a she) is usually just doing tricks in the traffic – standing on the seat or maybe just doing long distance wheelies.

9. Trains (in plan).

10. Phone booths and pay-phones.

11. Pregnant single mothers (illegal). Someone I know just had a very very quick marriage at the ‘religious city compound’ – and you know what? Babies tend to be born quite early in her family! Ahem.

12. Tattoo parlours (illegal).

13. People leafleting (illegal).

14. Fog lights. They use their hazzards instead.

15. Letterboxes. There’s no house-to-house postal service.

16. Same sex couples (illegal).

17. Unmarried co-habiting couples (illegal).

18. Overt public displays of affection (illegal). You don’t even see people holding hands that often. All sexual content is edited out of TV and films here.  I even noticed a Chandler and Monica kiss had been edited to look more like a peck.  

19. Boobs and bare naked flesh in general.  You become conditioned very quickly, so much so, that some of the MTV videos now look truly pornographic.

20. Percy Pigs in M&S.

 

* This obviously excludes the golf club, the rugby club, and a few of the licensed hotels as the assumption is that you’ll be driven there and back and no one sees you. You just hope your driver doesn’t crash on the way as not only have you been drinking, you’re probably wearing something ‘inappropriate’ too!

 

Crossing borders with a burka. How does that work then?

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While travelling from Oman to Qatar, we stand at the immigration desk watching the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) residents at the Omani passport control. Three *fully* veiled women approach, accompanied by a more western dressed (i.e. not thobed) male. Since moving to the Middle East, I have a greater appreciation of the privacy these women both seek and receive and I look on, curious if (or rather how) they will unveil to show their faces to Omani passport control – they are crossing country borders after all. Huh. They don’t. Their passports are checked and they walk straight through. And then straight through the security metal detectors with their faces totally covered.

Huh. That gets us talking. How can that be? We’re talking burkas, so *fully veiled* from head to toe, no eye holes, nothing – they have black scarves entirely covering their heads and faces, I’m surprised they can even see where they are going. (I’ve been told the view is similar to wearing dark sunglasses and you can indeed see just fine!)

On closer inspection, I do notice that they have two layers to the head veil and one (just one) of the women appears to lift the outer one up and over her head, while the inner veil remains – however it is still black and still blocking full view of her face.

Having been brought up in a country at the, let’s say, more paranoid end of the security scale, we’re frantically asking each other questions:- How can they match those women to their photos? How do they know who is under there? How is that not a security risk? How can that be allowed?

Then, acknowledging the local need for modesty, we try to work out how immigration could respect that, yet still maintain secure immigration procedures. We happen to be answering for this particular airport, but our conversation soon turns to our airports back home. The answers come fast; separate rooms, female staff of the same religion, privacy glass etc. So why doesn’t the Omani border have that? What would London do? New York? Washington DC? We’d never considered it before. All are international airports, catering to multi-religion residents and visitors after all. What experience would these woman have at Heathrow, or JFK? We guess that they would have to unveil?

So….  if they are ok to unveil in other international airports, then why not here? What exactly are the privacy rules for women in the GCC and how come it is ok for these rules to be relaxed during international travel?

While we fill the next hour with some dull airport shopping looking for camel themed trinkets and giggling at camel milk chocolate (yes, we’re still amused), we google what other countries have decided to do. The UK is undecided but there are vague recommendations going through parliament at the moment. It seems to try to address the issue while in court, in police custody and at border control, and recommends that individual employers or educational establishments should make their own rules according to their needs. Fence sitting? We notice that Australia, Italy and France have made some actual decisions about when it is against the law to be veiled. This article shows veil bans by country, as at Sept 2013.

The bigger question for me, is…. why wear a face veil at all?  The Quran has no requirement that women cover their faces with a veil, or cover their bodies with the full-body burka. According to Wikipedia (must be true) many Muslims believe that the collected traditions of the life of Muhammed, require both men and women to ‘dress and behave modestly in public.’ That’s quite different to ‘must wear a face veil’. Hmmm. Furrowed brow. Chinese whispers over multiple decades? Or perhaps ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’? I found this article on the subject: “Does the Quran require women to wear the veil?”  The short answer is no. The long answer is no.

Anyhow, on entry into Doha, I notice that Qatar immigration does indeed have a booth with privacy glass around it – so, that’s how they have solved the problem. Qatar has a strict immigration process which includes photos on entry and exit, so it doesn’t surprise me that they have found a solution. I’ll watch next time I’m in other international airports, particularly more western ones, to see how (I mean if) they have a solution for this issue.

 

Photo: Omani dolls we found in the Muscat Souq

Carmina Burana and The Planets

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Musical performances in Qatar are few and far between, so we tend to grab a hold of anything that comes passing through. This time it was the turn of Qatar’s Philharmonic Orchestra.

On arrival at the impressive QNCC building (its pillars are in the shape of a tree), we were presented with a typical Doha-esque admin farce – we were all being asked to swap our home-printed paper tickets (unique and barcoded) for another type of paper ticket, issued onsite.  The line was large, orderly of course, given the demographic, but still snaking through the building with only 5 minutes to kick off. Thankfully, at the last minute, it was agreed that everyone’s home printed tickets were perfectly fine, meaning the show could start. Gatecrashers and tailgaters seemed unlikely at such a gig, so the simple tear of the corner of print outs seemed sufficient.

After a fabulously pompous introduction ceremony, where the orchestra, their leader, their second in command and finally the conductor were all introduced in an overtly gracious amdram, head nodding fashion – the music begins: Gustav Holst: The Planets, Op. 32

The Planets: An HD Odyssey, is a film made by Duncan Copp and uses the latest NASA footage including the Mars landing.  This was being shown on a massive screen behind the orchestra – this is what really captivated my children. That and the man with the massive symbols.

Given it was a school night and our mornings here start at 5.30am, we didn’t make it to the end, but it was the best child-friendly introduction to an orchestral performance I’ve ever come across. Only one small moment of disappointment as one of ours pointed out the lack of ocarinas in the ensemble.

Our seats were QR100 (£16) – another benefit of living in Qatar, where a lot of the arts are free or relatively low cost.  This film is toured globally with various different philharmonic orchestras – so if you get a chance, we’d highly recommend it.

Here’s a small personal clip.  Goodness only knows what copyright laws this impedes – however given I’m living in a place that seems somewhat lawless at times, I’m going for it.  Just don’t tell anyone.