Using one of nature’s staging posts to lean on, let’s take a moment to review the family’s first week in Doha, pick out some highs, lows and answer a few (paraphrased) questions, all in one handy sorry-I-haven’t-time-to-email-you-back-what-with-all-my-visits-to-the-police-station blog post.
NB: As requested by many, the estimated Kleenex rating for this post is: zero tissues.
Q: Why have you moved from somewhere overflowing with culture, art, amazing architecture etc, to a barren, hollow, vapid, shiny nugget of nothingness?
A: We already did this joke when Family Little City moved from London to Basingstoke*. Next!
Q: Why haven’t you emailed me back? I thought you weren’t working.
A: Mate, that laundry isn’t going to iron itself, you know. Seriously though, it is mainly all the trips to the police station (this time to apply for a temporary driving licence).
Q: Are you driving with L-plates then?
A: Not quite, but it feels like it sometimes. I’ve gone from being a homeowner with a job, to a temporarily licensed ‘male trailing spouse’, with a prepay mobile and a cash card linked to my wife’s account that texts her every time I so much as try to remember the pin number (cheers, QNB). I feel like I’m 18 again. And not in a good way.
Q: So, the driving. What’s it really like, on a scale of Miss Daisy to Death Race 3000?
As insane as promised, but I got some great help on my very first morning, thanks to a two and a half hour Defensive Driving class (I did it right after my first trip to the police station)
When Mrs LC said she had a surprise lined up for me after our months of separation, it wasn’t quite what I had in mind, but it was the perfect introduction to life here. I now know that the flashing lights, beeping and multi-lane swerving are nothing personal, and I am doing my very best to keep that in mind at all times. *Grips wheel tighter*
Q: Didn’t you say you loved the identity crisis of a city caught between two worlds: one achingly modern (the internet in our new house will come via fibre) and one where typewriters, desk-mounted pencil sharpeners and actual slice-your-fingers ring pulls still play a working part in daily life?
Q: The heat. Seriously, pale bloke like you: you must be melting?
I’m trying to accentuate the positive. Walking around town, the heat is so enveloping it’s like being swaddled in one of the space blankets they wrap round marathon runners when they finish (like I would have any idea what that feels like).
Q: How are you coping without..?
(This is a common question from people worried that they are about to stumble into some sort of cultural pothole by asking about the availability of banned substances. They’re not interested in my thoughts on the outrageous price of fizzy water here. But it is outrageous.)
I had been preparing myself for the biggies (booze n’ pork) for months. As part of a carefully planned regime, I had been gradually reducing my consumption of alcohol in the run up to depar-
oh, who am I kidding? I’d have been downing red wine as we landed if Qatar Airways had let me.
Alcohol is available, but where you can buy and consume it are both strictly controlled. It’s also taxed like the day is long. A 330ml bottle of bland lager will set you back about £9 in a bar, so stop moaning, Londoners!
There’s also too many ‘luxury boutiques’ and ‘emporia’ for my liking.
I miss puntastic shops like these from my home town:
Q: How many forms is enough?
A: In the same way that Spinal Tap’s album cover could be “none more black”, there is literally no limit to the number of pieces of paper you could/should/might need here in order to make something happen. Who can explain the inexplicable obsession with degree certificates, for example? Mine is of little relevance to my career, and yet here it is the equivalent of one of Willy Wonka’s golden tickets if I am to ever find employment.
Q: But in these cynical times, who can be sure your degree certificate is real?
A: To which I would respond by asking: who would want to fake the degree I got or where I got it from? Even so, its bona fides have to be established by no fewer than three separate agencies (solicitors, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, and finally the Qatari embassy in the UK) which left me with pennies from £350.
Q: What else is different there?
Hmm, let’s see. I’ve been:
• stared at like I’m mad because I wanted to fill my car up myself
• stared at like I’m mad because I’d brought my own reusable bags to the supermarket (It’s going to take something astonishing to get Reduce, Reuse, Recycle off the ground here.)
• stared at like I’m mad because I wanted to pack my own reusable bags which I’d brought to the supermarket (an offer which was politely ignored and then compounded when the bagger proceeded to pack my stuff into YET MORE plastic bags I didn’t want, rather than the reusable ones I brought.) May have to drop this as a lost cause.
• stared at like I’m slightly dysfunctional by the nice man at the bank when my wife popped in to apply for an extra cash card for her account for me (no job means no bank account).
Q: Low point? Anything making you think: ‘why did I sign up for this?’
A: The lack of local know-how has been a huge frustration. I pride myself on my sense of direction, so love exploring new places and getting my bearings, but the traffic here just isn’t geared up for someone to be out driving for driving’s sake. If you’re in your car, it’s because you have Places To Go and Woe Betide Anyone In Your Way. At various points this week, I’ve been unable to find the kids’ school, our compound, the supermarket, Mrs LC’s office… it’s beyond frustrating.
Many a despairing text has been sent to my wife from traffic lights along the lines of: “I DON’T KNOW WHERE I AM”. (No idea why I bother waiting till I’m at the lights to text, though; doesn’t seem to stop anyone else from sending them while they drive.)
Q: Dad, when can we have Robyn on in the car again?
A: Sssh! Can’t you see I’m driving?
Q: So as you’ve seen such a lot of Doha this week, which bit reminds you most of a song and dance number from a Disney musical?
A: I’m not even going to dignify this with a response.
Ok, we love Al Waab Street, which (so far, at least) appears to be a tarmac-topped paean to free-flowing traffic bliss. Naturally, the sat nav lady hates it and tries to take us anywhere else. But as it connects the home/school end of town and Mrs LC’s work, we’re going to be spending a lot of time admiring its lights.
Q: Are you Canadian?
A: No, Mr Compound Maintenance Man, I am not; poutine has never passed my lips.
Q: Have you been ripped off yet?
Only once, I think (over a ‘service charge’ for an Arabic speaker to ‘help’ with my driving license application) But the amount in question is so small that I’ve chalked it up to experience.
And besides, while were at the police station two days running, the kids were transfixed by the use of typewriters to process my application – not just by the Arabic characters they punched out, but the machines themselves. I tried to explain what it was for and how it worked, and the best I could do was mumble something about it being like a computer before there were computers.
They nodded like they sort of understood, before Kid A turned and asked me: “so how do you get the internet on it?”
Q: What’s funny over there?
I saw a guy pull up outside a convenience store and beep his horn furiously. Apparently this is the local signal for ‘I want something and you’re going to bring it to me, so I don’t have to walk the three steps from my air conditioned car to your air conditioned shop’.
And what he wanted was…cigarettes.
Words literally fail me (and it seems I’m not the only one who finds it funny).
Q: Given that you love films, an air conditioned cinema must be the perfect place to hang out. Have you been yet, and what’s the experience like?
I’d heard horror stories – rampant mobile phone usage, kids using the aisles as an indoor play park, etc – and so lowered my expectations all the way down to ‘Basingstoke Festival Place’, but was pleasantly surprised.
We went to see Brave. No idea what resonated with Kid A in a story about a feisty, independent minded (some would say ‘stubborn’) daughter and her separation from, and eventual reconciliation with, her mother, but when the lights came up (the very second the final frame faded) she was blubbing like we’d just bought her a puppy and then shot it.
Q: What’s daily life like?
The early starts are the biggest difference. When term starts on Sunday, I’ll need to have dropped Mrs LC at work before getting the kids to school no later than 7.15. Being a mornings person, that’s not so bad. It’s the earlier nights needed to make that happen that are the drag.
Q: Any house news?
We have keys. It’s getting painted and cleaned right now. Our crate has docked and is ‘clearing customs’ (fingers crossed) as I type. So join me next week for Little City – the Allen Key Years. My new friends in Luxembourg (thanks, WordPress site stats!) will be able to hear the weeping from Vianden Castle.
Q: Are you on the Book of Faces yet?
Bonus Q: What have you got against Basingstoke?
Comments, further questions or suggestions for things to do for week two are always welcome. Let me know in the box below…
* You may not be familiar with the British town of Basingstoke itself, but every country has one: a dead-end soulless hole that adds nothing to the value of a nation