The level of pot luck and guesswork required here to get even the most basic things done is little short of Olympic. Take posting a letter for example…
In descending order of effectiveness, here are the best ways to get a letter out of Qatar:
1 – Personal courier: give your letter to someone travelling to your country of origin for them to post on arrival. An expat classic
2 – An actual courier: you know, an international company that tracks stuff, has a reputation to uphold and has done this before
3 – By owl
A very distant 4 – Using Q-Post, Qatar’s state-run mail operator.
I’m not sure what Q-Post staff do all day, because in two years of living here I’ve only ever seen two of their vans – and the second of those was just a few days ago.
But I know what they’re not doing: delivering post to your home anytime ever. The lack of a residential postal service is not surprising considering Doha is very much a work in progress, one where most of the streets have no name.
Box of delights
If you’re planning on receiving mail here you can hire a PO Box, or sometimes people are able to have it sent to their workplace (which means one less trip on Doha’s psychotic roads).
My dealings with Q-Post have been mercifully brief. Every other week, my copy of Private Eye turns up at the mailroom at Mrs LC’s work, from where it eventually finds its way to her. The odd letter gets redirected from our old address in the UK every once in a while, but most of the time we keep out of each other’s way.
No, it’s getting stuff out that’s the problem.
Every story we’d heard about using the postal service here had been one of a disaster and failure, ending in a meltdown. So I’ve tried to avoid using them, preferring to trust in expats, couriers or owls, but a few months back, our luck finally ran out.
We had some papers that needed to be with our bank: letters of authority and signed testimonials – the things you have to use an alternative proof of identity because the lack of domestic postal service means you don’t have a residential address with which to prove your identity…
I had no alternative; now, where to find a postbox?
The only one I knew of was the General Post Office (GPO), but this was back when the Corniche renovation project was in full swing. Roundabout after roundabout was falling victim to the inevitable march of progress, and the surrounding roads were being dug up and the diversion routes were gridlocked (just for a change).
So I needed a local branch and, forgetting where I was for a crucial moment, I went online. According to their website, “Q-Post has 201 street letter posting boxes, distributed in ten zones covering 48 districts in Qatar.”
(Bonus points to anyone who started rolling their eyes at “According to their website…”)
How hard can it be to find a postbox? I thought; my brain temporarily skipping over all the times I had failed to find schools, offices, roads and shops; hotels, embassies, compounds and restaurants.
But expat life is nothing if not a daily series of tiny adventures, which infuse even the most mundane of errands with the spirit of Indiana Jones, so I bundled the kids into the car and headed out to explore pastures new.
An hour’s fruitless driving later, having failed to find one of their branches which claimed to be at a nearby souk, we had a car full of tired and grumpy people and a letter that still needed posting.
I swallowed my pride and pointed the car towards the GPO…
We finally made it back home, having taken two hours to do something that would be the work of minutes in the UK.
(Case in point: over the summer I sent my goddaughter a present which travelled the 430 miles from the south of England direct to her front door in central Scotland, overnight. She sent me an email to say thanks the next morning, to which I replied: “But I only sent it yesterday…”)
Do not pass go
The fun, however, had only just started. About six weeks later, it dawned on me that I hadn’t heard back from the bank. One phone call later and it transpires that after all that effort and swearing, my letter hadn’t actually arrived.
Six weeks! I’d have been better off tying it to a falcon.
So we had to go through the process of getting a whole new set of documents generated and stamped and signed. We played it safe second time around, chose option 1 and gave it to a friend to post in person back in the UK. A couple of days later, I got a call from the bank.
“Have my documents arrived?” I asked.
“Yes,” came the reply. “In fact, I’ve got two sets of them here…”
There was a brief pause, while I banged my head repeatedly on my desk.
But we learn from our mistakes (allegedly), and I learned the hard way never to send anything via Q-Post ever again.
It was a lesson I had in mind a few weeks ago when I found myself on the phone dealing with a company back in the UK whose existence proves that Q-Post doesn’t have a monopoly on boneheaded inefficiency.
All I wanted to do was update my contact details, but the lack of a residential address was baffling the customer service rep, until she had a brainwave.
“Do you have a driving licence you could send us?”
“Send?” I thought. Send? You want to take something I have to show or surrender every time I go anywhere (yes, even dropping my son off at football practice), something which – unlike the UK – it’s illegal to drive without having on your person? You want me to me put something I can’t be without for six hours in the hands of “six weeks” Q-Post?
I said I’d think about it, thanked her for her help and hung up.
Which is English for “I am apoplectic with rage and will kill the next person I see.”
PS Pro Tip! If you have to post something but want to avoid the city centre, head to Katara.
There’s a mail box outside Chapati & Karak, so after you’re done you can reward yourself with some, er, chapati and karak. Much more civilised…