Morning and TGIF my friends. If there is ever a place where one can really say” thank God it’s Friday”, it’s here- in the Middle East. Or “gelf” as we accented “malabaris” call it. It’s the weekend folks and so the Landcruisers won’t be out till afternoon atleast.
Now for those uninitiated to the GCC countries (the GCC virgins), life is very different here. If you have never been here or do not have relatives here (unlike me, who has relatives in every nook, corner and lane of the GCC), travelling to these countries for the first time can be quite an experience. Some things are pleasant, some amusing, some weird and some things can outright shock you. But do not fret my friends, J is here to give you a low-down on all things “gelf”. Every Friday, I intend to sit back, chomp on my Shoarma/shawarma, glug some diet Coke and post on “Doha Diaries”.
For starters let’s gabble about some key differences between Doha and my home city Bangalore.
I landed here during the winter. So the legendary heat was a non-issue. Also, unlike my Western expat friends, abayas (the long black robe you see women wearing here) don’t weird me out. Infact, I myself wear one occasionally! Moreover, we have them back home as well.
To summarise, the first few things to “hit” you are- the heat (after getting out of the airport of course), the abayas and the long white thobes (what the men wear). I, for one think the thobes looking incredibly smart and uniquely dashing.
Out on the road.
Once you are out on the road, you get this vague sense of openness. You feel exposed. The sun seems harsh. It took a few minutes for me to lay a finger on it. Aah! Yes. No trees lining the roads.
Yes, the palm trees partitioning the roads are meticulously placed and well-groomed. But they seem almost too “well-placed” and contrived, if you get my drift. This “openness” makes the roads seem vast and a bit intimidating at first.
And the cars……
Good lord, the cars…..
Should I talk about their speed, or the drivers, or the make ….
All the meme’s you see and the lore’s you hear about the cars in the middle east- ARE TRUE. So be prepared. If you think your K & N filter fitted Honda Accord back home makes you cool and “hipness” worthy. Then prepare to be shamed and humbled.
Any self- respecting citizen here will have atleast half a dozen cars on his/her porch- with a Toyota Landcruiser or a Nissan Patrol being the everyday, mundane, go to the mosque for prayers or the grocery for “BEBSI” car. The Porche Carrera goes to the neighbourhood mall. The Bentley comes out to visit family….and so on….
Women and driving
I am constantly asked one question- Are women allowed to drive in Qatar? Thanks to the whole “women not allowed to drive in Saudi” furore, people think women cannot drive anywhere in the GCC except Dubai. Nope. Women are allowed to drive here. And they do it in style. The fanciest cars you see on the roads here, chances are there is a woman behind the wheel. Infact, the women here are so fierce, no one and I mean NO ONE messes with them on the roads! Way to go girls!
The weekend is another thing for you to get used to. The weekend here is on Friday/Saturday. You might think it’s just one day off. Big deal.
Yes. It is. It’s genius actually. Somehow, the system seems to make the week short. By the time it’s Wednesday, you get a sense that the weekend is upon you while back home it’s bang in the middle of the week. Also, your head can’t seem to wrap around the fact that Sunday is the first day of the week (years of conditioning hard to bypass). By the time you process the information that the work week has begun, it is Tuesday. Then come Wednesday you feel, “hey the weekend’s here”. Get my point?
Shopping. Well….what can I say. I am a happy chappy…that is all. 🙂 All you need is dosh. I have friends in the US who ask my friends in the UK to get certain things, and vice-versa. I do none of that. We have it all here. The big brands. Check. The luxe designers. Check. The niche stores. Check.
Incident– Friend in New York harps about cupcakes from Magnolia. Two days later, J visits neighbourhood mall and there it is- Magnolia Bakery! Aah, the things money can do…..
Phones….and more phones!
Back home. Everyone uses a mobile phone. Some two. Some crazies have three. The whole range of phones are in use. From a Rs 1000 (17 USD or 60 QAR!) or lesser china- make to a over Rs 500,000 (8000 USD) Vertu. You see it all. We are kind and impartial. We like to provide business to all companies! It’s a teeny bit different here…
Incident– One day, I was at the hospital for my pre-natal appointment. There was an elderly lady sitting next to me. About my granny’s age. Her phone rang. She whipped out an iPhone from her bag and answered the call. Another device seemed to ping in her bag- she digs into her bag again and gets out a Galaxy Note 3 and checks her whatsapp. Yes granny was whatsapping! In Arabic. As I got up to get into the doctor’s office, cool granny calls her driver on her Blackberry, asks him to come to the door; then gathers all her belongings- Chanel bag on left elbow and three phones in her right hand and floats out the door, her abaya skimming the floor. I smile to myself. Prosperity.
It is not all rosy….
Be prepared to be surrounded by both abundance and impoverishment. On some terms, this is a new country. Everything is new and shiny. And all these nice, new and shiny things are built on the backs of hundreds of over-worked and underpaid labourers mostly hailing from south- Asian countries. Working in the sweltering heat, with hardly any breaks and ……. Never mind…. It’s a post for another day. It might get all dark and dreary. Let’s stick to sunshine. For today….
Checking out the chicks?
All expats miss their home countries. But they are several upsides to living here. I am not sure how other women here feel. I for one do NOT miss all the “staring” that we women have to experience in other countries. The top to toe “checks”.
I do not claim to be more empowered or emancipated here. But, it’s nice to not have pairs of eyes’ following your every move. The men reading this may not get this, the ladies will be nodding their heads. Be warned though; I’m told, even here if you dress a certain way, or go to certain places; you do attract attention. Most times though, one feels free and safe. Light and unencumbered in a sense. It’s a pleasant change.
It’s a child mad world!
Next change would be the number of little children here. You have this feeling that the population age- range is askew.
The workforce here is fairly young. Hence, the abundance of young couples and new families. All these families mean scores of lil kids. The place is teeming with prams and strollers. Grocery shopping is like partaking in an insane, hyper-intense video game – all the people, the kids running around, the unhinged bagging of groceries, the seemingly possessed carts and the badly maneuvered strollers- it’s bedlam during the weekends.
Halting the rant
This post is getting unduly long, my friends. In short, it’s all good. There are challenges to be faced everyday. It would be mind-numbingly boring otherwise. All said though, I still miss Bangalore every single day. Not a day goes by when I don’t think of my family. All the brands in the world will not make up for shopping on the street and haggling with the poor sellers at Commercial Street. No fancy car can beat my trusted bike when it comes to zipping along in traffic. All the air-conditioning makes me yearn for those lovely Bangalore winter mornings. I want to sit on a balcony. I want to walk on the wobbly pavements (yeah! Forgot to mention- you will rarely see people walking anywhere here). Want to eat cheap street food….
I shall halt my rant here…. Leave some for another day….
Happy weekend folks.