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An American in Qatar:

Moving to Doha 

Greetings from Qatar, a small, vowel-deprived country in the Middle East.  I moved here about six months ago but have been so busy adjusting to my new job and lifestyle that I haven’t had time to post any website updates until now.  With the Christmas craziness finally over – yes, there is some Christmas craziness here in this predominantly Muslim country – I finally have time to write and describe this most recent adventure of mine. 

 

 

Above:  The country of Qatar (highlighted in red) is about the size of Connecticut and borders Saudi Arabia in the Persian -- uh, Arabian -- Gulf.

This is the first of what I hope will be a series of semi-occasional updates about my life in the Middle East, a series that I call, "An American in Qatar."  It's like the old Gene Kelly movie, "An American in Paris" but with more sand, and a camel instead of Leslie Caron.

 

First, let me tell you a little about my newly-adopted home country.  Rich in oil and natural gas, Qatar is a flat, sandy peninsula about the size of Connecticut that juts out into the Persian Gulf -- or “Arabian Gulf” as they call it here (despite what this map says).  Arabs aren’t fond of the word “Persian,” which to them is synonymous with “Iranian.” Surrounded on three sides by the (ahem) Arabian Gulf, Qatar shares a short, sandy border with Saudi Arabia, its only neighbor.  Nearly three million people live in Qatar, about half of whom live in the capital, Doha.

 

 

This is how Qataris pronounce "Qatar."

   

So how do you pronounce “Qatar”?  Most of the locals, known as Qataris, pronounce it “COT-tar” with a slight pause between the syllables, so that’s how I pronounce it, too.  Please don’t say “ka-TAR” (rhymes with “guitar”) like many Americans do, or “Cutter.”  And you’ll really make me cringe if you say “CAT-ter” like most of my Brit colleagues here.  There are no cats in Qatar, at least none that I've seen so far, though I have seen a couple mangy dogs (pets aren't as popular in the Middle East as they are in America).  Qatar rhymes with “water,” of which there’s very little.  It also rhymes with “hotter,” of which there’s a lot.

 

The last time I posted an update, in 2012, I was at my home in Portland, Oregon.  So, as the Talking Heads put it in their memorable song Once in a Lifetime:

You may find yourself in another part of the world.
And you may ask yourself, "Well, how did I get here?"

So let me tell you about this once-in-a-lifetime adventure of mine and how I got to Qatar.

Welcome Back, Qatar

Back in 2011 when I was in Portland, I decided to leave my company, Otak, after working there for five years.  I was the company’s GIS Manager – that’s GIS as in “Geographic Information Systems” which basically means “computer mapping.”  I was working endless 80-hour (and sometimes 90- or even 100-hour) weeks at Otak creating maps and analyzing spatial data, while getting paid for only 40 hours, of course.  After several months of those endless seven-day work weeks, I was getting pretty burned out, so I left my job and spent about a year at home working on some personal projects, including several home improvement tasks.  It was a nice break and my house looks a lot nicer now.

 

Above:  Digging a storage area under my patio, one of my many home improvement projects in 2012.  I may be stupid but I'm very persistent.

After about a year at home, however, I looked at my ever-shrinking checking account and decided that it was time to go back to work, so I started applying for GIS positions around the Pacific Northwest.  I happened to also see a mapping position advertised in the small country of Qatar and was intrigued, having done some work in the neighboring country of the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) a few years earlier while I was with Otak.  I never lived in the U.A.E. but I worked on several projects there, and I had visited the U.A.E. a few times. 

 

I really liked the Middle East because it was so different than anything I’d ever seen or experienced, so I sent an application into the engineering company, Atkins, for this advertised GIS position in Qatar.  After several weeks, though, I hadn’t heard back from them, so I pretty much gave up on it.

 

A few months later, around 8:30 one evening while I was at home watching TV, my phone rang.  Now, about the only people who ever call me that late are solicitors, so I debated whether to even pick it up.  But I did and there was silence on the other end – a sure sign of a solicitor.  I said, “Hello?” but heard nothing but silence.  Then, rather impatiently, I said “Hello??” again, getting irritated with this robocaller who’d interrupted “Antiques Roadshow.”  I was just about to hang up when I heard a woman’s voice, sounding rather distant, on the other end: “Hello.  Is this Del Le-o-u,” having trouble pronouncing my last name.  By now I was sure it was a solicitor, so I impatiently said, “Yes it is,” expecting to be given a spiel about wonderful timeshares in Florida.  But then she said, “Hello Del, this is Kaye with Atkins in Qatar.  I was wondering if you were still interested in the GIS position you applied for a while back?”

 

I immediately changed my tone from irritated to obsequious.  “Oh, yes.  Yes, I still am!”  One thing led to another and a week later I had a Skype interview with two fellows in an Atkins office in Qatar, which lasted a few hours and went well, I thought.  They said they’d talk it over and get back to me.

 

A few days later, I had another job interview, this one near my home in Portland for a government agency called Metro.  It was for a lower-level GIS position with few benefits.  That interview went well, too, and a couple days later they offered me the position.  I immediately contacted the folks in Qatar, preferring that position because it paid three times as much, plus it would be an interesting cultural experience, living in the Middle East.  The Atkins folks in Qatar told me they were ready to offer me the job but had to clear it first and couldn’t commit for another few weeks.  Metro, in Portland, told me they couldn’t wait that long for me to decide, so figuring that a bird in the hand was worth two in the bush – or even three in the bush, given the large salary difference in this case – I reluctantly turned down the lucrative-but-uncertain job opportunity in Qatar and accepted the offer at Metro.

 

Above:  My tiny cubicle at Metro.  Fortunately they come with shoehorns.

In retrospect, that was a mistake because three months later, and now employed at Metro, I attended an All Staff meeting there, where their CEO crudely blurted out some unsettling news: “We’re going to be laying off several staff members in the next few months.  But none of you will be affected because we’re only terminating recent-hires.” She apparently didn’t realize that, sitting in the audience were several “recent hires,” including me.  I’ve been through layoffs before and they’re not fun, so that evening I sent an email to the Atkins folks over in Qatar, asking if their GIS position had been filled yet.  They hadn’t hired anyone, so we resumed our dialogue and a week later they offered me the job, which I promptly accepted. 

 

As I learned, my new job was as Senior GIS Analyst for the Central Planning Office (or CPO), a new office staffed with about 150 Atkins employees in Doha, Qatar.  The Central Planning Office had started up only a year earlier and its main function was to coordinate many of the transportation projects in the rapidly-growing country of Qatar.  Qatar was growing quickly, I learned, not just from the oil and gas money, but also because the country was getting ready to host the World Cup soccer tournament in 2022.  The Qatar government was building huge infrastructure projects there to impress the world in 2022, including a massive, new underground subway system and several new (and fancy) soccer stadiums.

 

I learned a lot of other things, too.  Doha, where I would be working, is the capital of Qatar and has about a million people, roughly half of the country’s total population.  The main language in Qatar is Arabic, of course, but English is spoken widely.  Most of the country’s population is imported from other countries, mainly from nearby Arab countries, but also from India, Pakistan, the Philippines and just about every other country in the world.  There are very few Westerners in Qatar, as they told me, and most of those were British.  There was just a smattering of Americans in the entire country.

 

People have moved to Qatar from all over the world in recent years, and at drastically different pay scales, attracted by the oil money.  In fact, Qatar is one of the richest countries in the world per capita and has the highest percentage of millionaires of any country in the world.  Almost all of those millionaires are native Qataris, unfortunately for us Westerners, but we’re happy to help the Qatari government spend their money, like paying salaries for computer mappers brought in from Portland, Oregon.

 

So after turning down Atkins a few months earlier when I had accepted the job at Metro, I guess you could say it was, “Welcome Back, Qatar.”  Those of you younger than 40 probably won’t get that joke, so just Google “Stupid TV Shows in the 1970s” and you’ll understand.

 

   

Above left:  The Metro building in downtown Portland, where I worked from 2012 - 2013.

Above right:  My good friend, Steve, at Metro, always with a smile.

Two Months of Frenzy

I resigned from Metro the day after Atkins sent me their official job offer, figuring that I wasn’t going to wait around there and be cut, as their blunt CEO had promised to do a few weeks earlier.  Just like with George Costanza in the TV show “Seinfeld,” it was a pre-emptive break-up, I guess you could say.

 

Above:  I decided to sell my beloved Honda van before moving to the Middle East.

That was in March of 2013 and I was scheduled to start working in Qatar in May.  You would think that two months would be plenty of time to pack and move to Qatar (like I did at the time).  But you would be wrong (like I was).  I didn’t comprehend the enormity of what I had to do in that short span.  Let’s see, I had exactly two months to:

  • Move everything out of my three-bedroom house, with some things going into storage in Portland and other things being shipped to Qatar.

  • Rent out my house and deal with all the issues associated with that.

  • Sell my Honda van.

  • Figure out how I was going to receive my Portland mail in the Middle East.

  • Send a constant stream of paperwork to Atkins, including my passport photos (and get a new passport).

  • Buy everything I might need in the Middle East for the next year, because I had no idea what I could buy over there and what I couldn’t.

  • Learn to speak and read some basic Arabic, and

  • Eat as much pork as I possibly could.

Above:  Some of the many pork ribs that I cooked in Portland in the spring of 2013 before leaving for Qatar.

That last one was probably the biggest challenge.  There are certain things that we take for granted in America which aren’t allowed, or are highly restricted, in most Arab countries, including pork and alcohol.  I wasn’t concerned about not having alcohol because I don’t drink much, but the pork thing was truly unsettling.  I want my brats!  I want my ribs!  I want my pork chops!  OK, I’m sort of joking.  Sort of.

 

But in all seriousness, things were extremely hectic at my house from March until May.  During that time I managed to sell my Honda van to my neighbor, Dave, and arranged for a property management company to rent out my house.  Lisa, one of my friends in Portland, agreed to take in my mail while I was overseas (I paid her, of course), so I changed all of my mailing addresses to hers.  And I made repeated trips to Best Buy, Home Depot and the Fred Meyer grocery store to stock up on things I might need in Qatar. 

 

Above:  Packing things in my living room.

Atkins had agreed to ship a 20-foot container of my belongings over to the Middle East, something that would normally cost about $8,000 but was included in my job offer.  But now I had to figure out what I was going to bring with me to Qatar and what items I was going to put in a storage unit in Portland.  I rented a 20’ x 15’ unit in Portland, so roughly half of my stuff was being shipped over to Qatar while the other half would stay in Portland.

 

The shipping company’s estimator came to my house one afternoon and we spent two hours going through my belongings, so he could tell me if everything was going to fit into a 20-foot container.  I asked him about shipping food (in cans and jars) to the Middle East and he said that wouldn’t be a problem, so that evening I went to a Fred Meyer grocery store, grabbed a cart and filled it literally to the brim with two of my favorite necessities:  Crystal Light powdered drink mix and several ultra-large bottles of “Frank’s Red Hot” hot sauce.  The next day, the estimator sent me an email saying, “Sorry Del, I just learned that you can’t ship any powders or liquids to Qatar.”  So I packed all the Crystal Light and Frank’s Red Hot back into my van and brought it back to Fred Meyer and returned it.  The clerk at the Customer Service counter there was puzzled when I stacked dozens of containers of Crystal Light and Frank’s Red Hot onto the conveyor belt, asking for a refund.

 

Above:  I was planning to rent out my house, so I had to sell my pool table.  But I kept my "Dogs Playing Poker" print that was above it.  

Dealing with electric components, like lamps, stereos, and computers, was a special challenge.  The electrical system in the U.S.  is 120 volts with a 60 hertz frequency, but in the Middle East they use the European system of 240 volts with a 50 hertz frequency.  The two systems are totally incompatible and, in addition, the physical plugs are completely different.  That means that you can’t plug an American-bought stereo system or computer into an outlet there – and even if you could, it would fry your components. 

 

Therefore, if you want to use any American-bought electrical components in Qatar, you need to buy transformers, which are very heavy and come in different sizes, like 500 watts, 1000 watts, etc.  I bought seven of them on Amazon and shipped them over to Qatar.  I didn’t ship my flat screen TV, though, because the video system over there is totally different than in the U.S. (PAL vs. NTSC, to be technical), so TVs that you buy in America won’t work in Qatar, even if you use an electric transformer.  These were just some of the many issues that I learned about during my two months of frantic preparation. 

 

Above:  I used my garage as a staging area during the pack.

By the way, I learned about incompatible electrical systems the hard way after I’d moved to Qatar.  One afternoon I plugged my 120-volt American DVD player into a 240-volt outlet using a physical adapter, while forgetting to use an electric transformer to change the voltage.  I pressed the Power button of my DVD player and two seconds later, I heard a soft “pop,” then saw a small puff of smoke rise from the back of the player.  Yep, I had fried it.  I threw the DVD player into the trash and bought a new one in Doha.

 

By early May of 2013, I was still at my home in Portland.  My stress level had increased, knowing that I had only two weeks to wrap everything up before I had to fly to Qatar.  During my last week in America, everything happened very fast and in quick succession.  The movers came to my house and, in four hours, they packed everything that was going to Qatar.  They loaded it into a large Mayflower moving van (and soon into a 20-foot shipping container).  The next day I rented a U-Haul and moved most of my remaining things into a storage unit nearby.  During my last full day in Portland, I sold my van to my neighbor, then I stayed up almost all night, packing the last few things. 

 

Above:  On the 18-hour non-stop flight from San Francisco to Dubai, the longest flight in the world.

I got only two hours of sleep that night and woke up at 5 a.m.  An hour later a taxi pulled up to my house and I loaded two large duffel bags and a large daypack into the trunk, a daypack that contained my laptop computer and a three-terabyte external hard drive with all of my files:  data, music, movies, photos, TV shows, you name it.  My entire life was on that precious 3 TB drive.  These were the only things I would have until I was reunited with my belongings that were being shipped to Qatar via sea.  As it turned out, I wouldn’t see those sea-bound items again for another five months.

 

The driver took me to the Portland airport, where I caught a flight for San Francisco.  I changed planes in San Francisco and boarded a non-stop flight to Dubai in the U.A.E., an 18-hour trip which, at that time, was the longest flight in the world.  I’d gotten used to 12-hour flights from the work trips I’d taken to the U.A.E. a few years earlier but, as I learned, an 18-hour flight was something else entirely.  The plane left San Francisco around 2 p.m., the sun set somewhere over Canada, then rose again somewhere over Norway, then set again somewhere over Turkey.  Enduring "The flight that never seemed to end" (like a 1950s horror movie) was a surreal experience, being cocooned with 250 other people for nearly a full day.  But on the positive side, I had to change planes only once, in Dubai, for the short flight across the Persian Gulf back to Qatar.

 

 

Here's Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash singing Girl from the North Country from the movie, "Silver Linings Playbook."

   

The food on the flight was fairly good and was served often.  And I enjoyed the in-flight movies, especially the newly-released “Silver Linings Playbook,” which I watched over the North Atlantic from Greenland to Norway.  The scene where Jennifer Lawrence teaches the clumsy Bradley Cooper how to ballroom dance in her house stuck with me for a long time afterwards.  It’s a memorable scene in a memorable movie with a memorable Bob Dylan song, one that I hadn’t heard in many years.

 

       

Above left:  The movers packing my entire life into 123 boxes.

Above center:  My pool table during the pack.  Note the "Dogs Playing Poker" on the wall. 

Above right:  Hauling my stuff to Qatar.

 

   

Above left:  Everything's ready to go.  On the right is my DVD player, which I fried later in Qatar.

Above right:  The movers packed up everything in just four hours.  Next stop:  Doha.

 

   

Above left:  I U-hauled the other half of my things over to a storage unit in Portland the next day.

Above center:  And here it is, nicely organized like a transportation planner would do.

Above right:  My good friends in Portland, Carl and Lisa.  Lisa kindly agreed take in my mail while I was in the Middle East.  She didn't quite realize what she was getting herself into.

 

   

Above left:  I took to the landfill everything that wasn't being shipped to Qatar or put in the storage unit.  Twenty years of precious memories equals one trip to the dump!

Above right:  Taking a taxi to the Portland airport early in the morning.

 

       

Above left:  I have to stop taking selfies in airport restrooms.

Above center:  Enjoying a delicious pizza in the San Francisco airport.  But sadly, this would be the last good pizza I would eat for over six months.

Above right:  Being a geographer, I was transfixed with the seatback map of my flight, as I always am.

 

       

Above left:  I reached the Dubai airport, one of the busiest airports in the world, after an 18-hour non-stop flight from San Francisco.

Above right:  Seattle's best coffee is here in Dubai?  You mean I didn't have to leave Seattle?

Settling In

It was hot -- over 90 degrees -- and very humid when I landed in Doha, Qatar around 11 p.m.  After picking up my two duffel bags at baggage claim and going through customs, I was met by a friendly CPO driver from India named Ravi, who drove me into downtown Doha.  I tried to explain to him where I was from, telling him that Portland is the world headquarters for Nike shoes.  But Ravi had never heard of Nike, so I tried to explain to him the "Swoosh shoe" but got a blank stare.  Lesson learned:  not everyone in the world knows about things we Americans take for granted.

 

Above:  Dozing on Friday after I'd arrived in Doha.  After traveling for 25 hours, I was still groggy and jet-lagged.

Ravi dropped me off at a modern apartment tower called Asas (pronounced “Asses” – hopefully not a reflection on its occupants), located about a half-mile from the CPO office building where I would work.  Atkins had reserved a room for me in a three-bedroom apartment at Asas until I could find my own place to live in Doha.  It was close to midnight and both of my roommates were apparently asleep in their rooms, so I quietly found my bedroom, shut the door, unpacked a bit, and after not getting much sleep for the past 50 hours (I can’t sleep on planes, unfortunately), I collapsed into bed.

 

The work week in the Middle East is from Sunday through Thursday, with the weekends being on Friday and Saturday.  It’s a good thing this was a Thursday night and that I didn’t have to start work until Sunday because I was utterly exhausted.  I slept soundly until Friday morning, woke up and ate some food that had been kindly placed in my room by Atkins, including British crackers called "Digestive Biscuits" (boy, that sounded appealing), then I slept for another 12 hours.  Saturday was a bit better and, although my head was still spinning, I was starting to get my bearings.  I felt good enough on Saturday afternoon, in fact, to walk a few blocks over to City Center Mall, a four-decked affair and the largest mall in Qatar.  As I learned later, City Center Mall is one of the main social hubs for the city of Doha -- and the entire country of Qatar, for that matter.

 

Above:  Downtown Doha during my first weekend here.  CPO is in the shiny bluish building towards the left and the City Center Mall is on the right.

On Sunday morning, the first day of the work week, a CPO van picked me up at Asas and took me to the main office of Atkins, where they processed my paperwork.  The van also picked up a guy at Asas who was about 40 years of age, named Nafez, who was also starting work at CPO that day.  Nafez told me that he was Jordanian by birth but had lived in Sacramento, California for many years, a city I know well.  He was the new IT Specialist at CPO and would sit straight across from me in the open-seating office, so he and I became good friends during the ensuing months.  Above the short partition, we would share numerous conversations and jokes about America and commiserate about our challenges in adjusting to life here in Qatar. 

 

The Central Planning Office, where I work, occupies three entire floors – 14, 15 and 16 – of the MMUP office tower in downtown Doha.  The MMUP (the Ministry of Municipality and Urban Planning) is the main land planning agency for the Qatari government.  The 150-person CPO, which is comprised entirely of Atkins staff, is essentially an extension of the MMUP. 

 

Above:  Happily at work at the Central Planning Office in Doha.  That's a photo of Multnomah Falls in Oregon on my monitor.

The CPO sprang up almost literally overnight last year.  Atkins, a British engineering firm, has been working in the Middle East for many years and is one of the most prominent engineering consulting firms in Qatar.  A few senior Atkins managers met with the emir (i.e., leader) of Qatar in 2012 and explained to him how Qatar needed a central office to plan and coordinate the many transportation projects in Qatar.  The emir agreed and told Atkins to come back in a few days with a proposal, so Atkins worked all weekend, met the emir again a few days later and handed him a written proposal for a "Central Planning Office."  The emir was impressed and agreed to pay for the office, so a week later Atkins began staffing up and within a month, over 100 people were working here.

 

That's how things happen in the Persian Gulf countries.  If someone with power wants something done, it gets done very quickly.  It's not like in the U.S. where there are committee and discussions and meetings, followed by more meetings and committees that drag on endlessly to decide some trivial issue.  Here, it's "BAM -- do it!" 

 

I’ve been working on a variety of tasks at CPO during the past seven months, some of which I can tell you about.  One of my biggest projects is creating a large, fold-out map for the new shuttle bus system that will run through Doha, known as the West Bay Bus.  Over 20,000 copies of the map will be printed and distributed to the public and it will be, to my knowledge, the first map of downtown Doha available to the public that shows detailed information, including building names and street names.  You might think that a map showing street names isn’t a big deal, but most people here don’t use street names to navigate.  Instead, they use buildings (like City Center Mall), parks and other landmarks.  Street names, apparently, are a fairly new concept in Doha. 

 

I’ve also been working on a project to greatly expand the public bus system throughout Qatar.  That’s a huge task that recently started up, and I’ll be working on it for at least another year.

 

Overall, it’s a good environment, we’re getting a lot done and I enjoy working at CPO.  Living in Qatar is stressful at times and I’ve had to adjust to the cultural differences, given that I interact with people from many countries around the world.  But overall, I’m quite content and am very glad that I moved here because, more than anything else, it’s been an adventure.

 

   

Above left:  The Asas apartment building in downtown Doha was my home during my first five months in Doha.

Above right:  And here's my room at Asas.  I shared this three-bedroom apartment with a rotating group of Atkins roommates, who shuttled in and out.

 

       

Above left:  The kitchen at Asas.

Above center:  And my bathroom.  But what's that thing by the toilet?  I had a lot to learn about living here.

Above right:  I ate my first meal in Doha here at one of my favorite restaurants.  And in case you're wondering, a Whopper in Qatar tastes exactly like a Whopper in America.

 

       

Above left:  The City Center Mall is the largest mall in Qatar.  Malls are very popular in the Middle East and are a focus of social life here, being air-conditioned and enclosed, proving families with children a safe place to roam during the hot summers.

Above center:  City Center Mall has the only skating rink in Qatar.  Ice is a foreign concept to many desert-dwelling Arabs (except in their drinks).

Above right:  The entrance of the City Center Mall.  I buy my groceries and just about everything else I need here, not having a car, so it's my home-away-from-home.

 

   

Above left:  One weekend, my boss, Bill, drove me over to a new, ritzy development called "The Pearl," about 10 miles north of Doha.  These apartment buildings, which are 95% empty, were constructed a few years ago with a "If you build it, they will come," philosophy.

Above right:  The Central Planning Office (CPO) office on the 14th floor of the MMUP building in downtown Doha.  My cube is on the right side.

In Beverly Hills with Jed and Granny

My living situation is fairly comfortable, all things considered.  I lived at the Asas apartments with two roommates for about five months, paying rent to my company, Atkins.  Atkins uses Asas as transitional housing for their new employees, providing a place for them to stay until they can find their own place.  I sort of overstayed my welcome, though, and Atkins kicked me out in November to make way for inbound staff, so I had to find my own place to live. 

 

That was a good thing, as it turned out, because I found a much better and more spacious place nearby, at a fairly new apartment building called, oddly enough, the Beverly Hills Tower.  The building has 26 floors and I’m on the 19th floor, so I have a pretty nice view of Doha and the Arabian Gulf.  Best of all, Jed Clampett and Granny live three doors down (folks younger than 40 won’t understand that joke).  Now that I had my own place, I was finally able to move in the belongings that I had shipped over here, which had been sitting in a dusty storage bin in Doha all this time.

 

 

The Beverly Hillbillies was one of my favorite TV shows when I was a little kid (like, last year). 

   

I rent a three-bedroom apartment at Beverly Hills Tower for the staggering sum of $5,000 per month.  I was considering some nicer places but they cost well over $6,000 a month, so Beverly Hills Tower is considered low-to-midrange in the expat apartment world here.  I had heard that Doha was one of the most expensive cities in the world in which to live, but it didn’t hit me until I started looking for my own apartment here.  Doha is even more expensive than New York, London or San Francisco, largely due to the sudden, huge influx of imported workers in recent years, coupled with the limited supply of adequate housing.  Due to the high cost of housing here, just about everyone who's single in Doha has a roommate -- and I do, as well. 

 

My roommate, Arul, is a nice fellow who also works at the Central Planning Office.  We've been working together these last many months on the Qatar bus project, Arul designing the routes and me doing the mapping.  He’s from India originally but many years ago he moved to the Bay Area of northern California, where he’s lived with his wife and son, who is now starting college.  Arul left his family in California a few months ago to move to Qatar, where he works as a traffic engineer at CPO. 

 

Above:  The horseshoe-shaped Beverly Hills Tower apartments in downtown Doha.  My unit is on the right side, 19 floors up.

I grew up in the Bay Area and, like Arul, have a background in traffic engineering, so he and I have a lot of things in common.  We also have similar personalities, so we get along pretty well.  Arul is totally dedicated to his family and each night he Skypes with his son, who’s a freshman at UC Santa Cruz (go Banana Slugs!) helping him with his studies, which I think is admirable. 

 

I never thought I'd want to have a roommate again after my college days, being the solitary person that I am, but actually it's working out quite well.  I much prefer having a roommate, in fact, to living here alone, something I didn't think I'd say when I was preparing to move over here.  But like everything in Qatar, you adjust.  My dad always said that there are two kinds of fools in the world:  those who have no plan, and those who have a plan but never change it.  In other words, have a plan in life but also be flexible.  That's really good advice over here because things are always changing, and often on a dime.

 

Arul has one spacious bedroom in my apartment and I have another, a nice end unit with a great view.  I use the third bedroom as a storage room, where I’ve crammed most of my belongings from the U.S., much of it still unwrapped after the 12,000-mile sea voyage from Portland and through the Panama and Suez Canals.  I moved over here thinking that I would rent an unfurnished apartment, so I brought most of my furniture with me.  But as I learned when I got here, almost all of the expat apartments in Qatar are furnished.  "Doh!" as Homer Simpson would say (or maybe it was "Doha!")

 

When I’m not working, I spend most of my time ensconced in my spacious bedroom at Beverly Hills Tower.  I’ve decked it out nicely;  framed photos of people and places back home in America line the walls of my bedroom and bathroom.  I’ve also bought a large-screen TV and a smallish refrigerator (to supplement the large fridge that’s in the kitchen), and I have my desktop computer here, of course, where I spend much of my time.  So basically, I’m pretty self-contained here in my room.  But I do get out once in a while.  Every weekend, for instance, I walk a few miles down Doha's lovely "corniche" (a waterfront park) and mingle with people from literally all over the world, which I greatly enjoy.

 

That’s a brief description of why and how I moved over here.  I’ve posted some photos on this page to give you an idea of what it’s like to live in the Middle East, a topic that I’ll write more about in my next update.  So long until next time, my friends – or as they say here in Qatar, "ma salama."

 

       

Above left:  After renting my own place, at Beverly Hills Tower, I could finally move in all of my stuff shipped over from the U.S., which had been sitting in storage in Doha. 

Above center:  And here's my guest bedroom at Beverly Hills Tower.  Before I moved over here, I figured that I'd rent an unfurnished apartment, so I shipped much of my furniture over here.  But I didn't realize that almost all apartments in Doha are furnished, so I stuffed most of my furniture in the guest room, still unwrapped.

Above right:  My living room at Beverly Hills Tower, on the 19th floor.

 

   

Above left:  Here's my bedroom, where I spend most of my time when I'm not working at CPO.  I love this bedroom!

Above right:  More of my bedroom.  Every weekend night, I push my reclining loveseat close to my TV and watch TV shows and movies from America.  Then I usually start snoozing.

 

   

Above left:  There are dhows (ancient-style Middle Eastern boats) along Doha's "corniche" (i.e., waterfront).  For a few dollars, the dhow crews will take you across the bay.  I walk on the corniche every weekend for several miles.  In the summer months, though, it's a steam bath outside and your clothes are soaked in sweat within a few minutes.

Above right:  Job security.

 

       

Above left:  This statue of an oryx, a desert animal like a small deer, was built a few years ago to kick off the Asian Games that were held in Doha.  I thought it was a giant rabbit so I called it "Harvey" after the Jimmy Stewart movie.  I still call it Harvey even though I now realize it's an oryx.

Above center:  One of the most iconic buildings in Doha is the Al Fanar Islamic Cultural Center.  They offer free classes in Arabic, among other things here.  I took an Arabic class at Portland Community College before moving to Qatar, so at least I know the basics.

Above right:  After walking on the corniche for a few miles last summer, I stopped at a park and had dinner as I watched the sunset over Doha.

 

   

Above left:  Dhows and Doha.

Above right:  Grass and Doha.  This is MIA Park (Museum of Islamic Art), one of the few patches of grass that you'll see in Doha.

 

   

Above left:  And here's MIA:  the Museum of Islamic Art.  It's a free museum and has some spectacular collections.

Above right:  The Doha Golf Club is one of the few golf courses in Qatar with actual grass instead of sand.  It costs over $100 to play a round here, though, so I'm glad I didn't bring my clubs over.

 


 

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