…and Christmas in Qatar.
With the rigmarole surrounding visas and permits and other seemingly arbitrary passport stamps still going strong just before Christmas, it wasn’t clear if I would be able to get an exit visa to leave Doha for the festive season. (Unless you are on a multiple exit visa, your company has to give you an exit visa every time you leave. At the time I was still working for Qatar foundation, but serving my notice period and trying to sort out the debacle of my new work permit.)
With Christmas in the desert looming, my mum took it upon herself to fly over for a two-week visit.
At this point I should point out that this isn’t as self-sacrificing as it sounds, in her own words: “While I’m looking forward to seeing you, sweetheart, I mainly want to be warm and go sailing.”
Many of my friends commented on the length of the stay. Firstly, it is pretty much impossible to keep someone entertained in Doha for a fortnight unless you luck out with the random events and activities that are sporadically hosted in the country, and secondly, they all seemed to think that 14 days living with a parent would be pushing the bounds of sanity.
Mum actually acknowledged this a few days in, saying she had only just realised how stressful she would have found hosting her mother for two weeks.
However, I am incredibly fortunate in that my parents are two of my favourite people on the planet. Not only do I love them, I actually really like them, so Mum being in my home for two weeks was frankly brilliant.
As a frequent traveller (go check out www.notdeadyettravel.com) she is incredibly undemanding when it comes to what she sees and does in a new place, and instead tends to enjoy the experience of just being in a new place. Her trips are normally adventurous and so she was perfectly happy with the slightly more sanitised activites on offer in Doha.
After arriving 90 minutes late because the flight was delayed while they loaded a Ferrari on board (welcome to the Gulf) we spent the first evening chilling out and catching up, while mum wandered around my flat in amazement at the fact we all had en suites and there was a huge balcony.
I often think it takes a visitor to remind me about how word life is in Doha. Mum was amused by the fact that I direct the taxi driver to my home via the five star hotels on the way (a totally normal activity here akin to using pubs or bars as landmarks in the UK) she was thrilled to have a gym in the building and, though she doesn’t swim, commented on the pool. All these things have just become part of my life, but I was pleased to be reminded about how good y standard of living is here compared to how it would be if I had a similar job back in the UK.
Mum’s second evening in Qatar involved driving out to the desert to see a meteor shower. In the end it was more of a meteor drizzle, but lying out under the stars watching the occasional meteor fall to earth is definitely and experience I am pleased to have enjoyed.
I was still working for the first week of Mum’s visit, something I felt bad about but couldn’t be helped. The original plan had been for her to do a sailing course during the day, but this ended up not being possible (which has given her the excuse she needs to come back in a few months.)
I did get one day off in that first week, as Qatar National Day is December 18th.The military parade and display of dhows on the corniche are generally seen as the most impressive parts of National Day, but by the time we began our walk along the
Corniche, much of this had given way to the heavy traffic jams and congestion that have come to be synonymous with the day.
This year was my first National Day not working, and also seemed to be more well organised than the previous year, with the general atmosphere being one of happiness and celebration.
Another popular way of celebrating National Day is to decal your car and emblazon it with the face of the Emir and the Heir Apparent. While discouraged this year, there were still many examples to be seen driving between the roundabouts either end of the Corniche.
After our stroll and taking in the feeling of celebration, we decided to chill out by going to see The Hobbit. This might not seem like the best use of time when someone is visiting, but my Mum is a great lover of films and cinema and so it was the perfect way to relax after a long walk in the sun. (Yes, it was sunny in December.)
One thing that drives me insane about Qatar is the fact that people will happily talk continuously through films, often on their phone explaining that they are in the cinema. On one occasion, when I kindly told a Lebanese friend of mine to shut up or I would rip his voice box out, he responded “but I’m talking about the film…” and was genuinely surprised that this DIDN’T MAKE IT OK TO TALK.
Aaaaanyway, we opted for the VIP screening, one because it was the next available showing, and two because spending 100QR on a ticket would presumably drastically reduce the chances of people chatting their way through the screening, unwittingly risking their lives in the process.
One of the benefits of having Mum at home while I was at work was that I came home to a clean flat, clean clothes, and a mildly perturbed cat who wasn’t really sure how to deal with the fact that he was having to share his alone time with the first human he had ever met who was totally indifferent to his cuteness.
In fact, it was the first time since I moved in to my current place that all my clothes were clean at the same time. My wardrobe is smaller than I thought. Or I need to get rid of some clothes. Probably the first one.
Souq Waqif, the main souq in Doha, was a good source of distraction for an afternoon and we went for food and shisha and mooched about the shops that alternate between fairly traditional-looking gift shops to brands like Haagan Daz and back again. As ever with Doha, general meandering resulted in the previously undiscovered treasure of a new art gallery in the middle of the souq, which contained a variety of calligraphy sculptures and other unadvertised gems from regional artists.
A visit to the Museum of Islamic Art, which offers an interesting mix of stunning artifacts and a total lack of information about said artifacts, also proved a hit as the building itself has one of the most stunning atriums (atria?) in the city.
The set collection doesn’t have a great deal of detail about the origin or purpose of the pieces on display, but the temporary exhibition that was on when we went was an exploration of the Arab renaissance and the influence it had on the Western world and showed that leading British and European Scientists, including founding members of the Royal Society often learnt Arabic to be able to translate the work of their Middle Eastern peers.
Katara – The cultural village is, as I said to Mum, “a collection of interesting stuff.” While she originally didn’t find this to be a very useful description, it is hard to say anything else about the place.
My normal tactic when I decided to while away an afternoon there is to wander aimlessly into buildings and see what is inside. When mum and I went we discovered an exhibition of photos from the Galapagos Islands, a study of the remaining indigenous rain forest tribes, a series of portraits of people who shaped the Middle East (from dictators and suicide bombers to athletes and great thinkers) and a Chinese artist’s exhibition on assassinated political leaders.
After a wander we had dinner at one of the restaurants, all of which are wonderful and
far cheaper than the hotel restaurants as they don’t serve alcohol. There was just time for some shisha and then we headed to the latest offering by the Doha Film Institute.
DFI is a great concept and works hard to bring films by independent film makers that would otherwise be over-looked to Qatar. Their patrons are largely ex-pats, but they also make a huge effort to show films by local or regional directors. Every year the Doha Tribeca Film Festival attracts more big names and more attention. Also, the ceiling of its cinema looks like it is made of stars and is one of my favourite rooms in Doha.
That pretty much brings us up to the big day – Christmas in 25 degree heat. Annoyingly enough, I got an exit visa in time for Boxing Day and so flew out at 9am on December 26th for two weeks at home.
Christmas itself was surprisingly excellent. A friend and I decided to host an day for Doha’s festive orphans in her place (a few floors above mine) and stocked up on food, games, and booze for the day.
My fellow-organiser managed to break her wrist putting up Christmas lights a few weeks before, and I perfectly happily took on the role of kitchen hand (boom boom) and did all the chopping and kneading necessary to accommodate her vastly superior cooking skills.
The thing I liked immediately when I came to Doha was how friendly everyone was. We have all been in the same position, new and knowing nobody, so houses are opened to relative strangers, who will more than likely turn in to friends.
The morning’s activities were fairly low key, eggs benedict, Secret Santa, Christmas hats in the sun. As the day wore on, more and more people arrived, bringing with them favourite family dishes, traditional fayre from their country (Australians eat fish on Christmas -weird) and general good will. People who knew us but had never met each other were chatting, and sharing, and forming new friendships, some of which lasted beyond that one day.
With the perfect timing of the consummate avoider of housework, I ducked out to pack at about 10pm, and the party was still going strong.
I didn’t see the aftermath as I jetted home early the next day, my new noise-cancelling headphones blocking out the sounds of screaming children as I nursed a mild hangover, but I imagine it wasn’t great.
Sorry about that, Jessie.