Friday, September 21, 2007

First Week in Doha

16 Sept 2007

Today is the first day of the work week (Sunday) and my 3rd day on the job. It was the day to begin tests for immigration processing at the Medical Commission where I met a fellow American, married to the new medical librarian, with her two small children, ages 3 and 7. (As always, women and children proceed through one line, men through another.) Although just coming from the California Bay area, the family was originally from Bali. We went through one line to hand over materials (prepared by the School) and our passports and then proceeded to the cashier line – a set of 80 chairs in four rows and we moved slowly forward to the cashier, to all appearances playing a slow-moving game of musical chairs, absent the music. There were a couple cases of people slipping into line as we moved forward, pretending innocence. The matron (in full garb) seemed o know this and singled for some to move to the cashier before others. At the cashier’s window we were met by women in full veil who spoke inaudibly with an accent through the black face veil. After that, we were on to the next room for more scrutiny of the paperwork and thence to the blood work station where a full vial of blood was removed. On to the x-ray station where we were required to strip our tops off and put on a hospital top – the School had fortunately given us clean smocks to use so we didn’t need to reuse the ones provided. Who knows how often they were washed? There were three changing rooms for which many Muslims patiently waited , the rest just stripped in the small entry room. X-rays were taken in the next room with little heed for protection from the radiation. After an interminable wait, I was x-rayed, released and got dressed. As I was about to leave the room, one of the attendants rushed in frantically – the doctor requested another x-ray, and then another. My father must be turning over in his grave at the amount exposure to x-rays I had; he refused to allow us to have our feet x-rayed in shoe shops over 50 years ago, in vogue when I was quite young, realizing well before others the problems of exposure, however small.

Chitra and I left the procedures at the same time to discover that the driver had elected to take the two men back to campus rather than wait for us. He returned 45 minutes later although Chitra left in a taxi for home with the kids who were getting quite restless and I returned alone, berated by the driver for letting Chitra go with her paperwork and passport. Passports are retained by the School’s immigration officer until we receive our permanent resident status. Until then, I am unable to travel anywhere requiring a passport – confined as it were to the peninsula of Qatar.

17 Sept 2007

Today my car was delivered to the campus by the rental company, a Hyundai Terracat, mid-sized SUV. At lunch (or break as we call it in deference to the Muslims who are fasting during Ramadan and cannot be reminded of food, let alone eat it until sun-down which mercifully comes early here), I ventured out to go to the bank, with my freshly minted bank account and an advance check to deposit. My colleague traveled with me for moral support and the traffic was light – Ramadan keeps many folks home. We found the bank but ran out of time (it closed as all banks do at 1:00) so I will return tomorrow.

The Qatar road system was designed with the British model in mind – far more round-abouts then traffic signals and with the Qatari traveling at high speeds a most unnerving proposition. Some close calls but I seemed a bit surrounded by an aura of protection – false assumption I am sure. Directions are routinely given by reference to round-abouts – most bearing some name, often with apparent little relation to the round-about; slope or tilt round-about, Rainbow Arch roundabout, one that I have nicknamed flat, and others named for an object no longer present. The route to the campus from my apartment travels through at least a half dozen of these and passes by a half-mile strip of fast-food places, and then on to a similar strip of car washes. Turn at the Burger King, prominently marked on the map, and head toward the roundabout to the Landmark Mall, one of three large ones also clearly on the map. There are a few boulevards lined with palm trees and some will one day be quite impressive. Otherwise it appears that almost everything is under construction: high rise office buildings and hotels in the city center, heavy duty construction completely surrounding my residential tower (one of the ASAS Twin Towers in the West Bay area, a 10-minute walk from the City Center Mall), low residential compounds, and mostly certainly the area of the American colleges, Education City.

18 Sept. 2007

I ventured out on my maiden car trip driving alone to the bank and with a few missed turns made it, deposited a check and took out cash. The bureaucracy of the bank although high was not nearly as bad as the Italians: two stops to have the records checked and preliminary deposit and withdrawal checks issued, then on to the cashier who flourished numerous stamps, only after verifying that I am who I purported to be. The check I was depositing came from their bank so they had to know it was good, but double checking always helps. My request for timing of receipt of my ATM card and checks was met with more discussion and then the odd question, “you want checks?” I prefer not to pay my monthly car rental bill in cash … it is close to $900. Petrol on the other hand is cheap – it cost me approximately $15 to fill the tank of a mid-sized SUV.

Coming home this evening, my first maiden run for that, I stopped at the Landmark Mall where all that was open was the MegaMarket because it is Ramadan and food must be purchased for Iftar, the breaking of the fast. I stopped for gas, having been left a car with barely fumes. Traffic was extremely light at this time of day, most Muslims were still napping preparatory to preparing the evening feasts. Then they head to the road and the rest of us stay off the roads. I got lost coming home but kept my eyes on the city towers and soon found myself in known territory. I did get lost in the parking garage and wandered around with two heavy bags, knowing that my cell phone couldn’t rescue me with a call to a neighbor.

19 Sept 2007

I found myself lost again in the parking garage this morning before I could find my car and got thoroughly lost on the way to work and found myself on the road to the airport. Brief thoughts of catching a plane – I had my credit card – left as soon as I realized my passport was in the office of the College immigration officer. When I got to some recognizable landmarks, I called my office colleague on the cell phone. She handed me over to our office native born Qatari who walked me through the appropriate roundabouts and got me to where I knew how to go. I found myself with heavy traffic flowing quickly around the roundabouts with a phone in one hand, my eyes trying to watch my flanks and attempting to listen to the instructions. The instructions worked and I arrived without a scratch. I haven’t met anyone who hasn’t had an accident so it is simply a matter of time. How fortunate I had filled the gas tank – imagine the horror of being lost at rush hour to run out of gas. Imagine I hadn’t had my cell phone – I might have driven in circles all day! Of course, by now everyone knows what happened and they all relate their stories of getting lost. I left the car at school and came home again with my colleague who lives in the building. I will go in with him tomorrow and learn an even easier but slightly slower route to school. Tomorrow will be Thursday, the last day of our work week, and Friday morning when all Qatari are in bed I’ll drive the empty city and find out some more of the possibilities.

Thomas Friedman’s NYTimes column today discusses the energy consumption of Doha and Dalian (China) referring specifically to the high-rises whose energy consumption far offsets any savings we Americans think we are gaining by going to fluorescent lights or hybrid cars. He doesn’t mention the additional CO2 released from the thousands of vehicles rushing through the city, whether to work or to coffee and friends in the evening; these vehicles are generally large SUVs. I rented a mid-sized SUV (Hyundai Terracat, rental cost close $900/mo, tank of gas $15, go figure) so I could feel a bit safer. There are few city buses used almost exclusively by the immigrant construction laborers from India and Pakistan; and of course no subways. Taxis and personal cars are the main and very necessary mode of transportation. For sport, Qataris take their cars pulling trailers into the desert. For a New Yorker who has commuted by public transportation for over 20 years and carefully separated garbage for recycling, Doha is an eye-opener. All trash goes down one huge chute at the end of the apartment hallway. From there I am told it is trucked to a large hole in the desert. Saudi Arabia has been disposing of trash and sewage in a similar manner for decades and today we can view a huge black ‘swamp’ in Saudi Arabia from outer space. All of this isn’t to suggest we give up on fluorescent lights, hybrid cars, alternative energy sources and recycling, but to suggest that huge parts of the developing world need guidance on more than construction, financial investment and education. Sooner rather than later they should begin environmentally sound practices.

21 Sept 2007

I learned a new way to work yesterday; now that I have gotten lost, an easier way is revealed. Go figure – I accused my colleagues of freshman hazing. This morning (Friday, 1st day of week-end) it eluded me so I came home, read the map and armed with multiple maps and camera retried. It worked with few people on the road. I then attempted to find the place where I need to get my blood typed. Couldn’t get there despite instructions and two maps: construction. I’ve restudied and will try again tomorrow when the place may be open and thus finish the task.
I did manage to get some good shots of buildings from the Corniche. Will need to keep traveling with the camera to capture what I can. Week-ends are better since the travel is lighter.

Posted by Susan at 10:02 AM