Saturday, July 07, 2012

Arrival in Doha

Several people remarked ahead of my departure from the UK - especially those living in Doha - that the end of June was a surprising time to come to Qatar.  They made it patently clear that it's rather hot and with the month of Ramadan starting just 3 weeks after I arrived, access to facilities would be more limited during daylight hours.  So suitably forewarned and feeling daunted, I duly prepared by bringing with me factor 50 sun cream, a certified wide-brimmed hat, and my first ever pair of prescription sun glasses.

Perhaps that's why there was no queue at the airport (Heathrow terminal 4), though I had already checked in online, so it was just a baggage drop.  Actually the plane seemed to have plenty of passengers, though as far as I could tell most of them were carrying on from Doha to various other destinations in Africa and Asia.  My prospective employers, the QMA, had booked the flight for me and at my suggestion chose a flight during the day - it as the 13.15 departure and it arrived a few minutes early in Doha at 21.45. 

According to my uncle, when he was living in Doha about twenty years ago there was just the one hotel and it's still a familiar landmark:

Doha Sheraton
(photo shared by Viju Jose)

The pyramidal Doha Sheraton is now situated in what I'd like to call the foothills of the growing skyscraper mountain on the West Bay, buildings that would befit a huge city, perhaps a predictor of future growth (current population of Doha is less than 1 million according to some official statistics published in December 2011 by the Qatar Statistics Authority). Now there are dozens of hotels dotted around and I was booked to provisionally stay in one of them whilst my residency permit is being processed and then government accommodation will be allocated.

As a recent indication of the pace of growth, I purchased the latest 4th edition of the Explorer Guide to Living and Working in Qatar , which was out of stock in most places, but I somehow found one through Oxfam.  A new edition has appeared roughly each year since it was first published in 2006 with the next edition due in September this year.  It's a substantial tome, more in the style of a tourist guide; there are other books that are more revealing about the culture, such as Donna Marsh's The Middle East Unveiled: A cultural and practical guide for all Western business professionals   And, of course, there are many online sources of information of which appears very popular and informative.

The flight in was along the Gulf, over the water right the way from Kuwait, and when arriving at Doha it was really simple - the plane banked and then descended to touch down moments later, arriving early at 9.45pm (local) [=GMT+03.00 hrs].  We taxied a little way until we were near the transits/departure terminal.  A few minutes later we disembarked, stepped onto the tarmac and made our way to a shuttle bus which was ferrying passengers to departures for transits, and then to arrivals.  My father had reminded me that this would actually be my second touch-down at Doha airport since I had previously been there in 1988 with my mother en route to Bangkok, when the plane stopped to pick up some more passengers before proceeding to Muscat.

The queue at immigration was moderately long, but arriving passengers were being checked pretty quickly.  It was a chance to observe the various nationalities and dress - staff at the entry point to the queue were wearing western-style uniforms and looked oriental, whilst those at and around the immigration desk were wearing [I think] thawb (Arab robe garment), ghutra (headdress) and black egal (headband) and I guess they were Qataris.  Those queueing (mainly men) were probably, like me, coming to work, but were largely from the Middle East and South Asia.  After collecting baggage, and emerging from Customs, I soon found the hotel booth and was met by a representative from the hotel. 

As a stranger I was naturally keen to strike up a bit of conversation with anyone I met so I asked the rep about his background and he related that he was from Colombo and had been in Doha a couple of years.   The driver to the hotel was from Bangladesh and had been in Doha for 4 years, so he was able to describe some of the landscape for me, now lit up at night; it was now about 10.30pm and there was a lot of traffic as this was a day off for most people with many locals liking to walk along the Corniche after sunset.  (He confirmed that the Sheraton was the hotel back in '92.)  And then arriving at the hotel, I was received by reception staff were from Ukraine and Belorus respectively; it seemed different roles or strata in the services were typically represented by particular nationalities.

I had finally reached my destination and soon felt very comfortable in the hotel.   After some unpacking it was time to collapse into bed and sleep ...!


Anjanesh Babu said...

Nice to see you settling in Paul.

Wishing you the very best,

Paul Trafford said...

Thanks, Anjanesh.

If we could exchange some of the UK's raindrops for a modest amount of Qatar's sunshine and heat it would naturally be more agreeable either side, I think!


- Paul

Irina Stanila said...

How interesting this experience must be. Well done for this decision to work in another country and culture. Best of luck and hope to read more posts about your life in Doha and around. Best regards, Irina

Paul Trafford said...

Thanks, Irina, for the encouragement. As I spend a bit more time here I tend to notice culture reflected in small details and subtle differences in what impacts the senses - from the smell of incense in shopping malls to the colours of mobile phones.