First Week, First Observations in Doha

I have been in Doha little over a week. During this time, I have had innumerable experiences that I could discuss at length. However, for the sake of brevity, the following is a list of observations that I have had in the short time that I have been in country.

Within 5 minutes of driving from Hamad International Airport, I saw my first Lamborghini. There is also a Rolls Royce parked in front of my hotel entrance. While Qatar is a very rich country, I mostly see people driving less ostentatious vehicles, like Toyotas or Range Rovers. Also, I would say that the majority of vehicles in Qatar, due to the unrelenting sun, are white or very light in color.

Much of Doha can be divided into two categories: new and under construction. When I went on a tour of the city, a person with the group said that she was in Doha in 1983 and most of what we were seeing wasn’t around then. The Al Safa hotel where I am staying  seems to be situated in the middle of a major construction zone making it hard to venture out and see things. By the time of the World Cup in 2022, many of the major current projects (e.g. the train station) should be complete and Doha will have transformed even further.

View of Al Safa Royal Suites
Pedestrian path near my hotel
Train station being constructed by Qatar University

In order to support the many building projects throughout Qatar, the country relies on innumerable foreign construction workers. At about 5pm each day, droves of men in blue jumpsuits pour out of worksites and head home. The men tend to be from developing countries like Bangladesh, Nepal, or the Philippines. Foreign women tend to be employed in retail, food service, or hospitality. I would say the majority of them are from the Philippines.

There is a building being constructed in view of my hotel window. Each day, I check to see what the workers are doing. When I first arrived in Qatar and couldn’t fall asleep, I would listen to their clamor—hammering, sawing, dropping pipes, yelling at one another. The majority of them worked on the building until 5pm when the sun started to go down, but some of them were working until 3am. At first, I thought that seemed to be a little unsafe because the site wasn’t very well lit. However, I then realized that a night shift might be a lot less torturous and more preferable than working during the day when the temperatures can climb up into the 100s.

My first meal in Qatar was at Mr. Shawarmas—basically a Taco Bell, only they serve shawarmas. I ordered the shawarmrice, shaved chicken served over basmati rice. No vegetables came with the dish and water was extra. This cost me about 15 riyals or about $4 USD.  My hotel apartment has a kitchen and, for sustenance, my employer stocked the refrigerator with a loaf of bread, two dozen croissants, mango jam, and Laughing Cow cheese spread. To stay hydrated, I was also given a box of bottled water, mango juice, Nescafe (instant coffee), and box of black tea.

First meal in Qatar
First meal that I prepared in Qatar

While I have eaten out a little, I have tried to cook for myself whenever possible. There are many grocery stores located near my hotel. The ones that are most proximate to me cater to the foreign construction workers—lots of Indian products at these stores. Then there is the Mega Mart, which is about two blocks away. It seems to cater to foreign workers from richer countries and has a better selection of meat, bread, and produce and more products from European and the US food providers. (When I inspected a carton of Ocean Spray cranberry juice, the container said that the product was made in Poland, not Tomah, WI!) I see more customers of diverse nationalities shopping at the Mega Mart.

My diet during the first week consisted of a ton of bread! To start with, I had the two dozen croissants and loaf of white bread to eat up. And, for some reason, because I hadn’t eaten enough bread, I decided to buy a bag of Arabic bread (or pitas) and a mini French baguette—probably because both items were sold hot, and freshly baked bread always seems like a good idea. I usually ate the croissants with a fig jam. If you like Fig Newtons, then fig jam makes so much sense. (Don’t know why stores in the US don’t sell this product—maybe only a minority of Americans, like me, enjoy Fig Newtons.) With the white bread, I usually made a toad in the hole for breakfast. With the remaining bread, I will make croutons for salads and other dishes. (I didn’t eat white bread in the US, and I don’t plan on eating more, beyond my complimentary loaf, while in Qatar!)

Speaking of salad, leaf vegetables are much more expensive in Qatar. Lettuce and spinach at the Mega Mart was about 25 riyals or around $7 USD. In order to eat more fruits and vegetables, I usually make a juice smoothie in the morning: orange juice, mango puree, fresh bananas, and yogurt. Also, I stocked up on frozen vegetables (corn, green beans, and broccoli) and some inexpensive fresh vegetables (carrots and mini cucumbers). If I have leftover vegetables, I will chop them up and blend them into my smoothie.

Celery and carrots at Carrefour produce section (celery and carrots seem bigger in Qatar compared to the US)

In regards to water quality in Qatar, you are not advised to drink the tap water. I make sure to stay hydrated by drinking bottled water on a regular basis. In the US, I was terrible about staying hydrated; most of my water seemed to come from the large amounts of coffee that I drank. I have been using the tap water to brew my instant coffee or tea and have been fine. But I made the mistake of using a large quantity of tap water to make a pot of corn chowder, and after eaten one bowl, I felt queasy. I had to dump the rest of the chowder into the toilet because I couldn’t stomach eating any more. In the future, if I make pasta, rice, or soup, dishes, I will definitely use bottled water in the preparation.

Because of the very hot weather and the need to drive to most places in Doha, I haven’t ventured out too much into the city. I spent the first two days of Eid in my apartment playing the PS4 that I brought with me. How come I haven’t done more? Imagine if you were to visit the Midwest on Christmas. You don’t have a car; you aren’t used to the cold; and businesses aren’t at their peak operation. That’s how I rationalize my shut-in behavior. Besides, I have three years to explore Doha, and I’m not in a huge rush to explore all parts of the city. When the weather gets nicer, I want to take a ride on a dhow, walk the length of Al Corniche, and explore the back alleys and stores of Souq Waqif. Right now, because of the weather, I can’t walk a kilometer without the top of my head looking like an aerial map of Minnesota!

 A dhow on the Arabian Sea
Dhows along Al Corniche
Souq Waqif at night

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