Idle Time in Doha

Eid greeting e-card from Qatar University

Today marks the second week of my arrival in Doha. It’s hard to believe how long I’ve been here and how little I’ve actually done. When I arrived, there were about three working days to complete human resource (HR) matters for Qatar University (QU) before Eid al-Adha; then all government employees had 10 days of vacation, including the staff at QU. This has forced me and the other new hires to wait until after Eid so that we can resume the HR steps and sign our contracts.

Tomorrow (Sunday), is the start of the work week, and I will finally be able to submit my medical check-up receipt, get fingerprinted, apply for my Qatar ID, and—once these steps are completed—sign my contract with QU. Though it will be nice to formalize my employment, I have started to enjoy and will miss my idle time in Doha.

At first, the other new hires and I living at the Al Safa were quite anxious at the start of the vacation; we were amped to receive our teaching schedules and syllabi in order to start planning our courses for the semester. However, QU will not provide us with this information and material until we have signed our contracts. Ok, so then what? We just had to bide our time until after the holiday.

I spent the first two days of Eid in my apartment playing my Playstation. A very unproductive way to spend my time, but I imagined going out into Doha on these days would be like going out during Christmas Eve and Day back in the US—not entirely convenient or conducive for exploring because businesses wouldn’t be at their peak operation. Plus, the temperature was still around an oppressive 100 degrees; I didn’t have a car and wasn’t comfortable with the taxis yet; and walking more than a couple kilometers in the blistering heat is a formidable task.

Me venturing outside during the day

Additionally, my sleep schedule was, and has been, very odd. I’ll take a very long nap in the afternoon, about 3-4 hours, and then eventually sleep another 3-4 hours at night. I haven’t had one solid day of activity and then one normal block of 6-8 hours of sleep at night. I believe that part of the reason for this problem is that without work, my day has no guiding purpose. My hotel room is like a very comfortable laboratory experiment: I have all the necessary amenities (living room, kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom), and the air conditioner always keeps the temperature pleasant. However, apart from the sunlight and the hubbub of the construction work outside, I don’t have any familiar environmental cues to guide me throughout the day.

View of my apartment’s dining/living room
My modest but convenient kitchen
My spacious bedroom (Note: room service usually makes the bed for me.)
Bathroom with a washer and a bidet

I am accustomed to sleeping with my windows open so that the morning air and the sound of birds coaxes me awake—or forces me to close my window for some more sleep! The sunlight and temperature in Doha, at this point in the year, really doesn’t vary too much: it’s bright and very hot for most of the day. When I go out at night in the US, I’m used to it being cooler than the day. Not in Doha, 90 from 100 doesn’t feel like much of a reprieve! The few times that I have ventured out during the day have left me dehydrated and drained, so I rush back to my apartment, blast the air conditioner, and take a nap. Hence, my erratic sleep schedule.

Still, I am not the only one who has had difficulties with the Eid downtime. Talking with the other new QU hires, all of us commiserate over our shared restlessness, boredom, and unproductiveness. We are all academics uncomfortable not using a stretch of time before the start of the semester to prep. It’s like a farmer waiting until the first day of the growing season to start the preliminary farm preparations. That would be crazy, right?

The other thing us new hires commiserate about is the ordeal we all experienced getting our documents attested for employment at QU. I thought that I was the only one who encountered obstacles and setbacks along the way. Nope! Everyone has their story about how they wasted time and money going about the unclear process in an inefficient manner. And, I learned from my QU mentor, that the attestation process is 10x worse for people bringing over their wives and children because there are additional documents like marriage certificates, birth certificates, and educational documents of the children that all must be ushered through the Byzantine process.

Yet, despite my pent up energy, I have managed to adjust to this idle period and set modest goals for myself. If I do a few minor feats during the day, then I feel somewhat productive and satisfied with myself; these things might be as simple as contacting friends and family back home, going out for groceries or take away (take out) food, or venturing out into the city with my new colleagues.

With the help of my brother in Portland, I was able to access my US bank account online in order to set up a biller and schedule a credit card payment. (In Qatar, I am not able to access my bank account via the bank’s website; however, I am able to access my bank account using the mobile app on my phone. Go figure!) This was a feat for the day, check.

My colleague and fellow new hire Dhafir, a UK citizen whose family is from Jordan, rented a car, and he and I have been able to do things with his friend in Qatar: Mohammed. Mohammed is originally from Morocco and works as a documentary editor for Al Jazeera. Mohammed has invited Dhafer and I out at 5am to walk around Aspire Park near the first completed 2022 World Cup football (soccer) stadium and over to his home for a delicious home cooked meal. Another couple feats: check, check.

Aspire Park at 5am (The Torch Doha and Khalifa International Stadium in the background.)
Home-cooked Moroccan meal (couscous with lamb and vegetables, cucumber yogurt, and leben)

On the recommendation of Dhafir, I was especially pleased when I ventured out to find an Indian restaurant that sold chicken and fish biryani for 10 riyals (or less than $3 USD). This might not seem like a huge deal, but anytime I can eat a meal for less than $5 USD, I am oddly satisfied. One of my tacit goals for living in Doha is to save money so that I can do other things like travel to other countries during my breaks and vacation. A simple but savory feat, check.

Chicken Biryani for 10 riyals!

Additionally, I have gone out with Mark, the only other American that I know here, and Kareema, a French Moroccan who spent about 5 years living in the Midwest attending school. We took a taxi to the Carrefour in the City Center Mall—my second visit there—to shop for groceries. I remarked to Kareema that social grocery shopping with other is much more fun than lonely grocery shopping by oneself. She chuckled at this quip. Social shopping feat, check.

However, I am not above lonely grocery shopping if it will help me check off a requisite achievement for the day. So, running to the Food Palace, where mostly the construction workers shop, for water and eggs is a feat for the day. Running to Mega Mart, where most of the foreigners staying at the Westin hotel shop, is a double feat for the day because I have to cross a busy roundabout and walk two blocks through sand and dust for a better selection of foreign food and products. My shoes are usually dusty after these excursions, and when I wipe off my sweaty head upon my return, the excess moisture leaves a brown stain on the towel. Sweaty shopping feat, check.

So after today, my hands should no longer be idle. I will be swept up in the torrent of my first academic year at QU. I am rested and ready for the adventures ahead.

(Note: writing and posting a blog entry counts as a major daily feat. Check!)

2 thoughts on “Idle Time in Doha”

  1. Conan–this is soooo interesting! I'm hoping you got the coffee thing worked out (100 degree temps notwithstanding) . Why did we never speak of Fig Newtons at UWRF? –Carol

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  2. Thanks for the kind words, Carol. I have been drinking less coffee and more actual water since arriving in Doha. This is probably the better way to stay hydrated–but not function. In terms of my love of Fig Newtons, I usually don't buy them because, if I do, I will eat the entire packet uncontrollably in one sitting.

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