Sunday, July 30, 2006

Technology Facelift

My website has undergone some minor changes. Of course, completely instigated by myself, Cath had nothing to do with it.

Had a mixed week last week, really wishing I was at home for some of it. Work is going well, a lot of people are on holidays at the moment as we are approaching the holiday cut off point of 20 August. I am not taking any holidays as I want the cash! :) Also, I just had a holiday and most days here feel like I am on holiday! I am planning on just taking a few local weekend trips.

This weekend I am heading to Dubai to meet Michael with Mairz, Andy, Nath, Dunlop and Murray. We are staying 5 star right on the beach and somehow going to try and fit jet skiing, snowboarding, go-karting, brunch at the 'Burge' and a trip to the water-park into the two and a half days we are there. I think we may have to save a couple of things for the next time we go.

Had a quieter weekend just gone. Braved the ever-increasing heat on Thursday night for a couple of drinks on the roof. Slept through most of Friday and then headed over to Alex and Russ' villa Friday night. Watched the Bledisloe Cup on Saturday at the Doha Rugby Club and then finished the weekend at the gym.

Starting to struggle a little with the heat at the moment as the air conditioning in my bedroom and car have both broken. Thankfully I can rely on the freezer-box that is my office to cool me down each day. The humidity has definitely increased and it is 40 - 45C each day... just starting to test my tolerance levels. August is the hottest month of the year and it is supposed to get at least 5C hotter.

Below are a couple of neighbour hood shots, sometimes I feel like I am on the set of Life of Brian:

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Behold the Tawouq...

You may think that publishing a post about my lunch means that things are slowing down in Doha and I have nothing better to talk about. You would be mistaken. The shish tawouq which I order every single day without fail from the shop below is an extremely big part of my life. And, it is only 5QAR... that's like 60 pence!! It is flame grilled marinated chicken wrapped in home-made flat bread with a spicy sauce, lettuce, tomatoe and onion. Mmmmmm! 3 hours till my next one :)

Monday, July 24, 2006

Fishing Trip

Last weekend, I went on a fishing trip out in the Persian Gulf past 'Banana Island' (thankfully no bananas!). As you can see from the photos, it wasn't the newest of boats but had plenty of character.

I really enjoyed my first proper fishing experience and would definitely go again. The best part was lying on the roof of the boat and, for the first time in ages, actually experiencing a breeze off the water. Clearly, lying on the roof was something I did more than the actual fishing...

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Images of Doha

Despite my latest experience. I am still a huge fan of this place. Some images of Doha are below:

On the day that I arrived, these two buildings caught on fire for the second time in the last month. They have just left them standing in the middle of the cities skyline.

Qatari License Part Three

The Director was in no hurry, he offered me some food and drink which I refused as I had just eaten in the car. He looked offended and said, 'You drink, no test'. I quickly drank all of the drink and said I was going home now to which he laughed. We were by now best friends. It was great, I would tell him what I thought of him in English and laugh and he would have no idea but say something, probably equally as offensive, back to me in Arabic and laugh.

Eventually, he told me I needed to take a traffic signs test first. I had absolutely no idea what any of the road signs meant and after wrongly guessing about ten he gave me a road signs book to read. The book was in Arabic which was helpful, but he gave me a second go and guessing what the signs meant and amazingly I got it right that time. It was then time to do the test.

I got in the car and he directed me to a big ramp which he told me to drive up. It was the narrowest rampt in the world and marked by these massive steel posts. He laughed and said, 'Don't crash, you fail'. I started to drive up the ramp and stalled about twenty times. I was about to deliberately crash the car into one of the posts out of frustration when I realised that I had left the handbrake on. This was much to the amusement of the Director. I drove to the top of the ramp, performed a perfect handbrake start and then proceeded to reverse down. On the way down I somehow managed to hit two of the steel posts, knocking them out of the ground. The Director found this hilarious.

He asked me to perform a parallel park and then directed me out onto the roads where I drove around with no problems. I did however, manage to get us lost as I couldn't understand what directions he wanted me to go only that at every corner I somehow managed to go the wrong way. When we got back into the yard, I pullled up out the front of the offices and asked the Director how I went. He shook his finger at me and said, 'No good'.

Whilst I believed this was a pretty fair assesment of my test, I had to argue and jumped out the car to follow him into the offices asking how he could possibly fail me after all he had put me through. I was half way into the office when I noticed that the car had rolled about 4 rotations backwards as I had forgotten to put the handbrake on. I ran to catch up with it, opened the door and pulled it on and then ran back to the offices to continue my argument.

Once inside, the Director wrote some things on my application and sent me to another room. I asked the man in the other room if I had failed and he laughed and said, 'Yes'. He stamped my application with red ink and directed me to another room. Heartbroken, I asked the man in the next room what I needed to do now to get my license. He looked at me confused and said that I passed and that I needed to go to the traffic office and pay for my license. I looked back into the room I had just came from furious to find the Director and the other man rolling around on the floor in stiches of laughter. 'That was NOT funny!' I yelled at them. 'Very funny!!!' They responded through their tears, 'Go get license!!'

I left the offices in disbelief at what had happened. Mostly due to the fact that I had actually passed after hitting steel poles on my test!!!! I could not see my random stalker-drivers anyway and had rang Mary and Fran to come pick me up. I quickly went to their car and got in. Fran had just been at the traffic office and had had some issues of her own so had to go to the British Embassy. I went with her with the plan of going from there back to the traffic office. As I didn't have a British passport, the embassy would not let me in so I had to wait, once again, out in the sun, 45C, ridiculous humidity.

An hour and a half later, Fran emerged from the embassy but without what she had gone to get, being told to come back tomorrow. I had a meeting to go to back at work so I got Fran to take me there instead of the traffic office. After my meeting, I caught a another taxi out to the traffic office, about half an hour before it was due to close. I walked in with my pile of paperwork and my red stamp saying that I had passed my test and handed it to a lady behind the counter. She gave it back to me straight away, saying something in Arabic. I tried to ask what she said and she went and found an interpreter who told me that the printers were down so I would have to come back tomorrow.

There was absolutely no way that I was going to walk out of there without a license, which I calmly explained to the interpreter. After a lot of back and forth, he suggested that if I paid now they could give me a paper license which I could use to finally pick up my car and drive with and then exchange it for a proper license the next day. I thanked him and said that, yes, that was what I wanted to do. I paid my money and left, almost with a full Qatari license. The next day, I drove back in my brand new car and collected my actual license without any problems.

So that was my story, very happy it is all over and that I am now able to drive my new car around Qatar knowing that I earnt my license more than anyone else. Also, very wary of the other drivers who have licenses but could have hit steel poles on their test!

Qatari License Part Two

I got to the Al Rayya driving school at about 2pm. It wasn't open but there were plenty on Indian men hanging around to wait with me. There were no seats and no shade so I stood out the front amongst 50 or-so men for about an hour and half until someone arrived and opened the front door. I went to the front desk and told them I was why I was here. They directed me to other other side of the yard to some offices. The men in the offices told my that the Director wasn't here yet so I would have to wait. Once again, no seats, no water, no shade, 45C, ridiculous humidity and lots and lots of Arab and Indian men staring at me.

After two hours, the Director finally arrived. By this stage, I thought I was going to pass out and did not really feel in the right state to be taking a driving test, in a manual car, driving for the first time on the right side of the road with the crazy Qatari drivers. The Director took me into a room to pay for the test. He turned on his computer, then got on the phone and spoke to someone for about 15 minutes. He then got off the phone walked into another room and returned with his interpreter who told me the computers were offline so I would have to come back tomorrow afternoon

I told the interpreter to tell the Director that I had been standing in the sun for the last 4 hours and that I would be taking the test today. He said that this was impossible. I said that this was bordering on ridiculous and that you do not require a computer to do a test. The interpreter told me that I had to be put in the system to take the test. I told the interpreter that the Director should have put me in the computer when I was at the traffic school. The interpreter told this to the Director who laughed, shrugged his shoulders and said, 'Inshallah'. This tipped me over the edge and I told the interpreter to tell the Director that I would come back tomorrow, first thing in the morning and that if he failed me, I would kill him. The interpreter said he couldn't say that to the Director but I insisted and so he did. The Director laughed and the interpreter said they would see me tomorrow at the Doha Driving School.

The next morning I caught a taxi out to the Doha Driving School. The taxi driver took me to the Qatar Driving School but insisted it was the same thing. Once inside, a man in military uniform behind the desk informed me that it was not the same thing and that the Doha Driving School was a different driving school quite a way out of town. He said that he was actually on his way out there so could give me a lift. I decided it was safe enough getting in the car with a man who obviously worked for the Ministry of Interior so gratefully accepted his offer.

As we were about to leave, a man wearing the Qatari, white thobe also hopped in the car. They both seemed friendly enough, the man in the thobe didn't speak much English but he got the man in the military uniform to translate for him. He began by just making general conversation courtesy of the military man, 'Where are you from?' 'How long have you been here?' 'Do you have family here?' I answered all the questions for him. Next thing, they pulled up out the front of a restaurant and ordered a whole heap of food and drink for me. Not wanting to look rude I thanked them and ate and drank while they continued to drive.

Then they asked me what my phone number was. I asked why they needed to know and they said they just did. I gave them a fake number and thought that that would be the end of it. The man in the thobe got out his phone and rang the number and when my phone didn't ring he ordered the military man to pull over. He grabbed my leg and yelled at me in Arabic, the military man translated that I should not have given him a fake number. Terrified, I tried to explain that they had just misunderstood me and gave them another number. I then quickly turned off my phone and said that there was no point them trying to ring me again as my phone was flat. Amazingly, they believed me and started driving again.

The questions then started getting more and more personal. They gave me a piece of paper and said to write down my address. Then they wanted to know who I worked for, what department etc etc. They also wrote down their phone number for me and said that I had to call them at 12noon that day so that they could pick me up and take me to lunch at their house. I explained that I would have to work and they said that they would wait for me to finish my driving test and take me to work. The whole time, the man in the thobe kept rubbing my leg and trying to hold my arm.

Eventually we arrived at the driving school which was in the middle of nowhere. I tried to get out of the car but they both grabbed on to me and made me promise I would call them at 12noon. I said I would but then they said they didn't believe me and they would wait just in case. They eventually let me out of the car and I went into the office. I explained who I was there to see and once again, I was directed to the other side of the yard. As I walked across the yard, the two guys followed me closely in their car.

On the other side of the yard was madness with men everywhere and no women. They were all shouting and pushing each other trying to get the man behind a window to take their paperwork. A military man came out and grabbed me and took me into a small office in the back where he said I could wait for the Director. After about half an hour of sitting in this room with a Qatari man who looked about 150 years old and kept poking me with his cane, the Director arrived.

And, I guess that will do for Part Two!

Qatari License Part One

I have been in Doha for two months now and it is definitely feeling like home. Last week, however, I was reminded again that I am in the Middle East whilst attempting to get my Qatari Drivers License.

The short version is that it took me a long time and involved two days off work, about 150QAR in taxi fares, becoming best friends with the Director of Qatari Traffic and Patrol, an assault and an extreme case of dehydration. If you are happy with the short version, scroll to the end now. The long version is as follows:

Upon receiving my Residency Permit three weeks ago, I submitted photocopies of my Australian license, RP, visa, passport and three passport photos to the immigration department so that they could organise my license. The process is that they collate all the paperwork together, get Directorate sign off and then organise for you to go to the Qatar Traffic and Patrol offices with the paperwork the following Monday to take an eye test and purchase your Qatari license. Simple enough.

The first Monday passed and I was not told to join the others on the bus to the traffic office. I went and saw Immigration who could not find any of my paperwork. I was a little annoyed but it wasn't the end of the world so I went and got three more passport photos, photocopied my documents again and gave it all to immigration.

The following Monday passed without me hearing anything so I went and saw them again. I am currently working about out of town, so each visit required waiting in the heat to hail a taxi and a 20 minute trip to DAGOC headquarters. Once again they informed me that they had lost my application. I explained to them that this was the second time and it was impossible that they could really have lost it so I would give them an hour to find it and then I would be back. I came back after an hour and they had found it but it was yet to receive sign off from the Director. They promised they would get sign off and that I would be able to go on the bus to the traffic office on the following Monday.

On the Sunday afternoon, I thought I would check and make sure they still had all my paperwork and that it had been signed off. Unsuprisingly, it hadn't but they promised it would be by tomorrow morning in time for me to go to the traffic office the next morning. Based on this, I went to the car dealership and got myself a car, promising to come by tomorrow afternoon with my license to pick it up.

Monday morning at 8am, I thought I would just double check that it had been all signed off and that I was right to get on the bus in the next half an hour. Suprise, suprise! They had lost the application. The immigration department seems to be made up only of these two very young Qatari girls with clearly no prior administrative experience. Neither of them ever actually turn their computers on and they have piles of random paperwork and passports spread out over four desks, a few bookshelves and a cupboard. When they tell you that they have losts your application, they smile at you and shrug their shoulders saying the excuse, 'we have lots of paperwork, sometimes we lose it'. These are the people that you have to hand your passport in to when you first arrive to get your RP.

Needing to get my license ASAP now that I had gotten a car, I caught a taxi home, got three more passport photos, copied all my documents again and went back to immigration. I then sat with them and told them to put together my application and get it signed off while I waited. Within a couple of hours I got my license application and so caught a taxi to the traffic office.

The reason they organise a bus and chaperone to take all DAGOC employees to the traffic office to get their license is that it is the most random, unorganised place in all of Doha. No one there speaks English, there are no lines, just hundreds of Indian-looking men pushing and shoving to get to the front of a line that most of them don't even know the purpose of. I joined in the lines and managed to get directed to where I needed to get my eye test done. I passed the eye test and proceeded back down stairs to pay for my license feeling very proud of myself.

I handed my paperwork to one of the women working behind the counter. She looked at my photocopies, looked at me and said, 'Expired'. I looked at where she was pointed and noticed that my Australian license had expired a few days ago. 'Okay', I said, 'What do I need to do now?' She looked at me blankly for awhile and then gave me back my papers and said, 'School, school'. I informed her a few times that there was no way I was enrolling in driving school until she walked away and found someone who could speak some English. He directed me to a man in a room up the hall, who then directed me to the Director of the Traffic and Patrol arm on the Qatari Ministry of Interior. The man sitting in the room yelled at me in Arabic and directed me back to the original lady who went and got her interpretor again who took my back to the Director's office and told me to wait ten minutes and the Director would return.

Half an hour later the Director returned. I explained that my license had expired only a few days ago and that I was a very good driver and shouldn't have to go to driving school. To which he said in broken English, 'License expired, driving school, 15 lessons then you get your license.' So I said, 'No, I am not going to go to driving school, my license only just expired', to which he said, 'Driving school, 15 lessons'....

This went back a forth for about ten minutes with the other random Qatari's who were sitting around the office watching BBC News laughing at my agitation and telling me to move out the way of the TV. After ten minutes, the Director said to me, 'I will make deal, you get one test, you pass, you get license, you fail, no license. You test with me'. Happy to be avoiding lessons I agreed and he told me to meet him a Al Rayya Driving School in 2 hours.

That will do for part one of my attempt to get a driving license.

On a lighter note, below are some products that I have noticed in my local supermarket:

The above product is clearly my favourite, after all these years of trying to obtain a tan, I come to Qatar where they want to be pasty-white so much that you can actually buy whitening cream. It is huge business with hundreds of different brands. I have definitely found my home!

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Golfing Anyone?

Started my golf lessons on Thursday. The Doha Golf Club is really really lovely, just about the only greenery in all of Qatar. My instructor, Dave from England, was really great and didn't seem to care that we spent most of the time taking photos. It was a beginners lesson so thankfully, I don't think he was expecting much from me. When I hit it good it made a lovely noise which became very addictive. When I hit it wrong, I jarred my wrist and gave myself a blister on my thumb, which became fairly frustrating very quickly. The best part was definately driving the golf buggy. There are 3 bars spread out amongst the 9-hole course that you can drive your buggy up to and grab a drink while you play. How fancy is that!

I have lessons every Thursday for the next 6 weeks, then I think I will be ready to go with the guys. That is if they let me go, I have been told that due to the way I dress on the golf course I am too embarrassing.... yes, those are Commonwealth Games volunteer pants. I wrote the policy on how the uniform was to be a legacy so the least I can do is my bit!

And yes, I did end up hitting this ball..... very far too!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

World Cup Final

After controlling when I went out and when I slept for one whole month, the phenomenom that was the World Cup came to an end on Sunday. For the last time, we made the trek to Garveys, this time with the French and Italians.

The Italian celebrations at the end were great value, however by far the greatest entertainment came from the Zidane red-card. Games such as the ones below have been entertaining me all week:

But I did learn that there is an unfunny and painful side to the incident when Mariz tried to recreate it using Andy and I as props. The next day we both had very sore heads.

So where to from here.... I have been getting involved in the Tour de France this last week but it doesn't quite compare. Qualification for the Football Asian Cup 2007....

Bunnings Warehouse

Last week saw me pass a major Qatari milestone as I received my Residency Permit and passport back. Whilst I now need an exit permit to be allowed to leave the country, my RP does mean that I can now get a Qatari drivers license, open a bank account and get my Liquor License.

To get your liquor license, you have to go to the Qatar Distribution Centre, a warehouse out of town in the middle of nowhere and the only place in Qatar that you can buy alcohol. Mairz and I quickly spent my monthly liquor allowance of 8% of my salary in one visit. Inside the QDC it is like the Bunnings Warehouse of off-licenses. Lots of fun! Next month we get triple our allowance in order to prepare for Ramadan.

This would be me, Jessica Stein - Qatari resident, and my trolley.... with about $AUS 500 to last us this month.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Qatari Curry

Cocky in the knowledge that we think we can now cook, Mary and I decided, for our weekly rotational dinner, to serve the boys the most complicated lamb curry known to man last night.

The first time I read the recipe I was more than a little confused, but Mary assured me she had it downpacked. However, reading it again at the start of the week, we decided it was best to have a practice run before the main event. The idiots that we are, we ended up inviting more people over for the practice.

We gave it a couple of days and when no one died, we decided we were ready for the boys. The only improvement was to add some chilli. Went to our local supermarket where they have fresh spices for very very cheap! Four hours later, our second lamb curry was ready.

Explanation of the visors: Mary and I start our golf lessons on Thursday so we went shopping for outfits :) I also spent four hours the other night for gym clothes to wear to the gym I have joined. I have all the important things sussed!

Monday, July 03, 2006

Villa Fiesta!

Friday night, headed to Nan's new villa for their housewarming party. Their villa was amazing, kind of showed me where I could have been living if I hadn't have joined in with all the other lazy people and taken the first place that was offered to me! The theme for the party was Mexican Fiesta.

Cath brought with her her new Singstar Playstation game so the night turned more into a Karaeoke party for people wearing funny hats. Mairz was hogging the microphones until I told her she was embarrassing me. I think it was her third attempt at impersonating Belinda Carlisle that tipped me over the edge on that one! We were then able to entertain ourselves by impersonating Mary.

Middle Eastern Clubs

Thursday night after work started with a few quiet drinks up on the apartment roof and ended with Mary impersonating Shawn of the Dead in the apartment hallway at 4am. In the middle somewhere, Fran and Weena bullied Mary and I into coming with them to Paloma, one of the only nightclubs in Doha ("We've got ten years on you spazzies, stop your whining and let's go!"). Once again, I was one of only a handful of women amongst a room full of men (women in this country really don't get out much). It is incredible how forward Middle Eastern men are!!! Mary was lucky enough to score four business cards... one from a guy who's job title was World Champion Kick Boxer. Apparently he had photos in his camera to back that up!