Having finished my diploma in engineering and given the requisite ’tools to go out and conquer the world’, I did what most people would do; search for a job. Like an inexperienced herd’s boy, I moved from office to office leaving a trail of resumes and cover letters and countless copies of my certificates. To my peril I never got a positive feedback. That was when it hit me, I stood a better chance heading to the Middle East.
Furnished with my not so good experience, I headed to an agency I was prescribed of and found a willing employer. That was the relieve I was waiting for all this time round. I wasn’t happier in life as I was this particular moment. Visa and air ticket ready, it was time.
On a chilly may evening, ten o’clock to be precise, I boarded my would be vessel to the Arab world. All prepared for the Kenyan winter but totally oblivious of what lay ahead.
The Middle East
Nothing prepares one for the middle east heat. When I arrived the temperatures had sky rocketed to unimaginable levels. The weather outside was unbearable and that when I started missing the cold mornings at home. And yes, I missed the aroma of the morning tea as well.
One week after my arrival, I was ushered to the office for contract appraisals and orientation to my new job. My orientation was nothing but a quick rash of normal day operations. Qatar, my would be home for the next two years.
Qatar is a small peninsula state with a population of a little over two million. Of this, only a little over eight hundred thousand is the Qataris with the rest of the population being foreigners.
Being part of the Arabian Desert, the weather is unforgiving. The sun was always up earlier than the few birds surviving in the harsh environment can keep up with. Having to weather the hot desert sun (highs of 52c in the summer) was a daily part of events.
With such temperatures, it literary is an offence to walk the streets on hot summers between twelve noon up to late afternoons in this part of the world.
My First Police Encounter
Thanks to a robust investment in law enforcement, the crime rates are among’st the lowest on the entire planet earth. It is not uncommon to find a contingent of police vehicles on your day to day activities.
So one fine noon, I was running late for my schedule as I had to move from one location to another occasionally. The villager in me suggested that it was a short stretch and since I had tried flagging down a taxi in vain, that I should just walk to save on downtime.
As if on cue, a few yards later, I was summoned onto an “al fazaa” (the local police) cruiser SUV, where upon boarding I was handed a bottle of cooled water. I was driven to a police station where after a myriad of questions I was allowed to leave two hours later with a warning that should I be found wandering around again in the smelting heat I would be charged with attempted suicide as it was a crime to walk in the heat.
Qatar is literary a night city. Locals come out in their droves after sun set, always staying active outdoors till the wee hours of the morning where they retreat to their air cooled shelters to pass the day away.
It’s not uncommon to see vehicles parked outside of a tea shop, shopping center or even a fast food restaurant and having your order brought to your cars comfort. In fact this is a common practice across most of Middle East.
Road races are another thing to look out for when in Qatar. You will see Qataris passing at dangerously high speeds on the busy highway, several of them for that matter, crisscrossing the traffic in utter disregard of the safety of the other road users.
Not uncommon are wheel spins at local access roads roundabouts. A park of youths will normally terrorize local traffic, often blocking a roundabout or intersection to do there burnouts and wheel spins, undisturbed by the hooting of the other road users.
You haven’t been to Middle East without doing a desert safari. So my friends and I decided to take a tour of the most common hangout, sea line beach. A long way off from the city but totally worth the effort. As is common practice, we headed out at 2am. Water rafts, swimming and the occasional quad bike rides are a memory to look out for.
Gents are not allowed to mingle with the ladies here. A camel ride and afterwards a sip of “karak” (Arabian tea) and we call it an event, heading out to our camp to hide from the summer heat.
The food, yes I know… this wouldn’t have been complete if we hadn’t sampled the food. Thanks to the influx of expatriate workers, most of the restaurants out here are Asian dominated. It is rumored back at home that if you go to an Asians home and ask for water, chances are that you will get served spiced up water. Well, same goes for their food.
I had the pleasure of sampling the spiciest of dishes and man is it spicy. Ask for any type of curry and I assure you your next trip for a call of nature won’t be so pleasurable. Their variety of food is as big as the world goes, to a point where I came to a conclusion that we do not have a food culture back at home. The food I loved most from their cuisine has to be ‘chicken adobo’.
Culture has to be the other this to look out for when in the gulf. So true to their culture they are, that the signature robe (white for males and black for ladies) is one that quickly strikes your eyes, to a point that it might feel wrong to wear a suit when in the Middle East.
Clad in a white robe christened by a white scarf, locally known as ‘al kaffiyeh’ and donning a pair of sandals is a male national dress code, while the iconic black dress (Abaya) with a black hijab and a pair of shoes does it for the ladies.
However, those from the Loyal family do not necessarily observe this and are easily seen dressed in the latest fashion.
Water and Electricity
Where Africa lags behind with all its resources, Middle East doesn’t. Despite the fact that Qatar is completely a desert, tap water is always available and flowing. So much so that it is common sight to see water coolers at perimeter walls of homesteads to serve you as you walk on the roadsides. As for the electricity, this too is always flowing.
The law protects you from power losses and downtimes, so much that for planned maintenance of both electric and water lines, the electricity and water affairs network company (kharamaa) has to make arrangements to ensure that you will have an uninterrupted flow during the maintenance period. This may include strategically placing a generator or supplying water with water bowers for the period.
So how is it like to live in Middle East? Well, apart from the weather, you’ll love the hospitality and the large range of things that you can do especially in Qatar. Note however that for the smokers and drinkers, there is a sin tax imposed on tobacco and alcoholic drinks which makes them twice the international prices.
If you are planning to visit Qatar for the next world cup, you sure are in for a happy time.
By Victor Nthiiri (A Mechanical Engineer who has been working in Qatar)