Saturday, October 25, 2008

Finance and water

Geez has it been two weeks since my last update?? Sorry about that folks.

Just a quick bit on the Global Financial Crisis. I admit I do have a couple of mutual funds that invest in a wide range of stocks and bonds. So how are they doing? I have no clue. You see, I have not even looked at what they are worth now. What would be the point? It would probably just get me depressed. I made those investments with long-term intentions like retirement, and that won't be for probably 20 years. So it is just a matter of holding on to them and hoping that they eventually rebound. I am fairly confident that everything will be fine in a few years.

My sympathies are more of those who have retired or are about to retire. The most pivotal part of retirement planning is how much money/assets you have. Suddenly the projections of how much retirement income a person has would be completely thrown out the window. People about to retire now probably planning to hang on and work a few more years -- if they keep their job, and if they lose their job I don't think it is very easy for a retiree-age person to get a new one. People who have just retired are now in real trouble as their income will likely be much lower. Retirees could be in real trouble for the next few years and with current financial systems taking a real hit I'm not sure what extent the governments can assist them. It will likely be a major issue for western governments.

In other news, Qatar has announced steep penalties and fines for wasting drinking water, including washing your car. This brings up an interesting question of where all the water comes from, after all Qatar is a desert. Well most if not all the water comes from desalination plants, which provide an impressive amount of water considering there is now over a million people in the country. There are no rivers or lakes in Qatar and since the highest point in the country is something like 70m I doubt there are extensive underground aquifers either. Some underground water must exist -- no one could have historically lived in this country otherwise, but I doubt it is much.

So why am I mentioning this? Because as part of the new law regarding wasting water it is okay to get your car washed at a service station or car wash business. This is strange to me as the amount of water used at the car wash station would be a heck of a lot more than individual just washing his car with a bucket. And I thought everyone got their water from the same source so what water are they using anyway?? Sounds to me like this new law is more to support car washes then save water resources. Maybe there is a powerful "car wash" lobby here.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


Although I do not interact with Qataris too often I have been fortunate enough to get to know two Qataris who work in my office as graduate trainees. Through chats I get a number of interesting titbits about life as a Qatari and how it is different, yet in some ways similar, from life in the West.

Both went to university in the West (one to France, the other to the US), which means they have had to balance their religious beliefs with life in the West. One of them told me that for him the hardest part of living in France was getting used to talking to women. Qataris, like Saudis, take seriously Islamic teachings about not associating with women you're not related to. Growing up it is hammered into a young Qatari man probably from about the age of 9 or 10 that he should not be talking to girls, and schools are gender segregated so he would never have much interaction with girls anyway. So going to the co-ed Western university classes would be a new experience. He told me that it took a good year-and-a-half before he was reasonably comfortable talking to a woman.

It works both ways. My friend Linda teaches English to Qatari high school graduates to prepare them for University and the classes are co-ed. She has told me that she has had women drop out because they cannot handle being in the same class as men.

This means of course that marriages are arranged. One of the graduates expects to be engaged next year. It is unclear to me whether he will even meet her before the engagement as his family will arrange everything, though they may "short-list" some potential candidates and he will then meet her and her family to see if they both think the marriage would be suitable. Once they are engaged THEN they can go out on dates and talk to one another -- but only while chaperoned by a male relative from her family. If they feel they are not really compatible then they will break off the engagement.

The gender segregation can manifest itself in other odd ways. For example one of the guys told me that his mother and sisters like to watch Desparate Housewives, but when the show is on they will lock the door so that the men in the family cannot see the show as they do not feel it is appropriate for men to be watching it. And this was the guy who went to university in France.

Qataris also take family responsibilities seriously. In my office the hours are 8-5 but most Qataris work for the government and their hours are 7-2. This gives a Qatari time to come home in the afternoon to see the family and maybe play with the kids before dinner. The thought of not being home with the family in the afternoon is disagreeable to Qataris. I think the graduates here are fine with the extended hours because they are not married, but once they are married and have children would probably try and find a job that would allow them to be home in the afternoons.

At the same time there are many similarities with Westerners: kids play videogames, families go shopping, people love to travel, or go to the theatre or watch movies and so on. No different than anyone else in the world.

Friday, October 03, 2008


So right now I am in the middle of the Eid holiday, celebrating the end of Ramadan. We get three days off of work so combine that with the weekend and I'm off for five days. Most times I take advantage of the holiday to go on a trip but this time I'm staying put here in Qatar. I left it a little late to book a trip and the prices got ridiculous because everyone in the region travels during Eid. Flights to Europe were generally over $1000, and hotels in the Middle East tend to crank their prices, so I figured I would stay put for once and see what Qatar does for Eid.

Apparently not much. For Qataris the holiday is a time to visit relatives, it is not one of those holidays where people have parades and things like that. So generally things are quiet. Thankfully friends are here as well so there have been things to do like barbecues, dinners, and a Pakistani colleague of mine is having an Eid party tonight. So my days have been spent doing errands and chilling out and in the evenings I go out to the dinners etc.

So with Ramadan over things will start getting back to normal around here again. Restaurants will be open at normal hours and now I will be able to go out and have lunch again. Not that I will too often as I plan to go to the gym at lunchtime instead to start to work off the weight. It is weird that during Ramadan I think you tend to eat more because in the evenings there are all these big buffets and stuff like that, and it is difficult to exercise during the day because you should not be drinking anything, even water, in public. Eat more, exercise less -- bad combination.

Unfortunately the traffic is going to be bad again as well. During Ramadan locals work reduced hours because they are fasting so rush-hour is much less hectic. Chances are starting on Sunday my commute time will have increased from about 20 minutes to 40. That is life in Doha.