Tuesday, May 22, 2018

12 years in Qatar!

So I have now been in Qatar for 12 years. 12! That's a long time.

Qatar has changed a lot over those years. I'm not kidding, only someone who has lived here or visited it frequently could really grasp just how much has changed. The amount of construction and other projects is staggering, there is always more stuff being built, more stuff completed, and yet it never seems to end. I recall saying eight years ago if I left Qatar I'd come back in 5 years "just to see it when everything is finished". I was a bit naïve about when everything would be "finished".

So I figured I would reflect a bit on just how much has changed since I arrived.

- Salwa road was a 6-lane road with a bunch of roundabouts. Now it's an 8-lane highway with overpasses.

- City Centre was easily the biggest andn best mall in Qatar (no Villagio, Mall of Qatar, Festival City, and Landmark was smaller than now)

- no Katara

- no Pearl

- no Souq Waqif

- no 22nd February street / D-ring road. I don't even remember how one went North without it.

- there were only a handful of hotels, I think maybe ten or eleven places served alcohol (including the Rydges, anyone remember that place?). Whenever a new hotel opened EVERYONE went there to check out the new bar. No one offered happy hour deals, they didn't need to.

- three-quarters of the buildings in West Bay didn't exist. It was mostly sand. Wanted to go to City Centre for lunch? Sure, there was always plenty of parking!

- Does anyone remember the old Musherib neighbourhood? Lots of inexpensive stores and restaurants and thousands upon thousands of South Asians would hang out there on the weekends.

- I remember the old airport, and I mean before the two expansions it went through before everything moved to Hamad International. The old airport was always playing catch-up with the rapidly expanding numbers using it.

- I remember expats moaning about how there's nothing to do in Doha. I don't hear that anymore.

- Education city was in its infancy, many of the buildings weren't there.

- The Ritz was basically out on its own in the desert (so was the Intercon and the Diplomatic Club now that I think about it)

- The population has tripled, TRIPLED. It was <900,000 when I arrived an now it's 2.7 million.

- No Aspire Zone, though Khalifa Stadium was almost finished as it would be needed for the Asian Games

- Right, the Asian Games was here in 2006. That was fun. Loved watching the sport Sepak Takraw.

- I remember parking being pretty good most places. I miss that.

- Does anyone remember Palm Tree Island? That little island just off the Corniche? It used to be a small park with concession stands and stuff. The ferry to it left from somewhere near the Sheraton. Shame it was torn up.

- Lusail was just a race track out in the desert.

Man, a lot has changed. It was cool being through all of those changes. It makes things back in Canada seem like it's standing still.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Ramadan 2018

Ramadan Kareem everyone! Ramadan was announced last night so for the next 28 or 29 days things change throughout the country.

All of the Muslims (i.e. most of the population) will be fasting through the day and life changes to accomodate that. Restaurants are closed until after sunset, you are not allowed to eat or drink in public, and the liquor store is closed for the entire month and no alcohol is served in any of the hotels. The working hours are also shorter for most people, where I work we've gone down to a five-hour work day. An eight-hour shift when you can't eat or drink anything would be pretty brutal and by late in the shift most people wouldn't be very productive.

Things come alive in the evening. When the sun sets everyone has their iftar meal, a small meal to break the fast. Then it's prayer time and Muslims go to the mosque to pray (the men anyway), there's a set of special prayers called "tarawih" that you perform during Ramadan. These usually end by 9-9:30 pm. That means that people don't generally start going out shopping, meeting friends, or dining in restaurants until after 10pm. Yep, 10pm is when you head out for the evening. Stores do open earlier, like 7 or 8pm for the non-Muslim shoppers, but they are typically open until midnight or 1:00 AM. Final meal is at 3am before going to bed.

It's a bit strange getting used to it. The change in timings was one reasons why I started fasting as well, so that I would be more "in sync" with what everyone else was doing. It is also a good way to experience a very important religious and cultural event in Qatar, akin in importance like Christmas or Easter is to Christians. The fasting started today and surprisingly I was so busy at work I didn't really notice the hunger or thirst. Got home, had a long nap, searched the Internet a bit, the next thing you know it was time to prepare dinner. Unlike many of my Muslim friends I spent the past week slowly decaffeinating, reducing the amount of caffeine I drink every day, and I don't get any caffeine withdrawal at work. Most people just take some Panadol instead.

I hope it will be an exciting month, tonight I'm meeting friends at a majlis for a Ramadan meal, and so far there are two sohour meals at hotels scheduled in the next couple of weeks. I am making an effort to not go too crazy with food.

I'll miss having a morning coffee though.