Ok, so it’s taken me a while to get around to it but finally I’ve had the chance to write some Doha-based words. It’s been two mildly hot, strange weeks adjusting to the climate and native customs and to be honest it’s a mixed bag. Whilst the appeal of waking early into perfect sunshine every morning is a far cry from blighty, the staggering amount of dust often curtails outside activity, so much so that I’ve yet to see anyone sunbathing despite a cloudless sky and high 20’s temperatures. If you can tolerate the flies though it’s doable; just don’t apply sunscreen or you’ll return inside as if you’d just walked through ground zero whilst covered in super glue. In. Sun. Out. Guerrilla tanning. In all probability this isn’t that important anyway given that in the hotter months (May onwards) the task is to avoid the sun as much as possible lest one becomes frazzled.
The community itself is nice and welcoming, we live in a compound with a cheery security guard (perhaps too cheery to be convincing, alas!) and mostly British and Irish teachers all of whom are friendly, if disarmingly candid, about the surreal nature of the Doha experience, more on that later. The villa is fine and sunny and spacious, if there was to be a gripe though it would be the Arabic television channels which offer truly awful takes on 1970’s Bollywood and MTV Arabia (you can imagine the horror). First week was grand as the Irish say, I even got a welcome cake (hence my happiness) and there was a party which made me appreciate that wherever you are in the world, if there are Irish your glass will be ever full and flowing.
Some thoughts on the culture then from a naive westerner. Until arriving here I had no conception that there might be such a thing as a ‘pork licence’, of course you hear of people banning pork but contra banning it, really? Not that it matters too much to me either way, I can’t say I’ve missed it although in all probability if I were to smell bacon it’d be a different story. It’s just bizarre that like any ban someone always tries to find a way around it. Instead of aisles filled with sausages and bacon there’s beef bacon or chicken ham which from a distance or casual glance appear identical to it, yet it reality appear limp, pallid and watery. Much of a much-ness. Most western foods are obtainable here, some even in improved form. Take McDonalds for example, not that its much use to me but I’m assured having one delivered to your door at 3am after a night out for the same (perhaps less) than the cost back home is a valued resource. And for the most part this is true of all takeaway food out here it’s cheap and deliverable just don’t push it too far, even if the offer of 24 hour hummus delivery for 6 riyal (about one pound) is mind blowing.
I must digress from the fore to the aft orifice in much cruder matters I’m afraid, for every cultures point of difference begins in the lavatory. Whilst not as non-western as other eastern states that eschew toilet roll completely, or encourage the binning of it, it is certainly not the preferred method of post defecation clean-up. Here we have a sort of ‘bum gun’ which showers the derriere post push leaving a wipe clean finish. TMI? Probably, but good to have the heads up eh? Whether you’re into that sort of thing or not (as you might imagine it’s less favoured by the western contingent) its juxtaposition next to the bidet finally solves the age old argument as to the function of the latter. I told you it was for the feet!
My final thought for the day is the Villagio, a small Italian village located in the heart of Doha. Yes, you did read that correctly. I say a village but what I’m in fact describing is one of the most bizarre shopping centres I’ve thus far encountered; electric gondola’s pootle on past Krispy Kreme and Versace (and Hobbs) under a painted sky which if you’re not looking too hard, actually gives the impression of being outside.
Of course the effect would be more realistic if we weren’t in the desert and therefore needed large and frequent air conditioning units as well as artificial lighting, but the inclusion of the ice rink is welcome. In fact given the bizarre, simulacrum that is the Villagio it’s perhaps the only part which stands defiantly against the pastiche Italian offerings that surround.
In Sum (Doha);
A bizarre bazaar
McDonalds never too far
Mind the bad TV.