Ramadan in Qatar through the eyes of an Expat

I can’t even find the words I feel to describe this time of year here.

It’s almost Ramadan and this will be my first time seeing it celebrated from a Muslim country.  Sure there are Muslims in the U.S.A that I know and yes they participate in Ramadan but I’m assuming it’s a little different from seeing it up close from the Middle East.

Since I am not Muslim, I will not try to educate you on the holiday but you can find more information by clicking here!  These are just my observations…

11/05/17 (This is the way the date is written over here: day/month/year)

2 weeks before Ramadan: Today my school had a small celebration called ‘Alnafla’.  I never heard of that before this week.  The way it was explained to me, it’s like a countdown to Ramadan.  The schools’ common areas were decorated, students wore their national dress and colors and brought in traditional food.  All week, students bought in donations for Syria as well.

15/5/17- A Qatari speaker came to my class today to talk with my students about Ramadan.  I couldn’t understand a thing they were saying but as they spoke in their native language, I grew a new found appreciation for the value this holiday must hold for them. I grew angry at how prayer has been taken out of the schools of my home country.  Qatar has such pride in their religion, how could prayer in schools be bad?  My students were so quiet at times and so engaged at others.  I only wished I could comprehend.

20/5/17- Yesterday would be the last alcoholic brunch until Ramadan, so I decided to accept an invitation from the BSoQ group I am a member of on Facebook and join them for brunch.  We went to Bubbalicious at the Westin.  It was my first time having brunch there and it was definitely a party.  People were yelling and dancing and alcohol was flowing.  There was even a soul train line going through the restaurant with a bunny.  I ate so much seafood and drank too much beer, wine and bubbly.  I met some really nice people and will be more actively involved with this group.  I had a ball hanging out with them.  We were the last to leave the brunch and me and another girl got in trouble because we thought it would be fun to abandon our heels and adulthood and jump in a bouncy house in the middle of the hotel.   Who does this?  I’ll tell you- two drunk girls who were just enjoying life.  In between being laughed at and recorded by a couple enjoying some food in the lobby and security waving us out, the air was let out of the bouncy house as well as the air out of our sails.   I just hoped our shenanigans wouldn’t land us in bigger trouble.  Afterwards we went to La Cigale hotel to smoke Shisha.  I had another engagement to attend with some coworkers, too tipsy to drive, so I left my car at the hotel valet and took an uber to the third affair of the day which was at the Radisson Blu hotel.  Since I was so late to that party, I hugged everyone, enjoyed another beer- you heard me- and we all hopped in a car headed someplace else.  One of my girlfriends picked up my car from the other hotel and drove it to their house.  After the fourth affair we went to my girlfriend Jennifer’s house where I crashed.

I usually do not drink that much because I hate over hangs and that is exactly what I had this morning.  As I drove home, I prayed that I’d make it home without throwing up into my handbag.   It was not one of my finer moments, but it was fun.  Needless to say, I probably will not be drinking again, any time soon, so the QDC (liquor store) can stop sending me text messages of the last day to purchase alcoholic beverages before the store closes for Ramadan- about a month.  Not today Satan.  I don’t need or want any of your spirits and fruits.  I wonder how many other people had a night like mine, trying to get that last celebration in before the holiday.

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New friends in Qatar
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Soul Train line with a bunny
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Getting done
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Having fun
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In the bouncy house. Don’t judge!

28/5/17- Ramadan Kareem or Ramadan Mubarak is how people greet each other during this special month.  (Sort of like Happy Easter or Merry Christmas)  Ramadan officially started yesterday.   I heard the sound of the Canon last night.  It is a way they communicate that it is time to break the fast for the day and Iftar may begin.

FYI:

  • During Ramadan, work hours are reduced for most people.  For us teachers, work starts at 8:00am and ends at 1:00pm.  This is also the school hours for students everyday except for Tuesday.  On Tuesday, students get out at 12:00 pm.  This is wonderful news.  No more getting up at 5:00am for the rest of the school year, 3 weeks to go! Today was the first day, unfortunately, my body is so used to getting up that at 5:15 am I had to use the bathroom.  I was so irritated at myself, but I managed to get back under the covers and fall asleep for another hour.  It was lovely.
  • Adults are not allowed to eat or drink in public, not even in their car, from sun-up to sun-down.  Many restaurants don’t even open.  Fortunately, you can order take away from some places and delivery from others.  You can get a fine if you are caught eating in public or even jail time, whether you are Muslim or not.  It’s about respect and consideration for those who are fasting.  You can eat and drink in private places, like your home.  Yesterday, I went to the nail salon and was surprised that I was offered coffee and tea.
  • Children below 4th grade generally are not required to fast but they can.   Of my 12 students that came to school today, 2 of them partook in lunch, the others claimed to be fasting.  I made it clear to them, not to judge those who were not.
  • In the evening, most families have a huge meal, called Iftar.  Some even give food away. Yesterday at the Corniche, police officers were giving away food.
  • I’ve heard that the malls stay open very late and if you go, it will be like Black Friday at 2 in the morning, as parents purchase gifts for their kids for the end of Ramadan celebration, called Eid.  I’ll let you know my experience when I go late at night.  My son and I went to ‘The Mall’ yesterday and it was an absolute ghost town.
  • It is such a delight seeing men run to the mosque for morning and evening prayer, some running into the mosque and some simply praying outside in groups.   I can’t even find the words I feel to describe this time of year here.   It is really something.

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Last night, my friend Jennifer held the first Iftar.  We enjoyed a light dinner and each other’s company.  I have 3 more Iftar’s that I will be attending this week including one with my job and another with friends from the BSoQ facebook group.  Ramadan is indeed a special time in Qatar.   Sadly, I will not be here to see the whole thing play through as I will be headed on some more adventures on my way home to the states.

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Ramadan Kareem everyone from Qatar!

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Apartment Hunting in Qatar

Everything in Qatar is different than home and the process of finding and securing a new place is no exception.  A few months ago, the company that I work for gave everyone the option of taking a housing allowance or be moved to a different accommodation.  Since we arrived we have been living in a very nice compound that is approximately a 15 minute drive to work.  This is very good for Qatar, since traffic can get extremely hectic.  I was a little nervous about being moved too far away and having a long commute to work.  So I considered taking the housing allowance.  I also took this as an opportunity to save some money, since the housing allowance is a nice amount and I was optimistic that I’d be able to find a place below that amount.  On the other hand, I didn’t really want to bother with renting and all that comes with that, that I know about, and all that I don’t know about in a foreign country.  In the end, money won, as well as other reasons, and I took the allowance. (without knowing everything first)

I haven’t had to look for a place to live in over 16 years.  I own my house in Philadelphia and I had forgotten how stressful it could be.  I haven’t had to look for a place alone in over 21 years.  At least I wasn’t the only one looking.  On top of this, the compound that we lived in, that we loved so much, had been sold and the new management turned off our wifi and our company knew nothing about this until I brought it to their attention.  I won’t bore you with the particulars, besides I just want to forget about that whole ordeal. It was very stressful in the beginning but like everything you learn to cope.  In the midst of searching for a new place, I actually got to navigate thru Doha and see some interesting accommodations.  The way they build some of these buildings makes no sense.  I saw one apartment where there were on-suites to both guest bedrooms but no connecting bathroom for the master bedroom.  I’ve seen shower heads with no bathtub or shower wall or door and kitchens so small that the refrigerator and stove were located some place else.  I’ve seen apartments with high floors, a kitchen as soon as you walk in with the bedrooms in the rear and no other way out if there was a fire in the kitchen except plunge to your death or be burned alive.  I’ve seen structural cracks being caulked over.  I’ve also seen huge houses with a kitchen outside and multiple rooms with no purpose, beautiful apartments across the street from slums, and places a stone’s toss away from a beach.  I think you get the point.

It came down to two places for me.  A beautiful newly built apartment with a 5 minute drive to work or a not so brand new beautiful apartment with a 30 minute ride to work. Would it surprise you to know that I didn’t pick the obvious choice?

Both apartments had pros and cons.  The first one was newly built with all new furniture and appliances and it included twice a week maid service.  It was literally 5 minutes away from work and much less expensive with all utilities included.  I could save over $1,000 a month in housing allowance alone, if I chose to.  But it had no frills.  Five minutes away from work meant at least 30 minutes away from everything else, like malls, restaurants, Ed City, etc… It did not have a gym or pool.  All the neighboring fitness centers were for men only and hubby and I love to work out together. The kitchen was a closet with tin drawers and no dish washer.  The bathrooms were even smaller closets, and well, here is a picture of what was supposed to be the shower.

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Yeah I couldn’t get passed the showers.  And new in a Doha does not always mean better; there is nothing to go on so you never know what you will get.  The other apartment is more expensive and electricity and water is not included.  This cuts my savings from my housing allowance more than half.  But the apartment is bigger and more modern with an open kitchen concept and a dishwasher.  It includes a bathtub, actual shower and washer and dryer.  The complex has a pool, steam room, gym and club house. Everything that I enjoy about Doha is literally within a 15 minute drive.  Parking is underground and I like the furniture.  I guess it came down to preference and to me, me and my husband’s comfort in a foreign country is very important.  When I come home from work, my home is my solace and refuge.  Also, I know quite a few people who currently reside there, so I had something to go on.

Accommodations in Doha are expensive.  I will be paying about $2400.00 a month in rent for a 2 bedroom, approximately 120sqm apartment, compared to about $800 in rent that I would have to pay in Philadelphia and the $750 I paid in mortgage monthly.  Crazy, right.  Our housing allowance is about $3,000.00 a month.

Most rental companies require the first month rent and one month security deposit due upon signing the lease.   Some even require a commission fee which is usually an additional half month.  This is because a lot of companies use realtors to show their place and the commission goes to them.  Also you will be required to give post dated checks for each month until the end of the contract.  Basically, I gave the rental company 13 checks, two current months and 11 future months.  Here’s the kicker, I don’t begin to get my housing allowance until I have completely vacated my current property.   So I had to pay the first month and security out of my pocket because I can’t move without having a place to stay. (I didn’t know that before I decided to go with the housing allowance). Lesson learned: find out all the info before accepting anything.

Anyway, I signed my lease starting June 1.  The landlord is nice enough to allow me to move in one week sooner.  This way I am sure to vacate before June 5th and hand over my keys, therefore meeting the deadline to receive my first housing allowance in my June pay.  This is what is supposed to happen, but this is Qatar and things usually don’t go like you plan, so fingers crossed.

Update 28/5/17:

I’ve moved.  You won’t believe how much I’ve accumulated in one year.  It’s definitely a downgrade from that big ole villa I had but home is what you make it, right?  Here are some pictures of my new apartment before I decorated it.

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