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!

More good things to know

Things I’ve discovered along the way.

Get the Metrash App for your phone upon arrival.  After you get your RP go to OOREDOO and register your phone with your RP.  After a few days, try to register on the Metrash app. From what I know so far, because I am still waiting for my phone registration to go through, there are several things you use Metrash for: request an exit Permit for your sponsored family members, find out if you have traffic fines, etc… Check a later post for more details on this. Also find out if the phone companies offer discounts for your company.

Update: I moved from mobile service with OOREDOO to Vodafone because they offered discounts to QF employees.

Update: You need Metrash, download it immediately.

Purchase the Entertainer app. You can also purchase the book but the app is cheaper and more convenient.  It’s $65.00 USD.  It is more beneficial to purchase this closer to the beginning of the year since it is good for the year.  It includes coupons for many things. I used two of the bogo dinner deals in one weekend.  It’s well worth it.  I made my money back in two days. I only wish I had began using it sooner. Update: I used it to book a two night stay in Dubai.  BOGO at the JW Marriott Marquis, a savings of over $200.00.  I am working on a BOGO deal for a room in the Maldives.

I went to the QDC (Qatar Distribution Center) for the first time on Wednesday around 4pm. It wasn’t crowded at all.  It is where you can purchase liquor and pork.  Here is the process (but remember it may be different tomorrow).   You have to request a letter from your employer (employee relations).  The letter basically gives permission for you to purchase liquor and states that they are your employer, and that you are not Muslim and how much you make.  Once you get your letter, you take it along with your RP to Qatar Distribution Company where they will send you upstairs.  Once upstairs they will take your picture and issue you a permit to purchase.  You have to give them $1,000 QAR deposit made through your debit/credit card. You can get your deposit back once you bring your ID back.  Darryl and I both were issued permits.  Since I am his sponsor, we only had to pay one deposit.  At the QDC, I purchased 1 bottle of Martini and Rossi, 6 Coronas, 1 bottle of Jack Daniels Whiskey for a friend, Malibu rum, 2 bottles of Pinot Noir and 1 bottle of Pinot Grigio for a friend, 2 bottles of sweet red wine, and 1 bottle of pink moscato for me, 2 packages of pork bacon for the boys. The total was QAR 736.60 which equals $203 USD.  This after I received a 20% discount for purchasing 6 bottles of wine.  There is a lot of variety.  Not too bad ‘EY’.

Update as of Feb 2017: Now you pay a certain amount per year for your license, no more 1,000 QAR deposit.

Get involved in groups.  Doha Foodies is a good group on FB.  I work with the administrator and she is fantastic.  In this group are many suggestions of where to eat in Doha.  Another good one is Buying and Selling Doha.  Join Qatar Living online.  It is a very informative website and you can find vehicles for sale on this site.

Download Waze for directions.  You will get lost.  Download Uber to take you around. Download Talabat for food delivery services and Zomato for reviews.  Get a good conversion app, for obvious reasons.

Purchase shoes with thick soles.  I brought some flats here with me, but the soles have worn out.  I bought some Birkenstocks recently.  I caught a good BOGO1/2 price but they also offer discounts for QF employees.

You may have to shop at several food markets to get everything you want.  Géant is located across from the Villagio mall in the Hyatt shopping plaza and is pretty good.  Also the Megamart near C ring road, behind the KFC is also really good for finding American brands and vegan choices.  I’ve also heard about a place called Spinneys and Monoprix but I haven’t been to either yet.  Al Meera is close to me, so I go there for quick visits.  Lulu’s is big and sells veggie crumbles.  Also they don’t sell cilantro as cilantro; it is sold as fresh Coriander.