I arrived at Hamad International Airport at the crack of dawn on Thursday, 21st April 2016 armed with three large luggages and the enthusiasm of someone who’s never lived away from home. Along with at least four other girls who were to be my batch mates at my new employment, we waited for a couple more to arrive before bundling up in a small ‘school bus’, beginning our two-hour long session of formalities.
Through the hustle and bustle of stepping into my apartment for the first time, and meeting my flatmate who was also to be my batch mate, then rushing out to explore what Doha has to offer i.e. first stop shopping at City Centre, the reality of having left home and being completely alone hadn’t hit me yet.
It did, however, slapped me right in the feels when I was alone in my dark, bare room (WIFI-less by the way), lying on top of an ill-fitting bedsheet with a single miserable pillow to rest my head and listening to the loud hum of the air conditioning unit.
Intan, what did you just do?
The first few days were tough. We arrived right when summer was beginning and was dry, dusty and scorching hot. We were to learn it was only going get hotter. Nobody walks during summer — even to the supermarket a 10-minute walk away — preferring to hop on a taxi and pay a standard starting fare of 10 Qatari riyals. We went into every Starbucks or Coffee Bean in sight to leech off their wifi because we neither had data on our company-issued sim cards nor has the wifi been installed back in our apartments because we were the first tenants there. #firstworldproblems
The next two months were a routine of work, sleep and groceries every Fridays; rinse, wash and repeat. Our apartments have WIFI, so we were FINALLY connected to the rest of the world. Souq Waqif was the hang out place for us because we didn’t know where else to go before our 11 pm curfew and Villagio was an accomplishment because it was so far away. Navigating back to our accommodation was another chore for the little roads were so confusing and all the buildings looked the same.
Ramadhan in Qatar. The temperature only got higher, so I mostly stayed indoors with the air conditioning turned up full blast if I wasn’t out working. Government office hours were till 2.30 PM, and malls had split opening hours: mornings from 10 AM- 12 PM then 7.30 PM to midnight or 1 AM on weekends. Imposed conservative dress codes on the public were stricter during this month. All bars and clubs in hotels are closed.
July – September 2016
Just when I thought Singapore’s tropical climate was tiresome, Doha during the height of summer was way worse. Stepping out of the aircraft one humid night was comparable to stepping into a giant sauna with all your clothes on. The air was hot and heavy, our skins sticky from sweat and all we wanted to do was to get indoors and into a shower as soon as humanly possible. Unfortunately, the water tanks for our building are located on the roof hence full on exposure to the sun’s merciless heat. I prefer taking a shower in the dead of the night because during the day the water from the shower comes imported straight from Mordor (i.e. scorching lava hot) no matter which way you turned the tap.
In September was the first and only time I had a visitor from Singapore. My dear friend Ummar chose the hottest, stickiest and most humid day to come, but together we braved the summer heat and explored what little Doha had to offer. I enjoyed seeing him getting confused about a lot of things I already started to get used to here: private ‘limousines’ that aren’t actually swanky limousines; how one had to be firm with the taxi drivers in order not to get ripped off even though the fares are metered, and going to the movies are really expensive.
Of course, when you’re in the Middle East, you have to sit down with a cup of karak tea (or some ice cold juice) and smoke some shisha. In Singapore 10 people had to crowd around one shisha because it was like SGD30 per set, while in Doha we could each enjoy an entire bottle to ourselves for 30 riyals (~SGD11). So suck ’em all up while it lasts.
October – December 2016
Finally, the hot weather spell breaks signifying the beginning of the cold season in Qatar. When colleagues and friends said that it’ll get ‘more than sweater weather’ cold in Doha, I hadn’t believed them. Their words rang true as in the beginning of November, Doha days turned bearable, and the nights cool and balmy.
Qatar took every opportunity of the cool weather to lure people out. Many outdoor festivals and markets popped up like daisies around this time. Picnics at the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) Park were common; I spent a couple of my off days lazing at The Backyard at Sheraton, enjoying the garden and the view of the sea at the same time.
Some nights the temperature dipped to 8 degrees, and in rolls the fog making visibility close to zero. Out comes the hazard lights and slow, crawling traffic; the roads felt like I was on a set of Silent Hill.
This was also my first introduction to Reddotters@Qatar. I attended the belated Eid and Lantern festival dinner at the Marriott Marquis Doha. This was where I was acquainted to people from all walks of life but shared one thing in common: we are Singaporeans. It was damn shiok to finally be able to unleash the Singlish and have people understand thoughts we can’t accurately put across in proper English.
January – March 2017
Even though my batch mates and I mostly live in the same building, our conflicting schedules made it extremely difficult to plan something big. Our plans began after bumping into each other along the corridors, and comparing off days, then roping in anyone and everyone who happened to be in Doha at a particular time. One weekday afternoon we decided to hop into a cab and headed off 45 minutes away from Doha to the newly opened Mall of Qatar. Like most of the other malls in Qatar it was air conditioned to suit polar bears, but the wide array of shops and restaurants impressed me. Come on, why travel all the way to the US when you can have the Cheesecake Factory here in Doha? Hahahaha, who am I kidding?
Winter isn’t when snow falls in Qatar, it’s the time for showers. When it rains, it absolutely pours. Unfortunately, the lesser developed areas away from the city centre aren’t built for rainy weather thus making driving and even walking on the roads almost impossible. The lack of proper drainage left the roads waterlogged and I’ve seen people using creative ways just to cross that 10-metre ankle deep murky waters to get to the other side. On some mornings, a large truck comes by to suck out the water from the streets because whoever planned this place never thought of the chaos that comes when rain pours in the desert. But it does create opportunities for more house gatherings.
The downside about living in Qatar is that the relationships we have with the people we meet here are transient. Some people leave Qatar for greener pastures, others return home or move on to other parts of the world. New faces stream in, and we begin again. But no matter the duration, I’m glad to have met them, shared stories with them and go out for ‘makan’ with them. Wherever you go, one of the biggest factors to a place is their people. I am who I am, as settled in Doha as I am today because of these people.
As April came and went, my batch mates and I congratulated each other for surviving a full year in Qatar away from our loved ones back home. Day by day temperatures rise, I have to bid farewell to the pleasant weather I got to enjoy the past few months and brace myself for the heat yet again. Also the air conditioning unit in my bedroom died, right when it’s starting to get unbearably warm indoors, forcing me to set up a camp in the living room much to my flatmates’ amusements. How wonderful.
A year ago I came to Qatar with three luggages, knowing absolutely nobody here in a foreign land. I was excited, terrified and hopeful at the same time. I was new to the work away from home club a lot of the people I know have been doing for a long time. Today I can look back and say, ‘Well done Intan, you’ve managed to survive a full year living away from home. You’re a big girl now.‘
But every time I step into the arrival halls of Singapore Changi Airport and see the big ‘WELCOME HOME’ on the screen above the automatic clearance gates, it’s always a bittersweet feeling to have a place to come home to.