What my Qatari journey has taught me (Part 1)

I can confidently say I love Qatar. Qatar was the journey of my life, which completely switched my thinking and changed my point of view. It opened my eyes, enlarged my horizons and pushed me to the limit. When I have begun that trip, I had no idea what to expect, but it definitely overjumped my bravest expectations. Unfortunately not only for better.

Doha, view to the modern West Bay

In my homeland Bulgaria I have been raised among so many different nationalities, religions and cultures, that I have never divided people by their skin colour, believes or traditions. Being a Christian, I consider myself lucky not having any prejudice and aim to find the good in people. I used to think positive, trying to understand the others, not being scared of what is unknown to me.

The camels in Qatar are an important part of the local culture, almost worshiped during the annual camel race

This brief introduction comes to say that I arrived in Doha, Qatar with an open mind, ready to quickly adapt, to accept what suits me and try to avoid what doesn’t. I was also excited, because of my just freshly signed labour contract, providing me the opportunity to earn really good money and solve some home related issues.

Two years later, after I started working in Qatar, I realised it was a tough lesson, but also gave me plenty of opportunities to grow and fix my idealistic views. My loyalty doesn’t let me explain in details what exactly was my job, but it was a pretty high position, related to VVIPs. So I had the chance to see and get information from very first hand, to meet and talk to people, who are usually tough to reach, to visit some remarkable places and to interact on a level I have never been before.

Night view to The Pearl, the most expensive and luxurious neighbourhood in Doha

For most of my friends, my Qatari period sounds like a fairytale, but those, who know the truth, are aware of the obstacles and difficulties I was forced to face. What’s for sure, I was surrounded by luxury, was able to afford a lot and never had any financial issues. And suddenly, I woke up and looked through. Lets’ start with the tough lessons.

Money doesn’t buy happiness

I know it’s hard to believe it. I have an idea what’s the feeling when you need to work just to pay for your bills, mortgage, school fees, must head daily to an office you prefer to stay away from. But let me tell you, sometimes to earn big money makes you pay big price. I worked 12 to 16 hours a day, with a questionable day off, no time for private life, no chance to organise spare time (if there is any), had to carefully watch myself not to make any wrong step.

Inside a Qatari hospital. The medical equipment is 5 star too.

Also solving issues daily, but struggling because of a widely spread male type of mentality, which doesn’t accept your managerial skills, neither position. I have been told directly, that being a female, my place is pregnant in the kitchen. Well…was a bit shocking, but magical stick to just wave and change this type of thinking doesn’t exist. It took me about three months to prove myself and make same people respect me. Was a tough battle and I was ‘bleeding” daily.

At the same time, I met people with unlimited credit cards, who are completely unhappy, crying secretly, being mean to the others and filling their useless time by shopping, just because they have nothing else to do. BTW Doha is “armed” by beautiful MALLs, open from 10 am till midnight (excluding Friday). I’ll post another particular article about Shopping as a national sport in Qatar a bit later.

New Doha buildings style

I am not sure how much you know about Qatar. Most of the citizens live in the capital Doha, about 2,3 million people. Only 400 000 of them are native Qatari. The rest, about 2 million are expatriates, working in the richest (officially listed) country in the world. About 700 000 Indians, 400 000 Filipinos, the rest are Nepali, Bengali, Pakistani, a lot of South Africans, The number of Mid Asia ex Soviet republics workers is increasing daily, also some Europeans, Australians and Americans.

Restrictive labour law 

Qatar has the most restrictive labour law in the world. Coming to the country, you should work under the sponsorship of the company which approved you for the job position. If you are not happy with your job, it’s unlikely to change it. NOC (Non objection certificate) is required to change your job and company. Without this document, provided by your current employer, you won’t be allowed to apply and take another job. 95 % of the companies are reluctant of providing NOC, so if you don’t like the conditions, you have the only chance to resign. If you are unhappy but lucky, could be also terminated (which means the company will pay your plane ticket back home).

The Pearl marina

Also being an employee in Qatar you don’t have any right to leave the country whenever you want. The only way to go out of Qatar is by plane. The passport control at the airport will stop you, if you cannot provide an exit permit from your Qatari employer, officially letting you leave the country.

Also before completing a year work, you have no right to apply for holiday. So, in fact, you are highly restricted. Work no less than 10 hours a day (as a minimum), one day off ( if possible) Friday and lots of other attitude restrictions, because of the local culture. It was not a problem for me to follow and accept the local cultural requirements. On the contrary. I dare to say they taught me humility and kindness. I realised it’s not necessary to expose my body parts, life, thoughts, wishes or habits. So that was the little evil.

Lost sense of reality

Living in Qatar makes you lose your sense of reality. You find yourself being highly protected (Qatar is one of the safest countries in the world with almost zero crime). Even if you lose your wallet, someone will find it and keep it, till it comes back to you without any loss of money. It’s impossible your car to be stolen. Impossible someone to get into your house and rob.

St.Rigis hotel, Doha

So far, I have no information about intentional murders in Qatar. If there is any, it’s probably one a year to one a two/three years. In case some insignificant random thieves were caught, they were terminated and kicked out of the country immediately, with no right of new entry.

Most of the working non- Qatari population is coming from very poor countries and it’s a matter of life or death to stay and earn money. So people do not dare being crime tempted. Otherwise, they are going to lose the opportunity not only to work in Qatar, but in whole GCC ( the rest of the gulf countries).

A glimpse to the Qatari desert

All above is about to say that expats in Qatar easily get used to the safe environment, stop watching for their belongings, money and personal safety. I know what you are thinking right now – it’s absolutely amazing and sounds great. The drama comes when those people go out of Qatar, on vacation or back to their homelands. I heard plenty of stories for lost money, stolen stuff, cars or attacked people just because they forgot being cautious.

Temporary touch to wealthiness

The other horrible threat is being “rich” in Qatar. The salaries are really high, compared with the rest of the world, so you are encouraged or tempted to spend money. It’s likely to easily pay 10 000 Qatari Riyals (about 3000 USD) for 5 days vacation on Bali, Indonesia per person. Or 2000 to 4000 QR (1100 USD) for a pair of shoes. Or easily rent an expensive car (5500 QR a month).

Villaggio, the most luxurious Mall in Qatar up to now, built as a copy of Venice, Italy with water channels and gondoliers

The type of life makes you forget how the other people out of the country live and what kind of expenses they have to manage through their quite different salaries. I felt embarrassed when my friends in UK have been happy of saving 20 GBP because they found a discounted item, or when my brother in Spain considered my Christmas gift too generous, or my father was shocked that I am able to send him unexpected New Year’s Eve money.

I have never been pompous and have never forgotten where I am coming from, but need to admit money can make you dizzy. They can easily force you to lose sense of reality or put you in a fake one. This reality exists only in Qatar. Out of there everything is back to normal life. There is an urgent need of put-downs.

Fake feeling of success

Working in Qatar doesn’t mean you are successful or have reached the top of your abilities. The country pushes to your limit and you have to do your best if you are willing to stay. Everyone is willing to stay. At least in the beginning and at least for a couple of years.  To collect some money, or to pay the mortgage of their condo/house, or to provide their siblings education, or to recover some loans/loss of money

Night view to West Bay, Doha from 55-th floor Strata

Some of the new arrivals are not able to cope with the local environment, which they consider too tough (especially the Europeans). Such people resign in a month and never look back. Others do their best, but sometimes they are not meant to stay, becoming a victim of very famous in Qatar termination. To be terminated means your contract was suddenly cancelled and you were forced to leave the country in the next 24 hours.

Museum of Islamic Art, the pride of Qatar

I witnessed lots of terminations and learned the termination happens not necessarily because you have done a mistake or are incompetent. On the contrary. So many incompetent people managed to stay. If someone doesn’t like you, you were gossiped or a colleague of yours reported you to the management, the chance to be kicked out is upcoming. We have a saying: “Just a little stone is able to turn the car”.

The gondolier with his clients right in the Villaggio Mall

The easiest thing in Qatar is to be terminated. The employees are not an asset, especially when many others are waiting on the doorstep to replace them. I saw people kicked out for being arrogant liars and they deserved it. But also people who were victimised with no reason. I can recall at least 10 high level managers, who felt quite safe, valuable and successful at their positions and suddenly were terminated with no explanation. Being terminated, prevents you to work in Qatar for the next two years but after this period you could apply back for a job. So it’s not the end of the world.

Generator of arrogance

The level of education in Qatar is still not very high. Nowadays the young people are more willing to study and work, but it is still in a process and will take time. Generally, you face the local situation of not well educated people, with limited horizon, driven by their belief, never traveled, but…owning lots of money.

Typical traffic sign in Doha

I won’t forget when a high positioned Qatari shared his opinion in a private conversation – if depends on him, he will kick out all the foreigners/expats out of his country. My reasonable question was: ‘Then who is going to work in here?”

The locals could be very friendly if you are just a tourist, but it’s quite different if you are an employee. I witnessed horribly treated people, non stop offended and called names. The simple local thinking is: “I know you are here to make money, then I can do whatever I want with you”.

The entrance to another remarkable place in Doha – best beach and sport activities

The sad truth is the expats stand and accept being commanded by ignorant individuals, just because the ignorance holds the money. Unfortunately most of the locals have no idea how ridiculous their behaviour is, they just believe it’s their right by birth.

When I mentioned birth, it reminds me it doesn’t matter how many years you have worked and lived in Qatar, you will never get Qatari passport (which is not a big deal, Qatari passport needs visa to everywhere). For the expats from the poor countries it’s not a very encouraging news. Even if your kid was born in Qatar, no chance at all to get citizenship.

The traditional Qatari DHOW boats. There is a very famous annual Dhow festival in November

The law is very well structured to prevent application of any rights, required by the million of foreigners, working in Qatar. The locals are the ones who never pay for water, electricity and cooling. The foreigners do. If there is a traffic accident (which is something common in Doha) and the other car is driven by a Qatari national, more likely the foreigner will be considered guilty. If you are sick, cannot breathe, feel miserable, not able to stand at your feet, the chance to put you in a wheel chair and just forget you in the corridor of the hospital (my own experience) is really high, while local Qatari women walking firmly, have an advantage for healthcare.

Reading all above you may already have a wrong impression of Qatar like a horrible place. Not really. As I said in my very first sentence, I love Qatar. All above are facts and observations. I was thrilled any time coming back to Doha from a business trip abroad. I felt at very my place in Doha and was easy for me to adapt and keep being flexible. Yes, I eventually resigned, but Qatar will always remain a significant point in my life with plenty of good memories.

See you next time to tell you more about the benefits and positive experience in my DohaQatari journey.


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