What my Qatari journey taught me

 

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

Doha, view to the modern West Bay

In my homeland Bulgaria I was raised among many different nationalities, religions and cultures. It taught me not to divide people by their skin colour, believes or traditions. Being a Christian, I consider myself luckier for not having any prejudice. On the contrary, I mainly aim to find the good in people. I used to think positive, by trying to understand the others, also not being scared by the unknown.

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

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

Two years later, after the start in Qatar, I realised it was a tough lesson, that gave me plenty of options to grow and to fix my idealistic visions. I am not allowed to describe in details what kind of job I did, but it was a position, related to VVIPs. I had the chance to receive first hand information, to meet and talk to people, who are usually tough to reach, to visit some remarkable places and to interact at 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, the Qatari period sounds like a fairytale. Those, who know the truth, were aware of the obstacles and difficulties I was forced to face. What’s for sure, I was surrounded by luxury and was able to afford some stuff. 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 a job to just pay your bills, mortgage, school fees. Should go 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 my spare time (if I had any), had to carefully watch my steps.

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

My daily routine was to solve issues, accompanied by plenty of struggles. In addition, the local mentality was not supportive at all. In regard to it, the women were welcome to stay at home, taking care of their kids and family. My situation, being quite highly positioned manager, who sets the standards, was kind of unusual and not very well accepted. I was directly told, being a female, my place is next to the oven. Well…it was a bit shocking, but I was challenged to overcome it. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a magical stick to just wave it and change this type of thinking. It took me about three months to prove myself and to make the same people respect me. Was a tough battle and I was ‘bleeding” daily.

At the same time, I met residents possessing unlimited credit cards and funds, but being completely unhappy, secretly crying, behaving cruelly to the others. They were used to fill up their useless days by shopping, because they had nothing else to do. By the way, Doha is “armed” by wonderful MALLs, open from 10 am to midnight (excluding Friday). I’ll post another particular article about The Shopping as a national sport in Qatar.

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 is Nepali, Bengali, Pakistani, a lot of South Africans, The number of Mid Asian ex Soviet republic 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, that 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 the job and the company. Without this paper, provided by the current employer, you won’t be allowed to apply and take another job. 95 % of the companies are reluctant to provide NOC, so if you don’t like the conditions, you have the only chance to resign and leave the country. If you are unhappy, but lucky, it’s possible to be terminated, which means fired, but the company should pay for your plane ticket back home.

The Pearl marina

Also the employees in Qatar, don’t have the right to go out of the country whenever they want. The only way to go out of Qatar is by plane. At the airport the passport control would stop you, if you are unable to provide exit permit from your Qatari employer. The employer should confirm you are allowed to officially leave the country.

In addition, before completing a year of work, no right to apply for a holiday. Highly restricted. The working time is minimum 10 hours a day, 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 differences. On the contrary. I dare to say they even taught me humility and kindness. I realised it’s not necessary to expose my body parts, life, thoughts, wishes or habits.

Lost sense of reality

Living in Qatar makes you lose your sense of reality. You find yourself 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 is back to you without any loss of money. It’s impossible your car to be stolen. Impossible someone to get into your house and to rob it.

St.Rigis hotel, Doha

So far, I have no information about intentional murders, completed in Qatar. If there is any, it’s probably once a year to once a two/three years. In case some 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. The expats do not dare to be crime tempted. Otherwise, they are going to lose the opportunity to work not only in Qatar, but in whole GCC ( the rest of the gulf countries).

A glimpse to the Qatari desert

All above is about to say the foreigners in Qatar get easily used to the safe environment. They shortly stop watching their belongings, money and personal safety. I know what you think right now – it’s amazing and sounds great. The drama comes when those people leave Qatar, on vacation or back to their homeland. I heard plenty of stories of lost money, stolen stuff, missing cars or attacked people, just because they forgot being cautious.

Temporary touch to wealthiness

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

Villaggio, the most luxurious Mall in Qatar, 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 Qatar, live and what kind of expenses they have to manage through quite different salaries. I felt embarrassed when my friends in UK were happy for saving 20 GBP, because they found a discounted item. Or when my brother in Spain considered my Christmas gift too generous.  My father was shocked that I am able to send him unexpected New Year’s Eve money present.

I am never pompous and never forget where I am coming from, but I should admit money is able to make you dizzy. It can easily force you to lose sense of reality or to place you in a fake one. Such reality exists only in Qatar. Out of there, everything is back to normal and there is an urgent need of put-downs.

Fake feeling of success

Working in Qatar doesn’t mean you are successful or on the top of your career. The country pushes you to the 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, to pay the mortgage of the condo/house, to provide the siblings education, to cover 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 harsh (especially the Europeans). Such people resign in a month time and never look back. Others do their best, but despite that they are not meant to stay and get the very famous in Qatar termination. To be terminated means, your contract was suddenly cancelled and you were forced to leave the country within 24 hours.

Museum of Islamic Art, the pride of Qatar

I witnessed lots of terminations and realised the termination happens not necessarily because the employee did a mistake or was incompetent. On the contrary. Many incompetent people managed to stay. If someone doesn’t like you, you were gossiped or reported to the management, the risk to be kicked out is real. We have a saying: “Just a little stone is able to turn the car”. It’s applicable to Qatar.

The gondolier with his clients in Villaggio Mall

The easiest action in Qatar is the termination. The employees are not considered an asset, especially when many others are waiting at “the doorstep” to replace them. I saw people kicked out for being arrogant liars and they deserved it. But also I know people, who were victimised with no reason. I can recall cases of at least 10 high level managers, who felt quite safe, valuable and successful at their positions. Then suddenly, they were terminated with no explanation. Being terminated, bans you to work in Qatar for a couple of years. After the two year ban is over, 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 not very high yet. Nowadays the local youth is keen to study and work, but it is still in a process and will take time. Generally, you face the current state of not well educated people, with a limited horizon, driven by their belief and traditions, but having lots of money.

Typical traffic sign in Doha

A high positioned Qatari told me once in a private conversation – if it depends on him, he will kick all the foreigners/expats out of his country. My reasonable question was: ‘Who is going to work then?”

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

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

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

When I mentioned birth, it reminded me another case. It doesn’t matter how many years you work and live in Qatar, but you will never get a Qatari passport. Actually having a Qatari passport is not a big deal,  because the Qatari passport needs visa to everywhere. It’s a negligible fact for the Europeans, but not for the poor countries representatives on site. Even if an expat’s kid was born in Qatar, the chance to get Qatari citizenship is zero.

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

The law is very well structured to prevent any expats rights application. It’s clever, because millions of foreigners, work in Qatar and they are the majority in the country. In addition, there are benefits, applicable only to the locals. They do not pay for utilities – 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, likely the foreigner would be considered guilty. If you are sick, cannot breathe, feel miserable, not able to stand at your feet, the risk to put you in a wheel chair and just forget you in the corridor of the hospital (my own experience in Hamad hospital) is really high. At the same time the Qatari women, who do not look sick at all, have the advantage of getting healthcare (again my own experience, experienced in person).

Reading all above, you may already have a wrong impression of Qatar like a horrible place. But it’s not. As I said in my very first sentence, I love Qatar. All above were facts and observations. I was thrilled any time coming back to Doha, after a business trip completion abroad. I felt at my place in Doha. It was easy for me to adapt and keep being flexible. Yes, I eventually quit, but Qatar will always remain a significant moment in my life with plenty of good memories.

 

 

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