Deployments turned summer vacation in Qatar
While I was in Qatar, the ISIS news has just made headlines. So it’s pretty understandable why many shy away from visiting the country. Especially it being in the Middle East, and even worst, being relatively close to the Afghanistan. Of course I too had my own apprehensions about being there. I serve in the US military, so I basically volunteered to go there.
On base, there is nothing but sand, dull buildings (painted the same color as the sand) and combatants and our tools for democracy.\nTry seeing only this for a whole six months or even a year. Luckily I was able to go off base to see the country, and paint a much more vivid picture of what this nation was, other than another assignment I must have my boots touch ground. Here is a short summery of my experience in Qatar. I have stories, but I’ll focus on the culture and the interesting characters I met locally while I was there.
The outskirts of Doha City is mostly sand and buildings/massive square buildings that serves as homes to the wealthy. They say that you can tell that a building is a home if there is a wall around it, I guess it helps keep prying eyes from getting into their business. You can tell if someone is really rich if there are a lot of greenery in the property.\nAround 80% of the population are immigrants, and being a Filipino, it was easy for me to blend in. Most of the people I have met are really friendly regardless of what gender or nationality you are; this is contrary to what I was lead to believe by all that briefings I had to endure before I get to leave the base. \nI was there during the summer, so it was hot and humid majority of the time I was there. So if you are ever going that way bring a good pair of sunglasses that could keep the sun and sand out of your eyes, buy a bottle of sun block and wear a lot of cotton. Occasionally there would be windy days, and on those days the skies would be dark and the same color of the ground. Dust storms were the Bain of my existence there, I felt like I had a kilo of sand in my lungs by the time I got home. On days like that, you rarely see anyone out and about on the streets, most stay in the shops or don’t go out at all.
Speaking of shops, that is I what I frequented while I was out there. So if you like to shop and explore like me here are a few tips about roaming around Doha:Haggle! Usually I could get it close to half the asking price compared to what my colleagues would pay for (hence the reason why I’m always tagging along with the trips to the city). Or if you see a bunch of stuff you like, bundle it up. By this I mean ask them to give you at least a 25% discount of the stuff you bought. For instance, a scarf is typically 30 Riyals a piece, but because I haggled a bit, I could get it down to 20, but because I’m buying a dozen, they gave me the whole bunch for only 115 Riyals (9.58/pc). See what I what I mean? Anyways, I does get some getting used to but it becomes a habit and a great sport. Honestly I still haggle now that I’m back here at home.\nAlso, it may be a little risky, but explore the outer sides of the souq. Souq Waqif is a big place, and there are a lot of little shops that will give you a great price. However, there are other souqs in the area that will give you a better variety for even cheaper. Across the street from the souq, you will see the national masque. That area was my favorite place to visit once I learned about it. Why? That is where all the locals went for cheap but good meals and commodities. I found “Super Soft” Furry blankets to fake Beats (I never buy those, real or fake), and even gold bullions in that area (they are actually sold by the national bank in that area, so it’s real).
There is actually a place nearby called the “Gold Souqs”. It’s an eye popping place to go. If you get a chance to go, GO. I saw a full sleeved dress made out of gold there. I asked if it was real, and of course it was. Even walking up to the place was surreal. The streets were lined with shops that sold nothing but gold jewelry. Are they cheap? It depends on what you’re trying to buy. Most visitors like myself, like to order customized pendants, necklaces or rings made. Gold is cheaper in Qatar, or at least jewelry is. Probably because there are tons of shops that makes jewelry there, plus there are no big brand names associated with them. But it’s real gold all the same. There are also a bunch of fresh water pearl shops around. Never buy “salt water” pearls there, because they never really have any in that area. If they say they do, walk away. \nIf you want to go on a food trip and try exotic food and local delicacies, the Souq Waqif is the place to go. Many will tell you there are other places to see and try, which is true. The malls are pretty and all, heck the Villaggio Mall in Doha, even has gold nuggets cemented with the marble tiles of the floor. The mall makes you feel like you are back home, because it’s so westernized. Sure it’s cool and all, and the food are great and at time even better than what they serve at home, but you only get to experience a country once in a while so I prefer going to the Souqs. It’s easy to hop from one shop to the next, and there are a lot of street food to try. For tourist destinations, I recommend Damascus for Syrian Cuisine, and Jasmine’s for Thai Food. Yes, I said Thai. It’s actually pretty good. Mind you those places arte a bit pricey. Just walk a few doors down the way, and you will find other places, for cheaper. But out of all the places, these are my favorites. Street food wise, get the rice and chicken. They serve it in aluminum trays with covers for takeout. I never could remember what it was, but they also sold crepe looking treats on the streets, and they were the bomb. They make it in from of you. The fillings are either egg and cheese, cheese and honey or honey and cheese. My favorite was the honey and egg. Sounds weird? Yes it does, but it was actually really good. Snack shops are everywhere, so try them if you can and willing to. Just to pig out and hang out by the pool, go to the hotels, they serve a mean buffet and you can hang out by the pool or the beach. There are fees to use the got to the pool and beach, but it’s rather cheap (more or less $100/day) considering you can also go to their spa for a massage after a swim.
One last thing, try their tea. No matter how hot it is, a hot tea is pretty refreshing. I honestly don’t know why, but it is.’,’Driving in Qatar is pretty challenging if you are used to people staying in their lanes and intersections with traffic lights. I needed to use my GPS a lot, because the streets are just mazes to me when i first got there. But once you get familiarized of the place, you soon learn that everything is pretty close to each other and just a straight shot away from the bay. Most of the intersections are bounded to roundabouts, and there are really no rules on the road other from don’t crash your car. With this in mind, it’s no wonder why I traffic can be hellish during rush hour. A 30 min drive could become a 2 hour drive if you get caught in traffic. They also have cabs there, but I prefer to drive, as many are not too fluent in English. Also as a female, if you are taking a cab by yourself, your driver is required to also be a female.\n\nI liked to walk around as much as i can, but you have to be very careful crossing the streets there. There are cross walks in teh mains streets, but the smaller streets and round about areas don’t have any. So you may need to find a less optimal way of crossing the street every now and then.’,’Can’t tell you much about it, other than I had AC in my room and a cafeteria that kept me fed. We had a couple of gyms and mini malls to keep us entertained, but it was nothing compared to the city.
Just be mindful of your surroundings and learn about the culture before going out. Like don’t wave at people with your left hand and try not to show the bottom of your feet, as these are considered a sign of disrespect. During Ramadan, shops would be closed for the day, but they spring back to life around 5pm. During this time of the year, you may want to steer clear from visiting. the traffic jams are worst, and people can become pretty cranky. As a woman, there is no need to wear head covering, but don’t execute the hand shake towards the opposite sex. Most people are not so conservative, but it’s safe to be cautious of your actions, than to offend anyone there. Also, if you do shake hands with the locals there, they tend to hold on for a while. It’s their way of showing they like you. It’s awkward, so if you want to break away without offending anyone, just let double grasp then break away to point at anything you can think of to segue your conversation. In terms of photography, most people don’t mind, but try not to take photos of women in full black burkas, Some may consider that really offensive. Just saying, but keep your camera handy, and your phone/GPS fully charged, this place was a blast to explore.