Meeting Expats in Qatar... eventually
|Published:||12 Jun at 3 PM|
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This posting was different for several reasons, I was the only expat working for the company, I would be living alone in an apartment owned by the sponsor, I would be organizing my own messing, laundry and housekeeping, none of those a problem individually, but as a new arrival in a new country my first task would be trying to get information and assistance from longer term residents .
First problem, I didn’t know anyone in Qatar, this was long before the internet made things a lot easier, secondly the country was officially ‘dry’ so I couldn’t find a pub where expats socialized and hopefully gain some first-hand local knowledge, thirdly the project I was employed to develop was managed by Koreans and staffed totally by TCNs, Third Country Nationals, Indians, Pakistanis, Thais and Phillipinos. All friendly enough and as helpful as possible but as they were living quite an isolated existence on accommodation camps they were not in possession of the more specialized information I required.
I needed a laundry, a houseboy, a TV, a satellite system, a telephone, the location of markets for fruit, vegetables, fish, chicken, meat, plus basics, bread, milk, tea, coffee….and the most essential of food groups …….beer.
The sponsor should have been a help with some of those but he was as new to the situation as me, it was down to driving around looking for likely looking buildings and locations, should have been easy enough, but even this was hampered as I was in the process of setting up the infrastructure of the project and seemed to be on call twenty four seven. In retrospect I should have just asked to be transferred to a hotel but I have to admit I rather liked the idea of self-catering and apartment living. I’d spent a lot of time in hotels on previous contracts where the workforce went to the same project office every day, lived in the same hotel, ate in the same restaurant and relaxed in the same bars, in those close confines minor irritations rapidly become major problems, no I fancied a bit of ‘home alone’.
One month in and I was thoroughly bored, I’d seen a few other expat families in the city’s one and only supermarket, done the usual, nodded ‘Hi’ and carried on searching for Heinz Baked Beans and HP Sauce. I’d found all the local fresh produce outlets I needed, engaged a houseboy who handled laundry as well as cleaning duties. I had my TV rigged up and was receiving the fledgling forerunners of ESPN etc. I’d purchased a VCR and found a supplier of good quality pirate tapes, but you can only watch the Anthony Hopkins/Mel Gibson version of ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ so many times…maybe forty …fifty…all bachelor posted expats know exactly why!
But still no beer and no telephone, little did I know how interlinked they would be.
In desperation I contacted the British Embassy ‘yes’ they had a list of officially sanctioned clubs and religious outlets ‘no’ they didn’t know any underground pubs, however they did have a small library of paperbacks that I could borrow from. I read Hemmingway and watched ‘The Bounty’……again.
Six weeks now and I was beginning to despair, the workforce were gregarious and a very likeable bunch of lads, I was invited to watch or take part in basketball, cricket and volleyball games, and whilst enjoyable, to me they were all activities that desperately needed to be complemented with a cold beer afterwards.
I’d found that there was a social club attached to the National Oil Company, but access was strictly ‘invitation only’ there was also a rugby club which appeared to be even more difficult to get an invite to, I wasn’t bothered about the drink, I just wanted a ‘life’.
I tried visiting hotel swimming pools on a Friday, all deserted in the midday sun, I rapidly tired of paying exorbitant prices for ‘non-alcoholic’ cocktails and bought another copy of ‘Mutiny’…..where was everyone?
On discovering that all the other apartments in my block were still vacant, I bought a very good quality Yamaha Jumbo guitar with a pick-up, an amplifier, a set of speakers, a microphone and stand then learnt the Filipino Eagles Songbook by heart, the book was borrowed from one of the Pinoy guys and featured classics such as ‘Hotel Calibornia’ ‘Lie in ice’ and ‘Ticket Easy’……
After a two month wait my apartment telephone was connected, at last, communication with the outside world…..the handset sat staring at me in mute silence as Mel and Liam Neeson exchanged banter in the South Pacific.
Early Thursday night, a jug of ice lemon tea, Fletcher Christian yelled at Bligh and I was halfway through yet another rendition of ‘House of the Rising Sun’ when it happened… the phone rang……… I managed to entangle myself in previously inanimate guitar and speaker leads in my haste to respond……
An English voice…and not only that, an English voice with a distinct Northern accent.
‘You still at home?’
‘Yes, of course, where else would I be…..?’
‘At the darts match… is where you should be…..’
‘Yes… you know, round board, throw arrows, Jocky at the ocky, a hundred and eighty and all that….darts remember now?’
‘I know what a dart board is but a darts match? …….who is this?’
‘Wait a minute…who’s this?’
‘I asked first’
‘What number is this?’
‘You dialed it you should know…..my turn….who are you?’
‘The Fire Brigade’
‘Aye well this is Santa’s Grotto head elf speaking’
‘No ….this is the Fire Brigade stop buggering about’
‘I’m getting the impression you think I’m someone else’
‘Brummie Mark? …..no it isn’t is it…..wait a minute….you sound like a fellow émigré from the North East’
‘I am that’ I introduced myself as ‘just Joe’ and he reciprocated…
’Fred the Fireman’.
’ ….and now what’s this about a darts match?
‘Tonight….The House at Pooh Corner versus the Fire Brigade’
‘Sorry, the sewage works versus the airport firefighting training group….do you play darts?
‘I certainly do’
‘We’re short handed….daft Mark probably had a skinfull in the afternoon …..wanna come’
‘Do Pooh Bears pooh in the woods?’
Directions were given and despite the fact it was less than 5kms from my accommodation, it took me an hour to find the place.
The venue was a converted apartment with blacked out windows, no outside signs or indications, inside it was a British Pub with three dart boards and a pool table.
I was quickly registered as a ‘member’ which allowed me to acquire ‘Beer Tickets’ these would be traded against cases of beer that I would be required to deposit behind the bar.
There were ten ‘teams’ in the Darts league and each had a similar ‘club house’ and structure, by the end of the evening I was well on my way to being a member of each one. I was ‘loaned’ a couple of cases of beer whilst someone sorted out my ‘Liquor Permit’
Everyone was friendly and couldn’t have been more helpful, the whole ‘Darts League’ scenario had been founded to counteract the ‘invitation only’ closed door policies of the other more formal ‘clubs’. Obviously they couldn’t advertise and recruitment was usually through work and project contacts, I’d been lucky that Firey Fred wasn’t wearing his glasses when he’d dialed Brummie Mark to get a move on….I was introduced as Just Joe and that nickname stuck……
Darts matches were only part of the many activities and soon I had a full social calendar that included music nights ……with dodgy Eagles singalongs…..I also donated my video tape collection to the club library …..but sadly two of them were unplayable as they were worn out……..
Comments » There are 4 comments
I loved this story! I can only imagine how tough it must have been in the mid-eighties.
Another great story. Thanks Joe
Great reading, keep them coming Joe Wtiteson
Great story Joe :) Kinda remind me my university days.. Yet, its never hard to find beer living in australia for 6 years