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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Summer Heat in Qatar

"It's not so hot today," my wife said to me. "It's only 44."

The summer heat has hit Qatar with a bang. We have turned off the hot water, and are using the water stored in the tank for refreshing showers - the water from the roof is sizzling hot.

At least Qatar is set up for the heat. It wasn't always so. One elderly Qatar gentlemen told me of a time when the students would shift their chairs throughout the day to stay in the shade. Then in the nights, his family would move their beds to the roof of their house to make the most of the cooler night air. Except in the height of summer even the nights are stiflingly hot.

Now rooftop sleeping, for most at least, have been replaced by air-conditioning. Apart from a few seconds in the heat, many people spend their lives going from airconditioned house to air conditioned car to air conditioned mall. It's got to the stage where some locals feel the heat more than the expats - especially for women, many of whom often wear several layers of clothing even at this time of year.

Paradoxically, the heat is worse in Doha than in the desert, as the very ACs that keep people cool blast hot air out into the city. Those of who can remain inside are the lucky ones. Even now labourers are working in almost unbearable conditions, and face several months of doing so. The better companies run workshops on how to cope with the heat, but nothing can make the day cooler!

As heat stroke is potentially life threatening - a Texas convict recently died after a punishment session in an outdoor holding cell - it is worth taking steps to prevent it. Wearing a hat and loose clothes is a no brainer, but also make sure to drink plenty of fluids, and to increase your intake of sodium (salt). Reduce your caffeine and alcohol intake, and if you do get dehydrated try taking some rehydration fluids (available from any chemist).

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Friday, May 22, 2009

Qtel: Pluses and Minuses

Here are two things I dislike about Qtel and one thing I like about them.

1. Spamming my phone. Why do they get to send me text messages selling me things? On the net that is called spamming. I don't get the chance to opt in or opt out of it?

2. Credit alerts. I like knowing I am running out of credit. But why do they have to tell me just as I am making an urgent call to the ambulance to come and save a man's life who has just lost his leg? And then, when I still have four riyals left in my phone, do they have to cut me off afterwards so I have to redial the number. (The ambulance said if they had got there 30 seconds earlier they could have saved the man's life. (Actually I just made all that up about the ambulance. (And yes, I'm sure 999 is toll free.)))

And one good thing - despite having control of the net in a country where internet censorship is allowed, and depite numerous rants about Qtel, they have never censored me!

You're not all bad. (I'm still switching to Vodafone, though!)

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Friday, May 15, 2009

Qatar Still has tonnes of money...

There seem to be contradictory signs in Qatar.

There are clearly fewer people here - a fact you can tell from the fall in traffic.

One engineer, who commutes to Al Khor, talked about the tailback falling from a couple of miles to a couple of hundred metres.

And in some companies and departments there have been cutbacks.

Yet a financial officier from a Qatar company yesterday told me that there was still huge money in Qatar - and the possibility of new and exciting projects.

The cash flow means that Qatar has been able to bail out the banks that would otherwise have been in trouble.

The money, he also pointed out, was based on real things - the production of gas and oil.

As a result, he felt, Qatar was, from a financial point of view, one of the safest places in the world.

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Qatar Jobs


Monday, May 11, 2009

Beach by the Power Station

Suprisingly for a peninsula country Qatar has few decent public beaches easily reachable from a road. One of these was Al Wakra beach, originally home to a park, a wide sandy beach and mangrove swamps which proved a haven for wildlife. Unfortunately this has now been dug up - but Al Wakra's determined beach goers now navigate offroad to reach this strip of beach by Al Wakra's power station.

Cars parked on the beach by Al Wakra power station

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Bahrain to Abolish Sponsorship System - Qatar Businessmen React

In what must spell hope for thousands of expatriates who feel trapped by Qatar's sponsorship system - a system which has been likened to slavery, a fact acknowledged by the Qatar prime minister - Bahrain has announced plans to scrap its sponsorship plans.

Sponsorhip in Qatar sees employees having to seek permission from employers before leaving the country, opening a bank account, getting a driving licence or changing their jobs.

While most large companies and employers do not systematically abuse the system, it does mean employees in smaller companies or working for individals and families are vulnerable. 

It also contributes to accusations that Qatar is a destination for people trafficked for the purpose of involuntary servitude. (Source: UN Refugee Agency.)

While the government of Qatar is no fan of the system, huge pressure remains from Qatar businessmen to retain sponsorship.

And in an article in the Peninsula today businessmen warned of 'doom' if the law was revoked.

In our Tips and Advice on Finding Work in Qatar we suggest that jobs seekers concentrate on finding vacancies with larger companies such as QP or Rasgas or with the government rather than with small companies. 

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Saturday, May 09, 2009

Qatar Needs Paypal (or something similar!)

UPDATE: There is an alternative to PayPal which can be used in Qatar now - see The PayPal Alternative for details.

It is easier for me to pay people in India, Mexico and Japan than it is to pay someone in Doha.

Last night I posted a small job I wanted to outsource on a website. Within minutes I had five quotes. I chose one who had high ratings. Within ten minutes we had discussed the job, and I had put the money in escrow.

Paying the money took around a minute, even with Qtel speed internet.

Compare this to Qatar.

When my car broke down I had it taken to the industrial area. I hate going to the industrial area so much that I pay someone to do it for me. However, when the garage required a deposit I had no option but to spend an hour driving there, navigating round the awful roads before physically paying the garage. I then had to spend an hour driving back.

Unfortunately, many companies seem stuck with antiquated payment systems.

I know companies whose employees spend half their time driving round Qatar collecting cheques.

Which got me thinking.

How much of Doha's never ending traffic jams are caused by pointless journey?

How much productivity is lost by employees spending hours in traffic jams for the sake of something which could be done in seconds over the internet?

And how much quality of life is lost by spending unnecessary time in cars?

Unfortunately, Paypal, the most popular internet payment provider, is not available in Qatar.

Perhaps Qatar, with its 1,500,000 inhabitants, is too small for companies like Paypal to worry about.

Which means there is a big opportunity for the right person - a person with connections, preferably a Qatari - to make a lot of money setting a similar system up.

Although in some ways Qatar is leading the way in technology - see Qatar's cord blood bank - it would not be an easy job.

The hardest thing would be persuading people who have been doing the same thing for years on end to change.

But if it saves on trips to the industrial area, it'll be a very worthwhile change.

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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Qatar Dunes

A lone hiker heads up the dunes at Qatar's singing sand dunes.

Desert lines converge on a lone hiker.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Qatar Media Freedom

Qatar's media, while freer than that of neighbouring countries, cannot be said to be totally free. 

Newspapers, and indeed bloggers such as ourselves, are still careful about just what we say and who we say it about. 

Since Qatar Visitor has been running a journalist was sentenced to prison (in absentia) for her report on a man coming "back to life", newspapers have been taken to court for their report on cannibals and a British reporter has been detained by the police for reporting on police brutality.

Nevertheless, change, it seems, is underfoot. 

The Qatar Media Center was set up in Qatar to champion the cause of media freedom. Although we were intially sceptical as to whether it would have any real teeth, the media center has been outspoken on the issue of freedom of the press within Qatar as well as without.

Recently we have also noticed Al Jazeera, normally very careful to avoid critising Qatar, looking at the issue of unpaid workers

Now Sheikha Mozah has spoken out in favour of press freedom, arguing that steps needed to be taken to:

"...achieve the committed, free, professional and responsible media which we are all seeking, without the influence of ideology or other factors." (Source: Gulf Times)

Meanwhile, The Doha Declaration, made at a media conference held in Qatar, stated that "freedom of opinion and expression are essential for free and democratic societies and contribute to a better understanding of and a dialogue among cultures." (Source: Unesco)

The statements seemed primarily aimed at the interational arena rather than that of Qatar. Still, it bears hope for those passionate about media freedom in Qatar. 

Ultimately, Qatar seems to be slowly moving towards a freer press. Still, I have a feeling that it will be some time before the majority of journalists feel it is safe to push boundaries.

Especially when, for most journalists, the issues they would be risking their freedom would not be those affecting their home country and people but those of a foreign land. A land where most go not to defend freedom, but to earn money.

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Quarantined in Doha

Serious measures for anyone with flu in Doha - a Qatar Living user reports five hours of tests and 10 days of enforced isolation at home, even after being tested negative for Swine Flu: see Quarantined in Doha...

Friday, May 01, 2009

No Trespassing Beyond This Point...

Sign at Mesaieed:

Sign reads: No Trespassing Allowed Beyond This Point
Obviously trespassing before this point is fine...

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