“You’re moving WHERE???” asked another one of my friends, when I informed him that I’m planning to settle down in Qatar.
Once again, I had to explain that I’m not planning to live in a village in the middle of the desert, rolling my eyes at lousy jokes about being sold to a savage desert tribe for 10 camels. Once again, I had to go into a discussion about how unsafe living in Qatar might be and how I’ll be hopping on a plane back to Poland in no time. Such confrontations have always left me drained and frustrated. Suddenly, I became a center of attention for people who wouldn’t even bother to have a decent conversation with me a month earlier. Boarding a plane to Doha felt like a huge relief – I was going to finally join my beloved husband, even if it was in a country I had little idea about.
Fast forward to present days. What was supposed to be “a year or two”, turned into 7 years. Now, that I’m settling back in Poland, I take a look at my time in Qatar and try, as honestly as I can, to sum it all up.
To the surprise of many, Qatar has been topping world safety rankings for many years now. How shocked I was to discover that people here make a habit of leaving their cars and homes unlocked on daily basis. That if you accidentally leave your stuff behind in a restaurant, it will still be there after many hours, safeguarded by the employee who happened to stumble upon it. That you can stroll alone in the middle of the night without having to look over your shoulder in fear of getting mugged.
I happen to have my own theory regarding this situation. Thing is, the majority of expats came to Qatar looking for a better future, to work and provide for their families. Once proven guilty of any crime, such expat will most certainly get deported (often after serving jail time first) and be banned from returning, for life. This, for most people, makes petty crimes simply not worth the risk.
A paradise for foodies!
A quite unexpected bonus of living in Qatar. Given the fact that expats make the most of its population, each nationality adds to the food scene of the country. There are restaurants here that cater to all cravings and budgets. From the never-ending list of Indian eateries, through delicious Thai street food, to posh Peruvian flavors. Qatar has it all. Paradoxically, though, restaurants serving local dishes are really hard to come by!
In two aspects: wages that an average Western expat is able to earn here AND the wealth of the country itself. Even though cost of living here is quite high, saving money is much easier than in Europe. It all comes with a price (see below!), but it’s definitely easier to get filthy rich in the Middle East than it is in my home country 🙂 Did I also mention that income tax doesn’t exist here?
The wealth of the country plays an important part in our lives here, too. Basically, whatever the government decides to do – is done in no time. New highway? No problem, done in less than a year. New mall? Sure, just give us a couple of months. Artificial island with a 5-star resort? Coming right up! While living in Qatar, I’d witnessed many such projects being finalized, transforming the country.
Unfortunately, living in Qatar means that, for most of the year, you will struggle with almost unbearable heat. Imagine baking a batch of cookies and opening the oven to take them out. The heat that hits your face is similar to what we feel here during summer months, minus the cookie smell 🙂 Pleasant weather lasts for about 4 months. Another thing is the dust. I mean, what else to expect from a desert? For a person struggling with chronic sinusitis (*points at self*), sandstorms and general dustiness are real pains. ENT specialists are always in the highest demand.
For a person working in the Middle East, dealing with the caste of “habibis” can prove a real challenge. I guess you can find those issues everywhere in the world… But I’ve never encountered so much nepotism and favoritism anywhere else. Each company has a long list of “untouchable” employees. Ones that can never be moved or removed, no matter how unqualified they are and how badly they suck at their jobs. This is due to connections they have to the company’s owner or high management. “Habibis” can be both locals or expats, there is no rule. Highly skilled employees often quit their jobs because of their unqualified bosses, who barely finished high school and only got hired because they’re “a friend of a friend”.
Cost of living.
I know, I know. I’ve just mentioned that you can easily save money while working in Qatar, so what’s my problem now? Well, as any greedy person, I would like to retain more of the money I earn… Rents in Qatar are sky-high, even though I did notice a slight drop in the past 2 years. Our 4 bedroom house in a suburb costs us over $3,000 per month, excluding utilities. A good school for your kids can cost you anywhere from $8,000 to almost $20,000 per annum. Private medical care bills are ridiculous, and so is the cost of imported food. Imagine paying over $10 for a packet of organic yogurt!. Of course, it is all manageable, but it does take some budgeting skills to be able to live comfortably and cater for all the family needs.
All in all, after 7 years spent living here, I’m happy to say that it’s been an amazing, eye-opening experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything else. And even though I’ve recently moved out, I know that I’ll be coming back to visit my “home away from home” often!