Tuesday, 19 February 2013

About being a white (ish) woman in Doha.

I am slowly, after a year, getting used to the way things work in Qatar. I.e. in a complete opposite to the way they would work in the UK.  It is kind of similar to Azerbaijan, only without bribery and corruption. So I am realizing that rules in Qatar are not as fundamentally unshakable as they seem to be in the UK.  And you can often get what you want, even if you have been told the rules state otherwise, if you ask nicely.

You see, I wanted to bring my mother over for a visit again. Husband politely pointed out that she only just left. Which, of course is kind of true. But, considering how short the period of nice weather is in Doha, and my in-laws visiting for a month in April, I had little choice but to try and bring my mother before then, while the heat was not going to kill her.

However, what I had no idea about was that there was a 3-months rule. A Russian friend pointed it out to me at a coffee one morning. It states that it has to be three months from one’s last exit from the country until the following visit. My mother left almost three months ago. Almost, but not quite.

'Oh,' I said. 'I guess they will all have to visit together'. (My mind drew a picture of the house filled with old people speaking in two languages at the same time.)

'No, no!' The Russian friend added, 'Not a problem. You just need to go there yourself and ask to make an exception.'

 They like *chelobitie here. She added.  

* Chelobitie is a good old-fashioned Russian word. In fact, it is so old-fashioned that I struggled to remember the meaning behind it. What it actually means is bowing down (till the forehead reaches the earth)
Basically, begging and asking with a lot of personal respect showed to the official in charge.

Well, I thought. If that’s what it takes to get mama to visit, I can do that.
‘Oh…and take the baby!’ the friend said.

And so I went. Accompanied by a rep from Husband’s work, I walked in a huge hall with hundreds of mainly men, mainly Indian, mainly manual labour. My heart sunk. I was going to wait there forever. I would never make it for school pick up. The HR rep pointed to the other side of the organized queue in the corner where a very serious looking official sat dealing with requests.

‘Go stand there’, he told me, ‘and say you request to speak to an officer about your mother’s visa’. I felt uneasy for a second- a British citizen in me could not jump the queue with such open arrogance. But I remembered that I was a woman. More importantly, I was a white (ish) western woman with a blond baby in a pushchair. Nobody questioned my walking up to the front. The official looked up immediately. I contemplated bowing to the floor but for now just made a sad and polite face. ‘I am sorry’, I said, ‘I really need my mother to come soon. ‘
‘Go to officer Youssef at desk 11! ‘He said to me. ‘Tell him I sent you!’

Encouraged, I marched right through the endless crowd of more waiting men and approached the security at the counters. ‘I am told to see officer Youssef’, I announced bravely.

There were other people leaning over the counter, Qatari’s and not, and again all male. I stood there, holding my place. An intimidated security guard tried to bring some discipline into the chaos at the counters. ‘Please’, he told me gently, ‘please go sit down ma’am. Go wait?’

Ha, I thought. Like that’s gonna happen, sunshine. Short of pushing me, which, due to the above-mentioned reasons, he would not dare to do, the guard had to pretend he did not notice that I stayed put. He focused on the Indian men around me. Go sit down! He ordered in a much scarier voice.

It helps to be a woman in Qatar.

Officer Youssef enjoyed the chat. But in the middle of it, he suddenly requested my birth certificate. I pointed out that this older Azeri woman has visited us twice already. It is obvious she is my mother, isn’t it?

He gestured to another counter. ‘Go see officer Youssef’ he said. ‘Go ask him yourself.’

-Youssef? Is he also called Youssef?
-Yes, the officer smiled. -Also. Go.

And so I went. And I waited again, surrounded by more men. Officer Youssef No 2 did not even bother looking up at my sad and serious face. He quickly wrote something down and sent me back to my Youssef No1.

‘Did he ask for certificate?’ –Youssef asked. ‘No? You are lucky! Very lucky!’

Am I? I still did not know what to expect next. And so I left, not knowing whether my chelobitie worked; or I was just sent away with nothing. That is another interesting fact of living in Doha- it is never really obvious what is happening or what is going to happen. Was it a yes? Was it a no? Was it a maybe, inshallah?

I was told to check online in four days.  And today, we received the happy news. I was lucky. My personal appearance and chelobitie worked. My mother can come and see us now. This week! Inshallah! 


  1. Sometimes, things in Peru work like that. Mostly, it all depends on the mood of the officer who takes the time to listen to your plight.
    It's nice to learn your mom will be back soon.

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