I had to chuckle last night when I logged on to Facebook. The first status update was from a former softball teammate who moved last summer from Qatar back to the US. She was lamenting over no longer having a house cleaner. Right below that was an update from friend who moved back to Scotland, asking if one of us in Doha could please send someone there to wash her car.
A book I read recently called The Geography of Bliss touched on the matter of convenience in the chapter about Qatar. The book is essentially about the author travelling to various countries around the world to investigate if, and then why, some country’s people are happier than others. He chose Qatar as one of the countries to visit as a ‘student of happiness’. He writes,
“Maybe the secret to happiness is money. Lots of money. And if money can buy happiness, or at least rent it for a while, then surely Qatar, by some measures the wealthiest country in the world, must also be the happiest”.
I’ll leave the examination of those statements for another time.
In one part, however, the author shared a conversation he had with an expat living here relating to convenience or as in the example she provided, the lack of convenience stores in the country and her explanation as to why this might be.
“Doha has plenty of Starbucks and designer clothing stores but not a single 7-Eleven or any of the other convenience stores found in most affluent countries. Lisa has a theory. Doha has no 7-Elevens because Qataris have no need for the convenience of a convenience store. The servants – every Qatari has at least one – do the shopping, and being servants, their convenience isn’t anyone’s concern.”
We are, however, blessed with the convenience of a convenience store on our compound. Only it’s not so convenient at the moment. In fact it’s been closed almost a week now. Last Thursday we stopped in twice and each time found the door locked. Very unusual. Even during the Holy Month of Ramadan the shop remains open except for maybe an hour when the employees break their fast for their Iftar meal, go to Mosque and then quickly come back and open the doors again. All for our convenience.
Signs were finally posted outside the shop yesterday which say “closed for failure of complying with health requirements”. Our compound security guards told me the problem should be remedied and the shop open again within a few days. We’ve heard from others that the police were involved. Yesterday we heard that the shop’s delivery man was deported as he had a falsified medical card (He did stop by last week to say goodbye to us. He told us he was going back home for his ‘leave’). I’m not sure what the story is and no-one is allowed to tell us. All I know is we are missing their services.
The shop is rather like your old neighbourhood store from many years past. You call them up and they deliver whatever’s ordered, charging it to your account. The shopkeeper sends a text at the end of each month stating how much I owe so I can pay off our tab. All the accounting of which, I never check – it’s pretty much an honour system with them after all these years. I trust them. I probably spend on average QR 2500 or$700 a month there. They know what brands of milk, bread and juice I buy. If I tell them of a particular product I like, they’ll generally stock it on the shelves.
To go even one step further, if I call up and ask for something they don’t have they’ll go to a store nearby, buy it and bring it to me. They’ve done this when I’ve asked for pita bread, balsamic vinegar, kidney beans, etc. It was quite hilarious the other night as dear husband wanted a treat of ice cream, choc sauce, whip cream and bananas. We had no whip cream so he spent about 5 minutes on the phone to them explaining he wanted the kind in an aerosol can. (The exchange or interpretation of language is usually the biggest hurdle to getting anything done here.) Well, he thought he got the message through finally but then gave up waiting after about 20 minutes. Sure enough though, about 45 minutes later they arrived at our doorstep with just what we had asked for. Talk about great service!
The company that provides water to the shop stopped by our villa last night to offer their services. They think the shop will be closed perhaps 2-3 weeks so don’t want to lose out on their business. We made arrangements for them to deliver to our house in the meantime.
I also get the newspaper delivered by the shop and for whatever reason it continues to show up on our doorstep each morning. Well, stuck in the gate.
So I find myself now having to plan somewhat. No more calling up and asking the shop to bring over a green pepper when I realize I’ve forgotten to buy one and I’m in the middle of cooking dinner. No more relying on our housekeeper to just order up the Tide or whatever else she might need when she’s here cleaning. I actually have to think about what I’m doing and get up off my butt and get it myself.
You might think this is extremely lazy of me/us, particularly having them deliver it when it’s only a 5 minute walk at the most. Sometimes we walk over to pick it up ourselves. We do if we’re in need of a short walk and some fresh air. But they always offer to bring it to us. They always insist on carrying even just one bag to my car, rather than let me do it myself. For the delivery man, it’s justifying his job I guess.
Services like these can be provided here as labour is so cheap. I would estimate the delivery man maybe receives QR 500 or QR 800 a month ($140 – $225). Yes, a month! The storekeeper, maybe more. They work from 7am to 10pm – everyday. Every two years they get a plane ticket home to be with their family for 2 months.
I would agree with Lisa’s statement in the book that some people here have no need for the convenience of a convenience store and there are also some who think the convenience of the ‘help’ is not anyone’s concern.
I can’t say that we have a need for a convenience store but I will say we certainly do appreciate it. We appreciate those that work there and we appreciate being able to help support their business, which in turn helps to support their families. All the same things we’re all trying to do in our lives.
My statement yesterday about Qatar having conveniences which make our lives easier still holds true. There is, however, the flip side and I could probably write a lot more about the many in-conveniences to be endured here, in comparison. Whatever the case, I hope the shop re-opens soon. First and foremost so they can get on with their business and secondly, with their help, that any poor planning and forgetfulness on my part goes back to being easily managed and relatively un-noticed by others.