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Working And Enjoying Life In Qatar
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After returning home from Iran via Rome in December 1978, I helped my wife complete packing before moving down to Plymouth where we spent Christmas in our new home. In the New Year I went to Benbows head office to see what was next. It had been planed for me to return to Iran after Christmas with a small team to complete works on the Hyatt Hotel. The Shah of Iran had been expected to be able to put down the rebellion and return things to normal, but as events turned out this was not to be.

The company had obtained a contract to fit out the Ramada hotel in Doha, Qatar. During a meeting with my boss, he explained that as I had been expected to return to Iran, he had given the contract as Superintendent in Charge to Arnie. As he could not change this position, he asked if I could work with Arnie with him being in-charge over me. Arnie like me was also a foreman, and we had known each other for some time. On my replying that we got on well together, it was agreed that I would go with Arnie to Qatar. The team consisted of Arne, Ray, Frank, Paul, Dick and myself plus two French Polishers, all of us had previously worked together in Iran.

A short time later we flew out to Qatar to start the project. Due to our being informed that you could not buy alcohol in Qatar, each of us carried a bottle of spirits inside our suitcases. We had been told that this way we could get it into the country ok, as the customs only checked hand carry bags. However, on landing at Doha International airport, we were surprised to find that after collecting our luggage it then had to go through an x-ray machine. One by one we put our baggage through the machine, and one by one we were told to wait to one side. We were then all asked to open our suitcases for inspection; during which our bottles of spirits were revealed and taken out from our cases. We were informed that as it was illegal to bring alcohol into the country our bottles were being confiscated. Being in trouble before we had even entered the country was not exactly a good start. After collecting our luggage minus the bottles of drink, we went out into the arrivals area. Here we were met by a driver who first drove us to a villa where the boys and I would stay, then went on to another villa where Arnie, Frank and Ray would be staying.

Shortly after entering our villa we found it to be infested by cockroaches, which was not exactly a pleasant sight. Due to it now being quite late, we each picked a room and turned in. We were rudely awakened early the next morning by the wailing sound coming from a nearby mosque. Due to the Hyatt Hotel in Iran being way out of town, we were not used to hearing the calling from a mosque.

A driver later came to pick us up, and then collected Arne, Frank and Ray, before driving us to site. The Ramada Hotel was on the edge of a main road with a large amount of containers occupying what was to be the hotel carpark. On commenting that these containers looked rather old, we were informed that they were on a one way trip and would be sold off once emptied of their materials shipped in from various countries.

A short distance away from the hotel was a large new shopping centre named “The Centre”.

At site we were introduced to Rodger the Project Manager who was English and Art his American assistant. On talking to Art one evening who we met at a bar, he told us about a funny incident that had recently occurred on his site. He said that while checking to see how his local workers were getting on pouring some concrete foundations; he was shocked to find them working bare feet in the concrete, while spreading it out. On seeing this he decided that he would buy them some welly boots to wear when next pouring concrete.

He said, “The next day I went out and bought some and gave to my workers. But the next day I was shocked to see that the men had cut the toes off the boots. They were wearing them open toed while standing in the concrete. On asking why they had cut the toes of the boots, the men said that they used their toes to feel and grip the rebar while walking on it under the concrete.

On site, after sorting ourselves out we commenced our fitting out works in the hotel, with my being put in charge of the “Gourmet Restaurant.” Due to a local law stating that Bars must be above ground floor level, there was an elevator to take you up to the Gourmet Restaurant. This was necessary as the restaurant had a drinks license.

Our lift however was somewhat different than usual, as it only went up approx. 40cm. This being the only difference in height between the split level ground floor.The lift was specially programmed to give one a sensation of going up to the first floor, which was where the restaurant sign said it was. But in fact you were still on the ground floor when it stopped to let you out.

During the day I informed Arnie about the conditions in our villa. He said, “As originally you were not coming, no allowance was made for you, but as you’re a senior foreman you will be moved into my villa.” This was good news for me, which of course did not please the lads who unfortunately had to remain in what they called “Cockroach Villa.”

Art who was very helpful and friendly to us, took a few of us out to a bar one night called “Barneys Bar”. He explained that the bar was run by a guy named Barney who due to financial problems had opened a bar in his house as a means to exist. This bar then became our regular haunt until a total ban on alcohol in the country was strictly enforced and the bar was closed down.

One night at Barneys there was a live rock band playing, the music was quite good and Paul who was a bit drunk was out dancing on the dance floor by himself. Suddenly he fell over backwards straight into the drum set, which fortunately was not damaged, or would have had to pay for it.

During one of the monthly party nights at the hotel, Ray and I ended up somewhat worse for ware and did not feel up to walking back to our villa. On spotting a bicycle leaning up against a wall I said, “That’s it; we will borrow this bike and ride home.” I got on the bike with Ray behind me, but no matter how we tried we could not get the bike moving without Ray falling off. After several unsuccessful attempts Ray gave up trying, “that’s it he said, I’m walking home.”

“Well I’m not, I’m riding home.” Without Ray unbalancing me I was then able to slowly ride the bike home. The next morning after having breakfast, I had to return the bicycle back to where I had taken it. This I soon found out was much harder than riding it home the night before. When I had ridden home it was very late with little traffic about, now the roads were very busy with fast moving traffic. I breathed a big sigh of relief when I safely reached the hotel and put the bicycle back from where I had taken it.

During the time we were working on the hotel there was a “British Week” over at the “Centre”. When we went across to see what was going on, we found that there were several Rolls Royce cars on display both outside and inside the building. Inside the centre were various stands displaying a great variety of items that were made in the UK. Suddenly as we passed by a fish counter we burst out laughing, as there on display was a selection of crabs all with small Union Jack flags stuck on them.

During the time when alcohol was banned in the country, we would still go down town and order a pint. The only difference being that it was pints of fresh fruit juice we were drinking and not beer.

After some of the guest floors had been completed, we were informed that our team would be moved from our villas into the hotel. When the American guys found out that our rooms were to be fully fitted out, while their rooms were not, they became very angry. They informed the management that they would cut off the air-conditioning to our rooms unless their rooms were fitted out the same as our. After various talks and meetings they were told that they would receive the same standard rooms as us, which to us was only fair.

At work one day some of the American guys asked if we would like to go to the beach with them on our day off. We were only too pleased to accept their offer as up to then we had not been anywhere.

Our transport to the beach that was evidently some miles away was in a large open truck. At first the ride was ok as we were travelling down a wide highway, but once we turned off and headed off across the open desert the ride became quite rough.

Due to the speed we were going we had to hang on tight to whatever we could. As there was not enough space for us to all hang on to the front of the truck, some of us tried lying down. This was ok until we hit a large bump, which then lifted us up in the air.

We were all more than pleased when we eventually arrived at the beach, which we found to be beautiful. It had soft clean sand, clear blue sea and with large sand dunes behind us it was really something.

We were all laid out relaxing on the beach when suddenly heard the sound of a struggling engine. As we turned around and looked up at the dunes behind us, a jeep burst into view trying to drive up the side of one of the sand dunes. We all thought that the driver must have been crazy to attempt this feat, but our American friends informed us that this was a normal pastime called “Dune Bashing.”

As we watched the jeep trying to mount the summit more jeeps appeared. Some of were on the same dune, while others were on different dunes and all were trying to reach the top of the dunes. It was an incredible sight, some people cheered when one jeep successfully managed to reach the top.

After spending some time on the beach, Nick one of our guys said, “I’m going for a walk anyone wants to join me?” I and a couple other guys said that we would go with him.

We were some way down the beach when suddenly Nick spotted a large snake lying washed up on the shore. It was dead, and about 6ft long. He decided to pick up the snake and take it back with us to our hotel, where he would skin and clean it. We walked back to join our friends with Nick dragging the snake that trailed down his back onto the ground. It certainly was a strange sight to see someone walking along dragging a snake behind them.

When we reached the lads I saw that Ray was lying fast asleep. I took the snake off Nick and quietly walked up to Ray and put the snakes head near him. “Wake up! Ray, I said, I have a present for you.” Ray opened his eyes and was horrified to see a snake infront of his face. He let out a sharp cry of alarm as he turned away and leapt to his feet. As he ran away from the snake I said, “Its ok, its dead.” “Never mind that he said, as he slowly walked back to us, you nearly scared the life out of me.”

This was not to be the only time that this dead snake caused someone to panic. When we later returned to the hotel Nick brought the snake with him. After cleaning and skinning it, he laid the skin on his bathroom floor to dry.

The following morning after Nick had gone to work, the chambermaid entered his room to clean and make up the bed. On opening the bathroom door she was horrified to see what she thought was a live snake laying on the floor, and ran screaming from the room. On the Management being informed of this incident, they went to investigate. They were pleased to find that the snake was dead, but on Nicks return told him to get rid of it.

As we walked into the Banquet Hall one day, we found that several of the large fabric covered panels had been slashed with a knife and ruined. When the Sheik who owned the hotel was informed of this incident he was extremely annoyed. He immediately offered a $50,000 reward for information on who had damaged the panels. However, despite this very generous offer it was never found who had damaged them.

On one occasion I was up in the project manager’s office, when I happened to look out the window and noticed that there were about 30 men standing in a line digging a trench. I said to Peter the PM, “why don’t you use a JCB to dig that trench? You would then only need two men and get the trench completed much quicker.” Rodger replied, “And what would I do with the other 28 men?” I realised what he meant. By not using a JCB 30 men had a job and therefore would be paid. Whereas if he used a JCB 28 men would not be required, and so would not have a job.

To pass away our days off, Ray who was a keen fisherman decided to buy a fishing rod. I thought this was a good idea, so I went with him one evening, and we bought a rod each.

The night before going fishing we had been out quite late. I was still a bit under the weather when Ray woke me up to say that he and Arnie were leaving to go fishing. So I said, “You go on, I’ll join you later” and then went back to sleep. I was rudely awakened when sometime later the door crashed open and Ray stormed in, he was furious. I said, “What’s up?” He threw his fishing rod across the floor saying, “it broke the first time I cast off. I walked all over the place before I found the shop where we bought the rods, but the man refused to change it for a new one.”

“All right let me get dressed, we’ll take my rod and go back and join Arnie on the beach.” I quickly dressed and we made our way to the beach where Arnie was waiting. Ray set my rod up and cast off. As he did I held my breath hoping that it would not break as his had. Fortunately, it did not break with his cast going out quite a way. “Ruddy typical, he said, your rods ok.” Although we never caught anything all the time we spent fishing, we enjoyed the break.

After finding out that there was a cinema not too far away from the hotel that showed films in English, we decided to go and see what it was like. As we had no car and there were no taxis available, we tried thumbing a lift there. We were lucky as someone stopped and dropped us off outside the cinema.

The cinema had evidently not been open long. It had plush armchair type seats that were much more comfortable than those in the cinemas in the UK. We enjoyed the film, but all through it we could hear the crunching of nuts being eaten and people spitting. After the film had finished and the lights went on we got up to walk out. As we did so we could see that the carpet was covered in nutshells.

When we went outside to try and get a lift home it seemed like we were at a racetrack. Cars were not waiting in a queue to pull out on the road; they were going up over the pavement and back onto the road. They then drove off with tires smoking as they sped off down the road. Fortunately, the driver that later stopped and took us back to the hotel was more sedate.

We found that Qatar people were very friendly and helpful, as if they saw us walking along the road someone would usually stop and offer us a ride. One day we were out at the other side of the bay where we had been looking at the framework for what was to be the Sheraton Hotel.

As we were walking back down the road a car with two young men in it stopped besides us. “Would you like a lift?” the driver asked. “Yes please, we said, it’s rather hot today.” As we climbed in the car Arnie told them where we were going. After driving for about 5minutes I realised that we were not going in the right direction. I said, “Excuse me, but we want to get to the Ramada Hotel, I think were going the wrong way.

The driver stopped the car saying, “Oh that’s on the other side of the bay.” “Yes I said, but if you’re not going that way its not a problem we’ll find someone who is going that way.” “We were not going that way the driver replied, but it’s no problem for us, we will take you there.” Despite our protests that it was out of their way they insisted on taking us back to the hotel.

As at the time we were not working a full week, it was decided that one of us would obtain a local driving licence. This would then enable us to hire a car and get out and about on our day off. Somehow it ended with my being picked as the one to obtain a driving license.

I later went along to the police station to take a driving test, which consisted of an examiner holding up a selection of road signs, with my having to say what each sign represented. This was to show that when out driving one would know what do when seeing a sign. I had been doing OK until shown a sign I did not recognise. At my hesitation, the examiner again stabbed his finger at the sign, but it was no use. He then allowed me to sit back down and go through the book of signs till I knew what the sign represented. After this I stood up and retook the test, which I then passed.

When some years later I returned to Qatar to work on another project, our Mr. Fixit had my old driving license renewed. By then the test was much different, with Qatar recognised as being one of the hardest countries in which to obtain a driving licence.

As time went on it was obvious that even with us working longer hours and a seven-day week, we would not complete the project within the expected three-month contract period. After discussing the situation with Arnie, it was decided that he would inform the company that we wanted a break, either back to the UK or over to Bahrain.

Due to the cost of tickets we did not expect to be able to return to the UK, but would be quite happy to fly over to Bahrain for a long weekend. As expected the company agreed to our going to Bahrain, with Arnie then arranging our flight and rooms at the Holiday Inn.

On our arrival we were met by a hotel taxi driver who drove us to the hotel. As soon as we had checked in and dropped of our bags, we went straight to the bar and started drinking to make up for lost time. It was some hours later when we eventually went to our rooms to get ready for dinner. I for one did not make it back down again that night.

After breakfast the following morning we took a walk into town to look around the shops. In one gold shop that we went in I bought a solid gold nugget, which looked just like a crumpled up sweet paper. At the time I paid about ₤120 for the nugget and a fine gold chain, which was later valued at over ₤900.

We later returned to the hotel for lunch, and then spent the afternoon around the pool drinking and playing table tennis. Our waiter had taken a fancy to my cigarette lighter, and when we went to settle our bill, he offered to square the bill in exchange for it. As I rather liked the lighter myself, I refused his offer.

The next morning Ray and I returned to the shops and to look at the sights. On later returning to the hotel we were surprised to find that the boys were not there. When they later returned we were shocked to see that Arnie had a very large sticking plaster stuck on his forehead.

It seemed that they had been sat drinking around the pool with one of the boys practicing diving into the pool. Arnie who evidently had been watching him said, “You don’t know how to dive, watch this.” He then stood up and dived straight in. Unfortunately, he was at the shallow end of the pool and crashed headfirst straight into the bottom of the pool. When he came up his head was badly gashed with blood streaming from it.

After helping him out of the pool, and despite his objection the boys took Arnie to hospital for treatment. They said that after waiting for some time without seeing a doctor to have his head stitched up, Arnie refused to wait any longer and left the hospital. On the way back to our hotel they had called in at a pharmacy and bought some large sticking plasters, which they used to cover his cut.

One of the bars at the hotel had a window that one could see straight through into the pool and watch people swimming. We were told of one amusing incident witnessed by many people of the amorous actions of a couple in the pool. While in the pool they decided to make love, thinking that no one could see them. Unfortunately, they did not know about the window.

After completing their action they later got out of the pool and changed before going into the bar for a drink. They could not understand why on their entering the bar, people stood up clapping and cheering. One man presented the girl with a bouquet of flowers, who on asking why, was shown the window into the pool. She immediately burst into tears and fled embarrassed out of the bar. The man evidently stayed in the bar, with various people toasting him all night, he certainly had some nerve.

On our last evening before returning to Qatar, we went into our hotel cocktail restaurant for dinner. Here they had a tank full of lobsters on display from which you could pick one out for your dinner. As this seemed to be a good idea, several of us then decided to have one. After showing the waiter which ones we fancied, he took them out of the tank and into the kitchen to be cooked. When they were later served up, the lobsters tasted delicious and went down a treat.

After drinking a few bottles of wine and quite a few beers we were all quite happy. I am not sure how it started, but it ended with one of the lads taking a lobster out of the tank and chasing someone else around the restaurant. The waiters of course were far from pleased with these antics. They were I am sure glad when after the lobster was returned to the tank, we paid our bill and left for the airport.

While waiting in the nearly empty departure lounge, we noticed a man dressed in an Arab robes sitting down drinking cans of beer. We started to talk to him and asked how come he was drinking, as we thought that Moslems were not supposed to drink. He explained that the “Koran” did not forbid drinking, and like many Moslems he enjoyed having a drink. It ended with us all drinking and singing songs until it was time for us to board the plane back to Qatar.

Before leaving Bahrain, Frank insisted that he would take a bottle of wine back to Doha. I warned him that he would have it taken away by the customs, but he was too drunk to take any notice of my words. On landing and walking up to customs we saw that one of our guys was waiting the other side to take us back to our hotel.

As we passed through the customs, they as expected found Frank’s bottle of wine. They took off him and explained that it was forbidden to bring alcohol into the country. Frank must have suddenly had a brainstorm. He suddenly snatched the bottle back from the customs officer saying, “Its mine, you took my last bottle but you’re not getting this one.” Then as the customs officer went to take the bottle back from Frank, Frank totally flipped. Before everyone’s astonished eyes he smashed the bottle onto the floor where it shattered into a thousand pieces.

“That’s it for him” a guy standing next to me said. “What do you mean?” I asked, as police suddenly appeared from everywhere. They converged on Frank and quickly took him away out of sight. “They will keep him inside tonight, and then deport him tomorrow,” he replied. “They can’t do that I said! We need him to finish our project.” “Well one things sure, he won’t be around to help.”

As there was nothing that we could do to help Frank we returned to the hotel. We had intended to get someone to go to the police station in the morning to see if they could get him out. But when I entered the restaurant for breakfast, I was very surprised to see Frank sitting there eating his breakfast. “How did you manage to get out of the police station I asked?” He grinned on remembering, “Well, after the chief of customs had given me a real tough talking too, he said I could go. When I told him I had no transport, he arranged for a police car to drive me to the hotel.” I said, “You were more than lucky a guy at the airport last night told me that for sure you would be deported.”

One night I was waken by the sound of banging and shouting out in the corridor. The next minute I heard banging on my door and Arnie shouting, “Wake up everyone, get downstairs quick, we have a major flood on our hands.” I quickly got dressed and ran downstairs to find that the lower half of the ground floor was under water.

Fortunately, someone had managed to turn off the water that had been pumping out of what turned out to be the broken main water pipe. We quickly found sweeping brushes and using these and some pieces of plywood, we started to push the water towards an outside door. It was hard work as the water was over 3″ deep, but slowly and surely after about an hours work, we managed to get rid of all the water.

On going in the Gourmet Restaurant where the carpet installation had just been started the previous afternoon, I was shocked to see that the carpet that had been underwater, had already started to shrink. Later that morning it was found that the fitted sections of carpet that had been soaked had shrunk by about a metre in length. Had I not previously seen the carpet fitted full length, I would have said that the carpet fitters had cut the carpet too short. We then had to immediately re-order more carpet to replace the damaged sections.

On investigation it was found that the cause of the leak was due to someone turning the temporary main water stop tap on full. The resulting increase in pressure caused a break in a joint in the 4″ plastic main water pipe. Like the slashed wall panels, the culprit was never found.

Once the hotel swimming pool had been filled with water, the lads used to make the most of it. They took great delight in dive bombing people, who they enticed to the edge of the pool by pretending to be pointing at something lying on the bottom. While the unsuspecting victim was looking into the pool, one of the lads would run up behind them, jumps up into the air then huddled up plunge into the pool. The resulting splash soaked everyone standing near the edge of the pool.

At the time I used to go into the pool to try to learn to swim. Ray who was trying to help me said that I would learn easier if I swam underwater, as my weight would then not be a problem. Although I thought this idea was somewhat strange, I decided to give it a go. When I came up spluttering and spitting out water, Ray said, “you should have seen yourself, your head was half under water with your ass sticking out of it.”

Once we had completed fitting out the restaurants, the hotel brought in their staff for training purposes. This worked out very well for us, as they used us as guests while training the staff to cook and serve meals. We then were able to have a real English fried breakfast every day, plus a very nice dinner in the evening.

While at work we would listen to a local radio disc jockey every day playing requests sent in by listeners. This guy was something else. If while reading out a request he did not like the music asked for, he would stop reading out the request saying, “well that’s a load of rubbish let’s see whats next.” He would then start to read out the next request. Some time later, surprise surprise, we heard that the radio station was asking for people to audition as a Disc Jockey.

Petroch one of our french polishers said, “I’ll go for that, I can’t do any worse than that guy we hear everyday.” He then phoned the radio station and made an appointment for an audition that evening. When he later arrived at the radio station and rang the doorbell, someone told him via the intercom that he should go away. Even after explaining that he was there for a booked audition, they still refused to let him in. He was both disappointed and angry on wasting his time when he returned to tell us how he had got on.

During the time that we worked on the hotel, the main electrical supply had not been connected. To get over this problem we obtained power from the large generators, which had been installed for use if the main electrical power went off line. On completion of our works and we left the now open hotel, surprisingly there was still no main power supply connected.

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