Hostile Work Environment

I had some ideas in my head about how I would go about working as a visitor in Qatar. I’ve had quite a bit of experience working out of coffee shops, malls and coworks from a laptop, checking out new cities all while continuing to be productive and connected.

Yeah well none of that shit happened here.

First of all you can’t get power to charge your laptop. Anywhere. Electrical outlets in customer areas: it’s just not done here. From mom and pop cafes and restaurants to local chains and big chains, even malls. So whatever charge you have at the start is all you’re going to get until you get back home.

The next thing is public wifi. Before I talk about the public wifi, let me mention the residential internet. The internet here is censored. It’s a soft censorship though. The government mandates that ISPs block websites of porn, government criticizers, etc., but takes no active role. the ISPs seem to use a complaint list + DNS redirect to meet this requirement. You know when you hit a blocked site because you see this:

Arabs, tryna be cute
Figure 1., this morning

They also block voip phones, and audio / video calls on apps like messenger / whatsapp / skype / facetime. But they don’t have any bans on the tech to bypass the censorship. Everyone here uses a VPN to voice call over wifi. Video chatting with someone down the street while I’m connected to a VPN in the US and they are connected to a VPN in Europe is no problem. Entirely usable.

The residential bandwidth at my place is about 6 Mbps up and down for sites in Qatar, 4 Mbps download for US / Europe, but wildly varying upload speed for US / Europe. Sometimes 2 Mbps, other times 300 kbps.

That’s the story for home internet. The public wifi is a different story. Mainly it doesn’t exist. A few places have it, but you can’t count on it being present anywhere you might go. Malls have it and the airports have it. But what you get makes '90s dial up look good by comparison. Far more sites are blocked, bandwidth is too small to measure (that’s what she said), convoluted portal pages to navigate to complete the connection. It smells of elderberries and futility.

If I was back home, I’d just flip on the wifi hotspot on my phone and start feasting on that data plan. Well the second phone I brought works with the local sim card, can do calls and data and even hotspot. The problem with it is that everywhere I go in Doha it shows 5 bars of signal and the E for edge network. The data speed is enough to do text based messaging and request an Uber. You’re certainly not going to load a web page anytime soon.

I think it must be my phone, even though it’s enabled for 2G/3G/4G. Other people don’t seem to have the same problem.

Another issue is the heat. I spent the whole summer going out on the motorcycle in mid 90 degree temps every day. I wasn’t expecting it to really mess with me here. I prefer the heat to the cold. But in the beginning I spent about every other day sleeping for 3+ hours in the middle of the day, exhausted. And still sleeping well every night. Part of it may be the calls to prayer, the latest being 2 hours after sunset and the earliest 6 hours and change later the next, morning. I may not be sleeping as much as I used to.

I didn’t know what what causing it at first. I didn’t have any symptoms of being sick aside from what felt like swollen tonsils for about 45 minutes. But now I’m pretty sure it was the heat that I didn’t respect enough. And not having AC at home for 3 days probably wasn’t helpful either. Two different Africans here told me that the Africa sun makes you darker but the sun here sucks your life. Which, OK whatever, but just the fact that sun drenched Africans think twice about going outside here says something.

One thing that I only half expected was the availability of information online here. I expected a lot to be missing, that most things don’t have websites here. And that’s totally true but the other thing is how much wrong information there is online. Basically you can’t rely on anything. Maps are hit or miss. So much of the information on websites here is not just outdated but flat wrong.

One thing in particular that is unreliable are business hours listed on any site. It could be listed as 8am-8pm, but sure as shit nobody’s going to be there between 1pm and 4pm. Malls are about the only thing you can be 100% sure will be open during the heat of the day / afternoon prayer time. It’s not that everything closes, or even that most things close. Just wherever you are going will be closed.

Another thing is the walkability of the city. On the one hand there are nice brick sidewalks about everywhere. On the other hand the level of new construction is off the charts and any two points on a map no matter how close can be separated by concrete barriers. They also love to put up big walls around construction here. That can literally go on for a mile.

And remember that there are villas everywhere once you get out of the downtown high rise area. And that villas have concrete walls that connect to neighbors. If there are construction barricades on one side and 20 foot villa walls on the other, you’re gonna be on that road for a long time, hope you didn’t need to make a turn, lol.

Nobody walks anywhere here. Downtown is flooded with people on weekends after dark. Other than that, I’ve walked for hours in this city without passing another pedestrian.

The rampant construction also makes calling an uber hard. They can’t find you a lot of the time when there are detours and re-routes all over. And when they quit trying, you get stuck with the cancel fee. Which feels like ten bucks if you don’t do the math.

On the plus side you can get about anywhere in the city for ~6 USD, one way, once your (Indian) driver actually finds you. It is double or triple that during bad traffic, but "rush hour" is generally much shorter in duration than in US cities. And bad traffic otherwise requires multiple car accidents on the same roadway. The $6 factors in the promo codes uber sends every week good for 15% off week days, expiring right before the heavy weekend usage.

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