Saturday, 20 April 2013

It never rains but......

As you might expect, rain in the desert is rare, so as a committed 'bad' weather enthusiast, it was in my top 5 sacrifices when deciding to come and live in Doha for a while.  In fact, my sister in law asked me that very question at a family dinner to celebrate my departure..... "What will you miss the most?...other than family and friends of course?"....... "Rain and cycling" I replied,  rather assuming I'd have to wait until my return to the UK for any significant precipitation!

This was confirmed by all my early conversations with anyone I could find - taxi drivers, hotel receptionists, shop assistants and work colleagues..... "does it rain here.... at all..... ever?".  The response was pretty universal.... "not really, its more like mist than rain", or "can't remember" and then this week, I mentioned to a colleague that it was forecast to rain heavily the next day.  She said "oh reeeaaaally?" as if I'd told her the martians were about to land in the Al Jazeera car park or that we were about to experience an earthquake...... now who would believe that??!

"So when did you last have heavy rain?", I asked her.....   "errrrrrr.....mmmmm....errrrrr......oh, yes it was......... two years ago!"  What?  Two years ago?  OK, so proper rain here is indeed rare.  So the question was, was the forecast right?  Would the long awaited downpour really come?

That night, just after midnight, it did indeed come.....along with an impressive thunder storm, and the most incredible lightning I'd ever seen, lighting up the whole city.  So I rushed for my iphone and stood on my balcony (maybe not the best idea in such a violent storm) and captured this photo.  The storm didn't last too long but was fun while it did!  

It reminded me of when I was a child and my Dad used to take me to the window during a thunder storm to watch the lightning and count the seconds until the thunder, to measure how far away the storm was and whether it was heading our way.  I think it was my Dad's enthusiasm for storms and bad weather which rubbed off on me.  To the extent that in another life, I'd love to be a storm chaser in the USA, following tornadoes and hurricanes around the country.  There is something incredibly thrilling and strangely comforting about the raw power of nature.

But that one storm was not it.... the next day, I was on the AJ balcony, the heat was incredible and humidity building and the sky was heavy with tension.  I could see another storm in the distance heading our way....the wind got up and became quite ferocious.  The mixture of the wind and the heat was like opening a fan oven door..... and then one or two big drops of rain started appearing on the balcony floor, then a few more and more until the deluge.......... I went undercover.  The funniest thing happened...... a dozen or more staff, mainly brits, appeared running onto the balcony like excited kids....squealing, feeling the rain, taking photos of it !!  OK, now I believe its rare. 

However, it wasn't like ordinary fresh, sweet smelling, cleansing rain - no, this was a strange warm wet sludge.  The wind had whipped up a sandstorm which then got washed down with the rain as wet dust so when I went back inside, I noticed little sandy dots all over my shoes and top.  When I went outside to the car park later, all the cars were smeared with a fine covering of sludge.....heaven knows what that does to your paint job! (The cars looked exactly like this one, pictured following a similar storm in Phoenix, Arizona... ).

So what next? .... well, it would be nice to think that the unpredictable weather might continue, but alas,  it looks like wall to wall sunshine for the next week at least....... what a shame...... only another two years to wait.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Dear Doha Diary week 1

To say that finding myself in an Al Jazeera Media Network board room in Doha, experiencing an earthquake was a surreal feeling, would be quite an understatement.  But that is exactly where I was today.  At first, I thought someone with very heavy feet had entered the room, but when it went on for quite a few seconds and then the heated debate gave way to looks of slight concern, people feeling the table and looking at each other....somehow afraid to ask.... and then the shaking got a little more vigorous..... a few of us started to say.... "is this an earthquake?".  One colleague even said, its probably an earthquake in Iran.....should we leave the building?   But the consensus was that we were OK and should stay put.  Which we did...... and it was......

So I went on to twitter immediately and within 2 mins people had started to post about feeling the tremors and within 5 mins a report appeared that a 7.8 magnitude earthquake had hit Iran but had been felt across the middle east, Pakistan and India.  Buildings in Doha city centre were evacuated as a precaution but I don't think there was any real damage here.

So how did I find myself in this potentially precarious position?.......

Well, there I was, minding my own business, jogging along - or should I say cycling along quite nicely through life in London - when out of the blue came an opportunity which I simply couldn't ignore...... to work in Doha!!    Within 6 weeks of learning of the opportunity, I was on a plane from London heading towards a new life and new experiences!!

Doha is the capital of Qatar - the little 'date' shaped country, bordering Saudi Arabia which protrudes into the Arabian Gulf and is a fascinating and rapidly growing city 

And the opportunity?  To work for Al Jazeera on an extensive programme of change across their Media Network.  It is exciting to work for the organisation at such a critical time as their reputation is growing and they extend their Network to include Al Jazeera America.

Interestingly for me, as a sustainability champion, they purchased Current TV from Al Gore, climate change guru, which gave them the US distribution infrastructure they needed.  Al Gore came under enormous criticism for selling to Al Jazeera, owned by the oil rich Qatari Royal Family.

However, what alot of people don't know, is that Qatar are pioneering renewable energies.............. it is estimated that 80 percent of Qatar's total water desalination process will soon be powered by solar energy.  And lets face it, they have enough sun!...... the weather forecast is an interesting experience...... what is "scorchio" in Arabic?  In fact, each square km of land in Qatar receives the equivalent to 1.5 million barrels of crude oil in solar energy.

However, there is still a long way to go as Qatar has the highest carbon footprint per capita than any other country in the world.  The number of cars on the roads here is crazy, as is the driving, which thankfully I don't have to do.  (Not everyone drives like this guy!  Its an interesting way to conserve your tyres - Bernie Ecclestone take note!!).....   But the downside is, there is little opportunity to cycle - if you value your life!  Ive only seen two people on bikes,  although I hear there is a park where some people go to cycle for leisure.  They are however, building a metro here in Doha which it hopes to be ready by 2016, which will clearly be essential to the influx of visitors in 2020 for the World Cup and will go some way to reducing their carbon emissions in the city.

The other thing Ive noticed is the lack of recycling and my hotel doesn't have towel washing policy - you know, the one where you put the towels in the bath if you want them washed...... It doesn't matter what I do, the towels disappear every day and are replaced by new ones....  will try and have a word with them.  Also,  I don't see any recycling bins anywhere in the office, in the hotel or in shopping malls - I think there may be a few recycling points around the city but its not generally practised by individuals.  I've only been here for a week, so am still at the observing and exploring stage - I'm sure I'll find out more as I go along.

My hotel is fortunately located in the old town - it does mean I'm in close proximity to a number of mosques - which is all very fascinating until the 5th day of the 4am call to prayer....... funny, I hadn't noticed that loud hailer sticking through my bedroom window!!  Despite that (and I'm sure I'll get used to it.......eventually), it is a good place to be as I am very close to the Souqs, which are wonderful places.  I can get all my groceries there as well as almost anything you can think of from spices to scarves, flip flops to fishing rods and an enticing array of restaurants, cafes and ice cream parlours.... as well as the shisha cafes and coffee shops.

I took this photo a couple of evenings ago outside Souq al Ora which is opposite my hotel.  Souq Waqif, just down the road, is the best Souq in town as it has been renovated back to its original glory days and has a fabulous atmosphere, particularly in the evenings. I will report back on the delights of Souq Waqif in a future post.

There is alot to experience and I look forward to sharing it here.......