Friday, July 29, 2011

Doctors & Hair Salons

So after sitting at home for three days, I decided I absolutely had to go into the office on Wednesday and get some work done.

I showed up, our Wellness Officer took one look at me, listened to me cough and said, "We're going to the clinic." She was concerned that what was settling in my chest was turning into pneumonia.

Seriously...pneumonia in summer in a desert climate? Leave it to me.

So we trundled off to the QF clinic. I saw a lovely doctor who took my temp (which was down, thankfully--it had spiked back up the night before when I fell to sleep, forgetting to take a dose of meds), listened to my chest and agreed that developing pneumonia was a possibility.

So she prescribed me meds. Lots and lots of meds.

I walked out of the pharmacy with: amoxicillin, cough medicine, Advil Cold and Flu, throat spray, and Claritin. And I didn't pay a cent.

You've got to give credit where credit is due--the medical powers-that-be certainly certainly aren't stingy with that kind of thing.

So I muddled through work on Wednesday and Thursday, coughing and rasping out to coworkers, "Don't come near me, I'm sick!"  Smart people that they are, they kept their distance. 

But Thursday night I had a hair appointment. I'd made it three weeks before and given the mess a certain other salon had made of my hair last month, I was more than ready to see a stylist.  I just couldn't cancel.

The salon I visited this time, Glow, is known for being western-style and expensive. I'd say that's fair. I liked them, though. My stylist was an American and very skilled, their products are high quality and the salon itself was clean and nicely laid out (though I agree with my stylist--they have miserable lighting!).

It's in a villa just off Salwa Rd, not far from my apartment. Salwa is a very busy, main drag that is six lanes wide in spots.  Traffic whizzes by and this close to the industrial area, many of the vehicles are large, vaguely threatening looking trucks. 

Like many businesses in Doha, Glow is tricky to find at first. Here are the directions, taken directly off their site:

Located just off of Salwa Road. After passing through Decoration Round-about, you will pass the Mercedes Benz dealership on your right hand side. You will then pass Za Boutique which is connected to the Mercedes dealership. Take the first right after the Mercedes and Za, between two new construction buildings. (The road is new and currently unpathed, so look for a rough dirt road.) Go straight and we are in Villa #10 on your left hand side. Look for the big “Glow” sign on the top of the building. We are near Dr. Sarah Dentistry, and next door to Curves.

Even with this, I got lost.  I didn't see Za, connected to the Mercedes dealership.  But I did see an unpaved road, so I took it.  It spit me out in back of the Mercedes dealership in the middle of a construction site (which, as I've mentioned before, is not uncommon in Doha).  The area was kind of like a loading dock with construction as a barrier instead of a fence.  After winding past concrete barricades, searching for Villa 10, I gave up and called the salon.  They were able to guide me the rest of the way.

The block of villas where Glow is located faces a large open field where more villas are being built.  It's been cleared, but there's not much construction activity yet.  There really aren't a lot of people out there except for the few getting their hair cut/teeth cleaned/hips slimmed.  To get from the street to the villa (And I should probably explain--when I say villa, I mean a free standing house with a high walled courtyard in front.  This is a very common kind of construction in Doha both for private homes and for businesses.), I had to walk across an unpaved, rocky/sandy stretch before crossing a narrow planked bridge, walking over some more sandy/rocky stuff and entering the courtyard.  Not so tough in the light (though your feet get dirty).

However, at 7:00pm, which is when my appointment ended, it's pitch dark in Doha.  I walked out of this very nice, modern building and into utter blackness.  To make matters worse, the humidity last night had to be 60% or more, so my glasses instantly fogged.  So I'm standing in the dark, blinded, while in the distance (not that far, really!), I can see the neon lights of Salwa Rd.  I muttered, "This should be interesting" and went oh-so-carefully on my way. 

Did I mention I was wearing heeled sandals?  Yeah.  I didn't want to make things too easy.

Tiptoeing along reminded me of camping when you're basically feeling your way to the outhouse at night.  Only then I would have had a flashlight.  Still, I made it, only twisting my ankle once.  I will say this though--the handrail on that bridge thingy wasn't the sturdiest thing ever.

My hair looks great.  I made my appointment for next month.  It's for 11:00am on a Friday. That should get me out of there while the sun still shines.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

In Sickness and in Health

For the third day in a row, I'm home sick.  I'm laid low with some kind of virus.  On the one hand, I was kind of glad to know something was actually wrong and I wasn't just a wuss.  I had plans last Friday that I had to cancel because I couldn't seem to stay awake.  Whatever the heck I have hit me Saturday evening.  It started out as a sore throat, then morphed into attack of the killer sinuses before settling in my chest.  Overall, yuck.  But I've learned something.

First off, in Doha, pharmacists come out from in back of the counter and prescribe (more or less).  After muddling through without any drugs the first day, I got dressed and headed over to the Boots at Villagio yesterday morning (another fun fact:  at 10:00--which is when the mall opens--the oh-so-scary Villagio parking lot is quite navigable).  After standing there a bit blank-eyed (I later learned I was running a fever of over 100--I think I deserve a little slack!), a very nice pharmacist came out to ask me if I needed help.  I assured her I did.

"If I was in the States, I'd know just what to buy.  But here...I haven't a clue."

"Are you running a fever?"

"I don't know.  One of the things I need to buy is a thermometer."

She handed me a box of cold-flu meds, a throat spray and a thermometer.  The meds were from Denmark; the throat spray was made by a Swiss company out of Cyprus (true!).  I thanked her and went home.  Or tried to.  I took a wrong turn on what should have been a ridiculously easy route back.

I told you.  I was running a fever.

My alternate route required that I navigate the ever-frightening Decoration Roundabout (Have you noticed that most of my fears these days seem to revolve around driving obstacles?).  After doing a 360 round the roundabout, I returned, took my meds and laid around, feeling sorry for myself.

When 5:00pm rolled around and my fever was climbing, not falling, I called our Wellness Officer, Mary.  She is a true superstar and had checked in with me earlier in the day to see how I was doing.  I asked her if she thought I needed to see someone, as the pharmacist had said that if I wound up having a fever and it didn't go down after a couple of doses of meds (and I'd taken two rounds by that point), I probably needed anti-virals.  Mary, a former nurse, made me read her the ingredients of my current meds.

"There isn't enough there to bring down your fever.  You need Panadol!"

And with that, she showed up at my door less than an hour later with three boxes of meds (day, night, sinus) and nasal spray (saline, because you can't anything else without a prescription).

A Wellness Officer who makes house calls!

Oliver, I don't think we're in Baltimore anymore.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Customer Service and Other Things

Clearly the whole "I've got to be better about posting" lesson didn't take. Hello again. I'm pleased to report driving is going well. I actually kind of like it. You can go pretty fast and as long as you don't get freaked out by someone coming up right behind you and sitting on your rear bumper, hoping you'll move over (I try to make them change lanes), you're golden. Except at roundabouts. Roundabouts are the main challenge of driving in Doha.  I still feel as if I need to gird my loins every time I approach one.

That being said, I was very sad to read that three employees of the hair salon at which I have an appointment in two weeks (Glow) were in a horrific accident on the 18th that left one of them dead and two of them still in the hospital.  So while I'm celebrating my new found automotive freedom (in a Nissan Tiida--it's the same car as a Versa), I'm well aware of the dangers.

It's really interesting living in a multicultural environment like Doha.  Up until now, the most diverse place I'd ever lived was Washington, DC, and while DC could be considered a melting pot by U.S. standards, it doesn't compare to here. 

By and large, people are very welcoming.  All the talk about women being a small minority here is true.  I think the stat I saw is something like 25-30% of the overall population is made up of women.  It doesn't seem quite that extreme in actual practice, though, because a lot of the men in question are laborers working on various construction sites and their visibility within Qatari society is really limited.  They're transported to their work site, put in a long day's labor, and then are transported back to the camp where they're staying.  It's my understanding that they're taken to a mall once a week for shopping needs, but that time there is very limited.  So a western, white collar worker like me doesn't really interact with them. 

 The treatment of laborers here is a huge hot-button issue.  They have few rights and conditions are harsh.  Yet I've spoken to several female workers from places like the Philippines and India, and they've always stressed how much opportunity they find here.  The woman who now works as our office assistant/tea service person left three children behind in her home country.  It's hard to believe the work she's doing could be that attractive.  But apparently, compared to her prospects back home, it is.

One of the things you learn quickly if you're an English speaking Westerner is just because someone assures you they understand what you want or need, the odds are 50-50 they don't.  They're often very eager to help, but at times just don't have the communication skills.

Yet at other times the communication is delightful.  I had to get fingerprinted (again--I had them done in the U.S. when I left).  After going through the Ladies Entrance at the facility and being shepherded into an all-female waiting room, I had to wait for my number to be called before going up to a row of kiosks, staffed by women in abayas, some fully veiled.  I assume these ladies were Qatari, but I don't know for certain.  They were chattering amongst themselves in Arabic but speaking to all who came to their workstation in English. 

When my number was called, I went up to one kiosk and waited while the girl tried to do what she needed to do.  I was standing virtually on top of the tech at the next kiosk (they were set up side by side, and the techs were seated on high stools/chairs while they worked).  This is the exchange that took place:

Other tech (with a smile):  I like your style.
Me:  Thank you!  That's really nice.
Other tech:  Do you have a mom or dad who is Russian?
Me:  Russian?  No.  English maybe.
Other tech:  Oh.  English.  I thought maybe Russian.  You have a different accident.
My tech:  Accent.
Other tech:  Accident?
My tech:  Accent.
Other tech:  Oh.  Accent.

Unfortunately, my tech couldn't get a full set of prints.  Apparently my hands are too smooth.  Who knew?!  (Mind you--I was fingerprinted in the States before I left, using a similar system, and that tech didn't have any problems.)  So I was told to sit down and wait for the tech who thought I was Russian to try.  I'm assuming she was more experienced.  After awhile, she calls me up.  But she has similar problems.  That led to this:

Tech:  This would be good for you though if you committed murder.
Me:  I wasn't actually planning on that.

Without exaggeration, combined, the techs must have tried 100 times to get clean impressions of my prints, all to no avail.  In the end, the second tech took all my information in the back.  I waited for about 10 minutes.  Then she came out and said, "You go to Immigration today."  I asked, "Am I done?"  She replied, "Yes.  You're done." 

I got my resident’s permit two days later.

I don't know what she did exactly, but I guess she put in a good word for me.

Maybe she has a soft spot in her heart for would-be Russians.