One month later in September I was on my way back to Doha Qatar “alone” as my wife and two of the children would join me in five months time, and it was
decided that our eldest son should go to a boarding school close to the grandparent’s house and that we would rent out the house.
Arriving back in Doha Qatar I soon got stuck into the job of changing the bakery, ordering new equipment, counters, making layout plans, putting in place hygiene controls
and started staff training on new product lines. The total renovation of the bakery had to be finished and ready for the expatriate Christmas trading giving me only three months to get it all done. But then after just one month the GM said I should go on a
business trip to the UK and Paris to meet suppliers and make sure all the equipment was on schedule, this was good as it meant I could also see my family all be it for only the weekend.
One of the early things I needed to do in Doha was to get mobile as there was no public transport and it was far too hot to walk
anywhere even first thing in the morning temperatures where 30 degrees Celsius or more, but I soon managed to get a four wheel drive being the best form of transport in a desert country, but the problem was getting a driving license even though I had a clean
UK license and had been driving for 21 years you still had to have a test, so it was off to the police compound at 5am for the test, first thing was the eye test, cover one eye and say what way the arrows where pointing, up, down, to the left or to the right!
Then the road signs no problem, then on to the test track reversing round a letter “S” marked out by bollards and into a parking spot, then reversing up a manmade hill and holding the car on the clutch, this always baffled everyone as Qatar has
no hills being perfectly flat, then out on the road test accompanied by three Sudanese police man, I took the test 3 times and kept failing until the stores Sudanese security officer who always accompanied you on the test advised that 3 bottles of “Scottish
nectar” would do the trick ( and then I passed without a road test)
My first encounter with the true Qatari Arab was when the local health officer arrived at the bakery one morning, he was a short man and all dressed in his white robes and head gear, he spoke excellent English as he had been educated
in England, we first toured the bakery and he made a few suggestions about the hygiene conditions but I assured him that all matters like that were in hand and that a entire renovation of the bakery was in hand which made him very happy.
Then we sat in my office drinking Arabic coffee, discussing all the changes to be
made in the bakery and all the places he had been to in England and seemed pleased with what we indented to do, but I found it a bit off-putting as he sat picking the dirty sand out from between his toes and flicking on the floor, I thought to myself “and
this is the health officer” but he was a very nice , polite man, and would often come to see me just to sit and talk about England and drink coffee...
Over a period of time we made many Arabic friends but I always found it a little bit awkward (at first) when they insisted kissing me on both cheeks which is a traditional
greeting among friends, I think the other expats thought I’d gone mad or turned ethnic but as they say “when in Rome”
Although a Muslim country it was more far liberal in the fact that expats could buy alcohol c/o a company know as cable and wireless, you had a license to buy and could spend
a set sum once a month, on your designated day you went to the cable and wireless compound and into a room like a off-licence with all the drinks and beers on display round the room with the prices marked on them, you then selected what you wanted, but you
had to get it right to the exact Qatar Riyal, then once you paid you collected your drinks and beer loaded them into your car and went straight home as you where “supposedly” only allowed to drink in your own home, or a friend’s home. But
needless to say there was always a barbeque or a party going on by one of the 12 or more expats to which you always took a bottle or a case of beer, (strange how you can soon find excuses to have a party) but the bond between all the expats was strong all
being in the same boat so to speak.
Finally all my
new equipment arrived and on time after having been sent overland, we set the day of changing all the major equipment starting on a Friday night about 7 pm and worked all through the night with all the bakery staff myself and the store engineers, every one
worked like trogons and by the time the shop opened at 9am it was all finished to the amazement of the customers and rest of the staff alike, we had installed new ovens, bread plant, counters, clothing everything was new and it looked just like a UK supermarket
in store bakery only one thing different and that was a (humidified counter) for the imported Belgian chocolates, but one thing was very clear and that was, that without all the hard work by all the bakery staff and engineers we would never of got it done
in time, Our friendly health officer was well impressed and we never had any Bakery hygiene problems with him, mind you a free cake at birthdays or the end of Ramadan (Eid) always helped...
Christmas was approaching and we had Christmas products on display in our new counters then the Christmas chocolates arrived
by airfreight, and as I normally did I opened a few of the selection boxes just to make sure we were getting what we ordered, but “Boy, Oh, Boy” on this occasion did I get a surprise, as in the selection boxes I discovered it contained a chocolate
variation that was a Cherry Brandy Liquor! If these had gone on sale I could of ended up in jail, I took a few boxes up to the GM and said to him these are good try one! After testing them he nearly fell of his seat, there was only one thing we could do and
that was to open every selection box of some (1000 boxes) and replace the offending chocolate with another variation, what happened to the cherry brandy liquors? Let’s just say that I don’t think any of the expats or there wife’s ever liked
cherry liquors again, well we had to destroy the offensive evidence.
Although it was Christmas the store still opened being a Muslim country but the expat managers got the day off (well that is all but one of them) who had to look after the store for half a day and I drew the short straw but all I had to do was
stroll around the store just to let people know that a expat manger was on duty, it wasn’t so bad as the store was empty and incredibly quiet so gave me time to phone my wife and children at home in England as they would not arrive in Doha until mid
January, then once the store was closed at 11am it was round to a friend’s house for Christmas lunch with all the other expats, everyone had chipped in for the food and with plenty of drinks it turned out to be a great Christmas day and did not finish
until 6am the next morning, how we all got into work I don’t know (but we did) this had been the first time I had not been with my wife and children for Christmas and although it was a great party I missed them very much...