Getting There

By the time my plane rolled down Doha International Airport’s runway, I had been asked 19 times if I were Filipino. 19 times, just at the Bahrain and Qatar airports. 19 times I answered Yes, and the follow-up questions were: 1: “Have you come straight from Manila?”, 2: “Ah, what’s your job in Doha?”, and 3: “So, what, are you staying with an aunt or something?”

I fell, weary and bleary-eyed, into the arms of Jul, who in the three months we spent apart had grown thinner and wild-haired, for he hadn’t had a haircut ever since I bid him goodbye at the airport. The ride to our apartment offered me a glimpse of what would be my home for the next couple of years: large, imposing, gaudy-looking houses (or should I call them mansions?), minarets looming on the horizon, and terrible driving.

Our apartment is not bad: a newly-built, mustard-yellow or pale orange- coloured building (I had a debate the other day with the taxi driver) in a little street just off the main road, whose highlights are a car repair shop, a tiny Arabic grocery store, a Fruit Juice stall (fruits are a big deal here, apparently), a laundry shop, and what is most probably another Arabic grocery store, but I can’t be sure, since it’s closed all the time.

Curiously, the highlight furniture of our apartment is a huge liquor cabinet, the heavy glass and wood kind, with spotlights no less, meant to dazzle your future jealous house guests (who haven’t yet obtained their liquor licenses.) A very ironic piece of furniture, in a country where pork and alcohol are banned; albeit acceptable considering that our building is for expatriates only. Alcohol is served in hotel bars with a 17.5% tax on top of the cost of the drink, which is not far, really, from the prices in France.

A huge TV sits balefully in our living room, feeling snubbed since we are anti-TV, although I do watch Arte and Al Jazeera from time to time.

There is a mosque just outside our building window. Every day at 4:45 am, the minaret plays holy prayers of the Qu’ran. The first morning, upon hearing the prayer, I started in bed, my body clock awry, blinking in confusion. I could hear prayers from other mosques, their tones blending into a gradient, like the sun that was starting to set. I found it beautiful and exotic and was transported to another world; a reminder that I am now living in a Muslim country, where it is polite to cover up even in the heat of summer, or where holding hands and a harmless peck on the cheek in public is something to be avoided, if only to show respect.

So yes, that first morning, filled with wide-eyed wonder, I found the prayers beautiful. The next day I was slightly irritated, especially since a cellphone from the building across (under construction, as is common here in Qatar) starts to ring just after the prayers, ring tone the unfortunate tune Lambada, its midi-cheerfulness echoing in my brain like nails being scratched along the length of a blackboard. By the third morning I was ready to scratch someone’s eyes out. By the fourth morning I got up automatically and started to read, as if my body just got used to it. I think now that my mind and my body and my soul can and will get used to anything. Maybe it’s all a matter of perspective, or the choice between allowing ourselves to listen to some things, and to ignore others. I still get up when the prayers start. It’s pretty loud.

Currently listening to:
Explosions in the Sky
All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone

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