Collecting our first ever 4x4 - August 2011
One of my greatest fears on arriving in Qatar back in 2011 was having to get behind the wheel and drive around. I had practically no experience of driving on the right hand side of the road, most of the cars looked like huge tanks and, to be perfectly honest, the manner in which a lot of people seem to drive here is, to put it politely, not quite so courteous as we were used to back in the UK!

Simon knew my fears which is why, within just one day of arriving in Doha, he took me to some of the car dealers and made me test drive a variety of vehicles. I was not at all happy to be plunged into the deep end but retrospectively it really was the only way to go.

A few days later we were in possession of our very own brand new 4x4, a Honda Pilot, which seemed big but not scarily so - unlike the Nissan Armada, which having just got off a flight from the UK, was just too big a jump up at that time (my perception may have changed a little now however!). 

It was while we were at the car dealership waiting to be given the keys to our new car that we had our first memorable Doha moment - Matthew told us that he had just seen a ninja walking past! What he had actually just witnessed was his first sighting of a lady dressed in an abaya!

So, a few things you need to know/remember when driving in Doha:

1.Don't be surprised to see children clambering around without seatbelts on as they are being driven around. Sadly, the majority of  families (excluding Westerners) do not make their children wear seatbelts and are happy to let them hang their heads out of the windows and let their babies and toddlers sit on the laps of other passengers as they drive along. It is no wonder that the child mortality rate in road traffic accidents is so high here and I will never get used to the way these poor young children's safety is so readily ignored.

2. If a Landcruiser comes speeding up behind you flashing his lights then make sure you move over quickly as he's certainly not going to slow down and will more than likely try to bump you off the road!

3. When crossing a roundabout the easiest thing to do is close your eyes and put your foot down full on the accelerator as drivers often ignore road etiquette and fail to give way when they should. They also frequently drive straight through red traffic lights!

4. It's a fact that if you want to turn left, get in the far right lane and then swerve across 3 lanes of traffic at the last minute to make your turn. There is no need to indicate as everyone will of course already know your intentions!

5. If there are 3 lanes leading up to a roundabout then don't be surprised to find 5 cars across them, all trying to get on the roundabout at the same time.

6. Size does matter - you need a big car as otherwise no-one will see you and you will get squashed fairly rapidly.

7. If the queue heading towards a roundabout seems busier than usual, then that is likely to be because the traffic police are on the roundabout 'improving' traffic flow!

8. Why drive on the road when you can whizz across a dirt track in your 4x4 to cut a corner?

9. If you want to know what it feels like to be truly petrified, just head towards the Industrial Area where you will find dirt tracks instead of roads and cars flying towards you from all directions!

10. One positive to finish off - Fuel is EXTREMELY cheap here - less than £10 to fill the car up from empty, as compared to £80 to fill up our Ford S-max back in the UK!! Yes, you heard me right, fuel is extremely CHEAP so you can afford to run your air con full blast all day and leave the engine running when you pick up the kids from school. Ok, so it may not be environmentally sound to do that but it is CHEAP!!

Fanar, Qatar Islamic Cultural Centre/Mosque
Having a young baby in the home, you wouldn't be surprised to hear that I am often woken early in the mornings. However, my sleep is not actually disturbed by the sound of a crying baby, but rather by the early morning call to prayer emanating from the loudspeakers of the 4 mosques surrounding our Compound. I have read that it is Islam law to have a mosque within walking distance of all Muslim people and therefore wherever you live in Doha, there is no escaping this early wake up call.

Living in a Muslim country, I am able to witness the local people practising their religion on a daily basis. People of this faith are very devoted and this is shown five times a day during the call to prayer. Just like church bells ringing out on a Sunday morning, the call to prayer echoes throughout the country during the day on loudspeakers that have been posted on street corners, mosques, restaurants, shopping malls, and schools. A loud, deep voice echoes over the country, chanting verses from the Holy Qur’an. For a Muslim, you are being summoned to stop whatever you are doing and worship your God, no matter where you are. For a non-Muslim, it can be disturbing and peaceful at the same time. For me, it’s a reminder of the world I find myself living in and I actually love sitting out in the garden listening to the melodic sounds of the mosques on a Friday lunchtime (this is the special day for prayer) - there is something very lovely about the sound.

The prayer intervals change each day depending on the sun. It begins at dawn (currently about 4.40am!) and then repeats three times during the day, with the last one two hours after the sun has set. Most Muslims go to a mosque or prayer room during these times. However, if a Muslim is travelling and unable to reach a designated place of worship, he will first determine the location of Mecca and then roll out his prayer carpet and begin praying to Allah, something we often see when out and about in the various parks. Also, if you are driving during the call to prayer, you will be able to hear it through the various radio stations.

After 18 months living here I am somewhat embarrassed and disappointed that I have not found out more about the religion, which surrounds us - yes, I hear the Call to Prayer and I know a little about the month of Ramadan, but I have never really taken the time or effort to find out any more details. I was therefore really pleased last week when Matthew went on a trip with his  Beaver unit to visit Fanar, the Qatar Islamic Cultural Centre, that works on motivating society to become more informed about Islam. There he was able to visit the mosque (pictured above) and learn a little about Islam and what the religion means to its followers. Each child was then given a couple of books with basic information about Islam (excerpts shown below) and had their name written out in Arabic. He had a great time and was at last able to make sense of the noises he hears from the mosques as unfortunately we had never thought to talk about it with any of our children!

NOTE TO SELF - be more aware of what is going on around us and don't forget to share information with the kids. There are some great learning opportunities here for them and we mustn't waste them!!