My experience working in an Persian/ Arab Gulf Country

I had an opportunity to live and work in an Oil rich, Persian / Arab Gulf country for two years. I have experienced many of the other countries in the Middle East which were mostly in the Levant,         (Lebanon, Egypt, Syria) and only travelled to the Gulf countries to be in transit to other locations. so this would be a chance to not only take a peek but to experience how it is to live in a Gulf country. I have a good working knowledge of Arabic and a very good understanding of Arab culture and traditions. 

MY EMPLOYMENT
I was on a contract with an English as a Second Language school for two years, teaching mostly male students as I wasn't allowed as a male to have females unless they were under the age of puberty in my class.

I remember the first day of my arrival at midnight. After clearing through customs I was so happy to see the smiles of my director and also our driver, who instantly grabbed my heavy bag.
They drove me to my flat which I had to share with another teacher. They even very thoughtfully had some fruit, bread and snacks for breakfast for me the next day!  Luckily, that other teacher was leaving a few days later, so I inherited the flat for myself as well as some of his local friends who came around when I was moving in.
My school director for the Western teachers, a very lovely woman from Texas who strongly resembled the singer Dolly Parton was probably one of the best directors I encountered in my career. She and I became  quite close, and we would go for walks together. We liked trying new cuisines and tried a Somali restaurant not far from our neighbourhood, and went into all male Pakistani food establishments together. As a Western male and female, with the probable notion that I was her son, no one bothered us but were treated with kindness. I suppose we were "exempt" from the gender segregation rules at that place.

I felt lucky to have the contract to work there and for the experiences in those years. My salary was very good,  and I had been given a nice flat (close to all the shops and walking distance to many places in Doha) which was rent free, all utilities and bills paid for, (I had to run the air conditioning every day due to the sultry weather!), my air tickets to and from Doha, annual leave air ticket to anywhere I wanted to fly to, and my month's salary waiting for me when I returned from my vacation, a driver which took us everyday. He also did extra personal errands for me like depositing my money, wiring my money overseas, dropping me off at places I wanted to go, etc. My relation with the driver was really great- I sat in the front with him as the women sat in the back, and since I knew many of the Arabic singers and songs, and could speak Arabic we bonded easier and closer. When a favourite Arab singer came on I impressed him with who was singing. We could tell jokes and be talkative as the women in the back of the van were in silence.

WORK VISA

It was the general policy  in all of the Arabic/ Persian  Gulf ( GCC) states as a condition for employment that the employee had a sponsor (the employer) to work in the Gulf countries. The employee would be issued a visa (I got a 10 year multiple entry business visa) and the employer must change that visa into an الإقامة "iqama" visa which the employer keeps the employee's passport. If the employee wants to go somewhere out of the country, she/ he must get an approval and a letter from  her/ his employer for permission to travel and apply for an exit visa.  The employer had a direct control and decisions over the employee and his/ her travel and employment.
Labourers from South Asia, Africa and Philippines unfortunately are treated differently from Westerners, and had to go through many hardships to come to these countries, and don't have bosses who are open minded, but are bigoted. I've been told that there were different colours for the "iqama", one colour for Muslims and another for everyone else. Even with those rules The employers even treated other Muslims badly too! 
 My boss, was an unprofessional and forgetful small businessman. Since he was not very organised and had other things of higher priority than our iqama visas, and our school director, who also didn't have her iqama, kept quiet about mine too. Therefore, both of us fell through the cracks, and luckily we were bypassed from all those horrible rules and were not under our boss's control. I therefore travelled abroad, and came and went whenever and however I felt like. We weren't under the chains or the whims of anyone and, kept a responsible attitude where we remained free.

TYPICAL DAY IN CLASS

My classes were in a split schedule, so I would come home for lunch and have a snooze for an hour or two, later returning to afternoon classes, and coming home when the sun was setting and therefore, dinner time. This was a blessing as we would have less heat to deal with!
Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting, changed the schedule even more, but it was easy to get used to. During Ramadan the work schedule is split according to the fasting time, and everything seems to be working on a skeleton effort, which becomes a bit of a break for us too. The strong teachers made the teacher's office a " Ramadan Free zone" where we could be exempt from the rules enforced, as long as we had the door closed. We would have snacks, some coffee and the smokers could smoke. We had a very close knit relation between the colleagues in our school and confided in each other. My male students were also enriching my life culturally as well. I had students from diverse areas like Somalia, Mauritania, Palestine, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Ethiopia, Iran, as well as local Qataris. Two were also from some affiliation of the royal family as they had title "HRH" infront of their names.  At first, some of the Qatari students had an arrogant attitude when entering the class but they softened up as time went on, realising that we are all there as equals. A few charmers in class would flirt with me by giving me the eye and a smile, but I didn't get involved with them personally and kept a professional  attitude. A few students did take me out for a weekend camping trip to the desert where they set up a big tent,

        (my students and me camping in the desert)


made their own entertainment etc, as well as some coming to my 
flat.  I didn't get involved with them in the way I did my "after work" friends. One brave Palestinian student of mine boldly managed to have some "discreet encounters" with me as I was invited to his home for dinner and slumber parties when it was too late to return at night. This happened very discreetly.

Due to the strict  Islamic rules in that society, genders were separated, and in our school there was a big divider in the hall way so that males can't peek on the females going in the hall way.  Being a teacher, I had to cross that divider at times, and when I was feeling a bit mischievous, I would cross over it just for fun to watch all the scurrying and the quick flurry of black veils covering up an already covered shape of a female. Other males got the same idea as I had, and even "accidentally" attempted to enter female classrooms, for fun kicks of course!
My classes went quite well for the most part, with each class differing according to the levels of students, nationality, learning interest, and, as well as the reasons why they were in class. Some of the big industries in the country were trying to hire more local personnel and hire less expats in those positions, and therefore English was required of the local personnel. At times there were some unmotivated students, who were there just because they clocked in, and eventually they became a frustration and at times a distraction. Many times, because they were wealthy or came from wealthy families, there wasn't the motivation nor the incentive to do anything, as everything they desired materially came easily and at the snap of a finger. Many didn't feel it important to get 100% on something as 80% was just as good.  I remember the only time I made a horrible cultural snafu and openly called one of the lazy and time waster students "حمار", a donkey, and I got some trouble all day for that.
Most of my students were very motivated, funny and entertaining that in one of my higher level conversation classes I laughed so hysterically with  them that my eyes were tearing, and looking around at the other faces, I noticed that they also were tearing from laughter! Many times, since we were all males, and the class had a "all guys" feel to it, mild sexual innuendos were jokingly discussed here and there. One interesting situation I learned to skillfully handle with success in class was when discussing family. Particularly when even drawing the family tree on the board. Only males would be drawn on the board, and only questions pertaining to males in the family were appropriate. In role plays, even phone numbers had to be made up as students would get squirmy and uncomfortable, as giving out the correct phone number meant a female in their family might possibly answer the phone and therefore unacceptable. Photos in our American made study book were a challenge for us as many were co ed, with females swimming together in the sea with other males, which is "scandalous"!  Forgetfully passing around photos around the class to  demonstrate something, I would find some of the photos as they were returned to me with the female's body censored with black ink. 
In some of my beginner classes, coming to the end of the course, and preparing for the final exam, after I went around the class with an oral quizz, I vividly remember the shine in their eyes and had strongly felt their sense of satisfaction. I felt so good after that.

SOCIAL LIFE 

I recall my first week of working, trying to get used to split schedule, and also getting acclimated to my new home that some fun and peculiar events started happening to me. Our driver brought us from the morning shift home for lunch, and I wandered to the big window in the sitting room of my flat which overlooks a rather busy street below. Being in a semi- daze, just staring at cars passing by, our driver's van pulling away empty,  when I noticed a car driving past my view slowly. I dismissed it. Still staring below at nothing in particular, that same car drives slowly past my view again, and again I dismissed it, but glancing a bit and seeing it was some guy. My brain was thinking about lunch and the same car drives past me again for the third time, very slowly. It was a cute man in the car cruising me! I opened the window and stuck my head out and waved, which caused him to make an immediate u-turn, he parked his car and as fast as he could, he ran up the stairs to my flat to greet me. Turning out to be nicer than I had seen from in his car far away, his very cute face and smile. He followed me to my bedroom and that was the beginning of my wild encounters with discreet local guys!  He had been a friend of my flat mate, who moved out already, and who had a real slut reputation, and I just inherited those friends! The system those guys had was like an "Amway" style connection. One guy tells another guy, who tells two guys, and those two guys tell two more guys and so on. In a little while I had regular visitors and a regular guy party time was the norm in my funny flat! 
I didn't go to the Middle East so that I could hang out with other Western expats, so my friends were local guys, also handsome Iranians, strong muscular Pathan warrior hunks,  thobe wearing horny Bahrainis, Afro-Arab Bahraini athletes with beautiful bodies and equally beautiful libidos, wild and daring Egyptian stallions, also gentle demure Nepali cuties in a tea shop, Tamil guys who were strong construction workers, horny Indian truck drivers, who were also halal butchers, tailors, and  virile guys with every other job.   The local guys were particularly horny and bold, and they were known more for their gangbang parties in my flat. I became very close to them all and had learned so incredibly much from them about life in the Gulf. We went out late at night for sheesha, (hooka pipe). Many times we went out for evening drives through the desert, having secret parties in their family villas, camel riding in which my Omani camel raiser friend made the camel toss me off of it onto the ground, and others just to hang out for companionship together. I never knew Arab guys could be so affectionate! When I would sprawl casually across my sofa to watch TV, one of them would push next to me so that he could also sprawl across sharing my space so we would watch together. Many times they would remove their thobes and undress down to just their under wear, especially during the hot season. I would see their beautiful coiffed hair which was usually hidden under the ghutra and aghal (traditional head covering which they each had clever ways of folding and wearing it. Many original ways of wearing ghutra was so sexy and original!  In my young boy's class I would laugh when they would take the aghal, the black coil (camel's tether) which they place on top of their head and fidget with it, letting it fall off their head onto the desk, or hit each other with it!Sometimes they would take the white cloth off their head and just wear the round aghal, black coil jokingly on their head. Many students had nice physical bodies and the ones with very good shape and were a bit narcissist liked to wear those fit, Pierre Cardin muscle t-shirt under their thobe when had something to flaunt.   During the Ramadan month I expected them to be away and for me to be more alone during that time but I was proven wrong as they were at my flat at a more furious pace! 
Since I was not under the Iqama rule which I mentioned earlier, I made many little trips outside the country with some local friends whom I made. We would buy weekend packages to Dubai or Bahrain, or Abu Dhabi which would include a 5 star hotel, the flight, and airport transfers. We met local guys discreetly who came to our hotel rooms, and we also enjoyed the Wild Wadi Water park which was wonderful. In the water park there were nice fit guys who would be standing at the end of the rides to assist you from the slide. It was great fun!  We had some very wild and exciting adventures together, which I will write more on that topic next time! I also made trips to Nepal and Bangkok when I wanted to, and needed no permission from anyone at all.
It was illegal for a male to date or go out together in public with a female who was not a very close relative. In the West, if walking past a row of cars with couples out on a date, one would expect to at times see a male and female next to each other, but in the Arab Gulf, it looked like all the dates for the evening were gay! I openly held hands in public with my local friends,walking together, eating together, and many times, I would be in the middle and having on each side of me a guy who was holding my hand or elbows connected together in friendship. No one raised an eyebrow and as a matter of fact, it looked flattering and honourable as a cross cultural friendship was happening. 
On days off I would  swim in the waters of the Gulf which were nice and warm. I once went with three of my close Arab friends together in a deeper part of the Gulf waters, away from everyone, and we took off our swim short and together, holding each other in a circle, swimming nude! In the Gulf!! (we quickly got dressed again as one of my friends got stung by a jelly fish!) 

As I was walking home from a swimming pool party of my director, it was already later at night. A nice car stopped by me and a really cute looking guy from Yemen was in the car. "Come in, I will take you home" he told me. He took me home and even spent the night! He was to become one of my very naughtier of the naughty friends of mine and would come around many nights where he would keep me up all night! At times he would remind me to keep my moaning as silent as possible during orgasms as others might be listening. All kinds of serendipitous occasions would occur when I was living in the Gulf!
I suppose I felt lucky to make friends with local guys quickly because many, or most of the Western expat men there were older and I looked more approachable, and believe me, I made myself more approachable especially to the really cute ones, which were many! I must say I had the time of my life!


FOOD
I was responsible for my own food, probably the only real thing beside travel and some entertainment with local friends which I ever had to spend my money. I always ate very well and tried all kinds of local specialties; Bangladeshi curried fish, shwarma, Iranian smoked fish, all kinds of Pakistani and Asian specialties, which were fresh, clean and delicious!  I have to admit I thoroughly enjoyed the eating experiences I had. My Yemeni students would take me to the local Yemeni restaurant where I tried that cuisine for the first time, also Pakistani, Palestinian food at my friends home, cooked by his mother, Iranian guys coming to my flat with local specialties, etc. I had an Omani friend who was a camel raiser for a member of the royal family. I was taken to a fabulous luxury lunch a few times at this royal family villa via my Omani friend's coat tails.
 Since I was not under my employer's iqama, I was not allowed alcoholic drinks as they were not sold to the public, but I clandestinely made my own private brew in the other bedroom in my flat which I wasn't sleeping in, to get my mild buzz from time to time. Of course there was non alcoholic beer to buy which  was good and refreshing!
I liked shopping at supermarkets where the locals shopped, and were the prices were low, (I was told one of the shops for vegetables was even Qatari government subsidized!).  I had made friends with the cashiers, and also with the halal butcher who even sneaked me around  in to a dark room for " his emergency visits" when I came past his department.  I sampled Arabic pastries, baklawa, and had my usual assortment of pastries which the pastry shop clerk automatically knew when I came through the door. 

"CONNECTEDNESS"
Since it was an all male society, I felt a wonderful connection with the other males in the shops and even in the pharmacy, when I had rashes or scratchy irritations from heat, food allergies on places on my body where I would feel embarrassed to tell a female in the pharmacy, but many  times the male clerk would call me behind the counter, take down my pants, and give a diagnosis then and there, which I felt was so intimate and wonderful. Some times there would be occasions of an over connectedness.  I had an errand at the post office and had to stand in the queue. The man behind me in the queue started to grope and massage my buttocks, standing in the queue right in public! My driver was standing right by me!  I'm not sure if he saw what was going on, and we didn't mention anything about it anyway. Another time, when I was wandering in the old city and was really needing a cold drink. It was  soon time for prayer as the call to prayer was sounding off when I entered a small tea shop. It looked like it was getting ready to close for prayer as the owner of the shop was leaving, but the two Nepali guys, which a huge smile and shiny eyes, gestured for me to come in and stay. They closed the door and shutters on the windows, as I was ordering a tea. Realising that I was locked in, and both of them smiling as they came up to me, they both ushered me in back of the counter and under a dark place, and um , need I say anything further? This kind of situation also happened at a small dusty tailor shop. I wanted to repair a shirt at a smiling guy in the tailor shop when I was taken to the back of the shop where  things other than tailoring went on.

CID SECRET POLICE

There was a "CID" secret police which would go under cover around the country to enforce the  strict Islamic Sharia'a law and moral codes throughout the country. One would never know they are the secret police until they told you. I had a friend who was a big wheel of this secret police, and had exercised his clout freely. He would drive a fancy land cruiser which had a liquor bar secretly built in, filled to the maximum! He was very confident and secure about it because no one would ever try to stop him.  I never saw him wearing traditional thobe, but always  expensive looking athletic Western clothes. He invited me for a drive where he would take me through the desert across the country. Once we came to the desert we sped so fast in that land cruiser, that it felt like we were ready for take off in a plane! Slightly inebriated from the bar he had in his vehicle, both of us made a small intimate barbecue of lamb and other meats by the sea, with not another soul nearby. He had a fishing net and took me very intimately in the sea to show me how to fish in the traditional method. It was fun to watch him move as the fishing net was thrown. We later came back on shore to drink some more and to enjoy the private surrounds of the desert and sea! We slept under the stars in the desert that night!

RELIGION

Because of other secret police around, and neighbours who were devout and sensitive to their beliefs, one had to be careful about what one expressed in public. It was illegal to say anything derogatory about Islam. The first few days of being in the country and still new to the situation around me, I would hang clothes together with my  Western colleagues on the roof to dry, and the call to prayer would blast in stereo everywhere. I was in a playful mood then and started to nonchalantly imitate that sound which I was hearing, and my English colleagues told me not to do that.  Students at times would say inane comments in class about Jesus and Christianity but I just overlooked them as the students were "unbelievers" and didn't  understand, just like I didn't understand their beliefs and whenever I was handed any religious propaganda I would put it somewhere else for others to read. Other students of mine would say, "Teacher, are you a Muslim, because we like you?".
 It is also interesting to watch some of the foreign Western women who married local men as they would wear the traditional Islamic female clothing, and would completely cover themselves in black, with a slit for the eyes to see through like local Gulf women would. Some of the wives would, at times, on purpose do outlandish dramatic and extremely crazy things on purpose just to shock the husband's conservative family, and she would get her jollies from watching what the reaction would be from them. They got some kind of pleasure from  doing this, and even more pleasure letting off steam in front of all of us to hear in the teacher's room!  I asked one of my colleagues who had a local spouse if she had converted to Islam and she told me in her lilting Scottish accent that she would never do that, ever. Her husband was open minded, but she had to wear the local black clothing just "so she can stay out of trouble" with her other female relatives of the husband.

ENTERTAINMENT
Apart from a local cinema which shows movies in various languages, there isn't much of a venue for entertainment, therefore having many friends who enjoy fun activities of various kinds is the key. Believe me it was my friends who helped me to survive or I would be crazier than I am now. All of my friends were wealthy or came from wealthy families, and had fancy cars. I think I might have ridden in almost every kind of fancy car there is, and on a fun and casual basis.
Many times when I would come home from work, or finish my errands such as grocery shopping, searching for different exciting  ethnic things to try for dinner, my phone would ring. "Jim! Come down now! We are here! come come come!"  If I didn't answer the phone, small pebbles would tick and knock at my window, eventually it leaving a hairline crack in one of them. I would come down to see my friend's head popping out of his car, and many times some cute guys in the back seat. I would close the car door with me barely getting in the seat as the car would be already moving, racing out of the city, far from watching eyes, secret police, and we would go to the desert, to the sea, or wander around some abandoned old homes which were made of mud! Almost all of those times involved some fun physical contact of some sort.
During Ramadan, the Corniche, which is a big public walking area near the sea would have many kinds of entertainment such as carnival rides, games booths, etc which I would be taken to, and many times also to meet some new guys, all of them randy and flirty! (I remember being sneaked into another friend's villa with some friend of my friends for some "emergency moments", taking out the lube and tissues, as he called it, as he had no place of his own for "these" situations). I would walk back to my flat at night, slowly walking and passing by other groups of guys who were also walking home. I would befriend many guys that way, and if it were a weekend, I would make a detour in my plans on walking to my home and would spend it at my new friend's home, like I did with 4 new guys from Kashmir who lived together in a small one room shack. One of them even volunteered his sleeping space on the floor for me and he slept in the kitchen area. I vividly remember them walking me to their home with some of their arms on both of my shoulders, feeling so comforting. It was the first time for me to sample Kashmiri style cooking too!

SAVING MONEY

As I had mentioned earlier, I had no bills to pay and my fixed living costs were very low as I just had to pay for my own food and personal effects, so I saved at least 80% of my salary or better! Even the first month for me, I still wasn't use to having so much money! I would go on some errand or past shops and could recall thinking to myself, "Oh! I could afford that, Oh! I can buy this!" But, I wanted to keep my money, which I had done successfully! When my salary was paid, always in cash, I would take out only a little for my expenses, and hand the rest to my driver, who would take it to be wire transferred to my bank account overseas and hand me the receipt. He would do anything for me!
I know other countries in the Arab/ Persian Gulf are more expensive and some will have more expenses than I had so one might have a different outlook on saving money than I had.

HEALTH CARE

In many of these oil countries health care is free or at a very low cost. If the employee is sponsored and has Iqama then health care is provided for in many cases. I didn't have Iqama so I always prayed that I never got sick and I was careful not to meet any accidents.
I only needed a few times to go to the pharmacy for some rashes and allergies, and climate or food change allergies on my body which I didn't know how to go about alleviating them. Thank God I never had anything else.

MANAGING THE HEAT

The heat was immense for much of the year! Just looking outside the door of my flat was blinding! It felt like walking in an oven, and when I was walking around the corner to a friend's place, I needed to hide for cover under my colleague's large black umbrella with her just to walk around the corner! Wind storms would scoop sand up and the air would have a powder smell to it and my nose and esophagus would feel scratchy- add oven heat to that experience! There would be at times an odd chemical smell in the atmosphere too, and an eerie pink hew in the sky,(no it wasn't a sun set!) I suppose a good thing about this is that after doing laundry, clothes dry very quickly, and you can wash something at a moments notice and wear it a short time later on.
Everywhere in public as well as private has air conditioning and most of the time it is on "cold". One goes from one cold building into another, in between shocks of hot oven blowing heat when going outside quickly, then into a cold car or van. One time in August our school van air conditioning broke down, and it was like a moving furnace! It wasn't fixed for two days! I sat up front with my driver and both of us rolled our eyes at each other as we never heard so many moaning and complaining sounds from the females in the back during those days.

 I recall when I was staying out late one night while having a sheesha party with my Egyptian guys and coming back into their car I remember the thermostat on the car reading 41 degrees C (105 F) at 2 AM ! 
The comforting news is that when the temperatures go down a bit for a few days it feels really cold out.  Yes, there we can always chug down a cold beer- non alcoholic that is! I miss the real fruit juices which were sold at the small Indian shops everywhere. 

FINAL MOMENTS 

I remember the last day I had, when I checked in my suitcase, and the moment I felt when I saw the immigration officer stamp my passport out of Qatar.  For some reason I felt a relief throughout my whole body! Although I had a wonderful experience and had many fun friends, I think the amount of time I spent there was perfect. It at times had been a crazy ride those few years. Had I stayed a bit longer, I think I would have not enjoyed it for  too much longer. However, having said that, I do believe the nostalgia I do have now of living in the Arab/ Persian Gulf will last forever!


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