All non-nationals living in Qatar, must apply for a Residents Permit essential for working in Qatar, hiring a car, buying a car, seeking medical attention, renting a house, buying alcohol, the list continues. Part of this application involves having some medical tests carried out, consisting of a blood test, a chest x-ray and a clinical examination, all instigated by the Qatari government as a matter of control rather than concern. So, one of the rare treats in store for anyone immigrating to Qatar is the compulsory visit to the Medical Commission Centre for the Ministry imposed check- up.
On entering the grounds of the Medical Centre one gets a good idea of what is ahead, by the greeting sign, MALE – this way, FEMALE – that way. Being of the fairer sex I entered the Female section of the Centre, I went to the registration desk which resembles the queue at Supermacs, Eyre Square at 2 o’clock on a Saturday morning. Two Arab women in full Abaya dress, sit behind the desk which is 5 deep and growing.. These two registration officers (I’m being kind with this title) take paperwork from random people in the queue, shouting above the tannoi, “married?” , “pregnant?” “where your passport” all of which I answered with the same aggression as they were asked, until “mensi?” I looked blankly, not having a clue what “mensi” meant, Again she shouted, “mensi?” “mensi?” “mensi?” and pointed to my stomach, As her frustration built, I scrambled to think what she meant – AHA!- She means breakfast I thought, Am I fasting?, I shouted back, proud of my deduction, “Coffee only”. Her frustration turned to fury (well very cross anyway) she gave up on me and turned to the crowd around and signaled as if to say – can anyone get through to her (me)- a nicely spoken Sri Lankan girl pointed out that, “mensi” means, menstrual, I replied “oh”. After these personal details are hashed out at the counter I was then issued with a numbered ticket, 227, and left to stare at the electronic counter for the next 3 hours.
A morning spent at the Social Welfare office in Hanover Quay is like a day trip to Fota compared to this. Distinctly remembering the feeling of queuing in Hanover Street and feeling that feeling of not belonging in a dole queue with a plethora of non-nationals seeking citizen’s benefits and here again, I am holding a ticket waiting for my number to be called, feeling uncomfortable among non-nationals seeking citizens recognition, except this time I’m the non-national. Feeling very spoilt and wondering what it is that makes someone feel uncomfortable when surrounded with around 300 women in the exact same position. Not being fond of the taste of humble pie, this experience is gnawing at my self-esteem but I can at least take comfort on two counts, one being the fact that I am sitting down unlike the rows and rows of personal maids standing holding their madams handbags and children and two that unlike the madams I don’t approve employ the services of a maid nor do I approve of this civilized slavery.
Finally number 227 – as I approach the counter, eager for the long awaited enlightenment for the next step after my 3 hour wait, I am sorely disappointed with a nod and a grunt and I am pointed to the blood taking area. The robust blood taker is sitting at her desk in full Abaya dress, legs spread wide, a soft white roll with cream cheese in one hand and a clip board in the other, being the blood takee, I take my position in the chair opposite, at this stage I haven’t spoken a word for over 3 hours ( a real accomplishment) as I was preparing to make some sort of chit chat, the taker lifted her Nicab (facial cover of her Abaya) and took a large bite of the soft roll, she then reached for my arm to take the sample, I refrained from conversation.
Continuing afterwards to the TB Test Room and the clinical examination room, for equally enjoyable experiences and having gone through over half of a 25ml bottle of hand sanitizer, I thought back to the days of hatch 44 , floor 1, and thought, was it really such an injustice to be assessed for financial entitlement, in an orderly queue, with helpful staff and stacks of information sheets. While I don’t wish to be back on the rock and roll, greener pastures also have their trials.