Three weeks into our expatriation to Doha and the novelty of clean living is wearing off. It’s ironic that during these first weeks of trying to make a home on the peninsula off Saudi Arabia where you need a licence to buy alcohol in the off-licence, that there was never a time that the need for a large glass of red was more worthy.
The process for obtaining a liquor licence in Doha sees even the most determined binge drinker, stopped sudden in their tracks and firmly steered along the road of sobriety. A long lonely road, dry as an Arabs sandal and just about as much fun as listening to snooker on the radio.
Long evenings, sober, listening to Arab soaps on the TV and staring across the coffee table in space is enough make anyone consider their goals and ambitions in life. Of course you could change the TV package and the coffee table but if you just had one bottle of beer, everything would seem brighter.
My perspective at this point needs to be clarified and coming from Jakarta and arriving in Doha is like going from looking at life on a 52’ 3d plasma screen and suddenly switching to the black and white portable telly.
There are alternatives, the hotel bar. Sterile but serviceable. The hotel bar that charges ten euro for a glass of Pinot Grigio. The hotel bar that has a menu for drinks (never a good sign). The hotel bar that is the off-limit area for a family, ‘here to save money’ and not have a good time, that hotel bar.
The other alternative is the nightclub, ‘Lava’ and on the nights I’m not staring across the coffee table, I’m sitting at the window, my nose pressed to the glass watching what looks like the entire population of Manila piling into ‘Lava’ at the Intercontinental Hotel. It has to be said that Filipinos know how to party and seem to be singlehandedly keeping nightlife alive in Doha. I’m wondering, how can they afford it? Do the one hundred and twenty five people that they are supporting back in the Philippines know that they are boozing the benefits of working abroad? And lastly, can anyone join in? But while I long for just one night out, I’ve been around the Middle East before and I know that the club would be sterile also and not nearly as hot as the name suggested.
Suddenly on one of nights I had my nose pressed to the glass, I notice a massive erection. A large tent with a sign overhead, ‘Welcome to Oktoberfest’. Was it a mirage? Was my imagination playing tricks? Was this some sort of elaborate practical joke? I had to find out, with only the expensive sterile hotel bar and ‘lava’ to choose from, I had to.
As my lederhosen were still in the container and the container was still on route from Indonesia, I threw on a pair of jeans and a top and made for the tent, my mouth watering at the thoughts of over-filled jugs of frothy beer in a room full of liberated Europeans making a show of themselves trying to mimic that weird dancing.
Kiss sterile goodbye, this was Oktoberfest, obviously Doha was no Munich, the festival wouldn’t continue for 16 days and there wouldn’t be 5 million people in attendance but it was a beer festival, and there are no (very little) rules at a beer festival, surely.
The tent was indeed real, not as big as I previously thought but then that’s always the way. The sign said ‘Welcome to Oktoberfest’ and yes there was beer. I was about to pinch myself when I was asked for my passport. Bear in mind in Ireland you can fly to England with a student card as a form of identification and here in Doha you need your passport to get a beer. There was a hefty admission fee and when I peeped inside I couldn’t see any overflowing jugs only orderly tables with Lego man-like looking men, sipping sedately on glasses of beer. Then the final straw, a sign, ‘Dancing on the table is prohibited’. Enough. I went home. This was no Munich, or Cork or Jakarta, this was no Oktoberfest.