For the trailing spouse (usually wife) getting set up in Qatar is not as easy as rocking up with a pair of fitflops and a maxi. Unless you want to do visa runs to Bahrain every 59 days, you need to obtain an RP (residents permit). Every non-Qatari person living in Qatar needs to have a sponsor. The employee is sponsored by the company and the spouse is sponsored by his/her husband/wife. This wasn’t news to my husband who has been sponsoring me for a number of years now, both in and out of Qatar. However there is a procedure involved in getting a permit in Qatar and it must be adhered to, the dreaded part of that procedure for women is ‘the medical’.
Entering the medical commission centre are the signs, ‘MALE ENTRANCE’ ‘FEMALE ENTRANCE’. This alone is a sampler of the kind of bedside manner to be expected within, it could read, Gentleman/ Ladies or Men/Women but it could have been worse, it could have read Human/Animal and that labelling would have been most suitable for the treatment received inside.
At the door, two women in full abaya, are sitting at a simple table, interestingly I noticed that at no desk, counter or room is there one women alone, there are always two at a minimum, so they can have a natter while they’re treating expats like dogs. Snatching my paperwork out of my hand while pointing to my stomach and barking, ‘you have baby’, was step one of the process. I was then issued with a ticket and when called to the hatch was asked two things, ‘baby inside?’ and ‘one hundred fifty riyals?’ to which I replied ‘no’ and ‘here’. I was then pointed to the ‘blood drawing’ room.
My experience to date of having blood taken, is a welcoming smile, an appreciative raise of the forehead to signify understanding that nobody is delighted getting blood taken, a kind word along the lines of ‘this will only take a minute’ and at the end a small but triumphant, ‘All done’. This finished you walk away feeling relived and slightly proud of yourself.
My experience this week involved, being welcomed by a gruff point to a chair, where I obediently sat, perky and ready to be issued the next order. There were no more orders. The blood drawing machine, a rather robust lady, propped her phone so she could read as she drew. And with all the precision of a game of ‘pin the tail on the donkey’ she dug the needle into my arm and shuggled it a bit until she found blood. I walked away with a bruised arm.
Next was the chest x-ray. This was the only stage where I didn’t feel I was treated like a dog. I felt like one of a flock of sheep, being lined up to be dipped. The waiting areas had six rows of seats, eight chairs per row. The lady managing this area will be referred to hereafter as ‘the door’ I think an apt name for her shape and personality. ‘Six come’ she said and six women, all ages, nationalities and religions came and stood at the door to the x-ray room. I had four sets of sixes to wait before I was one of the lucky six.
The Qatar women pushing their maids into the queue and one in particular calling out ‘India, India’ at her maid to get her move, made for gruesome watching. I only realised she was calling each of her three maids by country when I heard her call the other two, ‘Sri Lank’ and ‘Bangli’.
Inside the x-ray department, I used this term loosely as it was room with an x-ray machine in the corner, I along with five others were ordered to ‘strip and wear gown’. Chest pressed to the panel as the other five looked on I inhaled and exhaled as ordered, sadly, there was a distinct of unity even within the group of six and I never felt so demoralised, as that moment, but little did I know the worst was yet to come.
It happened on exit I was asked to sign one last form it had on it all my details and there it was written in black and white, HOUSEWIFE. I had enough, I couldn’t take this treatment any longer. I scribbled out the harsh accusation and wrote in large letters, WEEKLY COLUMNIST FOR THE EVENING ECHO, CORK!.