In 2004 March, I went to Qatar for a teaching job at an international school with the help of a very good friend (Kumara Badhuge) who was working there.
I arrived in Doha International Airport during the day and my friend took me to the school and the formalities were done there. My friend had already arranged me a room in the school premises for me to stay and bought all the necessary items from a mobile phone to a cassette recorder to a TV to a refrigerator. He made me very comfortable in a strange land.
The school had hired a Sri Lankan driver to drive the school bus. It was the only vehicle the school possessed and we had to take the bus if we had to get something done from the city, Doha. The school was a little away from the main city.
The first night, we had to take our dinner outside. The driver took me to a place in the city and I was not familiar with the city and its people. All I had heard about the Middle East was that the Arabs are merciless and one should be very careful with them. The driver parked the bus in some place where there were few cars parked. He simply disappeared into the darkness to bring dinner for us. I didn’t have the driver’s number with me and I was waiting and waiting, still the driver didn’t come. In the mean time one of the car owners came to take his car out of the park and our bus was blocking it and car had no other way to get out. Two bulky-looking Qatari men got down from the car and knocked on the door of the bus. I was scared and looked for the driver but he was not to be seen yet. The only option I had was to pretend asleep in the bus. The two men saw me and banged on the door and shouted something in their language. I couldn’t pretend asleep anymore and I opened the door. The two men were very angry and shouted at me. I explained in English that the driver went somewhere and I was waiting for him. Then they asked me to look for him. I didn’t know where the driver went. So, I went to a place that looked like a hotel with its lights and entered in. Alas! It was not a hotel; it was a place where the Qatari men were smoking with hookahs. There were around 20 people smoking the hookahs and the smell that came from the smoke was unbearable to me. It must be a place where they smoke illegal substance. The moment they saw me they shouted in their language and I just managed to get out of the hall before they welcomed me in the Qatari style. I sheepishly tip toed towards the bus and the two men were still there. I covered myself to a date tree and was waiting for the driver to come. After around 20 minutes the driver came and I ran to the bus and asked the driver to drive fast. The two men again shouted at the bus and I’m sure they were using the filthy Arabic both at the hookahs parlor and here. The whole episode reminded me the cartoon series ‘Adventures of Tin Tin.’
I never expected to see rain in the desert but the very night I came to Qatar it rained. It was a nice experience to have. The next morning I still saw the drizzle. I felt I am the luckiest man to enter this desert country.
There were only primary section in the school and it was fun to teach the kids. The children came from Sri Lankan, Indian, Pakistan, Philippines, etc. families and all the teaching was done in English. The parents were either professionals or businessmen. My job was to teach the kids computers in the small computer lab we had. The staff consisted of only Sri Lankan teachers. Staff was very friendly.
In the pre-school section there was a Qatari boy who didn’t want to spend a minute without his mother. The moment his mother left the school the boy started crying. He was unmanageable to any of the staff members but I could make him happy and he became very friendly towards me and was behind me throughout the day. He didn’t speak any English and I didn’t speak any Arabic and we developed our own language to communicate.
An interesting character I met in Doha was Mr. Kumudu from Sri Lanka who was a manager of Sofitel Hotel in Doha. He was very helpful to the school and came to practice cricket with the boys too. He had exceptional organizing abilities and worked with the Sri Lankan community very closely.
One day I taught the kids to keep the computer lab clean and tidy and asked them to collect the litter and put them into the dust bin. They didn’t like the idea and the next day the principal, a Sri Lankan lady, told me that two girls had complained to her saying that they come to school to learn and not to collect the dirt. I got the message as to how it goes over here and when the same team of students came to the computer lesson next day, I collected the dirt myself and one of those girls came to me and said, “Sorry” and helped me collecting litter. The whole class got together and made the class clean and tidy.
The day we took the kids to swimming lessons was the most exciting day. Kids were exhilarated to see the water in the pool and were uncontrollable. We spent hours in the water and came back.
Another trip was done to see the desert and it was a new experience to me. We went to a small community in the desert and I didn’t know whether it was created for tourist attraction or actually people lived there. There were tents and Qatari people were drinking tea inside them. We too could enter into the tents and drink tea. We also rode on camel back and it was not a pleasant experience at all as the camels were bad smelling animals.
I went to see a computer exhibition in Doha one day and had the opportunity of meeting Ajay Puri, an Indian kid who had passed some Microsoft exams, the youngest to do so in the world by then.
One day the bus caught up a sand storm and it wasn’t a nice experience at all. Though it rained the first night I came to Qatar the hot days followed up and it was unbearably hot to be outside the buildings. I bought enough cucumbers and ice-cream from super markets to eat.
We became very active during the festival the school organized with the Sri Lankan community in Qatar to celebrate the Sri Lankan New Year and it was a success.
To be honest, I couldn’t do much for the school as I had to return to Sri Lanka within less than two months due to other commitments and my only accomplishment during the time in the school was being able to create a nice brochure for the school.
During my time in Qatar I tried meals from many places including Sri Lankan restaurants and decided to stick to a small Nepali restaurant because Nepali food tasted more Sri Lankan than in the Sri Lankan restaurants.