"I've been told it's probably best we don't take the little travelers", said G. He'd been given the heads up from those who had already been through the process. He was talking about our appointment for a medical.
To obtain a residents permit you have to have a government medical. Resident's Permits are required for an alcohol permit. You need an alcohol permit to buy alcohol. I needed a Resident's Permit.
Our adventure started when we were collected by bus at 9 in the morning. Originally there were about 5 of us on the bus, we smiled, made polite conversation, nothing unusual. Over the next hour things got a little more interesting, we stopped four or five more times. We watched in dismay as forty people (men, women and children) loaded on to our twenty seater bus.
On arrival, we unload cattle style from the bus and are reunited with our passports, we haven't seen them since we handed them over to Mr Talib on our first day in Doha. G was then sent to the men's section while I was directed to the women's. As I lined up behind the masses I suddenly felt very tall, very pale and very much a fish out of water. By perusing the passports in the queue I can see most of the women are from either the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and India. We are all standing with our passports in hand, looking a little nervous, none of us knowing exactly what we are meant to be doing. Some of us have an extra passport or two, they belong to our children. I win the prize, with four, I have the most and although there is a language barrier, when everyone sees my stack of passports they give me the thumbs up.
Everyone working in the office is a woman. English is limited so commands are short and difficult to understand. " You go there" says a woman in an Abaya, I can see a smile in her eyes. After registering, having my photo taken and walking to 3 different offices to have someone new sign my forms, I am then told to take a blood test. An extensive search is made throughout the building and I finally find the blood test room and stand in line. There are roughly fifty women ahead of me. We are called one by one to give blood while the rest of us look on with interest. I remember thinking at the time that privacy obviously wasn't an issue. I had no idea what was to come.
After the blood test I am told to go to the Xray room. As I walk through the door a woman points to a basket full of scrunched up dirty hospital gowns and tells me to move in to the next room. I can see three rooms in front of me, each with a sign saying "changing room" so I knock politely and open the door. As I open the door I'm embarrassed to find three women in different stages of undressing and apologize profusely and close the door.
After a few minutes it occurs to me that everyone is looking at me like I'm an idiot. Another couple of minutes and it comes to me in a flash, oh God, I am obviously meant to JOIN them in their state of undress. Oops!
I go through the process of walking in again, this time I'm nervously giggling at my earlier mistake, I find a corner to whip my gear off. There are now 5 of us in a room the size of your average toilet, and with a combination of body odor and the fact we all have our arms in the air undressing, it was, ahem, fragrant. With our range of languages we somehow have a conversation about if our bra is meant to stay on or off and everyone decides off. I start to giggle as I whip off my bra, this is possibly one of the strangest situations I've been in for awhile. I am also amazed by how white my boobs are in a room full of brown ones, and when the lady next to me does a double take at my pink nipples, I realize I'm not the only one who's amazed.
The xray room has a sign on the door saying "do not enter while xray in process" the door opens and I discover that while the xray's are going on there are fifteen or more women standing in line watching the process. No one is wearing the usual protection required for an xray. It's truly horrifying. I want to question what's taking place, but I also want to just get it over and done with and never come back again. I choose the latter option. As I'm standing in line, the xray woman is barking rules to all of us in Arabic, we have no idea what she is saying and she's getting frustrated.
Finally, it's my turn for the Xray. I'm pushed against the screen with my hands behind my back and my chin rested on a bar. It's kind of like I'm being arrested in a hospital gown without the handcuffs. I've watched 15 people before me go through the process and I'm determined to get it right so I can get out of the room and find my bra. I miss my bra. Thankfully, it all happens quickly. I run back to the room, walk in on some of my old friends and meet some new ones. In lightning speed I get dressed and confirm the experience is over.
The process has taken just over 2 hours. I walk outside, find a seat in the sun and wait and wait for G to arrive. He finally appears. He has sat in a line for 3 hours only to watch the office close and be told to come back tomorrow and try again. I tell him what I've just done and we laugh. The things we'll do for a drink.