Doing business in Qatar requires many things but I’ve found that the most important of all is patience, and lots of it; things happen a bit differently here, a bit slower than what you may be accustomed to, and usually in a more round-about manner. I remember scheduling a group meeting and telling one Qatari student that it was at 9am. ‘9am sharp?’ was her reply. ‘Yes, 9am sharp’, I said and thought to myself, ‘if it wasn’t 9am sharp, than the meeting wouldn’t be at 9am!’
It’s not only students who have issues with time keeping though, there have been countless instances where meetings with individuals in higher level positions have occurred later than expected because they’ve sauntered in 20 minutes after the appointed time with no explanation. On several occasions people have simply failed to turn up.
Scientifically speaking, setting up this lab here was not exactly a walk in the park either and we learned many things the hard way. We literally started from scratch with a 500 m3 empty space that was divided into offices, labs and a small kitchen. We sourced all furniture (lab and office), scientific equipment, fume cupboards, chemical cabinets and consumables. Qatar has a very firm policy on what can and cannot be imported in the country and, depending on your mood, this level of bureaucracy can either be comical or completely infuriating.
The most challenging obstacle that I have found here is the procurement of chemicals. Strict importation rules apply in this instance and I cannot simply call a chemical distributor in the UK, order 6 bottles of ethanol and have them shipped to Doha. There are 2 issues here 1) I (meaning my company) must have permission to import ethanol (or what ever chemical I’m interested in buying) however, even if I did have permission, I would not be able to order from said UK company as 2) I must order through the local, Middle East distributor. Ordering from the local distributor usually requires emailing the Representative (Rep) to obtain a quote, waiting…, chasing up the Rep for the quote, waiting…, getting a quote for items that are double the price of what you are used to paying and having to wait 6-8 weeks for delivery. Lab work here requires a lot of planning ahead; next day shipping is very, very rarely an option.
Needless to say, it’s the amount of time that things take that I find the most frustrating and the fact that people often tell you what you want to hear, not necessarily what they are capable of; if you cannot source Dithiothreitol (DTT), please tell me when I place the order and not the day before the scheduled delivery date!