When I first arrived in Qatar, Nancy, a librarian at VCU, gave me a bottle of wine - and that's when I remembered that alcohol is illegal here - rather, I should say, very tightly controlled! Because this is an Islamic state and because alcohol is not consumed by most Muslims, buying alcohol in Qatar can be a bit challenging, which is why Nancy gave me the perfect welcome gift and suggested that I pass along the good Karma to another someday.
To be obliging to visitors (i.e., not discourage the lucrative tourist industry), Qatar allows hotels to serve alcohol in their bars and restaurants, which are some of the more expensive places in Doha to eat. That option, however, doesn't fill the need for those of us who occasionally like to have a glass of wine or beer in our own homes. The alternative, established for resident expats like myself, is called The Syndicate, a state-run (I think) liquor store, at which expatriots are allowed to purchase a membership that in turn entitles them to purchase imported wines and beer at rather inflated, but still affordable, prices. It is against the law to sell liquor to a Qatari, so The Syndicate is very tightly controlled.
Because this sounds a little bit like the archaic liquor control system in Pennsylvania, I was probably less flummoxed by this system than most. Right after I arrived, several people, including Nancy, mentioned to me that Ramadan was starting soon and The Syndicate would be closed for that entire month. Nancy, besides giving me a house-warming bottle of wine, also offered to buy some wine for me when she went to The Syndicate to stock up for Ramadan. After several reminders, I took her up on the offer and got several bottles of wine. Then Kip, who teaches basic design at VCU and who also has a membership at The Syndicate, made the same offer. He got me several bottles and a case of Heineken.
The end of the tale is that, after three months, I am still working on the case of beer and have several bottles of wine that others brought to me when I hosted them at dinner parties. Guess I'm not in danger of being classified as an alcoholic anytime soon. And a gentle reminder to any who travel this way: do not buy alcohol on your way to Qatar in the duty-free shops - it will be confiscated by customs, just like pork.