Doha, I wouldn’t say represents Qatar as a country; to that point, I haven’t quite figured out what exactly constitutes the nation. Being a middle eastern country, I was set up with a lot of stereotypes to expect in Qatar – many of which I would disagree with and it left me puzzled, wondering if I’ve really seen a real Qatar.
The first thing about the oil rich nations that come to mind is probably their wealth and luxury shopping. Wealth was definitely seen all around, with high rises all around the city centre parts and in the Qatar Pearl newly developed neighbourhoods – each of them amazingly well crafted and designed architectural masterpieces. Luxury was apparent as well with top end brands, from fashion items to food, on offer all around, it echoes one of the king’s slogan: “Qatar deserves the best”.
What struck as odd for me though was the absence of people with all these newly constructed buildings. We saw local life at the largest city mall, but we definitely observed more workers and foreigners than what I would imagine to be a Qatari. Based on facts too, it’s true. There are far more workers in Qatar than born and bred Qataris. When we were lining up for immigration, we saw many of the workers coming from less wealthier nations, majority Phillipines and India. The most prominent thing for me was that they were all men. Just men looking for work to pay for their living and have left over money to send to their families. It didn’t seem like they assimilated much into the local life as many of our Indian taxi drivers still had Indian radio or music channels playing and they didn’t seem to speak Arabic. The question for me is, what would be such a strong motivating factor that one would have to leave their own country to come to such a foreign land and be so alone to just seek work. And the other half of the equation would be for the Qatari government, how they are maintaining this immigrant population and how is this attracting a different cohort of people, thence what sort of social consequences does and will it lead to.
To me, Doha was a man-made beautiful city. The harbour area was spectacular in design with landscaped gardens and super clean footpaths maintained everywhere. The Museum of Islamic Art was one of the best cultural embodiments of contemporary design I have seen and it brings a real life and flavour to this otherwise concrete place. Doha seemed to be pushing the edges of technology with all of its development projects however beneath all of this, I feel a heavy facade. Something hollow and shiny on the outside, like a metal sphere. Cold. I couldn’t help but feel uneasy, especially seeing many areas of the city still under construction whilst there were many empty blocks. Surely Qatar isn’t that new of a country?
There were many multicultural foods and imported goods, and some eateries offering Qatari local dishes like the Machboos (roasted lamb with spiced rice) and Al Um (this amazing coconut bread pudding that is of Egyptian origin). The food we had for the two days we were in Qatar came mostly in huge portions and were good quality. I was pretty impressed by the level of hygiene that the places served – much contrast to Morocco, the closest comparison I have travelled to. According to their development plans, Qatar aims to be 100% self sufficient in terms of food supply. I’m not too sure how exactly this is achieved but I’m guessing a lot of greenhouses and hydroponics are involved.
Women, another fair topic of stereotypes for Qatar. Yes the majority are conservatively dressed in Abayas – black robes that cover head to toe, with Burkas – Black headscarves, but it seemed that they were given a lot of freedom. Many of them had embellished dresses, the colourful glimpses of dresses beneath the covering seem lavish and extravagant and heels! A lot of women wore fancy heels everywhere! We also saw many women working in offices, counters, public spaces just as men would. Not free like western women are but so progressive for an Islamic country.
I think there’s a lot of areas that could be improved for Qatar but they definitely seem open for western influences and everything best that is on offer for their citizens. Being an oil dependent country is also interesting, seeing as a large part of the world are slowly starting to transition off fossil fuels but they still remain in the oil glory bubble. It will be fascinating to be a transition stop again in a few years time to see the changes or even see how they open up to the world for the 2020 FIFA World Cup.