Friday, 22 February 2008

Another week in Doha

It seems like a lifetime since we drove out to the beach. Life is becoming more and more busy here. We were invited to a lecture this week entitled "Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think" given by Dr John Esposito who is the director of the Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, Georgetown University. This event was sponsored by the Center for International and Regional Studies, Georgetown University school of Foreign Service here in Qatar. The lecture and a reception following was held at the lovely Diplomatic Club in Doha, a very beautiful venue! Dr Esposito proved to be a humorous, thoughtful, knowledgeable presenter who is a leading expert on the Muslim world. He is also the co-author of a wonderful book on this subject and has very clearly presented insights into the thinking and attitudes of a large part of the Muslim population. Deepak Chopra praises this book by saying: "As our world spirals out of control with greater violence and misunderstanding between the West and the Muslim world, this book cuts through the conflicting rhetoric of politicians and pundits and presents the often-silenced voice of Muslims everywhere. I cannot imagine a more important or more badly needed intervention." 
As I read the book myself I am finding that for me it de-mystifies the  religion of Islam and makes me admire even more the Muslim people who are so devoted to it. They have a strong commitment to God and a goal to attain peace through God's will. I understand more and more the importance of prayer in their lives and love to see them take time out of their busy lives to simply pray. 
Next week I will attend a workshop entitled 'Global Media Between Dialogue and War'. I am so looking forward to it! (it is also free!)

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Doha contd

During the past few days we have had to visit our local hospital for some further tests to finalise our paperwork. We were sent to a new hospital on a new road nearby. The first thing we saw at the doorway to this large building were a couple of bellhops with golden trolleys, apparently there to collect luggage for patients. We entered the building to be greeted with a large waterfall in the centre of an even larger foyer. We looked up into the atrium to see the windows of the guest suites draped with plants and beautiful curtains. This was like no other hospital we had ever been in! At the entrance to the pathology unit was a fully uniformed man waiting to greet us and inside there was no waiting for service. We enquired about finding a specialist for later and were assured that we just needed to make an appointment whenever suited us. I will go back tomorrow to see a surgeon who will give me a referral to my next specialist and so it goes. This city is still amazing us. 
On the weekend we drove south to a beach to take a look outside of Doha. The road there was across a landscape like no other. Sand, dust, oil stacks burning into the air, more dust, fast cars and roadworks. Oh, and yes, a camel or two wandering around. 
We passed through an industrial town built we were guessing for oil exploration. It seemed very remote and very bleak to us, with more brand new purpose-built concrete buildings to house more workers. We finally arrived at the only beach resort in this part of Qatar(there are not many). As we neared the beaches there, we could see many, many little patches of businesses set up in the sand renting fourwheelers for people to ride off onto the sand dunes and out of sight! We saw many 4 wheel drive cars doing the same thing and wondered how safe it was out there with people zipping all over the place with no safety measures in sight. 
So my day was spent swimming in the cold Arabian Gulf, riding a camel along a busy beach, listening to the roar of motors riding the sand dunes and finally sipping tea around the pool of a rather luxurious but busy beach resort with the usual palm trees and grass. Perhaps we will go there again but I suspect not too often, unless it is early morning before all the noise begins. 

Friday, 15 February 2008

Doha contd

In the past week I have had to be xrayed ( in a crumpled gown), finger printed and had a very brutal blood test which left me with a swollen arm. This was all done by government agencies here in order for me to be able to live and work in this country. In each case I was in waiting rooms with groups of women from all over the world. It seems that we have joined a team of people from everywhere- drawn here for the working opportunities from maids to business executives. It is still amazing to me to be amongst this crowd! The population of Qatar I find is made up of 20% Qatari people and 80% other nationalities - which makes for an interesting phenomenon. Qatari people born here are fully protected by their government and I believe are paid an income from the day they are born. This means that there are some very wealthy Qatari families here and explains why there are so many ritzy cars around! I also find out that the population has grown rapidly in the past year even- from 800,000 last year to over a million this year. I do hope that the roads and all the infrastructures keep up. 
As soon as the government has approved of me being here I will be issued with a resident card, my health care card and I can apply for my licence. I am not at all sure about driving here though- at busy times it is very hairy with everyone making their own way through roundabouts and with roadworks causing sudden closures of roads you thought were there, and new roads appearing suddenly that are not on any maps. I have worked out that I can book a taxi if I call the day before and make a time. This might be my surest way of getting to where I need to go in the meantime.

Doha contd

Yesterday we attended an orientation about the Qatar Foundation of which we are a small part. It soon becomes obvious that the vision for Qatar in general is huge and almost beyond belief. We see plans for the largest equestrian centre being built nearby, more universities including a teaching medical college, a leadership college which looks like a series of space ships nestled in the sand and a convention centre which resembles the branches of a giant tree. We hear about the underground part of this city with its own service roads so that rubbish trucks can stay out of sight and to allow movement. We meet people from countries we have hardly heard of, as well as a woman born in the next town to mine in New Zealand. One group is here to design the most up to date hospital in the world - to be opened in 2011. How exciting to be given the opportunity to bring to life all of the excellent practices of the world in one spot! I don't know whether to laugh at the pure decadence of it all or to cry about the amount of concrete being poured into the desert- instead I just shake my head in wonder and decide that this experience, while being completely opposite to our African one, will in itself contribute to our lives in many rich ways.

Doha contd

After our overload of shopping centres we drive downtown to my very favourite place so far. We park in a cobbled parking place next to an old building made with stones and uneven tree branches. The place is just opening and we wander into a Moroccan Restaurant while we wait for the Soukh to come to life. Here you can sit on the pavement sucking a pipe bubbling through water called a 'shisha'? It seems that both men and women do this. We instead choose to drink Morroccan tea (mint and honey) and eat eggplant and lentils. Then the fun begins. We wander down small alleyways to find everything from bedding to material to shoes and bicycles. Then the smells of the spice section beckon me and I simply drool over the selection of nuts, figs, dates, spices, herbs and teas. I know that I will return to this place again and again. This time I buy conservatively and carry home my little treasures to fill my new jars with and to simply gaze at in awe for the next few days. I am absolutely going to love living here despite the shopping centres! 

Doha Day Three contd

Today we are taken to two other shopping centres- my 14 year old son still needs convincing. The first one is, from the outside, rather old and tatty looking, yet it has been newly constructed and purposefully built to look like this. As we enter I am greeted with a painted cloudy sky, a curving avenue of 'old' buildings with new shops on the lower level, standing lamps to light our way and a gondola floating past along the canal that seems to run through the centre of this carefully created 'other' world. As we wander on we come across a large skating rink where Canadian children are hurtling around doing what they have always done, except they are not in cold Canada at all. Here are the usual mixture of expats, Qatari families in robes and modern young people. Because the weather is unseasonably cold I buy a modern track suit top for 100 QR- only $32 or thereabouts.  We drive on to our second shopping centre to find a Marks and Spencer store within- so now I am convinced that Qatar is going to be an easy stay for us. Not that we are shopping centre people but compared to our stay in Africa where we had to shop at the local 'duka' made from shipping crates, this seems all too easy. (even our son seems impressed!)

Doha Day Three

This morning after being woken with the distant call to prayer, I found a neighbour who agreed to take a walk with me around the outside of our compound. We are living in a suburb called Education City. It is presently under construction (the operative word for Doha at present) with the goal of finally developing the largest Education facility in the world. It is currently home to five elite US educational institutions and is still expanding. We are working for one of these institutions and live on part of the 2,500 acre site in an elegant, brand new apartment built for staff of the Qatar Foundation. So off we set on a rather windy but very chilly morning. As we walked along, sometimes on rubble and sometimes on brand new concrete sidewalks, it is quickly obvious that the old had been very brutally pushed aside to make way for the new. There is still a tent flapping in the sand, right next to the gate of what I could only describe as a mansion, newly constructed. On further inspection this is actually a compound with two mansions inside, I am guessing for a wife (the smaller house) and her husband (the huge house). My attention is more drawn to the tent and the nearby fenced yard holding onto the last spaces before more concrete invades this world. We walk over to the dusty enclosure to find camels of all ages within. There is a mother with her newborn baby whose eyes are not yet open. The mother looks as proud as any new mother and is nestled next to her beautiful baby. She seems to listen to our attempts at camel conversation and we leave her alone to enjoy her momentary inaction. 

Doha Day Two

Doha used to be a small town with many of its inhabitants living in tent communities around the outside. It sits on a bay with a skyline of birds, inhabited by the proud Qatari people who are rapidly adjusting to some startling changes in their world. Presently there are more cranes and building sites than you could count and elegant, tall buildings emerging out of someone's imagination joining the birds in the skyline.
For our first visit to downtown I had carefully dressed in a flowing cover-all outfit with my new ugly closed-in shoes. The guide book had mentioned that this would be the appropriate dress for women downtown. My first sight was of a beautiful young girl in very tight jeans trying on an exquisite pair of very high silver strappy shoes which she proceeded to strut down the mall in. My shoes had now gone from ugly to throw-away! If you sit for a while this will be your vista- the high-stepping booted women beautifully groomed and heavily made up, next to a black-covered woman whose face is not visible at all. Each will be brandishing credit cards and mobile phones as they shop in the latest branch of Esprit, Monsoon, Krispy Kreme Donuts- you can't imagine that you are here in the 'dreaded' Middle East (my friends' interpretation). They would physically cringe at the thought of you coming to this truly uninviting place- only goes to prove once more that those who have not been here should not cast stones!

Doha day one.

On our first morning in Doha while we were trying to adjust to our many time changes and lingering effects of jet lag, my husband took us to one of the downtown shopping malls. While we sat and stared out of the car window at the pictures all around us it was apparent that we had both got it all wrong! In the mind of our 14 year old we had lovingly forced him to leave all of his friends in Australia, side-step his grandparents in the USA to live in a boring desert town with camels and rules. Now we were both seeing that we had instead come to a land of stark contrasts and intrigue.

Thursday, 14 February 2008