Qatar wasn’t exactly on top of my wish list… But my sister had been living in the capital, Doha, for the past year. Since I started travelling right before she left, I hadn’t seen her in over a year. So I figured I could add an a-typical country to my list and see what was going on in the Middle East, a part of the world I hadn’t visited yet!
As my loyal readers may know, I love to get to know a place from the view of a local. While I can’t exactly consider my sister as a local, her life there definitely reflects some interesting aspects of Qatari life. For the people who don’t know the story of what the hell my sister is doing in a place like Doha: she is an artist. And for people who know how little cultural highlights Doha has to offer, this still might be weird. So first I will try to explain you a little about the short history of Qatar. Practically, there is not much more than desert in this part of the world. Apart from some nomad people with camels, I don’t think much was going on some hundred years ago. With little people, water and vegetation around, creating a flourishing society would absolutely be impossible unless a shit load of money would pop up. This is practically what happened. Like the rest of the Middle East, Qatar became rich because of oil. Practically all the ‘Qatari’ are super rich. They are driving around in Land rovers and Jeeps from one shopping mall to another, where they stroll around with their full shopping bags and nannies behind them. I wonder why they need so many clothes, and how shops like H&M in this country can make their money, since most Arabs where traditional robes. The women are fully covered in black niqabs, sometimes even their faces totally covered by a veil. The men wear white robes with the typical Arab head scarfs, fixed with a band on their head. Since, for women, the only thing outsiders can see is there eyes (if they are lucky) and their feet, they make a point of showing off these parts. Their eyes are so full of make-up and black curly lines that it is almost scary to look at. Especially when they were these blue contact lenses. And I’ve never seen so many women wear such high and glamorous heels while shopping. The contrast with the nannies shoveling behind them in their slippers and outfits that look like pajama’s is actually quite funny.
The rich and shopping culture, in combination with the heat and the Islamic culture, make it a weird country where you have to move from aircon to aircon, covered in clothes, searching for a cold beer, but not finding it. Only the luxury hotel bars sell alcohol and it’s triple the price compared to the prices at home. Qatari life literally happens behind closed doors and my sisters life (and the rest of the crew) mainly happens within 3 particular places: their compound, the shopping mall(s) and the hotel bars. Actually 4, if you count all the taxi’s they have to take to go from A to B, because there is hardly any public transport.
In 2022 Qatar hosts the World Cup football, so they are trying to upgrade the city. Shopping malls are popping up like mushrooms, so are the skyscrapers. The skyline of Doha is pretty impressive… but something weird is going there… Walking around on a weekday between the skyscrapers in the ‘business district’ I miss the business men, hurrying around with their Starbucks Coffee in their hands. And a lack of Starbucks in Qatar isn’t the problem. But there is just no business men. Qatar hopes to become the new Dubai and built a skyline to provide for all the offices. But there is just no businesses (yet?) there. There are even buildings without a door, it is just there for the show. It’s like a ghost town. Very bizarre.
So in one of those malls, somewhere in the middle of nowhere, the Prince of Qatar invested in a major project to hype the city. They put up a gigantic theater in the middle of the mall, hired a production company to produce a dozen of shows and gathered artists from literally all over the world to perform these shows, six days week. The shows, the costumes and the artists are amazing (of course my sister is the star), but during the weekdays there are not a lot of people there to watch it. I don’t want to know how much money it costs to let these shows play for 8 years, for free…
Apart from the amazing performances of my sister, my highlight was a Middle Eastern dinner on a rooftop terrace at the Souk with a water pipe. Spending an evening eating good food (humus, tabbouleh, flat bread…need I say more), getting high on water pipe with apple taste and talking about life with my sister who I hadn’t seen in one year, was just perfect.
What trip’s up next? 😉