Qatar is a country with unprecedented wealth. Construction of shiny, architectural playthings are everywhere and few are finished. Work continues 6 days a week, 24 hours a day. From my 22nd floor suite window, I can see the swimming pool, the entrance to the gym, high-rise cranes and an expanse of rocky desert. Yes I did just write suite and swimming pool. For that’s my place here, in long stay accommodation with thousands of other foreigners from tens of nationalities.
I’ve always wondered why younger ex-pats look in decent shape physically and the answer here is clear; there is sometimes little else to do if you don’t look and are only interested in money. Due to local laws against alcohol, it can only be found in expensive hotels filled with bored engineers, workers from the sub-continent and prostitutes from the far-east, mostly Chinese. There is one liquour store here but to buy alcohol you need a license granted after permission from your employer. That isn’t too difficult to come by but expensive and yet more bureaucracy whcih is time consuming and frustrating. I have got to say though, it hasn’t bothered me.
Frustration or wonderment is always the initial feeling in a new country and especially so in the Middle East. Qatar is a new country. It declared independence in 1971 but even during the colonial period, it only opened a bureaucracy in 1950. By 1960 it had 54 people working for the entire country. The tribal system of decision-making, deference, family networks and climate create an atmosphere so slow-moving, observing the Qataris its amazing anything gets done. The only speed you see is the reckless traffic and the rush to take a break. And that is because its the foreigners who have built the wealth, exploiting the resources and yet even they are infected by the slumbering pace of life.
Qataris themselves are nice people, very welcoming. They welcome you, shake your hand on a daily basis, smile, are pleasant, polite and generous. They can of course afford to be generous financially . The guard on the gate’s starting salary is $4000 a month and they will never get fired. Further to this, they won’t really be asked to do any work and they know this. In fact everyone does. There is a drive here by the Government to skill-up Qataris, almost a quota scheme within state businesses but Qataris are happy with the lower rungs, knowing they will always be financially looked after. Once you realises this, frustration ebbs away, you stop complaining and understand you’ll have a lot of time to pursue what else you want to do.
So the gym is frequented, you read more books, watch more movies. I’ve applied to work at Georgetown University here as an unpaid assistant. I’ll be writing for the magazine here. I’m taking on one of the Nepalese staff as an English teaching project. In return he is helping me out with an article about the Nepalese community here. They make up 7% of the populace. This kind of staggering fact is one of many here and will be the basis of this blog once I get settled in. I’ll tell you all about the camel racing with the remote control jockeys; the feudal nature of the hobbies; the relations within society and the role Qatar does and wants to play in the future.
But that’s for next year, I’m off to Sri Lanka for Christmas and New Year. See you in 2013.