As I enter the final few weeks of my time here, here is the other side of the What I’ve Loved post. Partly to explain why I am leaving and also, after just coming back from Asia and after being in England over the summer to visit London, Brighton and Newcastle and finally to Devon for Christmas, I’ve accumulated what I have missed, not what I can’t do without but what I’d chose. This blog might seem very negative but give it a chance. You have to appreciate life in the Gulf, even more than the rest of the Middle East is very different.
1. When I asked Asen recently how was last night, he replied good. We found a new place cos you know Doha is limited. Everyone is trying to find something new to do. As a sociable person, fairly extrovert, making friends has been easy in Qatar. I’ve a good group and I’d consider some good friends under any circumstance. However while we socialise together, the country doesn’t make it easy and there is a feeling of slight disparateness and possibly desperation. You make the most of what you have but sometimes that’s trying tells its own story.
2. Music. Oh My God music. The music festival in Gdansk brought home how much I need and love live music in my life. I feel out of the loop of current music, clubs and albums. Mostly I miss bars with music.
Qataris love rain and clouds. They take pictures of the rain. They laugh videos of the floods after. They’ll take about how wonderful the weather in the UK is. There is little drainage in the country and so rain turns to floods immediately. Expats talk of the beautiful weather but in truth that only lasts 7/8 months. The rest of the time it is relentless and oppressive heat. Hot wind fills the air. Dust is everywhere. A day with clouds is so welcoming and so rare. The English might moan about the weather but I’d rather have a British winter over a Qatari summer.
The very thought of this brings a lump to my throat. I miss grass. I miss trees. I miss parks. I miss park benches and fountains. Flying into the UK in summer, seeing the hedges and small, narrow, winding lanes brought such a smile. While we have a seaside and beaches up the coast, I live in the desert. It’s a desert. A harsh, unforgiving landscape.
I love walking, whether through cities or the countryside. I like to be under my own steam, to see the world up close. Biking is a way of getting around for me but I love the adventure of skipping pavements, taking sidetracks, feeling my legs tire and the panting, joy of arriving.
Gyms are boring. I feel deeply unmotivated in them. But really I miss cardio. I can’t ride. Can’t run and football doesn’t happen enough. I know this is a personal issue. I can spend more time in the gym but I’d prefer to be able to play, walk or ride my way back to fitness.
8. Organised traffic
The everyman for himself attitude in traffic is firstly dangerous and secondly obnoxious and arrogant. The blind turning of Indian drivers, ridiculous cutting across lanes or the Toyota Land Cruiser tanks brings unnecessary stress to life. This is obviously not a Qatari issue. Selfish driving exists around the world but coming back to Europe and seeing how everything is organised to make it work for everyone brings home a lot about Europe I love. The most angering issue is the sight of kids standing between the front seats and parents stupidly ignorant to the dangers they are exposing their children. Public transport is also missing. There are plenty of taxis and apparently buses but the ability to mix is totally lost. The subway is being built but who will use it ? The same people using the buses i.e. the poorer migrants.
Nadia was cute recently. In her dancey, extravagant way, full of hand gesturing and smiles she said when she came to Qatar she was very ‘bling, bling,’ loving bags and jewellry but now she just wants simple things. I completely get this. It’s so shallow and consumerist here. I miss seeing people. The lack of individual style, the ability to show difference and expression is lost. Dress in Qatar is conservative of course for the locals but the accessories they wear are worrying. I see teenagers with huge watches. Women with jewellry, bags and sunglasses that cost into the thousands. One woman told me how the bag she wanted was too much at 12,000 pounds. Instead she got the 2,000 pound bag. She showed no flicker of understanding how wasteful this is. Fashion labels must be making a killing here.
Qatar has nothing old. Nothing classical. The Souq is a quaint but only few decades old. ‘Old Doha’ is merely a few decades old. It will all be bulldozed in the next decade to make way for more modern structures. And yet West Bay and the Pearl contain tower blocks which are mostly empty. They will fill up for the World Cup and as Qatar develops. What happens after that, I don’t know. I miss walking round towns, spotting curiosities and small alleyways leading to little restaurants and pubs.
11. Social integration
Qatar is a hierarchal society. The mixing that exists comes in levels. A service economy makes most workers and the few leaders. This is the same for the top two echelons of the society; the Qataris and the whites. Most people are here for pragmatic reasons. They are transitory in spirit. Life might be better here for many than in their more unstable homes. They stay for the stability and the money. And yet everyone wants to go home.
I can’t put enough fingers on it all. It’s an unquantifiable sense or feeling, a loss of empathy. I’ve seen and done most of what I can. Repeating it all is doing little for me. The country tends to be full of married couples too. The lack of randomness is depressing. I’ve missed the party.
I work for money. I live in Qatar for money. While my job is sometimes enjoyable and I try to make the most of it all, I would rather be working far harder in an interesting place than taking the easy route. But then I have it easy. The real issue here is seeing a maid from the Sub-Continent or SE Asia trailing behind her employer holding the baby and all the accumulated shopping, constantly being handed more and more without a flicker of grateful emotion from her mistress. It makes one angry.
Here’s to the summer