So it has been just over six months since our move to this tiny, gas-rich country in the gulf. The past months have gone by quickly but at the same time it feels like we have been here for longer. In some ways adjusting to life in Doha hasn’t been too difficult – it’s a very family oriented city, extremely safe (they say you can leave your car unlocked here and it will be fine, though I’ve never tried) and almost 70% of the population is an expat – so most people we’ve met are in the same boat – away from family, friends, familiarity, living in a foreign land. Most people come for work, and to raise their family in a safe stable environment, many come for the tax benefits – there are all sorts of people and from everywhere. (Generally, most people look at me strange when I say we came for the adventure!).
In other ways, living in this country can be challenging (namely the traffic, and having to ask your employer’s permission before being able to do anything – ranging from buying liquor to leaving the country!). However, six months on and, if anything, living here has opened my eyes to things I would never have seen or experienced back home. Anyway, here are some of my favourite things about living in Qatar:
1. People. There’s an incredible mix of people and culture in this country. I’ve met and work with people from Palestine, Tunisia, Nigeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Wales, Ireland, South America, Holland, Estonia, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, the list goes on of all places around around the world.. listened to their stories and each day I learn something new about these places, whether a new word in a new language or a different perspective on a country’s political environment (particularly with the recent events in the region).
2. Food. I was never very exposed to Middle Eastern food – aside from the usual hommus and pita bread, back home. However, after adapting to the local produce here we’ve started experimenting, making our own fattoush, tabboleh, and various other dishes. We incorporate lots of mediterranean food like olives, capsicum, eggplant, couscous, into our meals – plus there’s a wider variety of South Asian foods as well (ever seen a drumstick or a Kerala Chow Chow?).
3. Souk Waqif. This is my most favourite place in Doha. It is the original market place of old Doha and is probably the most beautiful souk I’ve seen so far (even after visiting Istanbul, Amman and Beirut!). A friend from work described being there like being in a time warp – you enter the souk and you’re suddenly in a different world. The fragrances of Arabic perfume, the sight of local Qatari’s in their dishdashas and abayas… the beautifully refurbished Islamic architecture..narrow alleys leading you to silk pashminas, pearls, gold or cheap knicknacks…the smells …spices..apple shisha.. even the nearby camels. It is really quite an amazing sensory experience.
4. The corniche. This is is kind of like the unwritten meeting place for all significant events. It is the street that runs along the blue green waters of the Arabian gulf. When Qatar won the 2022 bid, everyone headed to the corniche. Qatar National Day is celebrated on the corniche. On a Thursday evening, the corniche is packed with people, enjoying the city skyline and the sea breeze. There are also heaps of familiies picnicking along the corniche on the weekends.
5. Events. Okay, so from a musical or theatrical perspective Doha doesn’t have much to offer (aside from the annual Bryan Adams concert) however sporting events are huge – so far we’ve seen tennis, football (Asia Cup was on in Jan) and this weekend we’re off to watch the annual camel racing. Things we wouldn’t normally watch at home.
6. Lastly, ability to travel. Qatar is so close to the gulf states, as well as the rest of the Middle East and North Africa. Being from one of the world’s most physically isolated cities – it is quite amazing to be able to hop onto a flight and, in less than an hour, be in another country. Hope we can see more before we head back home!