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Shawn

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Doha Differences [Mar. 5th, 2006|04:20 am]
Shawn
Well, I was in Doha over a month, and I know a lot of people will want to know what it’s like. You’ll also want to see some pictures; for that you can go to my Doha Picture Page, which also has some other little anecdotes from me. It took a while to get used to things there, just like in any culture. Some things are obvious, but others are not. For instance, the way women dress here is obviously very different than in the States, but that’s a difference everyone knows. I thought I would share a few which might not seem so obvious. At the very least, they were a surprise to me.



Dangerous


Most people I know seem to really worry about me being in a Middle-Eastern country. I guess they think I’m going to be kidnapped in broad daylight or something. Actually, probably the greatest danger to me here is crossing the street. There really aren’t cross-walks here, and there aren’t many stoplights, either. When two streets intersect, there’s almost always a roundabout. To make matters worse, the traffic here is always bad. So if you’re on one side of the street and need to get to the other, there’s only one option: a mad dash when there’s a tiny break in traffic, hoping it’s big enough to get to the divider in the street before that overeager driver in the Porsche catches up to you. Sometimes I’ve had to wait almost ten minutes before there was a big enough break for me to sprint to the other side and dive onto the safety of the divider in the middle of the road. And then you’re only across half of the street. Heaven help you if you’re old in this country. As far as I can tell, the elderly must either take a taxi to the other side of the street, or they simply wait until 4am when there’s no traffic to cross. Maybe that’s why the oldest man I’ve seen here drives a taxi.

Though I’ll admit, the first time you see a cop with an AK-47, it makes you pause.


Desert


Doha is essentially located in the middle of a big desert. The sand is everywhere here, even in the heart of the city. It’s this whitish-yellow sand which blows around when it’s windy (which it is often) and covers everything. If you wear a black shirt, it looks dusty after you’ve been outside for just ten minutes. But what I really hate most about the wind is that it throws the sand and dust into my eyes. I wear contacts, and that can hurt. One weekend I had wanted to go to the beach, but gave up because it was too windy, and I had to squint hard everywhere I went. What’s the point of being outside if you can’t even see it?

The weather here is either warm or hot. Even at night, I don’t get cold outside, and can very easily work up a sweat. It gets a little cloudy sometimes, but it only ever rained once, which may have been the first time all year. They don’t have drainage systems in place, so the water just stays around in huge puddles. It makes some sense; worrying about rain in Doha is a bit like worrying about snowfall in Texas.

And yet, despite the fact I’m staying in a desert, it’s still more humid than Colorado!


Buildings


All of the architecture here, from office buildings to homes, is very new. I haven’t seen a single building I would guess is more than twenty years old. Some are very beautiful and some are very run-down. Still, I wonder what this town looked like 30 years ago.

The construction doesn’t stop here. When I woke up at 6:30, I usually hear the sound of at least two separate construction projects. Half of the city has been torn up and is being rebuilt. I’ve even seen people working at night, using bright lamps to see as they chiseled mortar off a wall. The rumor is they’re doing all this construction because of the Asia Games they’re set to host in late 2006. Supposedly, they’re behind on their construction, and if they don’t catch up, the Asia games will be held somewhere else instead. That’s enough to get any country moving.


Cats


Some cities have rats, some cities have flying rats a.k.a. pigeons. Doha has cats. I’ve seen a lot of cats here, and they are all completely feral. You can get close to them, but not close enough to touch them. I have often found them around dumpsters. For the most part, they just seem to ignore people, and people ignore them. I don’t think the Qatari as a whole keep cats, or pets at all for that matter. I was told they were brought into the country to take care of a rat problem, and became the new scavengers in the area.


Served


The biggest difference, though, which has been the hardest for me to adjust to, has simply been being served. And I mean served everywhere. You know in movies of older times where you see where the affluent white family has a bunch of black servants in their home who do every menial chore for them? That's what it feels like here. Let me give you an example of a few of the many ways in which I am served.

Sitting on my desk at work at any given time was a bottle of water. Not only did I always have bottled water, it was delivered to me, cold, several times a day. A person who almost resembles a waiter came in and gave me my water. I never even had to ask for it. Others in the room ordered coffee or small snacks. The kitchen where all this cold water was stored was just across the hall. I could get my own water and be back in half a minute, but I almost never had to.

I don’t know how to drive in this country, which is probably a blessing, so I was provided with a driver. This guy’s whole job is to take me wherever I want to go, whenever I want to do it. Sometimes I’ve told him to pick me up at 6:00am. Sometimes I’ve called him to pick me up at 10:00pm. Sometimes I’ve had him come all the way to pick me up, and then not been able to go, which means he made the trip for nothing. He can get anxious when someone is late, but I’ve never seen him upset or complain.

I was walking home one day last year when a guy on a bicycle stopped to talk to me. He told me he was looking for work, and wanted to be my own personal servant. Such jobs are fairly common in this country. Nearly every Qatari family has one. They cook, clean, nanny, and do lots of other errands for the family. And here was someone actually asking to have that role for me, saying he could even just work part-time. I was floored. Servants here only earn about 500 Rials a month – that’s about $150. They are expected to live with the host family, so their general living costs are covered, and they do have more employee rights in this country than in a lot of others. Still, it was strange to see someone seek me out desiring to be my servant.

Everywhere I went, someone wanted to serve me. I can’t say I really like how it felt. I suppose it was the manner in which it happened. I couldn’t shake the feeling these people might be viewing themselves as second-class citizens in their own eyes. They were all so… humble, perhaps too much so. But perhaps I am merely misreading things. I did not stay in the country long enough nor find such a servant with sufficient English skills to really find out what they thought.


And that was Doha. It’s not a bad place, but I’m glad to be back among friends and family.
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