Paradoxical Doha

This is something that fascinated me while we were in Doha.

Qatar is a rich country that’s expanding and growing at the speed of light. Everywhere in Doha cranes work from morning to dawn to build huge malls, exuberant buildings and even a new city centre. Seeing how fast things are built here you know for sure that in two years’ time the country is going to look very different from what it is now.

But right now, Doha is a perfect balance between modernism and tradition. New structures haven’t taken all the space yet and you still can found traditional houses and customs. I call it Doha’s paradox because however fast  a country wants to open up to the world, export resources and be even richer than before, some things are much slower to change; or just never change. People are attached to their customs and always leave them with nostalgia. Wearing special clothing, eating particular dishes or listening to music in your own language, the habits your parents taught you are always hard to leave behind.

But in Qatar, there’s a strong, obvious will to change that and to make the country “accessible” to expats and tourists.




There are many scenes like those throughout the country, but I wasn’t able to take them all as I was left out of camera for a week or so…

Anyway, what this paradox brings up is that because Doha is changing fast there’s no difference between what we, tourists, do and what Qatari do (except from going to bars of course). The souq Waqif was pretty obviously built for tourists and still, you can see a lot of Qatari families eating, smoking a shisha and even taking pictures of new things. The malls are a big attraction to everyone, especially malls like the Villagio; where the ceiling changes according to the natural light.

This photo is not mine


So I came to think that going to the same places as the locals was an opportunity to meet them, but it wasn’t. Unfortunately even crossing their path everyday doesn’t change the fact that stopping on the street and talking to a Qatari is not something you would do. I think, perhaps I’m wrong, that being a woman in this case didn’t help me either. Women cannot talk to a man and vice versa. There might be tolerance if you’re European but I didn’t dare talking to men because I want to respect their culture. Talking to women can be tricky too because they often are with their husband and children (no time for you) or with their friends at the mall, which doesn’t make it easier (Can you picture yourself interrupting them just to say “Hello, I want to meet Qatari women”???).
A month wasn’t enough for me but it’s not impossible. I talked to a few women and they were very nice although a bit shy, and girls, if you want to do this start talking about clothes, they love it!
Also remember that it’s easier to be on your own rather than with your husband/wife; that one time when I talked with women was the one time Guillaume wasn’t with me…

January 24, 2013

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