One week in a new country and blogging suddenly feels like a necessity again. This change of heart is probably influenced by the college study abroad culture – it’s so much easier to keep people updated on my travels if I can just send a link every time they ask. But more so, it’s that I know my memory is terrible and being out here alone means there’s no one to remind me of things I’ve forgotten, which means I must document it all. Look above! I even took pictures!!
I arrived in Qatar last Friday evening after a pretty hellish 24-hour journey. The east coast was hit with “Superstorm Hercules,” which turned out to be a massive snowstorm, literally as I was flying out of the Dulles Airport in DC. Just days after, Chicago was hit hard by the “polar vortex” – several days of temperatures in -20s. Northwestern had two days off school, which says a lot considering that’s the same number of days off the university had conceded from 1979-2012.
Anyway, week 1 impressions:
1. This place is extraordinarily diverse. In the United States, there are many different cultures, but in my experience, people cordon themselves off into clusters of their own nationalities. In Qatar, I can’t tell where most people are from and they’re all mixed together. Walking around town, you hear an amalgamation of a whole host of languages – different dialects of arabic, urdu, hindi, english, french, italian, german, languages I can’t even identify…. Any time I’ve been in a group of people, we’ve almost all been from different countries and very different backgrounds. It allows for a unique learning experience. And it’s clear that these people of different cultures have learned from each other. Case in point: I work with a British lady of Japanese descent who regularly uses common arabic terms like “khalas” (meaning “enough”) and “inshallah” (meaning “god willing”). I think that’s pretty cool.
2. People here are way friendlier than anywhere else I’ve been. Maybe this is because of the plethora of foreigners here. With new people coming in all the time, I feel like the locals/regulars here have to be accustomed to making new friends. Or maybe I’m reading too much into it and it’s just something in that beautiful Persian Gulf water.
3. I love the juxtaposition of the old and new city. On one hand, there’s the “famous” Doha skyline. I put famous in quotes because this skyline, I’ve learned, is really only about 5 years old but it’s the first thing that pops up if you google image “Qatar.” Anyway, so yeah, there’s the skyline on one side of town, and on the other side, is the old city. Here, the buildings are much shorter and the streets are way more crowded. The “new city” is where all the posh buildings and malls are. The “old city” has all of the awesome hole-in-the-wall eating hot spots and the popular outdoor marketplace, Souq Waqif, which is built to look very historically accurate. It’s a complete maze of small alleys, lined with tiny, cramped shops. You can get completely lost in there, and I love it. So far, I’m a bigger fan of the old city, but I’ve yet to explore the new city for real, so we’ll see.
Anyway, I’ll stop here for now. But just for posterity’s sake, here’s a list of all the places I went in the last week:
– Souq Waqif
– The Museum of Islamic Art (GORGEOUS architecture, by the way)
– The park next to the MIA (Also very pretty. Surprisingly so, really, considering all the greenery must be man-made)
– On a dhow (a traditional Qatari boat) off the Corniche (the main coastal area where people hang out)
– City Centre Mall and Lagoona Mall (they’re just…malls… but they’re kind of a big deal here.)
– The Pearl (a very expensive island near the new part of Doha. It’s the only place in the city where foreigners can own land, and it’s extremely posh)
– An airstrip near Al Khor (Whoa! Another city in Qatar!? Yep. This one’s off to the north, about 35 minutes from the capital. We drove by a whole lot of open desert to get there.)
Of course, this is all stuff I’ve been doing aside from work. I’ll probably write a more in-depth post about Al Jazeera soon, but for now, I’ll just say that it’s been incredible so far. Again, the people just blow me away, in terms of their friendliness, professionalism and brilliance. It’s taken everything in me to remain composed at some of the editorial meetings I’ve been to. All I wanna do is geek out. And it’s also amazing how they’re allowing me to do so much so soon. But again, more to come on that in the next week.
And for further posterity, here are some of those pictures I mentioned.