Category Archives: Life in Qatar

Connections Abroad

One of the greatest parts of travel is the connections you make with people.  Connecting with the locals in a new place can easily be the highlight of a trip, but travelers shouldn’t discount the opportunity to connect with other travelers, especially those of the same nationality.  It’s an incredible opportunity to bond with people that you wouldn’t otherwise hang out with if you were back home.  All of a sudden, speaking the same language and a love for travel is all you need to have in common to become best friends for the day or week.  It may not immediately help you dive into the culture of a place, but it can allow for unique experiences that wouldn’t happen back home.

Back in 2006 I took a trip to Europe with a couple of friends of mine, Erin and Troy.  Towards the end of my three week portion of the trip we arrived in the Barcelona train station without a place to stay.  This was pretty typical of our trip as we didn’t do much planning as to where we were going to go or when we were going to be there.  The flexibility of a trip like that makes for a really good time, but it can also create challenges along the way.  Arriving in Barcelona with no place to stay during the busy summer months created one of those challenges.  It turned out that the only hostel with availability was on the outskirts of town accessible by the metro which shut down early in the evening.  Of course we were hoping to stay closer to La Rambla and the heart of the city.  We certainly weren’t excited that we’d be calling it an early night every night just so we could catch the metro back to our hostel, but it looked to be our only option.  After our 30 minute metro ride and our 15 minute hike up a mountain (hill) we found plenty of others who were also quite disappointed with the location of their accommodation for at least one night.  Erin, Troy, and I made friends with a couple of girls from Texas who were sharing our dorm room with us.  We decided if we could find a hotel room with a better location and split it five ways, it would probably be close to the same price we were paying to stay in the hostel.  We ended up finding a hotel with availability for the next few nights in a great location within walking distance of most of the places we wanted to be.  It couldn’t have worked out any better, except for the part where Troy’s bag got jacked while we were in a Burger King, but that’s another story.  If I was traveling anywhere in the States there’s very little chance I would have decided to share a hotel room with a couple of strangers I just met.  But when I was on the other side of the world, it seemed like a perfectly logical thing to do.  Hanging out with them turned out to be quite invaluable.  The girls were Hispanic, and their first language was Spanish.  When Troy’s bag was stolen they were lifesavers in helping us talk to the authorities and learn what we needed to do to file a police report and get him a new passport.  By traveling abroad, not only do you have the opportunity to experience other cultures, you also get the chance to connect with different types of Americans in ways you otherwise wouldn’t.  

A few days ago Dawn and I met Greg, a saxophone player from New Orleans, St. Louis, New York, and most recently Tennessee.  He’s in town for three weeks playing at a jazz club at the St. Regis Doha.  He was looking for a place to go to church, and so we gave him a ride.  Later we invited him out to dinner (which didn’t quite happen), and he invited us to come watch him perform.  His set was great, and it’s most likely something that wouldn’t have happened had we been in the States.  The opportunity to network and connect with people from the States with all kinds of different backgrounds and interests is greatly enhanced by being in a place where, although there are a number of us, Americans are a serious minority.

Greg doing his thing.

Greg doing his thing.

While I’m enjoying interacting with people from all around the world, I’m also really enjoying the connections I’m making with other Americans who are 8000 miles away from their home as well.


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I’m not in Kansas anymore…

When you move to a new place, you expect things to be a little different.  I didn’t quite know what to expect when moving to Doha, but I knew a completely different place and culture on the other side of the world would have a few surprises for me.  Below are just a few of the things that jump out to me that are quite different from back home.

The entire city is one giant construction site.
You can’t drive anywhere in the city without passing a new building (or complex of buildings) being constructed or a road being torn up.  Tower cranes seem to equal, if not outnumber, the skyscrapers here in the city.  Doha seems to almost want to be the next Dubai, and it seems to be well on it’s way.  I wonder if Dubai had as many growing pains as it seems Qatar is having.

Everyone here thinks they’re a race car driver.
And a lot of them have the cars to go with driving style.  There are plenty of Ferraris, Maseratis, Porsches, Land Rovers, and Land Cruisers on the road.  The more expensive car you have, the more aggressive driver you are.  Any place the horn is used more often than the brakes is a great place to perfect your defensive driving skills.  

Not a Showroom.  Those are valet parked at a mall.

Not a showroom. Those are valet parked at a mall.

Multi-lane roundabouts are everywhere.
Before I moved to Qatar I was under the impression that roundabouts were safer than the traditional intersections, and Wikipedia confirmed my thoughts.  After living here for almost three months now, I think I’ve lost a little faith in Wikipedia.  The combination of aggressive driving, blatant disregard of lane markings, refusal to use signals, and drivers inching the front of their cars out into the roundabouts while waiting to enter makes for an adventure in entering any roundabout during rush hour.

All pedestrians seem to have a death wish.
There are few sidewalks, and a lot of those that are here are being torn up due to construction.  There are crosswalks at intersections here, but few people seem to use them, and of course there are no crosswalks at the roundabouts.  People not only cross major highways by foot, but even walk down major roads that have no shoulder.  Daring pedestrians, aggressive driving, and the amount of construction going on in this city is a dangerous combination.  

The architecture is world class.
The Qataris want to construct incredible structures, and they spare no expense in doing so.  The architecture in this city is incredibly unique, and completely different than anywhere outside of the Middle East.  Most skyscrapers here seem to have their own unique shape or feature to set them apart from the one sitting next to them.  It’s something that most building owners outside of this part of the world wouldn’t pay for, but here they will.  The combination of the willingness to spend the money for a unique building and the implementation of the traditional Islamic geometric designs into the architecture makes it a fun place for any architecture aficionado.

No two buildings are alike.

An incredibly diverse skyline.

It may look like the Jerry Dome, but it's actually a horse stable.

Looks like they decided to model the equestrian arena after the Jerry Dome.

Parking on sidewalks, major roads, etc. is totally acceptable.
Despite spending loads of money on the buildings here, someone forgot to explain to them that all these buildings house people, and all these people drive.  There is a serious lack of parking available here, and so the people make due with what they can.  Sidewalks are packed with cars near busy malls and congested commercial areas.  People park on the side of major streets, taking up traffic lanes.  Double parking here is almost as common.  Park in front of another car, throw your hazard lights on, and you’re good to go.  At least until the person you’ve blocked in wants to leave and starts using their horn.

Who needs parking lots when you've got sidewalks?

Who needs parking lots when you’ve got sidewalks?

Standard operating procedure.

Standard operating procedure.

The city is incredibly segregated.
I can really only speak for the United States and for the little time I’ve spent visiting other countries, but Qatar seems to be the most segregated place I’ve ever been.  It appears that for the most part, nationalities keep to their own.  To be fair, the heavy majority of people here are not from Qatar and it makes sense that people tend to cling to others that speak their language and relate to their culture from back home.  I need to be aware of this, and make an extensive effort to make friends with people from all over (and there are people here from all over).

The bathrooms are truly international.
Any bathroom you go into here in Doha will have both toilet paper and a bidet shower (aka ‘bum gun’) for your hygiene requirements.  If you’re in an apartment or a house, there’s a good chance you’ll have the option of cleaning up using a full size bidet as well.

So many options.

So many options.

You can get a carwash anywhere you park your car.
This is quite awesome.  Go to the mall, and once you get out of your car there will be someone waiting to ask you if you’d like your car washed for 10 QR (about $2.75 USD).  I parked in a dirt lot once, and a guy offered to wash my car there (and I took him up on it).  Our job site has guys on staff to wash the employees’ cars.  Don’t ask me why, but I’m certainly not going to complain.

Tea boys are standard in every office.
That’s right, tea boys.  Tea boys are guys whose job it is to serve tea and coffee to everyone who works in the office.  Officially, each person gets two deliveries a day – one in the morning, and one after lunch.  You give them your order when you start working there, and that’s what they bring you every day, twice a day.  In our office, during the beginning of every meeting they come around like a waiter asking everyone what they’d like to drink.  I’m pretty sure this is something we need to implement in the States.  Immediately.

You can get any kind of food delivered here.
From pizza to McDonald’s to baked goods, it can all be on your doorstep in minutes… well, maybe not quite that fast.  Labor here is cheap, so they’ve got guys out on motorcycles delivering all kinds of things.  It’s kinda cool, yet kinda strange.  

All in all, Qatar is much more Westernized than I would have guessed, but I’m sure the longer I’m here the more I’ll begin to notice other things that aren’t quite what I’m used to back in the States.  I’m looking forward to discovering all the nuances and differences of this place.  What kind of different or strange things have you noticed while traveling or living in other countries?

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My First Visit To A Mosque – A Photo Essay

A few nights ago after work I decided I wanted to visit the state mosque of Qatar (aka the Sheikh Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab Mosque) to photograph it.  I had driven past it numerous times, and it’s a beautiful building.  There was one photograph in particular that I was hoping to get.  Although its located a ways from downtown, you can see the skyscrapers located in West Bay in the background if you’re to the East of the mosque looking West.  I thought the combination of the traditional architecture of the Middle East with the modern skyscrapers in the background would create a nice contrast.

I arrived just before sunset, and wasn’t able to find quite the right location to take the picture that I had in my head.  That was ok, though, because the place was incredibly beautiful, and there was plenty to photograph.  I know very little about Islam, and what’s appropriate/respectful as far as taking pictures so I had planned on just taking pictures of the outside of the mosque.

After I had been there a while a man came up and introduced himself to me.  His name was Yatif, and he was Pakistani.  He asked me if I’d like to go inside to look around and take some pictures. He took me into the courtyard of the mosque and told me a little more about himself and a little about the mosque.  The scale of the building is incredible even with just a few people there, but I imagine it’s even more incredible when it’s full.  After we made our way around the courtyard, we took off our shoes and made our way into the main prayer hall.  As it was in between prayer times few people were there, and Yatif explained more of the Islamic faith to me.  It was quite interesting, and I’m really glad he invited me in.  Learning about and understanding different cultures is one of the reasons I was excited about moving abroad, and I’m glad I got to enjoy a little of that the other night.

Here are a few of my pictures of the place…

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