Given all the media fuss in the last years, we are mostly inclined to think Middle East is this dangerous place, surrounded by dessert, and extremists. Well, the only exception has been Dubai, and that is due to its fast development and great marketing. And then, personally another exception was Lebanon as I met only cool and fun loving people from there… so, with these exceptions, there has to be more to overcome superficial misconceptions.
For me, this was my first time ever in an Arabian country – and I flew to Doha, Qatar for one full day, waiting for my connection flight to the Philippines. Qatar is one of the 4 countries belonging to the Emirates, along side Dubai, Bahrain and Abu Dhabi.
What is striking to see is that these countries were practically almost like built from sand…out of nothing in the last 100 years. Doha is a city sprung from the dessert with high buildings and a big gap between the richest and the poorest. It strikes you! Honestly, it has nothing particularly of an wow-effect, because the skyscrapers are less spectacular and far behind in beauty from the ones in Hong Kong (though the bay looks similar), people do not walk much on the streets, unless they are poor…or foreigners…but the regular Doha citizen goes around by car…weird enough for a developing country.
In Qatar, it is either luxury or nothing. Our hotel room was the size of an apartment…though we thought we took a regular hotel. Oh no! Not in Doha – regular means grand!!! And then, you get out of the fancy hotel and there it is…poverty on the streets, cars with no doors…followed by a huge limousine…then another car filled with goats and so on…
Doha looks like what we would definitely call in Europe, an industrialized city – it lacks green, it lacks life slightly, as people hang out inside, or at the luxurious malls (they even built a Venice like themes mall like in Las Vegas), and it lacks a touch of personality – the truth is that they try to make out of the weirdest, smallest or no value statue (recently made) a tourist point… a bit blunt…
The city looks as if it is still under construction, with a twist of cream-grey color, cold at heart, yet hot temperature wise.
But the weirdest thing for a woman travelling there is the…culture….the fact that you see women all covered up in black walking around, hiding their femininity and acting modestly around their men. It kind of breaks your heart as a free woman. I was sitting in the restaurant and I realized how hard it must be to truly be a woman there: it is even hard to breath or eat through that black cover while the man can even take off his shoes, lay back and smoke shisha. The only advantage is apparently that you do nothing. Most of the women there have a Philippino nany, they shop around, read, take care of themselves…all with the cost of their freedom. .
However, the old city is beautifully traditional. It is called Souq and it is like a picturesque Bazaar, with small restaurants and caffes and traditional Arabian merchandize and spices. It does have a special touch, if you want to breath from the skyscrapers and under-construction buildings.
I must admit I was not truly wow-ed by this city, but it was an interesting experience and now I am even more curious how Dubai looks like. I have a feeling I might find it a bit more spectacular.
All in all, Doha is worth a shot if you happen to have a stop-over there on the way to somewhere else. Give it a chance! 🙂