November 18, 2007

So how is life in Doha?

Lately, I have had several friends ask me how I like living in Qatar, and rather than send out several, however well thought-out or well intentioned personal emails, I have decided to simply write a blog post that chronicles my thoughts and feelings about living in Doha after a few months.

This place is not a city. It is a series of shabbily built malls and villas connected with miles of constructions sites and rubble. There is little to no sense of culture, unless you consider slavery a highlight of civilization. I am not trying to be judgmental, so let me qualify my words: whatever hints of culture there may be here I Doha, they are hidden by compound walls, abayas, and a distrust of foreigners and anything that deviates from the homogeneous, Islamic, conservative ethos that prevails the desert wind. I am not sure if this isolated closed hospitality is due to the Bedouin roots of the people here, or if it is the sense of entitlement that a trillion dollar GNP brings, but one does not feel welcome in Doha. You are not meant to make eye contact with the heavily made up eyes as they peak behind the black veils in the local mall, nor are you invited to see what happens behind the doors of the fortress walls that line the streets.

I think of cities I love: New York, San Francisco, Paris, and the one commonality is that these are places where people from all over the world spill out onto streets and bleed into the city’s very fiber, but here people only drive recklessly in their Toyota Land Cruisers and give you dirty looks if your eyes deviate from the road. Having said that there is a sense of satisfaction that comes from being a long haired tattooed person blasting Tupac’s Picture Me Rollin’ in the car as I drive the sand swept streets, because I realize that I have seen so much more of what the world has to offer than most of the people living here will ever allow themselves to see. From outside its cage, ignorance is an even uglier creature.

Wow! That was a bit of a tirade, because the thing I find the most fascinating about my time here is that although by the sound of it I should be miserable, I am totally content. I guess after years of traveling and living overseas, and being a slave to the grass-is-always-greener mindset, I am learning that that one’s environment should play a small role in their overall acceptance and appreciation for their daily lives.

Instead of looking over the fence or beyond the horizon at places I could be living or things I am missing, I am looking carefully at the things that give me pleasure where I am. This list is short yet sufficient. Number one has to be the time I spend with my daughter. It doesn’t matter where I live or what I have, what matters is the quality of time I can spend with her. One could argue that perhaps that time could be better spent in a place that has more trees, or is closer to water, or a place that has parks or shade, but I think the biggest lesson the desert is teaching me is how to make something out of nothing. By having to focus on the things that give me pleasure on their own, I am realizing how valuable they are.

This leads me to my second sources of happiness and coping mechanism: My garden. This small patch of land that I have transformed from rubble to a tiny green eco-system is both literally and symbolically my answer to the inhospitality of Doha. It is my small oasis in the midst of everything I find difficult about living here. First and foremost, I’ve created it from nothing. Out on my street, I literally swept away garbage, dirt, and left over construction material, and I created a small patch of soil and life. In it now sits a bed of flowers and cacti. Weeds and other plants have somehow made there way into my little Eden. The other morning as I was watering my grass with Kaia, we spotted a Praying Mantis. I wondered out loud how it knew to find my small patch of green in the desert. I allowed it to walk on my finger as Kaia looked on with awe. It is moments like this that remind that I don’t need to be in Paris to have a good time.

The third factor that helps me keep my sanity is my lovely wife. The longer we are together the more I am amazed at how good of friends we are. I couldn’t imagine spending this much time with anyone else in the world. It is very difficult to explain this kind of connection. I guess people who have had it know what I mean, and every one else will spend their whole life looking for it.

Finally, I have my music, my books, my writing, my computer obsession, my work, my guitar, and my overall sense of adventure. Every experiences is a learning one, and so while I may not love the city, I know that these years will be the ones that will start with the line, “When I lived in Doha, we…..” and as any world citizen knows you can never have too many phrases that begin like that.

So how is life in Doha? It is good because I am aware enough to know how I am living it. I am mindful of my expectations and disappointments. It is good because I am living honestly with myself, and I know what I want from life. It is good because I am exploring my symbolic desert and creating oases that need constructing. It is good because it is here and now, and I am not hiding from any of it. And at the end of the day, if you live this way you will be happy where ever you are…


  1. Jason Doherty12:10 PM

    Wow, this wild world of Blogging has some seriously... er,balanced, mindful individuals in it. As one of our respected American minds put it - "The Dude abides" so lets not forget it. Why would someone use the time it takes to get that worked up reaading a strangers blog if it left them feeling that, well "that, THAT?" Keep on Keep'n on old boy, and help me start my Daraja Blog, its gonna be on our site.

  2. Anonymous12:27 PM

    Wow, I got more than I bargained for when I deviated from my norm and decided to leave a comment ....
    Fab post, glad you are making your own way happily. Carmel x

  3. Thanks for not erasing the first two's what I would expect from you...if you had erased them and I had found out about it, then I would have been very disappointed, because the Jabiz I know values an individual's right to express him/herself without being the victim of censorship.

    I've enjoyed your blogs from Doha...keep them goin'.

  4. a student9:16 PM

    It's funny to see how the preliminary image of Doha being an oasis (or pearl) in the desert has transferred into the garden being an oasis in a very un-welcoming Doha...

    I was gonna write another comment for your other post but thought better of it, suffice it to say that I just discovered the White Stripes, David Bowie, and Deep Purple in quick succession, and embarrassment it is =(

    Oh and it's nice to see that English teachers know what sarcasm is, honestly, not as a joke or anything. It's only when our greatest teachers leave that we realize both that they were our greatest teachers and that they too are human.

  5. Thank you "a student" for balancing out the first two comments. They have left a bad taste in my mouth all day. It is amazing how a few words however childish and ridiculous could affect our day.

    I am glad you have discovered those new bands...I am assuming this is A.P.

    That was a very in depth observation of the oasis/pearl symbolism.

  6. Anonymous8:02 AM

    Jabiz - you're always one to tell it like it is. Seems like the best experiences you're having are within the walls of your home, and there's nothing wrong with that. Any card games going on? - Putty

  7. WOW great post man! Hope u having fun in ya xoxo

  8. Anonymous6:53 AM

    A great post - first time I have read something which sums up my own impressions and ways coping in this town. Very well put. I will save it.

  9. Anonymous4:31 AM

    Doha is "a large and densely populated urban area" which makes it; by definition, a city.
    The villas are as luxurious as they get, and city center and villagio are anything but shabbily built. Even if there is no 'sense of culture', neither is there in New York, Paris, or London which you adore so much. 'Slavery', here is caused by globalization, and its much worse in other countries; thats why 'they' come here. What 'distrust of foreigners'? Qatar is the base for the AMERICAN military, and a LARGE amount of businesses here are co-owned by Qatari's and FOREIGNERS. When did we have a fear of "deviations from conservative Islamic beliefs"? Was it before or after the first CHRISTIAN church opened? You're not invited to these 'closed fortresses' because you have no friends. People here do spill out into the streets, go to Souq Waqif, especially during Friday afternoons, it'll have examples of Qatar's culture. Your isolation from society is the product of a self-pity complex you hold; and your censorship of posts, is hypocritical in light of the fact that you detest its use in the media. Go out, make some friends, and break this barrier.

  10. Thank you to the final anonymous comment. I just wish that you had left your contact info so we could become "friends."

    Anyway, I hope that you notice that post was written in November. It is not April. My thought shave changed a bit a bout this "city."

    I don't want to get into a back and forth, but you are right. There is a self-imposed barrier, and I am trying to get over it.

    Where does one go to meet to Qataris? I have been to the Souq, but even there I still feel liek I am unwanted. I smile to people and they scowl and look away.

    So if the person who wrote the last email reads this, please get in touch with me...

  11. Anonymous5:19 AM

    Hey all...i'm not entirely sure what to think at the mo. I have been offered a job at a school in Doha. I have previously lived in a few places in Europe and once in the Middle East. I'm a British Muslim (female) and culture is something i rate.....not for the person who said Paris and London don't have 'culture'...I have lived in both and they most certainly do possess culture. Are there any libraries in Doha? Is it really as expensive as everyone says.....i keep hearing phrases like 'London' prices!!!!! thanku