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…