Shifting base to a foreign country can be an exhilarating yet perplexing exercise. Depending on how different the new country is from your home, you can feel anywhere from “right-at- home” to “ I have just landed on Saturn’s twenty ninth ring”….
I know the feeling very well. Have had to go through it a few times in my less than three decades worth of existence.
I come from a chaotic, secular, ever- burgeoning, bustling metropolis with a population that is five times (possibly more) that of the country that I now live in- Qatar.
A city that is famed for its lakes, parks and benevolent climate (maybe not quite so, these days!). A city that has more engineers per capita than any other place in the world. A city that maximised and grew with the IT revolution in the late nineties and early part of this millennium.
A city with dozens of British- age schools and scores of new age pubs. A city with an 11: 30 pm deadline for eateries, restaurants, pubs and discotheques.
A city rife with new- world chicanery but still trying to hold on to it’s old- world mores and values. Brassy, audacious glass towers intermingling with quaint stone structures and historical monuments.
A vibrant, multi- cultural environment where education is as important as partying, where manners and breeding are more important than wealth and materialistic showmanship.
I grew up in such a city. So, imagine the shock of living in Doha.
So, how different are these two cities?
A hijabi inapposite in a hijabi world!
Being a modestly dressed Muslim myself, my friends think I should feel right at home here. Socially, I mean. The hijabs/ abayas/ niqabs…. Actually I don’t. Coming from a secular country, one is not exposed to the level of male- female segregation that exists in the GCC countries. While ladies only queues are a welcome surprise, not able to take your husband along for a doctor’s appointment can feel alien.
This ain’t no jam…
Everybody here seems to whine about the traffic situation in Doha. Traffic? What traffic? Try driving a mammoth 4 X 4 amidst cycles, handcarts, bikes, scooters, auto- rickshaws, pedestrians, and cars of so many different sizes that lane- discipline can seem like a sliding tile puzzle-then talk to me about being stuck in a traffic “jam”.
Going to work atop a white elephant.
I still cannot get over the number of over- the-top, mindlessly flashy cars on the road here. Nor do I understand the fascination with the Landcruisers. Does every citizen, go sand- dune bashing or camping in the desert every single day of the week? Toyota probably has entire factories dedicated to each country in the GCC. And what of the gigantic SUVs? The GMC Yukons and the Chevrolet Suburbans? I can fathom their utility for a FBI SWAT team; but what purpose does it serve to a lone citizen going to work in a bank? Beats me…
Abusing a divine blessing
Back home, we are inundated with “save power”/ “save electricity” advertisements, posters and banners. We are beseeched to switch of any and all lights, television sets, computers, music systems, fans, air- conditioners, heaters, coolers, kitchen appliances, refrigerators, dryers, irons and pretty much anything that draws power; the second we stop using it. And considering electricity doesn’t come cheap, we are innately prone to check and re- check our power switches when we leave our homes.
Here, everything seems over- lit. Air- conditioners cool rooms and cars devoid of any living beings. Flashy rather than functional seems to be the operative word here. The bigger the better. The brighter, the better. Are we in a race to deplete the natural gas reserves as quickly and efficiently as possible? Does adopting a conservational attitude make a country “uncool”? Imagine the amount of natural gas being used up everyday, to fuel this tiny state.
Natural gas sources are a divine blessing, abusing it would be foohardy.
Wastage in the guise of opulence and under the premise of prosperity.
Don’t get me wrong, my countrywomen/ men are no saints when it comes to wastage of food and resources, but my current hometown just takes it to a whole new level. The prosperity here is all pervasive, it has instilled a sense of callousness and a feeling of indestructibility in the residents here. But beware my friends, the crest is always followed by a through. Nothing and no one is indestructible. Inordinate spending and wastage are acts that always lead to disastrous consequences. India was the richest country in the world once, we still have abundant natural resources; yet look at us now…….
How long can some natural gas keep up with this mindless spending?
Life after dark.
Like I mentioned before, in my home- city every one shuts shop and heads home by eleven at night. Or rather we are forced to. But here, life begins after dark- more so during the weekends. And I don’t mean the young, clubby, loud, garish, life. It’s the family out with kids and bicycles and strollers and grampys and grandmas that I’m talking about.
Sitting on the grass beside the water with family and eating take- out food, or sipping a post-midnight cuppa with friends. Or even heading out to the mall. You can do it all, even at 12 am! Love it!
To be continued… (Its 4 am…too sleepy to continue!)
Even with all these differences, I do like living in Doha city and Qatar. The one grouse I have always had about my home- city is that it is not by the sea. Well, now I can sit by the sea every single day if I wish to. (and I almost do!).
Qatar is a small but enthusiastic nation out on a mission to prove it can carve a niche for itself in the region. The country has opened its doors to people from across the globe- and with it has invited both excitement and troubles. People from dozens of countries work and play together. It is bound to be novel, stimulating, energizing, inconvenient, and difficult- an experience!
Though initially blinded by the stark lights and impressed by the roads and cranes (aka infrastructural development), one soon realizes that Doha is just like any other growing city- sometimes tawdry, sometimes kind, at other times utterly confused with what it wants the world to perceive it to be…… but always an interesting place to live in!
Till next time….