So, what do you think of Doha?

Why walk when you can gondola?

I’m back in Doha and have had some time to gnaw on this question for the past months absence, in addition to almost 3 months there earlier this year. To be asked this question implies some answers;

  • It’s too hot
  • It’s boring/there’s nothing to do
True, during my first weekend in Doha, I did what any ‘westerner’ does in a Gulf country: go to the mall. But this gets rather old….fast.

Good morning Doha

Yes, the mall might have its own gondola (yes really) and ice rink – not a surprise there so much and sensible considering the heat, but my answer to the ‘what do you think of’ question is’ has remained the same through all this time.  It’s not sustainable. After all, how much shopping can satiate one’s consumer appetite? The desert can be interesting but how much camel riding, sand dune- ing, quad biking can you do until the adrenalin runs a little on empty?

Qatar’s population is slightly over 1.4 million, with an estimated 800,000 ex-pats (largely migrant-workers from the Philippines, Nepal, Bangladesh). There are two Doha’s really. There’s the fresh steel faced, window glazed skyscrapers

Hello steel & glass

and then there are the dusty streets, neon lit stores, a far cry from plush residences and malls. There are efforts to reinvent, reinvigorate and integrate. The downtown Souk Waqef (outdoor and projects to build a hybrid residential-cultural-markety type area in the middle of Doha, that will take into consideration city design to create wind tunnels, maximize shade, for a place that is notorious for 50 degree Celsius plus weather). As a colleague once told me, no one moves to Doha for the weather. The weather is a restriction and impediment. I haven’t (yet) experienced a Gulf summer but it is basically ferry from one air conditioned building to the next. Efforts for outdoor bike-lanes will only go so far in the ‘winter’ months. Now, add to this mix a burgeoning consumer culture, an almost invisible recycling culture, a society heavily heavily dependent on cars and you begin to see what I mean. A trip to the edge of Qatar where a spanse of water divided Qatar from Saudi Arabia was marked by garbage. Indeed even the tour guides would toss drink cans down sand dunes and hills for the magic garbage fairy to pick it up.  These seemingly small acts can add up to become larger problems. This isn’t sustainable and. Not for the environment and not for regional or global competitiveness. The solution will be to progress without sacrifice and without leaving the majority of the population behind.

Rollin’ along in my auto-mo-bile

What will it take to change? Investments in education (building education city – a complex of satellite universities and other institutions) is one way to realize and maximize human capital. With so many ex-pats, the ground is ripe for global best practices to make an appearance. Another key is not to look outside for fulfilment. Instead of ‘looking for things to do’, how about looking within. Its during the quiet times that the opportunity presents itself to cultivate within. My list is ready: begin studying Arabic again, pick up guitar and piano, again, a limited symphony culture presents an opportunity to cultivate that, a lot of opportunity to read (thank you Kindle) and of course, not only get the skates on but start coaching again.
At the end of the day, in my circles at least, people move to Doha because they believe in something that is bigger than themselves. When you enter that news room, or walk past the galleries, you feel that collective intelligence and that collective consciousness. To be surrounded by people from 51 different countries, and a team who are on that journey with you, Doha living doesn’t look so bad.


More snaps of Doha days here as well as some cool Doha-living people on that journey to follow:

Kamahl – AJE presenter; Steff – AJE meterologist; Bilal – AJE web correspondent + stand up comedian. As always, more to come 😉


One thought on “So, what do you think of Doha?

  1. Dear Esra,

    I’m in London. I’m giving a paper tomorrow (Saturday, March 23) at Birkbeck College at 1:30. Can you come?

    George Wright

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