Monday, January 14, 2008


I was reading a friend's blog about his family's visit to Hawaii--paragraph after paragraph (in a good way) of beautiful descriptions of the island. Having spent a summer there years ago, I almost felt I was back there.

And I thought, I need to include more descriptions of the scenery in Doha. So here it is:

(1) Lots of sand--but not the smooth sand you think of at the beach (although, I admit, I haven't been to the beach yet; perhaps the sand is nicer there). This is a gritty sand made of crushed coral (or so I've been told). It rained for several days straight here, and when I picked my kids up from school yesterday, the parking area had become a cement pit. And since sand isn't particularly absorbent, particularly gritty sand, the drainage is sloooooow. The roads, understandably, have no drainage system either, so driving is hazardous when it rains, and I'm grateful for a huge Trailblazer to get me through the ponds.

(2) Lots of construction. Lots and lots. Old buildings being torn down; new ones being built up. Roads dug up left and right and, too often, directly in front of you.

(3) Palaces. Lots and lots. I've mentioned these before, but let me add that virtually every one I've seen looks like it's not quite done because the area surrounding them are . . . sand and construction. I can't see inside the walls, however, and don't expect to. But I imagine within them are trees, grass, lovely landscaped courtyards.

Traditionally, as in anciently traditionally, homes for the average person in the Middle East were extremely modest--even the wealthy families--particularly by today's standards. You slept inside, but that was about it. You cooked outside, socialized outside, *lived* outside. Arabic culture also demanded extreme hospitality. You didn't lock your doors because any time, day or night, strangers were welcome. Arabic people are still famous for their hospitality, despite what is going on in so many Middle East countries today. I'm learning more about manners here than I ever expected to and hope my kids are, too.

Interestingly, most of the Qatari are descended from Bedouin tribes, which didn't completely settle until the 1970s. So this creation of magnificent homes is a truly recent thing that accompanied the wealth generated by the oil industry. It's amazing to me that men and women in their 60s and 70s have seen such a dramatic shift in their country's wealth, evident in the houses, the Land Rovers, the shopping malls, and so forth. Problems obviously accompany such new wealth, particularly for the younger generation (teens and twenties): disregard for road laws is the most common complaint, thus the recent institution of outrageously high fines for traffic offenses. And even if such behavior is inexcusable, it is as least understandable.

I spent the morning running errands with the little guy--my first real excursion without Ron at the steering wheel. We managed just fine, thank you very much--even with scary drivers all around--and I'm building up my confidence to go to a 10 QR store this week (like a dollar store, but closer to $3 at this particular one). I'm feeling rather elated at the moment, since, as most of you know, driving was my biggest anxiety about coming here. Freedom means a lot to me here . . . as well it should.

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