48hrs in Doha

Impressions of short business trip into another dimension.

/ middle east, qatar, islam


After spending more like 96 than 48 hours, greetings from the middle east, from that region that not many travel to or only know from stopovers. From a region that is so massively misunderstood and victim of prejudices, that experiencing the gulf region is, at any moment, a wake up call that travel really is:

[Travel is] fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness. Mark Twain

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Doha feels like somebody by the name of "HH Hamad bin Chalifa bin Hamad bin Abdullah bin Jassim bin Muhammed Al Thani", the Emir of Qatar, is playing SimCity with a cheat for unlimited funds.

Doha is the capitol of Qatar. Qatar is a GCC country. Not the compiler, the union of states and emirates called GCC. I have to admit, I don't know much more about Qatar. I know it is in the middle-east, I know it is an islamic country, I know it is very hot here in the summer and winter and in between. I know that women are something you just better not look at at all, to play it safe and I know that Arabs are really friendly, if you don't step on one of the many landmines that us Westerners usually seek like suicidal robots. I stepped on quite a few mines and blew up. But I put myself together and slowly slowly understand how this works here.

Because this exactly how it is. If you ever played SimCity with cheats (and I know you have, because we all have done so), you know that a rapid expansions leads to a massive collapse of all traffic. Then you destroy buildings to build roads and then the air quality goes down the drain, which you also forgot to build, so destroy again and...so forth. Anyhow. So the man who could never sign a postcard with his full name is probably creating this country as his real-life SimCity and enjoying an agent simulation Maxis can only dream of in its wet dreams.

Scents and a scent life missing in Germany

Qatar is also full of scents and sounds that you just expect and want to experience when travelling so far away from home. See, Munich, my current city, is like a well preserved retirement home in a model train landscape. It is free of scents on the street, life and progress. It is, in a nutshell, the most boring and safest place you can be. And it is really racist, too. So Munich sucks, that has been established. Qatar shares a little bit of Munich. Clearly, it is racist strongly class based. There is a class system so strongly embedded in the society, that even as tourist or businessman you automatically stick to it. They have henchmen, clerks, helpers, errand boys for everything. There even is a guy taking care of a toilet on a floor in an office building where hardly anyone goes to. Still, he is always well dressed and courageous. Cab drivers try to rip you off, but when cops or locals explain how they should not try this, it sounds like somebody would scold a dog - more about this later. But what it doesn't share with Munich is this feeling of preservation and rigor mortis.

Islam, wonderful Islam

Doha is moving, it is developing so fast and so quickly, even Singapore and it's minister mentor must pay respects to the vision of the Emir. Doha also emits all these aforementioned smells, Arabic perfume, burning incense, herbs and spices, shisha smoke, camel meat. It is a delight. In the morning, around 5, or more precisely: At exactly 5AM you will be awoken by the adhan, the call to prayer, recited by the muezzin. It will sound unfamiliar, but somehow pleasant how the call echoes through streets and across the open plains. During the day your business partners will leave for prayers, that is just something that happens. Before the night settles, just before the sun sinks below the horizon, the sunset prayer can be heard. It transfers every sundown into something slightly magical. But here I will stop talking about Islam, this dominant religion of the region, because I am too afraid I will misinterpret or describe something wrong.

I am not a religious man and object any fundamentalism, but I do have respect for religions and cultures and the Islam, as lived in Qatar, is very respectable. It is tolerating, it is deep and full of history, cultural influence and dominance. It is something I do want to learn more about.

Women of the GCC

Let's talk about another interesting subject. Women. A common misconception people have about the Islam is that women are inferior to men. Yes, I know a lot of Germans that say this, even compare the traditional gown of men to guys wearing dishcloths. Both is incredibly wrong. Women stand, actually, above men. Ladies first is a prime rule, to be always obeyed. Women here also emit an elegance and refinement that I can simply not find in Germany. I mean, Jack Wolfskin and Deuter never made a woman sexy - and never meant to do so. Most women here wear abaya (I hope I get this right, or is it Hidschab?), made most of the time out of a very fine, black fabric. And even in this full body cover, they emit this elegance. It may help, that they also usually carry lot of bling-bling with expensive sun glasses and handbags and smell wonderful, but still, it must take practice and tradition to not appear like a black ghost in such a garment. Anyhow, I was impressed.

Most important is something else, though: Germans like to point out that the traditional islamic garment worn by women is a sign of Oppression of women - but I did not have that feeling at all. Maybe in Saudi Arabia things are different, but in Qatar and Dubai women do not walk 5m behind the men and certainly do not behave oppressed at all. So shelve that prejudice, at least its generalization.

Colors of the world

Something else struck me, again: Whenever you leave the safe shores of Germany, the world becomes more colorful. Ok, you can also just drive to Berlin to have the same thing, but when you leave Munich, geee, so many different people, races, languages all mixing and all peaceful and no one looking grumpy.

There is a strong hierarchy, a very strong class system it seems.

Construction work is done, as usually around the globe, by Bangladeshi and other immigrant workers of a darker skin tone. Cab drivers come from Africa or India. But still, everyone mixes peacefully without the looks. Just walk down Munich's Leopoldstrasse in designer ware from last season, looks will destroy you. Just get out on the wrong side on the S-bahn, they will point out your mistake. But here in Doha, disrespecting western females in hot pants and spaghetti straps walk besides fully covered local women, loud Americans brawl beside soft spoken local businessman, Indians try to sell you something for best price that is worth 10% of what is asked while Germans sporting backpack with water bottles and cameras are just as common as herds of Asians.

So this is awesome. This is the real world. The world outside the beer garden.

Beware of rip-offs, embrace the locals

To end this long story, a practical hint for every traveller coming here, derived from a real-live event: Beware of the cabbies. They will rip you off. What happened? I wanted to get from my hotel in al Saad to the Souq Waqif and got into a cab. The driver said "40 fixed, ok, sir?" Meaning that the fare should be 40 rial, fixed. I of course denied this outrageous attempt of badass ripping off. I said "25 max, man". He said "Heavy traffic, 35!". I said "30, yousonofabitch" Well not the last word. We drove off and arrived at the place. The meter said 8.95. So I got out a 10 rial bill to throw it in his face. He made big eyes and exclaimed "WE SAID 30". "Well, yes, but the meter says 8.95". By that time an Arabic lady tried to get into the cab, because these were scarce at that moment. She witnessed the exchange and looked at me through the lowered passenger window "Just give him 10, he is trying something, this happened before". Then she commenced yelling at the poor guy in full force, ending her Arabic (cursing and shouting in Arabic is even more impressive than in German!) sermon with the english "I call the cops". The driver made the mistake of his life "Yes, call them lady, the man said 30, I said ok". Then came the cop. Nice, young lad. He looked at me, then at the driver, motioned the driver to park on the side and commenced to yell at him. I wanted to explain my point of view, no one cared. But I could tell: I am the tourist with the big ass camera, I am right no matter what I do. So the cop wanted to get backup. Then the driver got sweaty and begged "Please just give me 10 and get out. get out get out." I stayed and waited, smiling a bit. Then the cop came back, I got out giving the driver 10 rial. After that the cop asked the driver to step out of the vehicle, got his name card, yelled a little more and turned to me very calmly and friendly and explained the following:

In a cab in Doha always only accept the meter. Never a fixed fare. And if they try something funny, ask for their license number and name card.

So there. I gladly share this lesson with you. And if you ask yourself now: But that is common knowledge, how wide-eyed must you bee? That comes from living in Germany, where everything is going in regulated circles and everyone is sticking to protocol. When a German cabbie wants to rip you off, they just take little detours - but they don't pull the following: "FARE is the name of the company, sir". Which really, really happened. Hilarious. I will name my cab company FARE & NO REFUND.

Rhythm in the craziness

Oh and one, very last thing: The traffic is just horrible. It is crazy. But there is a rhythm to that craziness, a harmony. If everyone drives and walk according to the same chaotic principle, then the whole system is in harmony. Is this the chaos theory in application? If and once I found out the principle and recipe of this harmonic rhythm, I will import and adapt it to Germany.

That's it from Doha for now. Thank you for your time and attention. I shall return with more senseless Munich bashing.

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