In the 1960’s, all of the major gulf cities were dusty little villages, with traditional houses made of sand, palm trees, or even wool. When oil money started pouring in, so did the concrete and glass, turning little villages into sky scrapers. Qatar’s capital, Doha, has grown unbelievably fast, and seems to be speeding up, an entire city under construction.
If you search the internet for a picture of Doha in 1979, you’ll see a picture of some tiny, beige, homogenous buildings, with the newly built, pyramid-like highrise Sheraton Hotel looming over them and the sea. If you look for a picture of Doha’s cityscape in 2006, there are just a couple more highrises. Now, there are dozens and dozens of buildings, only 10 years later, with dozens more under construction. They’re not only building but rebuiling, expanding, and creating new spaces to build more. Reclaimed land is the in-thing for all the gulf countries, filling and shaping islands out into the sea and constructing new motorways and sea-side corniches along an ever-expanding coastline. The highways move and grow to fit larger roundabouts or the new skytrain tracks, and left turns barely exist, replaces by u-turns and roundabouts to improve the flow of traffic.
Doha is still dusty, even more so with all the construction, and they don’t worry about wiping it off. The cars are a little older and well-used than they were in Kuwait, and most trucks and SUV’s have a similar art decal sticker in waves of black or beige along the side which make them look like their all part of the same fleet. I couchsurfed with an Egyptian guy and his English roommate, who had 2 dogs, 2 cats and a horse (!). I managed to talk my way into a ride, and helped her walk the dogs by the beach, only to watch a Qatari guy hit her German Shepherd and drive off. Luckily he was only a little bruised, but the local treatment of animals, specifically dogs, left some distaste in my mouth. Driving in general was pretty bad, like the people who make a left turn from the right-most lane, cutting off 2 or 4 lanes of traffic, and I saw a giant Ford F-150 pummel into a compact Toyota hatchback, crashing them both onto the corniche I was walking on just a few metres away.
The Qatar Couchsurf ambassador was kind of like a Pakistani pirate – I’m still not sure what he does but he walks around with one limp leg and crutches, drives off and over massive sand dunes in his 4×4, and gets free tea delivered to his car window from just the honk of his horn. He took me out of town, to see some of the natural sights, including a sink hole and some singing sand dunes. We hung out with his core group of friends, including my host, and I got semi-addicted to watching episodes of Dexter which were always playing in the background. Eating was always an event, a social gathering, and extremely simple – you could order in anything, from shwarma to pizza and Mcdonalds or Subway, and it would get delivered straight to your lap. It was also common not to get out of your car for a corner shop purchase – simply park out front, wait with your window down, and one shop guy would come and take your order, for bottles of water or cigarettes, take your money and bring your change. I heard that even they do home deliveries once in a while, depending on how close you are to your neighbourhood shopkeeper, so in theory you’d never have to leave your house if it wasn’t for work or pets.