Sitting in judgement

My post workout elation this morning was ruined as the instructor began a familiar dire in these parts: what’s wrong with Doha, i.e. the country of Qatar. What was particularly disturbing to me was the tone of the conversation. As you know, I’m trained in postcolonial, or in other words, to be disturbed by feelings of cultural superiority from anyone one culture towards another.

 

“I have to remind myself this is a third world country.”

 

This statement took my breath slightly away more than the previous hour of high endurance spinning had done because, as you may know, Qatar is in fact not the third world. If by third world you mean limited drinking water, access to education, electricity, or stable government.

 

Which, apparently, the instructor did not intend the label to refer to any of these developmental markers (aside: developing country is today’s parlance, not first and third worlds, as though we don’t inhabit the same planet).

 

She was referring to the fact that all the exercise clubs at the various hotels had been told there would be no exercise classes during the week of a UN conference.

 

“As though those UN types want to exercise,” someone else in the room said.

 

I suppose it didn’t occur to anyone that security was the actual reason we were being banned from these hotels – avoiding a spate of car bombings via the hotel’s exercise club was more likely the reason we were being told to reallocate our schedules.

 

There were general grumblings about lack of culture, laziness among the local population, no drive to work, few ambitions, no beauty in the landscape.

 

The woman at the bike closest to me said nothing and kept glancing at me; I could have Qatari features by some people’s standards and I knew she was trying to figure out why I was being so silent in this rampage on all things wrong with Doha.

 

“Europe has so much culture,” the instructor continued.

 

And about 300 years more history in general I so badly wanted to retort.

 

“Considering people were living here in tents thirty years ago,” another class participant said, “it will take time. Like in Malaysia. It took three generations for change.”

 

I appreciate her point and chose to ignore the reference to tent dwellers. What was anyone living in a thousand years ago? Before I could get comfortable however, the generational mark had struck a chord, and we were off for another round of remarks railing against spoiled young Qataris. 

 

 

“Well if someone gave me five million dollars, I wouldn’t be at McDonalds,” another classmate said. I could have hugged her with relief for stemming this tide that I felt swept under.

 

Everyone shared a chuckle, including me. I breathed again fully into my lungs, thanked the instructor for the class and made my way to the shower.

But why are ex-pats so critical of Qataris?

I’m still puzzling over why I was so offended.

 

Was it the self-righteousness? The dismissive admission that there were ‘some’ who weren’t like that but the majority of the nation wasn’t worth much?

 

Or perhaps what made the hairs on my neck stand up was the blatant disregard for the fact that a society in progress needs time as an essential element to aid its growth?

 

“There is no perfect society,” I had counseled a young Qatari woman over dinner the other evening. She was discontent with her family’s imposition of traditional expectations despite having allowed her to go abroad to be educated. When at home, do as the locals do. I sympathized with her, sharing stories of my own bifurcated experiences in the U.S. and returning to India to visit family.

 

Nothing is all black or white. Not people, not governments, not religion. To adopt a non-plural platform is to rid life of potential. If a Qatari went to any of the states represented in our class that morning: Malaysia, Germany (I think), some part of Scandinavia (another guess), India, or the U.S. wouldn’t there be things to complain about in spades?

 

How can people be so obtuse about this basic fact: we all live in glass houses.

 

“We’re not here for the culture,” the McDonalds commenter added, “We’re here for the money.”

This I think is the root of the issue. If the goal of modernizing a society with an eye towards empowering its young people is not made a part of the core of one’s mission here, then no amount of money will compensate for the things you feel you are missing elsewhere – whether conveniences or family members. The people who stay and thrive are those who on some level avail themselves of other opportunities – the travel, the work, or the adventure. Unfortunately there don’t seem to be enough people in this category.

 

I must confess I was on the verge of saying what the Qataris themselves often say:

 

“If you don’t like it here, then go home.”

 

“I have to remind myself this is a third world country.”

 

This statement took my breath slightly away more than the previous hour of high endurance spinning had done because, as you may know, Qatar is in fact not the third world. If by third world you mean limited drinking water, access to education, electricity, or stable government.

 

Which, apparently, the instructor did not intend the label to refer to any of these developmental markers (aside: developing country is today’s parlance, not first and third worlds, as though we don’t inhabit the same planet).

 

She was referring to the fact that all the exercise clubs at the various hotels had been told there would be no exercise classes during the week of a UN conference.

 

“As though those UN types want to exercise,” someone else in the room said.

 

I suppose it didn’t occur to anyone that security was the actual reason we were being banned from these hotels – avoiding a spate of car bombings via the hotel’s exercise club was more likely the reason we were being told to reallocate our schedules.

 

There were general grumblings about lack of culture, laziness among the local population, no drive to work, few ambitions, no beauty in the landscape.

 

The woman at the bike closest to me said nothing and kept glancing at me; I could have Qatari features by some people’s standards and I knew she was trying to figure out why I was being so silent in this rampage on all things wrong with Doha.

 

“Europe has so much culture,” the instructor continued.

 

And about 300 years more history in general I so badly wanted to retort.

 

“Considering people were living here in tents thirty years ago,” another class participant said, “it will take time. Like in Malaysia. It took three generations for change.”

 

I appreciate her point and chose to ignore the reference to tent dwellers. What was anyone living in a thousand years ago? Before I could get comfortable however, the generational mark had struck a chord, and we were off for another round of remarks railing against spoiled young Qataris. 

 

 

“Well if someone gave me five million dollars, I wouldn’t be at McDonalds,” another classmate said. I could have hugged her with relief for stemming this tide that I felt swept under.

 

Everyone shared a chuckle, including me. I breathed again fully into my lungs, thanked the instructor for the class and made my way to the shower.

But why are ex-pats so critical of Qataris?

I’m still puzzling over why I was so offended.

 

Was it the self-righteousness? The dismissive admission that there were ‘some’ who weren’t like that but the majority of the nation wasn’t worth much?

 

Or perhaps what made the hairs on my neck stand up was the blatant disregard for the fact that a society in progress needs time as an essential element to aid its growth?

 

“There is no perfect society,” I had counseled a young Qatari woman over dinner the other evening. She was discontent with her family’s imposition of traditional expectations despite having allowed her to go abroad to be educated. When at home, do as the locals do. I sympathized with her, sharing stories of my own bifurcated experiences in the U.S. and returning to India to visit family.

 

Nothing is all black or white. Not people, not governments, not religion. To adopt a non-plural platform is to rid life of potential. If a Qatari went to any of the states represented in our class that morning: Malaysia, Germany (I think), some part of Scandinavia (another guess), India, or the U.S. wouldn’t there be things to complain about in spades?

 

How can people be so obtuse about this basic fact: we all live in glass houses.

 

“We’re not here for the culture,” the McDonalds commenter added, “We’re here for the money.”

This I think is the root of the issue. If the goal of modernizing a society with an eye towards empowering its young people is not made a part of the core of one’s mission here, then no amount of money will compensate for the things you feel you are missing elsewhere – whether conveniences or family members. The people who stay and thrive are those who on some level avail themselves of other opportunities – the travel, the work, or the adventure. Unfortunately there don’t seem to be enough people in this category.

 

I must confess I was on the verge of saying what the Qataris themselves often say:

 

“If you don’t like it here, then go home.”

 

Posts Tagged with…

Reader Comments

  1. alia alami

    How ironic that these people who are criticizing Qatar are the ones who are thriving on its safe clean streets ,whether jogging or walking. I am also surprised how they fail, or maybe do not wish to notice how polite the Qataries are by all standards.They accept the people who live in their country and embrace cultural differences with great respect .I find myself in a position to elaborate on this as I am someone who enjoys being on Qatar’s cultural bandwagon,an experience that has given me the oppotunity to mingle with the locals and witness their good nature and affability as my inquiries and presence have always been welcomed.If Qatar is experienced with an open mind,It will be an extremely unique and enriching one.Do not miss that.Enjoy Qatar.

Write a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.