People still associate the Middle East with terrorism — the kind of danger that has people strapping bombs to their chests or cars. This week in Qatar started with a stark reminder that the everyday dangers are equally deadly.
The building boom around the Arabian Gulf has raised a lot of eyebrows. People often murmur questions about building codes, quality of materials, and emergency response infrastructure. I was at one of the country’s biggest malls two years ago, while 8 months pregnant, when a cafe kitchen started spewing fumes. At another mall a few years prior to this, a department store went up in flames, singeing other retailers nearby. One of the high rise towers were many friends live caught on fire, burning out the garbage chute and sending everyone to temporary housing for several months.
This is why when my students said to me on Monday, “Villaggio is on fire,” none of us expected what came next. A fire (causes still largely unknown) claimed the lives of thirteen children, fire fighters and teachers on Monday. The fourteen people reported killed in the fire is a staggering loss to a country known for safety. The community reeled in shock as the photos and videos of plumes of smoke went around the social media sites and onto people’s Blackberry display pictures.
Yesterday several vigils were held in solidarity with the families — one couple lost their triplets — who were grappling with the realization that the morning’s nursery drop off was anything but routine.
Stories flooded the message boards from other parents who had intended to send their children to that same nursery but hadn’t, others asking when the mall would be reopened, and the grief poured in on all sides. In a show of unity, the Twitter community was circulating the hashtag #onecommunitydoha, #oneunitedqatar in solidarity with the families.
The fire has struck a cord on both the emotional and governmental level. Needless to say, there are many issues that this tragedy has exposed: fire safety awareness, materials in construction, equipment used by firemen. And the rumor mill is busy at work as well.
For now, for a moment, we pause and remember that life is only as important as the perspective from which we view it. We mourn with those who lost loved ones. And with the memory of the fragility of life, cling to those whom we are fortunate enough to have in our lives.