My Qatari journey has brought me to the most remarkable people ever. As you already know, I have traveled to more than 50 countries. During those trips have met and interacted with so many different nations, cultures and point of views, that more less feel citizen of the world and could probably live comfortably everywhere. But Qatar gave me the feeling being part of something special. It’s a place where your mind could be blown away by the diversity. I could easily describe the reality there like a contemporary human Noah’s Ark – people from all over the world.
Just imagine, you start walking from the farthermost edge of the world in direction Qatar. On your way you get along with people from all the states you have passed through. It’s likely to meet here plenty of Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans, Americans, Canadians, Brazilians, Japanese, Koreans. Getting closer to Qatar, you find also Kenyans, Rwandans, Ethiopians, Indonesians, Malaysians, Filipinos, Tunisians, Moroccans, Lebanese, Syrians,Indians, Sri Lankans and etc…So many cultures, languages, rituals, traditions and habits which enlarge your experience and make you think out of the box.
It comes to say that I have met plenty of people who have left an extra ordinary trace in my life and stamped a lovely scar on my heart. Some of them have touched me by their endless patience and kindness, others impressed me by their professional approach, the rest just got me by unforgettable experience. I am quite selective in my friendships. I have probably thousands of fellows but the real friends could be easily count. Qatar changed and enlarged this limited number with elegance, without intruding roughly my private space.
No, I don’t say that all the expats in Qatar are unbelievable, honourable and amazing people. On the contrary. There is trash as everywhere. I have met lots of incompetent people, who have been kicked out from their own countries. Also large number of ignorant expats, people with questionable career who have found a quiet job role in the “shade” of Qatar. Those people are often arrogant, behaving in disgusting manner, pretend being someone else. The type who will smile in your face but would stick a knife in your back. Well they have been lucky to just posses the right passport (nationality), still valued by the locals.
Excluding those mentioned above, I have been mostly positively surprised by the quality of the people. I am proud to call good friends expats from Spain, Australia,Canada, Philippines, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Lebanon. It’s a whole life bond which cannot be easily cut off. And you know the saying that you should check on your friends in a “battle” not only at the table.
I love the food and hate the diets. It’s a habit of mine to taste the local food wherever I go, to explore it, enjoy it, to be sometimes disgusted, even shocked but I am brave enough to keep trying. Two years in Qatar have convinced me there is something like traditional Qatari food but it could be appreciated mostly by the locals. The foreigners can’t get used to its taste. What I discovered in Doha was actually the Indian cuisine. It’s the most famous, delicious and common food in Qatar. Followed by the Lebanese one of course.
The indian cuisine could drench you in its variety of spices, senses, flavours, ingredients and combinations. I like the hot spicy options of all kind of Samosa (Atabs call it Sambusa). Also chicken, lamb and beef biryani, chicken masala, tandoori, all kind of fish garnished by smooth or spicy sauce…now I am drooling, better to stop it here.
I had the chance to eat, almost daily, meals prepared by best of best chefs in Qatar and have to admit I have been kind of spoiled. Able to choose and order, at the same time to get suggestions how to diversify my daily menu is a kind of privilege.
Doubt to ever forget the amazing dishes, close to art, cooked by Sri Lankan chef Rohan and the inexplicable desserts by his Indian colleague Tupan. Now I realise I have been really lucky. They made me adore the Indian food and to never get tired of it. I need to confess that my favourite menu would be Lebanese appetisers(meze) like Tabbouleh, Mutabal, Muhhamarra, baba Ganoush followed by an Indian main dish. My great friends, the Lebanese chefs Elias and Rami, have introduced me to the Lebanese culinary and I remained in love.
Through all that experience above, I have discovered the Ginger, its flavour and magic. Ginger is not famous in Europe (except in ginger cookies) but in the Middle East it’s everywhere. You can find it as a spice in the daily restaurant menu, very popular as tea, as ingredient in ice juices and sure in the traditional local medicine. I was quite hesitant because seeing the hooked ugly root for first time it did not impress me much.
My first touch to Ginger was a dish called Panak Paneer. It looks awful. Cooked with spinach and cottage cheese, plus plenty of unknown spices, that dish has unpleasant dark green colour. The dish requires to be eaten with traditional bread Naan. It took me some time to encourage myself and taste it but should admit I was bewitched by it. And the ginger was the one I was not able to recognise, teasing my receptors.
Then I get used to drink almost daily Ginger tea which all the Asians believe is able to cure from upcoming throat pain to a terrible flu.Who am I not to trust them?! There are plenty of combinations of ginger tea, most of them packed in tea bags. The best one though is prepared by a fresh ginger root. I was taught by my Filipino friends how to cook it. Chop 2 cm piece of the root, peel the skin, cut on very tiny slices and boil it for about 10 minutes in half litter of water. Filter it, add lemon and honey …ready to serve it. The taste could be a bit harsh in the beginning. The ginger flavour is irreplaceable for me and it’s a benefit from my Qatari experience.
The next benefit could surprise you because no one expects to find the best sport activity in Qatar. I did. I have been introduced to Spinning via the Spanish fitness instructor Nuria who became later one of my closest friends. She just lighted me up, then ignited the flame which still glows more than two years later. I discovered spinning in Qatar and remained an addicted spinner. Even bought a spinning bike for my apartment in Sofia and jump on it whenever I am there.
Dare to say being so excited, I have tried spinning classes and equipment in Barbados, London, Colombo, Cape Town and New Jersey but have not faced anything so good like in Doha. Spinning in Doha is as religion. Daily you have overcrowded classes, provided by high level equipment and instructors. The members are equal male and female number. The interest is really impressive. The instructors will “drain” all your power, will keep you following their pace by new rhythm and exercises, will finally somehow convince you (after you cannot even breathe) that you can do it even better.
The last generation of spinning bikes Keiser and Technogym are there. They simply attract you to keep rolling and getting sweat, pushing yourself to the limit. I truly enjoyed it and the feeling is unbelievable when you complete 45 to 50 minutes exercise, feeling down, soaked but somehow happy. I know I probably sound crazy but I have never claimed not being one.:)
It’s a bit weird I learned this lesson right in Qatar. Everything is pompous, luxury and shiny there. Impressive sk
yscrapers, surrounded by large Maisons, last generation vehicles, extremely luxurious hotels, high level class of service. But somehow this environment has shown me how small and insignificant I am and has thrown away my last snobbish remains.
Because of the local rules and standards usually a month prior the holy month of Ramadan, the government starts campaigns about humility of clothing. This way they remind the expats to respect the traditional religious belief of Qatari people. In their daily life they are dressed in black abaya (the women) and in white tob (the men). The Qatari won’t required foreigners to follow their clothing style but the idea is to be exposed as minimum naked body parts as possible. It means foreigners, permanently based in the country, especially the women, to be humbly dressed regarding the standard, covering their knees and elbows.
Qatar is a desert very hot country. In the period from June to August the temperatures could reach 48-50 degrees Celsius. At same time is very humid. So the normal expected manner of all non Qatari is to wear shorts and T-shirts which the locals accept but find it inappropriate. It’s not that difficult their requirements/advices to be met because the country is in fact air-conditioned. All properties, underground parkings, Malls, offices, vehicles (excluding the old busses for labours) are fully equipped by air-condition. So it’s unlikely to see walking people during the heat period(except the tourists).
I am not justifying any clothing style but need to admit I have tried (led mostly by curiosity) what is the feeling to wear abaya (long black female robe). My experiment though to wear niqab (cover for the face, excluding the eyes) and sheila (cover for the hair and ears) has ended dramatically. In 10 minutes I was not able to breathe and felt the need to take it immediately off before start suffocating. I have been told later my lungs are not meant for this small amount of air which the local girls start experiencing since they turn 12, so they have enough time to get used to it.
But abaya could be something very very useful. You could be under in pyjama, underwear, naked and no one will notice or care. You can combine it by sport shoes or high heels, depending on the case. It prevents any inconvenience in case your daily clothes are crumpled and you cannot manage it right now. And the most valuable – it keeps you invisible, just a part of the crowd (so many like you around). At the same time it’s spacious enough, the material is transparent, partly avoiding the heat. So I enjoyed my short time abaya experiment and found somehow the benefits.
What cannot be hidden is the exposure of extremely expensive luxury cars which is something common for Qatar. Despite that, people avoid any demonstration of wealthiness. At least inside the country. I have heard plenty of stories for hypocrisy of Qatari behaviour – very humble being in Qatar and huge change going out, heading to Europe and US. That’s true, I have seen it by myself but all Qatari cannot be meant under the same line. So generally the humble life, focused on the family and traditions is the reality for them.
As I have mentioned in my other articles, if we don’t understand something it doesn’t mean we should immediately deny it. That’s definitely an extremely different culture, driven mostly by religious belief and strict rituals. But I was impressed by the strong will that ancient tradition to be preserved, the old people to be highly respected, the cultural peculiarities to keep being dominant and parents to be worshipped. Sadly that’s quite away from my alienated progressive European culture and I found what more to learn in Qatar.