My Qatari journey brought me to the most remarkable people ever. As you already know, I’ve been to more than 60 countries. During those trips, I met and interacted with so many different nationalities, cultures and viewpoints, that now I feel more less a citizen of the world and probably could live everywhere quite comfortably. But Qatar gave me the feeling to be part of something special. It’s a place where any mind could be blown away by the diversity on site. I can describe that diversity like a contemporary human Noah’s Ark, that contains people from all over the world.
Qatar looks like a journey. Like to start walking from the farthermost edge of the world in direction Qatar. On the way you get along with people from all the states you passed through. It’s likely to meet 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, traditions and habits, that enlarges your experience and makes you think out of the box.
All above comes to say I met plenty of people, who left an extra ordinary trace in my life and stamped a lovely scar on my heart. Some of them touched me by their endless patience and kindness. Others impressed me by their professional approach. The rest just got me by their unforgettable experience. I am quite selective in my friendships. I have probably thousands of fellows, but the real friends could be counted. Qatar changed and enlarged this limited number with an elegance, without intruding my private space.
No, I don’t say all expatriates in Qatar are fantastic, honourable, memorable people. On the contrary. Trash is available on site, as everywhere. I met lots of incompetent people, who were kicked out from their own countries. Also large number of ignorant expats, people with questionable career, but who found a quiet job role under the “shade” of Qatar. Those people were often arrogant, bad- mannered, undercover the pretension of being someone else. The type that smiles at your face, while sticking a knife into your back. Mostly such frauds were lucky to posses the right passport (nationality), valued by the locals yet.
Excluding the ones above, I was mostly positively surprised by the quality of the employees in Qatar. I am proud to call my friends expats from Spain, Australia,Canada, Philippines, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Lebanon. We built a life bond, that cannot be easily torn. You know the saying: ” Real friends are verified by battle, not at table”.
In general, 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, sometimes to be even disgusted or shocked, but brave enough to keep trying. The years in Qatar convinced me something like traditional Qatari cuisine exists, but it’s appreciated mostly by the locals. The foreigners would hardly get used to its taste. Then I discovered the Indian cuisine in Doha. It’s the most famous, delicious and common food in Qatar. The second one by popularity is the Lebanese.
The Indian cuisine drenches you in its variety of spices, senses, flavours, ingredients and combinations. I like the hot spicy version of all kind of Samosa (Arabs 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 the best chefs in Qatar and need to admit I was kind of spoiled. I was able to choose and order. At the same time to get advised how to diversify my daily menu.
No doubt, I won’t forget the amazing dishes, nearly art, cooked by the Sri Lankan chef Rohan. Also the creative desserts, made by his Indian colleague Tupan. Now I realise, I was really lucky. They both made me adore Indian food and to never get tired of it. My favourite menu would be mixed – Lebanese appetisers(meze) like Tabbouleh, Mutabal, Muhhamarra, baba Ganoush, followed by any main Indian dish. My great friends, the Lebanese chefs Elias and Rami, introduced me to the refine Lebanese culinary, that I fell in love with.
While collecting the experience above, I 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. Also very popular as tea, as ingredient in ice juices and as a main supplement in the traditional local medicine. I was quite hesitant when I saw how Ginger looks like. The crooked ugly root did not impress me much.
My first touch to Ginger was in a dish called Panak Paneer. It looked awful. Cooked with spinach and cottage cheese, plus plenty of unknown spices, the dish had unpleasant dark green colour. Panic Paneer requires to be eaten along with the traditional bread Naan. It took me some time to encourage myself and taste it. Wow…the taste was thousands times better, than the looks. The ginger inside was that spice I was unable to recognise, but the one to tease my receptors.
Then I got curious about ginger and discovered the ginger tea. I used to drink it almost daily. All Asians believe Ginger tea is able to soften the throat sore and to block the upcoming flu. There are plenty of combinations of ginger tea, most of them packed in tea bags. The best tea though is made by fresh ginger root. My Filipino friends on site taught me how to prepare 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. Now the ginger flavour is irreplaceable for me. It comes as a big benefit from my Qatari journey.
The next benefit could surprise you. No one expects to find the best sport activity right in Qatar. I did. I was introduced to Spinning (indoor cycling) by the Spanish fitness instructor Nuria, who later became one of my closest friends. She lit me up about the idea, then ignited the flame that still glows years later. I discovered the spinning in Qatar and remained an addicted spinner. Even bought a spinning bike at home.
I was so inspired by spinning, that I joined later classes in Barbados, London, Colombo, Cape Town and New Jersey. Unfortunately, I never got anything as good as in Doha. Spinning in Doha is a religion. Classes were scheduled daily and daily were overcrowded. High level equipment and talented instructors on site. The members were equal number of men and women. The interest in spinning was really impressive. The instructors usually “drained” all your power, by forcing you following their pace. Every other day new rhythm and interesting exercises. And when you are totally exhausted, can’t go anymore, can’t even breathe, the instructor would somehow convince you, you can do it even better.
The last generation of spinning bikes Keiser and Technogym were in there. Everyone get attracted to keep rolling and to push themselves to the limit. I truly enjoyed it. The feeling was unbelievable after completing the 50 minute exercise. Then being down, sweating, panting, it’s an oddly happy moment. I probably sound crazy, but it’s worth all the pain and sweat.
It’s a bit weird that I learned this lesson right in Qatar. Everything is pompous, luxurious and shiny there. Impressive skyscrapers, surrounded by large maisons, last generation vehicles, glamorous hotels, high level class of service. Somehow this environment managed to belittle me, to show me how small and insignificant I am. Then pulled away my snobbish habits and dropped me down to Earth.
Because of the local rules and standards, a month prior to the holy month of Ramadan, the government starts campaigns about humility in clothing. This way they remind the expats to respect the traditional religious belief. The locals are dressed in black abaya (the women) and in white tob (the men). The Qatari won’t require any foreigner to follow their clothing style, but the idea is minimum body parts to be exposed. It’s kind of a reminder to the expats permanently living in the country, to dress with modesty and especially for the women, to keep their shoulders. elbows and knees covered.
Qatar is a desert country. In the period from June to August the temperatures could reach 48-50 degrees Celsius. At the same time, it’s very humid. In a hot humid country the expected clothing manner of all non Qatari is to wear shorts and T-shirts. The locals though would consider it inappropriate. In fact It’s not that difficult the local clothing requirements to be met, because the country is entirely air-conditioned. All properties, underground garages, Malls, offices, vehicles (excluding the old busses for labours) are fully equipped by air-condition. It’s unlikely to see walking people in that heat (except some stubborn tourists).
I am not justifying any clothing style, but I was tempted to test the local one. I tried (led mostly by curiosity) what is the feeling to wear abaya (the long black female robe). I also experimented to wear niqab (the thin fabric covering the face, excluding the eyes) and sheila (the scarf, that covers the hair and the ears). In 10 minutes, I was unable to breathe normally and was forced to take the niqab off immediately, before I start suffocating. Later I was told my lungs were not used to handle the limited amount of air, coming through the niqab. The local girls start wearing niqab since they turn 12, so their lungs develop in regard to the provided air and get used to it.
But to wear only abaya (without niqab) was something else. I actually found it very useful. It’s an extremely comfortable gown, easy to be worn. Underneath I could be in pyjama, underwear, half dressed, naked, and no one would notice it. Abaya could be vested in combination with sport shoes or high heels, depending on the occasion. The abaya helps and hides, in case your clothes were crumpled and you did not have time to fix it. The most valuable to me benefit – it keeps you invisible, just part of the crowd (a lot like you around). At the same time the abaya gives you space to move with ease and grace. The fabric is dark, but transparent and avoids the heat. I enjoyed my short abaya experiment and even found it somehow beneficial.
There is something that cannot be hidden in Qatar – the exposure of extremely expensive luxury cars in the streets. Despite that, the residents avoid any demonstration of wealthiness. At least inside the country. I heard plenty of stories of hypocritical Qatari behaviour – very humble while in Qatar, but huge change while going abroad, heading to Europe or the USA. That’s true, I saw it also by myself. I wish to believe all Qatari cannot be count at the same line. Usually they appreciate the humble life, focused on the family and the traditions.
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 to preserve their archaic traditions. The manner to highly respect the mature people. The cultural peculiarities to keep being dominant and worshipped. Sadly, that’s quite away from my alienated progressive European culture. I was glad to find, I had what to learn in Qatar and what to finally benefit me.