Arriving days ago to Doha wasn’t as daunting as it might have been, after all, I’d been to and lived-in Doha before. It was my first stop when I emigrated from Ireland in 2010 and it was where I called home for almost two years.
Moving back to a place where you lived before offers a certain comfort to an Irish emigrant and an apparent chronic expat. Doha was where I learned to drive an automatic car on the wrong side of the road. The roads were familiar, I could find my way around. I knew the landscape, the dynamic, I wasn’t long gone, I could slip back into my old life.
During my time in Doha, it was announced that Qatar would host the world cup in 2022. The world gasped, how was it possible? Expats in Doha almost laughed out loud at the idea of Doha hosting an event of that size, when getting the kids to and from school each morning proves a mammoth task for parents, drivers, maids and taxis all over Doha. But Qatar promised it could make massive strides to accommodate the event and that they were pressing the button straight away.
When I left Doha, there were talks of a new airport, a massive overhaul of the roads and overall infrastructure. Ikea was meant to arrive. Education City was under construction and there were talks of a new area to be developed, Lusail City.
Coming from Ireland, where plans for development are often spoken about but rarely effected, I smugly walked off the plane in Doha, expecting to find the same old airport, in the same old Doha with only a few additional charges being the changes made, a refuse charge perhaps, a water charge, a hike in medical costs or at very least a toll road somewhere. However I was shocked, I walked into a completely new arrivals in the brand new airport, the Hamad International, marble clad and stinking of cash, and that was just the toilets, the new arrivals hall is certainly a nice welcome to Qatar.
It was leaving there and attempting to drive in the direction of our temporary accommodation, an apartment in plush Westbay that the problems started. When they said ‘improve the roads and overall infrastructure’, I assumed a patch-up job of lumps of tar and maybe an odd bit of widening here and there, but not here in Qatar, where there were roads changed completely. Whole roads, namely in the Abu Hamour area, where I so often idled away hours in traffic, are now dug up, disappeared, eradicated and in their place, fully developed superhighways, that showed no signs of being born three years ago, and guess what, not a toll booth in sight. Lusail City is underway. Education City is complete. Ikea is open. WH Smith has arrived. Pork is available (upon presentation of the correct documentation and confirmation of nationality as per Passport) and Carrefour has more imported food products that ever, all this and Qatar is still a tax free country. Just where is Ireland going wrong?
So it seems Qatar is true to its word, it will be ready for 2022, it can make massive changes, they have the cash and they are ready to embrace a massive transformation. This was a new Doha, nothing like the Doha I left.
Feeling invigorated despite the wilting heat and gridlock traffic, I bounded lightly into an old haunt for coffee, when I received a tap on the shoulder from a rather stern looking security guard. I was asked to leave as my shorts were too short. I refuse to justify the action by clarifying how short they were, but will suffice to say, they weren’t that bloody short!
How easy it is to forget that Doha is still an extremely strict Muslim country that does not entertain the sight of knees, shoulders or too much cleavage. Head hung low, I had to go home, along the new superhighways, towards the glamorous Westbay area and The Pearl, everything looked different but it’s the same old Doha, where it seems anything is possible, except the sight of my knees.