One day in Doha
Sailing through the Persian Gulf from Dubai, we reached Doha, the capital of Qatar in less than a day. Other than knowing that it is a resource-rich country in Middle East, I was honestly not very well-informed about Qatar until this trip.
Morning: Qatari Government Welcome Ceremony
The Qatari government generously welcomed Peace Boat’s first visit to Doha. It was really “mind-blowing” generous! Shuttle buses were organised to bring all the 800 plus participants to the opening ceremony which was held in a luxuriously decorated tent. When I stepped into the spacious venue, my jaw dropped. From the carpet to the chandeliers to the grand stage, everything screamed MONEY.
As staff members, we helped to usher the participants to the grand ceremony. For the first time in my life, I was busy giving free things! I was in charge of the book section, which was filled with a wide assortment of books sponsored by the Qatari government. Participants were encouraged to take whatever they like. We were entertained by performances on the grand stage as well as fringe events like cultural and food booths.
The lunch buffet was epic. I did not even know the names of most of the Middle Eastern dishes but they tasted so heavenly. I wished I had a super tummy so I could eat everything but maybe not this head…
The hospitality did not end after lunch. The Qatari government organised many complimentary tours for the participants. I decided to join the tour organised by Qatar Foundation and visit the Education City. Some people joined the other tour to Katara Cultural Village.
Afternoon: Education City
The ambitious Education City is built on initiative of Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development based on a master plan that bears the imprints of world renowned architects like Arata Isozaki. The spawning campus is about 14 square kilometres and houses educational facilities from school age to research level and branch campuses of some of the world’s leading universities such as Weill Cornell Medical College, Texas A&M, Carnegie Mellon University and Georgetown School.
We were ushered into a state-of-art auditorium in futuristic-looking Weill Cornell Medical College. The representatives from Qatar Foundation gave an informative introduction of the Education City. After the presentation, we toured the campus briefly.
We visited the Ceremonial Green Spine which is a central landscaped area used mainly for outdoor events.
The Ceremonial Court is like a place in a science fiction-fantasy-historical epic film. Qatar is trying to leave an influential mark on the education landscape with this Education City and they have definitely succeeded in terms of architectural breakthrough.
Late Afternoon: Souq Waqif
It was like a time travel when we were transported from the technological advancement education civilization to Souq Waqif. The restored marketplace was first built in the 19th century. The Qatari government renovated the souq to conserve its traditional architectural style. We explored the alleyways and were greatly entertainment by the smells and sights.
When our friendly guide asked what we would like to buy, we answered in unison, “traditional sweets!” She fulfilled our wish and brought us to Al Aker Sweets which is famous for its delish Arabic sweets. I was floating in heaven when I tried the sinful samples and I could not resist buying bags of calories-loaded sweets back to the ship.
Al Aker Sweets (Souq Waqif Branch)
Opening hours: Everyday, 9 a.m. to 12 midnight
Recommended: Kunafa (On some lonely nights, I still dream about this crispy wonder!)
5 things I learnt about Doha in one day
1. Qatar’s Wealth
Qatar is the richest country in the world based on GDP per capita ($105,091 in 2013). Qatar’s wealth has increased dramatically since the 1990s. Find out more about how Qatar got so rich so fast!
2. Qatar’s Natural Resources
One main reason why Qatar is so rich – it is a resource rich country. It has the world’s largest natural gas reserves. The world’s top exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG), it is also the one of the biggest exporters of natural gas and it has oil field too.
3. Qatar’s Migrant Population
Like UAE, Qatar has a huge migrant population. According to Human Rights Watch, less than 10 percent of Qatar’s population of 2.1 million are Qatari nationals. In 2015, it had the fourth highest population growth rate in the world and nearly 80 percent of the population is male as their labour is needed to support the rapid development of Qatar. The Qatari naturalization policy is very strict so the wealth of the country is owned largely by Qataris who occupy the higher stratum of the society.
4. Qatar and FIFA 2022 World Cup
Qatar is the smallest country ever to be hosting the World Cup. The upcoming World Cup in the hot desert is plagued with controversies. ESPN made a short but insightful documentary that exposes the harsh working conditions that the migrant workers are subjected to. Many human rights groups are raising attention to the high number of migrant deaths and warning that lives will be sacrificed for the preparations of World Cup in 2022.
5. Qatar’s Human Rights Issues
Similar to what I found out about UAE, Human Rights Watch states that Qatar has serious human rights issues especially regarding its treatment of migrant workers. There are criticisms about its Kafala (sponsorship) system that exploits the migrant workers.
After spending a day in Qatar, I felt guilty about my gross ignorance about what is going on in the Middle East. While I had a chance to interact with a migrant driver in Dubai, I only spoke to Qataris in Doha. We were lucky to have the company of a kind lady who guided us around Souq Waqif. I remembered we were talking about the availability of lucrative employment opportunities for foreigners in Doha. Thinking more deeply about our conversation now, I realise how her perspectives of her country are closely tied to her national identity. What we learn about a country when we travel is greatly determined by who we meet. It was an intriguing visit to Qatar and I am definitely keeping my eyes on the World Cup 2022 updates.