Qatar isn't a country you'll find in the travel section of your local bookstore or even Barnes & Nobles. Yet this tiny and mighty Arab nation is the meeting point for global entrepreneurs, culinary creatives, inspirational architects, eye-catching cinematographers, and advanced athletes—moreover, a cordial destination for tourists overall.
Your perception of The Middle East is probably invalid. Qatar's capital, Doha, is a rare place where diverse populations live harmoniously, regardless of religion and tongue. As a modern yet modest Muslim state, there are no propaganda billboards with your coffee purchase. Furthermore, Doha is where global storytelling comes alive.
Museum of Islamic Art
The Arabs stem from a long line of star-gazers, merchants, musicians, and mathematicians. They were the gatekeepers from west to east and the centralized layover between Africa, Asia, and Europe. Historically, they were the collector of journies and inventors of the modern era. In fact, Arabic was the language of business for centuries.
For Qatar's capital, hospitality is becoming a sport. As the country gears up for this year's FIFA World Cup and the 2030 Asian Games, they are a popular destination for athletes and spectators. The country has become a recognizable host within the past ten years regarding international sporting events ranging from squash to gymnastics. And it's no wonder with its crystal-clear seacoast and surfable sand dunes. Qatar Airways, additionally, continues to be ranked among the best airline in the world. The customer service extends but doesn't end at Hamad International Airport, a deep and diverse global hub. Did I mention there's a giant teddy bear?
The aroma of the local cuisine is as enticing as the city's architecture. The textures of sand and wind whip through the elevated fabrics, each one a captivating color. Islamic texts adorn neon pillars that illuminate the highway. Calls to prayer are the acoustic bells that bounce off buildings—one of the most soothing vocal gifts. The bustling, busy roadway of car horns and revving engines is another chorus in this orchestral Arab masterpiece.
One doesn't have to travel out of Doha to get a sense of traditional life. Falconry is still deeply rooted as a generational trade. You can find a falcon Souq, majestic horses, and even camels in the Souq Waqif, the country's oldest labyrinth market. You'll find local authorities on hoof instead of foot here. Beyond this bazaar, there are countless malls for every need and desire. Many are even selling some of the world's iconic and road-ready vehicles.
Downtown + MoIA
Homelessness is nonexistent due to the exceptional treatment from the government. Qatari citizens are a minority group within their own country; therefore, there are enough resources to sustain them. However, the construction amount seems to outweigh the country's ability to stabilize the influx. Despite being a significant economic contributor, Doha was a distant desert 50 years ago. Much of the country's terrain is still vastly sun and sand.
Despite what the media may portray, plenty of ex-pats and locals are sporting fitness apparel among public parks and recreational facilities. No, foreigners are not required to wear traditional clothing; however, American summer attire of short shorts/tube tops or men's tanks, much less shirtless, is not deemed modest.
Qataris, especially, pride themselves on appearance and clean clothing. Whether the traditional thobe or a pair of jeans, it's usually spotless and crisp, extending to personal hygiene. Women, like men, are allowed to wear conservative western clothing or an abaya and hijab. Some choose to wear a complete burka, covering their entire face. Qataris truly value customs and traditions, yet it's their choice.
“While they respect all the cultures that live in their country, it is a sign of respect that expatriates respect their conservative nature and dress appropriately as well." – Expatwomen.com
One of many mosques.
Public affection is more of a private matter but shaking hands with opposite genders and hugging loved ones is acceptable. However, while kissing your partner in public and holding their hand is natural for you, it isn't for Qatar's no dating culture.
Despite this notion, I found several of my uber drivers swiping left on Tinder. But dating in Doha or the country isn't a public social issue. It's very much a personal issue not graced in public. It's entirely normal for a restaurant to have a family area reserved for those of a more reserved nature as it is to allow mixed gatherings.
While arranged marriages still exist, many couples make the ultimate decisions together. Wedding festivities are held separately between men and women. It's like one giant bachelor/bachelorette party without the booze and strippers.
As a solo female traveler, I did experience quite the eye stares from heavily testosterone young men. It's an annoyance many international women have experienced while visiting or residing. While they don't talk to you, their eyes watching you shop along the aisles are unnerving. Although it's a lack of respect, these men are not a reflection of all. The majority were extremely professional and hospitable.
Although Qatar is rapidly extending its hospitality toward international investors and spectators, its roads and lack of responsible drivers will be a challenge for the FIFA World Cup, one of the biggest human gatherings. There is also the question of adhering to the FIFA contract of selling and serving alcohol- a substance typically reserved for hotels or ex-pats with a valid residence and luxury membership cards.
Buildings adorn the Emir
While voting doesn't exist, the nation holds a peaceful position under its Emir. He is well received by a vast majority of his citizens.
Its neighboring nation, Saudi Arabia is also striving to join the competition when it comes to modern entertainment…but on a different scale. Qatar joins The U.A.E. as a sporting destination, yet one will have to travel to its neighboring nations (yes, this includes Saudi) to attend musical events or even cinematic festivals. But don't think one can just book a hotel, pack a bag, and hit the road. The Saudi-Qatari border is heavily strict and the gateway to visiting The U.A.E. by road as well.
As a foreigner, it is not my place to make sense of political matter or even point them out. It is my duty; however, to show the world beyond the media.
Although no country is of perfect depiction, Qatar has been able to find ways to embrace change among its traditions. As for the capital, Doha is still a place for the foreign fascination and the deeply devoted.
Featured photo by Yasser Al-naemi, one of the nation's top cinematographers. Be on the lookout for his work during the televised FIFA World Cup.
Remaining photos captured by the author from 2018.