Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Qatar is Not Quite a Shopping Mall

Earlier I wrote how an early impression one gets in Doha, Qatar is that the whole country is like a giant shopping mall. Western goods, rampant commercialism, and the wide spread use of the English language can remind many Westerners of their local shopping mall.

The Shopping Mall Qatar does exists and it is centered around New Doha, the northern part of the capital. However, there are overlooked parts of Qatar that many ignore.

South Asian Qatar: When one is in Qatar one realizes rather quickly that there are alot of Indians, Pakistanis, and Bangladeshi nationals in the country. This is because South Asia is the favorite recruiting ground of Qatar for foreign labor to do many of the jobs Qataris do not want to do. These South Asians live in the southern parts of Doha. Their neighborhoods have more signs in English than Arabic, Hindi, or Urdu. However, South Asian Qatar is not allowed to imprint itself on the landscape too much. No South Asian architecture is present in Qatar, Hindus are not allowed meeting places for religious services, and no flags but Qatar can be seen waving from buildings.

Traditional Arab Qatar: New Doha's spirit is expanding into much of Qatar. The small suburbs of Doha are currently undergoing massive revisions due to the influx of oil money. Restaurants like Pizza Hut, McDonald's, and Applebee's have spread beyond the capital. Somewhere out there though is a more traditional Arab Qatar. With the east coast being modernized and the western coast all natural gas and oil exploitation, only the central and north are "traditional." The central part of Qatar has a few small villages around oases but these are quickly being abandoned. Only the northern coast's fishing villages are surviving. These villages are much like Doha was at the middle of the last century, small communities that survived on fishing and pearl diving. While even these have modern, little convenience stores, those stores are the exception with most people still buying supplies from the local markets called suqs. Unlike the other Qatars, the traditional Arab Qatar does not handle the English language well.

These two Qatars break the mold of the shopping mall. These two are just as valid as the shopping mall Qatar, it is just that one has to travel outside the touristy and modern parts (similar but not the same) of Doha.

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