So I’ve only been in Qatar about 24 hours, but already I am in a kind of gentle culture shock. Riyadh, where I have lived the last 18 months, is a land of men, cars, and dusty buildings behind walls. You rarely ever see women, and there are only two skyscrapers. That’s why my trip to the local grocery store here in Doha was so bizarre.
Doha is a moonscape of new skyscrapers — some finished, some in progress — all perched on the baked sands of a half-moon bay. Our tower is on the so-called west side, a short walk from one of the major malls. Picking my way along the scarred half kilometer — some sidewalks complete, others a gash of rubble — I spied south Asian workers in dusty boots and jumpsuits. But I also saw what I took to be a British woman, in a t-shirt, smiling!
This sounds like pedestrian stuff, but to my eyes it felt like scandal. (Could it be possible that it had been so long since I’d seen a woman walk so casually?)
In the mall, shops were closing for afternoon prayer. I raced to the store for water — tap here isn’t potable — and some other basics. As I considered the shrink-wrapped meat and the imported cheeses, I was more enthralled to see a grinning, sunburnt mother in a low-cut blouse and an Arab women in baggy jeans.
But I’m still not too far from Mecca. After 10 minutes, an armed guard grabbed me gently by the arm. “Prayer time,” he said. “Now you go.”
I’m closer to home, but I’m not there yet.
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