(EDITOR'S NOTE: Keyser High School teacher Susan Hamilton was able to travel to Qatar and Oman as part of a professional/cultural exchange grant program, and promised to keep her students and our readers informed by writing periodic accounts of her trip. This is the eighth installment.)
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Keyser High School teacher Susan Hamilton was able to travel to Qatar and Oman as part of a professional/cultural exchange grant program, and promised to keep her students and our readers informed by writing periodic accounts of her trip. This is the eighth installment.)
By Susan Hamilton
For the News Tribune
DOHA, Qatar - As I strolled through Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar, I instantly felt out of my comfort zone. Oman is a country whose strong economy is dependent on the oil and gas industry, so is Qatar. Visible signs of wealth may have been in Oman, and I missed them, but right out of the gate it was clear to this West Virginia girl that Qatar is very open about their wealth.
I walked by stores like Burberry, Coach, Bvlgari, Gucci, Hermès, and Hugo Boss to name a few, not to mention some unique modern art sculptures, and thought of Jay Gatsby. I wonder if Oman and Qatar are similar to East Egg and West Egg in the book The Great Gatsby. These two wealthy suburbs represented different classes of wealth. East Egg residents came from old family money. They grew up in wealthy families and have never known anything else: old money. West Egg residents did not grow up in wealthy families, but instead made their own fortunes through hard work, sometimes of questionable legality.
While they may be equal in wealth, they were not equal in status. The old money of East Egg is seen as elite and legitimate, while the new money of West Egg is seen as less sophisticated, more of a fluke because it’s new. I can’t explain why this comparison came to mind at this time. Most likely, it’s a weird English major or maybe a weird Susan thing.
Unlike Oman, we are going to be staying in the same place, Doha, for the duration of our trip to Qatar. From what I understand, this is a tiny country, similar in size to the state of Connecticut. I also understand that while there are settlements outside of Doha they are primitive, and few and far between. I don’t mean this as a criticism, merely a statement of fact. The majority of Qatar’s population is concentrated in Doha. Over the next five days, I hope to find out why.
The airport was about a t30-minute drive from the city. The first thing we caught a glimpse of was the skyline, which is beyond description. Think New York City with less symmetry or adherence to historic architectural styles. Doha’s skyscraper architecture pushes the limits of anything I have ever seen before. While the shapes and facades of the buildings here are unconventional, they are also beautiful in their own way. I instantly became enamored with a building I named the narwhal building because of its bullet shape and high antennae on top.
To say that our group was overwhelmed by our accommodations when we arrived would be an understatement. We were being housed at the swanky Four Seasons Doha. The Four Seasons is in the Corniche area of Doha. The Corniche is a waterfront promenade that stretches the length of the bay and was built to provide a vehicle-free, green, pedestrian space in the center of town.
We are security screened and our bags scanned before we can enter the hotel. This would become our regular routine each time we came and went. Waiting in line to be screened, I kept hearing “Good Afternoon, Miss, Good Afternoon, Sir” in British accents. I realized I missed the greeting I became so accustomed to in Oman: salam alaykum (peace be with you). It always felt personal and authentic, not forced.
Our first stop after checking into the hotel: Souk Waqif for a private tour, dinner, and a cultural lecture on Qatari/ Arab Culture. Welcome to Doha!