Solidarity and Safety in Doha
Family. We love them and we hate them and we roll our eyes at them, but we can’t imagine our lives without them. Most expats, however, are doing just this. It’s the one thing we wish we could change about the adventurous life overseas. If only we could live in two places at once.
A young, ambitious and independent woman living overseas like myself misses her family, but is confident in her life across the world from them. My parents have given me the tools to fearlessly explore whichever nook of the world I encounter, and find ways to contribute to my surrounding community. But what happens when our families can no longer be that first layer of protection? What happens when it no longer makes sense for our family members to be our emergency contacts due to vast miles of ocean between us?
A new type of family forms; an island of ‘orphans and misfits’ who rely on each other for everything from restaurant recommendations to emergency hospital runs, to the sharing of cultural holidays when that weekend trip home just isn’t possible.
Reality vs Illusion
But every now and then, this lack of a close community that has become normal for me, hits me like a brick. Like when we hear about Lauren Patterson. Like when we realise that though we may be brave for packing up our lives to work and live overseas, we are all still incessantly vulnerable.
I came to Doha, like many other young women living here, with the impression that this city is one of the world’s safest. In the words of one of my single, 24-year-old female friends in search of a budding career, “I researched before I moved here to find any information and nothing came up. My parents were happy for me to come here because according to the media, it seemed safe.”
The Annoyingly Persistent Community
And then we have experiences that remind us of the inevitable community that forms among overseas communities.
Not long after Patterson’s tragic death, I went home early from a colleague’s birthday party, alone in a private taxi of a driver whom I trusted. I arrived home safely and promptly went to bed, yet still embarrassed myself by sleeping through my alarm for my early yoga class the next morning. I was thoroughly annoyed by at least three friends who contacted me to ask why I wasn’t in yoga the next morning. One cup of coffee later, I suddenly realised my enviable state as a woman surrounded by a community who cares about her well-being.
But it’s not just the single, 20-something women that can benefit from this message. These safety strategies can be extended to reach all members of our community here in Qatar. Single women, married women, men, and children of all cultures and nationalities should be involved in this discussion.
Once Doha residents get past the naive stage of believing in Doha’s seemingly immunity to danger, we realise that Doha is in many ways, like any other city. There will always be pockets of safety, and areas to avoid. Mostly, there is an unwritten code of common sense here in Doha. Here it is, finally, in writing.
Everyday Safety Tips
Use Taxi Recommendations. I have friends who have lived in Doha for years, and have therefore built a support system of private taxi drivers whom they trust as make-shift family members. Find these people! Ask around if you are a newbie to Doha. Residents who’ve been in Doha for years, recommend your trusted drivers. The more connected we all are, the more accountable we all will be in assuring the safety of ourselves and our friends. Not to mention, the drivers who have earned this respect and trustability deserve it.
If you must take a Karwa, know your rights. If you enter a karwa taxi and realise the metre is not on, you are legally authorised to refuse payment, or even demand a driver pull over so you can climb out of a taxi. Of course, it’s best to check before the driver pulls away. If the metre is not on, your ride is not registered. There needs to be a record of every ride you take. Again, it’s all about accountability.
Get out of the vehicle before you pay the fare.
Female Karwa Taxis. Has anyone seen these elusive new additions to our society? Where are they? And most importantly, why are these vehicles not covered in pink and purple flowers like Abu Dhabi’s?
Be polite, but not too polite. We teach our young children not to talk to strangers, yet as adults we still feel obligated to be polite. The guiltiest of this crime are women. Ladies, next time a person (male or female) says hello to you, I dare you to just try to respond without smiling. Better yet, try not responding at all. Good luck.
Be polite and respectful, but if the situation starts to feel “just not right,” trust your gut. Know when to walk away.
Know your whereabouts. Sometimes you may be inside a taxi and can’t just walk away. Some taxi drivers have been known to ask questions such as “how long have you lived in Doha?” If you know your surroundings and communicate this to the driver this will help all parties involved, keeping you safe and saving unnecessary time stuck in Doha’s infamous traffic. If you are new to Doha and are honest about it, you may be in for a longer route home than necessary. Moral of the story: As far as everyone knows, you have been in Doha for “ages”.
Socialise in familiar groups. Doha is full of friendly people. Once you find them, keep them close. Part of living overseas is forming makeshift communities that look out for each other. Socialising in these groups can be a great starting point to get to know others. Friends will introduce you to friends, and more friends, and more friends. The more we all know each other, the more we can be a community.
Share rides as much as possible. Cheaper. Safer. Less traffic. The environment will thank you. Life is more fun with others. Enough said.
Have an accountability buddy and text each other when you get home. This could be your ride-share buddy, a friend you spent time with that evening, or even a friend you know is at home enjoying a movie on their couch. Ladies – find a female buddy and suggest being accountability partners. Chances are she will be just as grateful as you.
The benefits of having roommates. This one can be tough or even impossible in Doha as many companies do not give employees a choice in housing location and rent for single people in Doha is sky high. But if you do have the opportunity, consider living with roommates as a single female. Life with roommates comes with a built-in support system and community, automatic ride-share partners, and automatic accountability buddies. If roommates are not an option for you, at least get to know your neighbors and others in your building. Help others help you stay safe by being a visible presence in your community.
Stay modest in dress. Upon moving to Doha, I thought of the city as an opportunity to undertake a fantastic fashion challenge. How could I make my style creative while honoring the local expectations of modesty? What has emerged is what I like to consider a sophisticated and polished wardrobe. This has proven convenient in a city where modest dress is the norm and helps keep unwanted attention away.
Don’t be naive. Though Doha may seem crimeless, it is just like any other city. There are pockets of safety, and areas to avoid. As in all cities, don’t walk alone at night, and know which areas of the city are safer than others.
Bottom line: Doha can be a great place to live and solidly form communities if we let it. Stick together and welcome others into your lives – smartly and safely.