Welcome to Doha
A few weeks after my arrival in Doha, I met a Qatari man. It was the first time I had met a national.
This was off the back of discussions with friends regarding how aloof the nationals appeared to be. We soothed ourselves with assurances marking this gap between us as the preferred local way. And me, I didn’t know any different.
A chance encounter in a little shawarma restaurant on Al-Nasr Street forced me to think deeper. A Qatari man overheard a group of us talking in English and came over for a chat. Just like that. No flair, no arrogance, no separateness. After a short exchange of pleasantries, he paid for our meal. But that’s not all he did, he also welcomed us to his home country.
Unsure how to react I gushed with smiles, nods and profuse thanks. Of course, I overreacted for where was that distance ‘they’ spoke of? Where was that indifference or hostility towards ‘outsiders’? Instead, here was the Arab hospitality that poets often speak of. Here was a refreshing display of generosity, of the ability of a man to rise above selfishness and give – not just with his money, but with kindness too.
He will never know that my move to Doha marked the first time in my little life that I had ever been away from my family. He will never know that despite my excitement at living abroad, the move scared me into isolation.
At both, his affection and the timing of this encounter, I felt utterly moved. He will never know that my move to Doha marked the first time in my little life that I had ever been away from my family. He will never know that despite my excitement at living abroad, the move scared me into isolation. He will never know that at the time I was a foreigner not just in his country, but a foreigner to myself.
And he said to me, “Welcome to Doha.”
Six and a half years later I am still here.
Despite spending all this time here, I have not learn the local language. When I had just arrived, I scoured the listings for Arabic classes and teachers but little materialised into real learning. I was eager to learn the language for it would help me get to know the local people and it would help me understand the Qur’an. But with English fast becoming the preferred option to communicate within my social circles, I haven’t needed to learn Arabic to survive the type of Doha life I lead. What that means is, I rarely interact with Arabs (nationals and expatriates) socially. And that’s a shame. Until I can re-ignite my motivation towards learning the language, I will remind myself, that me and my English tongue – we are the foreigners here.
As I struggle with my own rising selfishness in our increasingly self-absorbed world, I think of the Qatari man who taught me about what it means to be giving. He simply crossed the distance and crushed all those stereotypes in a swift gesture. This has only happened to me once during my stay here. And it’s time I repaid his kindness. So if a random girl pays for your meal this week, it might just be me. And if you’ve just moved to Doha, then the words that were given to me when I arrived are yours too:
“Welcome to Doha,” he said to all of us.