Qatar, a small peninsula on the northeasterly coast of the larger Arabian Peninsula and bordered by Saudi Arabia to the south, is no different save for the violent eruptions. The Qatari people have become more accommodating of the Western way of life only because of the influx of foreigners now making a home among the proud desert people.
When a group of 15 Trinidadians decided to make the two day long trip to Qatar to take up jobs in various departments of Qatar Gas, the local Oil and Gas Company, they had a lot to consider. While the salary was attractive, the exacting guidelines that outlined the accepted way of life was daunting to people more accustomed to the free-spirited island life.
The group described a lifestyle totally at odds with the culture that they grew up with. Instead of the blare of music from maxi taxi’s and music vendors, they would hear the call to prayer from the nearby Minaret. Instead of the usual Monday to Friday work week, they worked Sunday to Thursday, and got Friday and Saturday off, to accommodate the Moslem usual Friday jumah. As a single woman from Trinidad, working and living among the group mostly made up of couples and families, Monie Singh was expected to conform to the male dominated world, the likes of which she never experienced in Trinidad. “Do you know that if you’re driving and you get too close to Saudi Arabia, a woman is not allowed to drive without a permission letter from a male in the family,” she marveled. As a self-proclaimed feminist, Singh thought she would have a difficult time kowtowing to the new norm. “I have to get permission from the ruling family to leave the country. It sounds harsher than it really is, because things are more orderly than we are accustomed to at home,” she explained. She said despite the allowances made for foreign females, the laws are still for the benefit of the Qatari male. She said the differences between a foreigner and a local was never more pronounced than when she climbs behind the wheel. “They will hit you from behind if they think you are driving too slowly. I thought if you could drive in Trinidad you could drive anywhere, but not anymore,” she said. “But the same man who would make curse and drive like a maniac on the roads is the same man who would hold the door open and incline his head as you walk by. It’s just so different,” she said. “Life here is somewhat similar to Trinidad, there’s just a lot more rules governing behaviour,” said she said. “You hear a lot of negative things about the Middle East. My parents were concerned about my safety. I also took a lot of ribbing because I am so pro-female and here I was moving to a place where everyone thought women were treated like second class citizens. ” Singh explained. “But that’s not how it is at all,” she said. Yes the women are draped in burka’s, hijabs the men wore impressive dish dash’s, yes the place is almost unbearably hot a times, but soon the culture shock wore off and the group of Trinidadians found each other and in true Trini style brought a bit of local colour to business-first Qatar. “We get together and play all-fours” she laughed, but sobered up again to discuss the rest of their lives there. “I am awed every time I have to drive through the desert to get from Qatar Gas to Ras Laffan,” she said. The group of from Trinidad all work at Qatar Gas, fondly called QG and Ras Laffan is its countries industrial city. “When I drive through the dunes and you see the indigenous men with the flowing robes minding their camels in the distance, you realize what a different world you’re in,” she said. Singh said she every conception she had of the country was shot down in the first few weeks of living there. While the women do live behind closed doors, they are very educated and many of them work in the offices side by side with the men The sheer wealth of the country means a proliferation of every conceivable expensive vehicle ever created. Forget the BMW’s and the Mercedes Benz, in Qatar it’s all about the tricked our Range Rover and Maseratis, the Aston Martins and the Jaguars. “The level of wealth is staggering,” she said. The group described a life where the wealth translates into no homelessness, no poverty and no crime. “That part was a bit of a culture shock. People would leave their engines running just to keep the air conditioning on and go into a store. When I first got here, I would lock up my vehicle and people would look at me funny when I did it. There is no crime in Qatar. That in itself is mindboggling especially when you come from Trinidad,” she said. Singh, who has lived in Qatar for a little over two years, said her initial negative conceptions about the strange and distant land has passed. While women are still afforded less opportunity than the men, they are respected in many ways. She recalled an emigrant worker losing his job on a construction site because he made a cat call to women as they passed by. “They do not tolerate rudeness to any female, Qatari or foreigner,” she said. While the scenery still takes some getting used to, the miles and miles of endless desert is daunting at times, the group spends a lot of time together. They cook local dishes, teach their Qatari friends local card games and spend a great deal of time exploring a land so different from their own.