Day One in Doha

Day One Itinerary:

11:30 a.m.-- Woke up after oversleeping breakfast

11:31 a.m.-- Went for walk along Corniche and to Souq Waqif

2:00 p.m.-- Villagio Mall (There is an ice rink AND a gondola inside this Italian-themed mall)

7:00 p.m.-- Welcome dinner of hummus, pita, and meat in Souq Waqif

Villagio Mall

Villagio Mall

Since my plane touched down nearly nineteen hours ago, I have been seeing a view of the Middle East that is both confirming and denying my expectations. In some ways, Doha looks exactly like the sparkling city I saw on Google Image. Yet, from my hotel window, I can still see construction sites and cranes—signs that Doha is still a work in progress. In less than a day, I am already surprised by the different side of the Middle East I am experiencing: there is no conflict, no outward resentment of American people, no violence.

For the next two weeks, I will be staying in Doha, Qatar to study how social media is influencing political change in the Midde East. My group of ten University of Minnesota students will divide our time between hearing lectures at Qatar University and exploring the largest city in this tiny country. And while most people I told of my travels couldn’t point to Qatar on a map, (my banker looked at my confused when I told her where I was headed, saying “Where? I’m not very good at geometry?”) this country is a major player in the oil economy, real estate industry, and—thanks to Doha-based Al Jazeera—international news.

For the next two weeks and a third in Dubai, I am experiencing life in the Middle East, a region that most people only hear about when it shows up in the news after something bad happens. As it turns out, there is much more to the Middle East then simply the “Middle East:” there eighteen countries, each with their own unique culture, people, and landscape. It is my pleasure to have the next three weeks to get to see two of these cultures up close.

Camels in Souq Waquif

Camels in Souq Waquif

Here are a few things that surprised me or I found noteworthy about my first day of travels:

The way the city is arranged quite different than I imagined. In American, everything is in blocks and is easily navigable. Here, it seems that roads were built wherever there was space, leaving driving to be quite the challenge. Fortunately, the beautiful architecture and uniqueness of Doha’s layout makes it all the more exciting to discover.

I was interested in the variety of Islamic dress I saw today. It seemed that some women wore full abaya with shayla, while others wore jeans and a hijab. Islamic men, in contrast, seemed to be dressed more similarly in either a red or white gurta along with a white throbe.

In some ways, Doha is a lot more commercialized that I expected. Cars honk in traffic next to a hundred year old souq. People snap photos on iPhones in front of mosques. Seemingly everything is under construction to become newer and better. When I first imagined Doha before applying to the program, I thought of a desert town. After seeing for myself, I definitely enjoy this urban Doha and am excited to experience more of the strong contrast between tradition and modernization in the days to come.



Gina Van ThommeComment