The State of Qatar (pronounced “CUT-ter”) is a small country in the Arabian Gulf, about twice the size of Prince Edward Island. In the de facto city-state, 1.3 million of the 1.8 million residents live in the capital city of Doha. Qatar shares a small land border with Saudi Arabia but most of the country is a peninsula, jutting out into the Arabian Gulf north of the United Arab Emirates.
Until the mid-twentieth century, Qatar was a small, poor British protectorate like most of the other Gulf states. The Qatari ruling family claimed independence in 1971 and just 43 years later, Qatar is the richest country per capita in the world thanks to extensive natural gas reserves.
Qatar’s international profile has increased since its successful bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The country is using some of its oil wealth to build football stadiums and metro lines so Qatar can host the world in seven years.
Qatar’s ambitious future vision is set out in glossy glory in a series of national plans including the Qatar National Master Plan and the Qatar Urban Development Framework. I’m moving to Qatar in the new year to do some work with a state department involved in implementing these plans. This job has been years in the making. I first applied in 2008, but back then I was too young and single and foreign to qualify for a state-sponsored employment visa. Six years later, it appears I’m now an acceptable combination of skilled professional and relatively low moral threat.
I won’t know exactly what I’ve gotten myself into until I spend a few months on the ground over there. But from what I hear and read, both work and life are going to be comparable to my last expat stint in the United Arab Emirates. Qatar is going to be dry and flat and beige – pleasant in the winter and oppressively hot and humid in the summer. Work will involve siting tall towers in the sand, in a context where cost and process are never a limiting factor and it all has to be done yesterday. The expat population will be highly multicultural but I’ll probably stick close to my ex-Commonwealth compatriots. I’ll be able to drive and drink and wear most of the skirts I already own. It won’t be Saudi-style compound life, but there also won’t be much reason to stray very far from the predictable expat urban geography of home-office-beach club-hotel-mall-airport.
I know more going in this time than I did in 2008 but I have fewer expectations. Some of this adventure is going to be hard and some of it will be awesome – that’s the way of expat life. I’m going for the travel and the people and the stories. I plan to do some good work, read some books by some pools, see a bunch of new countries, and then move on before the bad parts make me bitter.
So 2015, let’s see what you’ve got up your jewel-encrusted black sleeves.
Photo courtesy of Sam Agnew.