It’s Friday morning in Doha and I’m parked in my usual spot on the outdoor patio at Jones The Grocer. There’s a sandstorm brewing but I stay put, dusting my laptop keys off with my sleeve and making my way through a gritty Americano.
A cross section of Doha’s Western expats pass me, in post-workout dishevel or with strollers and husbands in tow. I watch them, wondering who they are, where they are from and why they are here.
Why are we all here, really? Why do Western professionals leave London and Sydney and Chicago and Vancouver and a host of other world class cities to live in these dusty ovens in the middle of a perennial war zone?
Some of us are here for the work.
I meet a lot of Western expats here who work in oil and gas, or in urban development like I do. The gas guys are here because petrochemicals currently fuel the Gulf economies, and the city builders are here to design and construct a whole bunch of reasons for the money to keep flowing when the oil runs out.
Most of the planners, architects and engineers I meet here are attracted by the scale and pace of urban development in the Gulf right now. Over here you shape islands from scratch and build World Cup stadiums. You get to design the tallest building in the world again and again because when the tower of the moment is eclipsed, it will likely be by another one nearby. In the Gulf, architects get to design what no one will let them get away with in the West, and urban planners are still design professionals, not the glorified committee clerks we’ve become in many process heavy North American cities. Money is rarely a constraint and democracy doesn’t slow things down in these rich, autocratic city states.
It’s not all puppies and rainbows – immature, inefficient bureaucracies and fire-aim-ready business practices can eat up a lot of time and money. But in the right role, for a functional organization, your can make a noticeable impact in short time.
Lots of us are here for the travel.
The Gulf draws people with travel itches that need frequent scratching. Everyday life while living abroad is like a mild form of travelling, without having to wear the same outfit for weeks. Foreign languages, strange foods, laughable English translations on store signage – it all gives normal life a hint of the exotic.
Western expats in the Gulf have ample opportunity for real travel as well. Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha are all major international airport hubs and expat leave allowances are generous even by European standards. With 30 to 60 days off a year, and short flights to countries that are normally far away from where we live, travel is a highlight.
We are all here for the money.
Or rather, what the money buys. Gulf money buys club memberships and priority tee times and Bentleys and business class. It buys household help and Louboutins and girlfriends that are more agreeable than your ex wife. It buys real estate or pays off your college debt or funds your start up or lets you retire early.
It buys freedom.
And at the end of the day, when we are professionally burned out and too tired to travel and the cultural differences have gone from exotic to annoying, it’s usually the money that keeps us here.