So, is Qatar pronounced ‘cut-ter’? Or ‘gut-ter’? Or ‘gui-tar’?
The Qataris don’t seem to mind how it is pronounced as long as they are also pronounced ‘rich’. And rich they are. No place in the Mid-East seems to have more water than Qatar. If water was a source of pride and invaluable resource in the past centuries, then Qatar must have been rich then, also.
We board the shuttle bus at the port for the trip around the corniche into the downtown area of Doha. We are late as we are still wrestling with the jet lag monster. We can see the downtown area across Doha Bay, which is actually part of the Persian Gulf. Downtown sits on a curving spit of land which forms a 7 kilometer crescent around this area of the Gulf. Qatar itself is a large thumb of land which protrudes prominently into the Gulf from the Arabian Peninsula. Doha is halfway up the eastern side of the thumb.
Our bus joins the steady stream of traffic in front of the Museum of Islamic Art. Al Corniche Street frames a long green belt which runs from the Museum into town. Sprinklers jet over the grass and non-native shrubs, art work decorates the long sidewalk and fountains appear from time to time, pumping water skyward in various creative schemes. Even the large government building, which has no name but a very large fence, benefits from a three story high waterfall, cascading down its side. Opulent for a desert kingdom.
Someone remarks that, from a distance, the Doha skyline appears to be a ‘mini-Dubai’. Indeed Prince Charles would welcome the unusual and creative designs of the skyscrapers in Doha. And skyscrapers they are, no mere office buildings for Doha. Qatar is the proud owner of a huge natural gas field which sprawls from its northern shore halfway across the Persian Gulf. The revenues make the Qataris the wealthiest people in the Mid-East by per capita income. They display their wealth.
The shuttle drops us in front of a large glass and steel high rise office building. We stroll around to obtain our bearings, then enter the building. Suddenly it dawns on us that this is a huge high rise shopping mall. It has all the upscale shops for modern convenience. Open in the middle, the center area soars to the ceiling upon which are displayed shapes reminiscent of Arab sailing dhows. Looking down we discover the floor is solid ice. This shopping mall has hockey markings on its ice and is obviously used for hockey matches. More opulence.
Qatar became independent from Britain in 1971, well after its first oil production commenced, but well before the huge natural gas reserves became known. The gas reserves are what is driving Qatar forward, making them a regional player which truly punches above its weight by the weight of their excess cash flow and their willingness to spend it. One has only to walk down the street of this ultra-modern town to see that the Qataris may honor their traditions but they have also embraced modern life. Skyscrapers such as “Dolphin Energy” and “Ministry of Energy” line the street. It is a canyon Wall Street would be proud of.
Time limits our exploration of this glass and steel canyon of wealth. We retreat to the shuttle bus stop, chatting up the bus starter. He is a young man like most in Doha – an expat from Pakistan. Eighty percent of Qatar’s population are expats. Qataris hold the key jobs, most of the work is contracted out to expats.
As the bus pulls out of the downtown area we pass the final expression of Qatari wealth. And humor. The front of the 25 story building is named ‘Ministry of Culture and Sport’. Its green glass exterior is, of course, gleaming in the sun, beating back the rays. But the glass front is designed is sort of an unmistakable two tone. This creates a distinctive slanted line down the front of the building, ending in a footer which crosses across the bottom of the building’s front. It looks, for all in the world, like a giant hockey stick superimposed on the front of this building of sport in this desert kingdom of wealth.
BTW, it’s “CA-tar”.