A journalist on a dispatch to one of the most Midas Touch-ed countries, and the hardened people, all imported abroad, who build it.
Welcome to Qatar, a nation, which, decades ago, was nothing more than a string of pearl-fishing villages, but now becomes one of booming nouveau riches, megalomaniac displays of wealth, glitzy, often un-Euclidean skyscrapers, huge shopping malls, and megaprojects flourishing in, thanks to its luck that the country is sitting on the planet’s largest gas field. As it prepares itself for the history’s most expensive game ever made (imagine 220 billion US$ for World Cup 2022 preparation compared to Putin’s squandering a ‘mere’ 50 billion US$ for Winter Olympics in Sochi), the whole nation is prepping up for changes, readying itself for a gargantuan plastic surgery of its own, but oftentimes at the huge expense of millions of foreign migrants who toil laboriously – and more frequently than not, in inhumane condition – to make the dreams happen.
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These were air horns, not car horns, and the more the rhythm of these wamp-wamp-wamps emerged, the more it became clear that they were coming from a soccer game. So I walked past the hotel and down an increasingly dingy avenue I’d wandered my first night in Doha, past industrial supply stores and dim small hotels and the garish Oscado Saloon, which was not a saloon but a salon whose young haircutters — all sporting identical Drake-ish squared-off cuts — hung over a rail smoking cigarettes.
And then a left along Al Muthaf Street. There were no more hotels. There was a shisha bar in which men smoked hookah dispassionately under fluorescent light; there was a far brighter Pakistani grocery. There were low dun-colored apartment blocks, nameless and with all the windows unlit, either abandoned or occupied by people who used them only for what hours of hard sleep they could get.
This neighborhood was it — the place where the less well-paid foreign laborers lived, and how they lived.
This was what every service employee I talked to — Pakistani, Filipino, Nepali, Kenyan, Indian, Ghanaian, Bangladeshi — told me when I asked what they thought of Doha. “Only work,” a Ghanaian cabbie said. “Work and sleep.” A Filipino cabdriver, blasting a homemade CD of Queen songs, bemoaned the lack of karaoke options. This neighborhood was it — the place where the less well-paid foreign laborers lived, and how they lived. A place to sleep and maybe eat, quietly and out of the way. The streets were dusty and tired. A woman in an abaya, her sleeping daughter slung over her shoulder, climbed grim yellow steps into an apartment building. An airplane roared up over the rooftops, huge and shockingly close.