Doha Through the Years
My husband and I moved to Doha when we first got married. The initial plan was to live here for five years, save money and then move on. Yet it’s been 12 years and we are still here! In some places, 12 years wouldn’t be very long, but Qatar has changed significantly in the last 12 years. Here is an account of what my we have experienced as expats during this enormous growth.
Moving to Qatar
Back in 2003, when my husband (referred to as “M” from here onwards) and I were engaged and planning a wedding for February 2004, he broke the news to me that he had a job offer from Doha. Me, being the ignorant person I am (Read: low on general knowledge) asked him, “Doha? Is that an emirate in the UAE?” And that of course was the end of the conversation!
Early in the morning of 12 February 2004, we landed at Doha International Airport—at the time it was no bigger than a bus station. I was very nervous because it was the first time in my life that I had relocated to a new country, let alone a really small city compared to Karachi, my home city. As we left the airport, I asked M if we could buy a calling card to let family know that we had reached Qatar safely. So, he asked our taxi driver to stop at Lulu Hypermarket near the airport. As he stopped the car, both of us (on M’s insistence) left all our luggage in the taxi and went off to buy the card. Back home, this would be unthinkable. In Karachi, your stuff would probably be gone the moment you stepped out of the taxi and turned your back. That was when I realized how safe Qatar was and I developed an instant liking for my new home.
Life in Qatar in 2004
M had rented a brand new two-bedroom apartment in the old airport area, which at that time cost us QR 2,200 per month, which M thought was expensive—Seriously! We both loved the quiet and calm city of Doha. He used to come back from work at about 3 pm and we had the whole evening to ourselves, which we would mostly spend either walking along the Corniche or on a long drive. Back then a “long drive” meant driving from Sheraton Roundabout to the Ritz-Carlton, Doha. It was a straight road with only the Intercontinental Doha and the Ritz-Carlton—every thing else was an open beach. We now live at the Pearl, which is way beyond our long drives back then.
In 2004, there were only three malls: The Mall, City Center Doha and Landmark. Out of these, only two (The Mall and Landmark) had cineplexes—yes, the ones we don’t even think of going now. Beyond the malls, there was the Corniche and lots of open beaches. These days when I hear people saying there is nothing to do in Doha, I think, they should have been here back then!
Home Centre was the only decent home furniture store, the other option being the old/used furniture market in Najma, and of course, there was no IKEA (That was tough on me!). This meant every Dubai trip included a day at IKEA (Which M didn’t like at all.). As for food shopping, our weekly groceries for two adults cost us a maximum of QR 100, which seems impossible now.
Getting around Doha
There were no smart phones back then and M didn’t agree on spending money to get a GPS. He would say, “Why do we need one? Any time you get lost, just get on the Corniche road and re-orient yourself!” And that’s exactly how we explored the city—without maps or GPS or smart phones.
There was no traffic too. We could reach anywhere in Doha in five to ten minutes. Sounds like a dream now, doesn’t it? Although there was no traffic, there were loads and loads of roundabouts everywhere. There was even a Crazy Roundabout, so named because it was two roundabouts right after another, like the number eight.
The Changes We’ve Seen
Standing at the Corniche, M would say that they planned to build 92 towers within a few years, and I would be like, “How is that even possible?” But they did and look at the gorgeous Doha skyline now!
Looking back now, the exceptional growth I have witnessed here in Qatar feels unreal. Here are a few things I have witnessed:
- Doha Airport changing from a bus station-sized airport to being one of the biggest and the best airports in the Middle East.
- The privately owned orange taxis changing to a more organized public transportation option like Karwa.
- A skyline that only had the Sheraton hotel and a few buildings—you could see the City Center Carrefour sign from across the Corniche—to this beautiful dense skyline.
- Qatar’s journey from winning the bid and hosting the Asian Games 2006 to winning the bid to host FIFA 2022.
- From only a couple of universities to having some of the best universities in the world establish campuses in Qatar Foundation.
- The expansion of the road system: from the Corniche and small roads with lots of roundabouts to Doha Expressway and the many underpasses and converting roundabouts to stoplights.
- The development of the Pearl-Qatar: from water to reclaiming the land to developing the most luxurious living island in Qatar.
- Qatar Airways becoming one of the world’s finest and most well-known airlines.
And these are just a few of them. Qatar has not only grown in terms of the addition of concrete but has emerged as a prominent country on the world map. Though the country has seen huge economic growth and urbanization, they have still managed to be grounded and stay connected to their roots and values. And that itself shows the amazing leadership that’s driving the country.
Qatar is not my hometown, but I have a very special connection with the country. Not only because we started our married life here, had our three children and are raising them here. But also because we have been part of the incredible transformation that this country has seen. I feel proud to be a tiny part of this humongous change. Qatar has become home for us.
A Pakistani expat mum of three living in Doha for the last 12 years, Shehar Bano Rizvi is an IT Project Manager by profession, who chose to become a stay-at-home mum. Now she runs a personal blog, Diary of a PMP Mom, which offers recipes, DIY projects, craft and costume ideas, party planning ideas on a budget, home décor and organization ideas, some articles on serious topics and some funny stories of family life in Doha.