Doha News is catching up with fans in Qatar throughout the World Cup to shed light on their diverse experiences.
Unity has long been a key theme of the World Cup, particularly in this year’s tournament, which is the first to ever take place in the Middle East, bridging a massive gap between the East and the West.
It is only fair to say that host nation Qatar, a geographically small country with large influence, has already won the hearts of fans, despite the relentless criticism it has faced, especially from the West.
Doha is home to many nationalities, with native Qataris making up only 15% of the population.
During after-match celebrations at the ‘900 Park’, Doha News caught up with fans who had lived in Qatar for years, who shared their first experiences in the Gulf state.
Forty-six-year-old Lynn, a Canadian national, she had no idea where Qatar was even located on the map when she moved to Doha in 2005.
“I had really no idea what Qatar was, I didn’t even know what the country was, I didn’t know where the country was on the map,” she told Doha News.
Little did Lynn know that she would be living in the host nation of the FIFA World Cup, where all eyes would be diverted to the tiny Gulf state.
“Then in 2010 we got the news that we got the World Cup and ever since then it has been so amazing and I’m so happy to be here and to see the country grow,” she said.
Commenting on the impressive progress Qatar has since made, Lynn says has been left in awe of the rapid developments that she witnessed; from the rise of skyscrapers to the current vibrant atmosphere, bringing together thousands of people from all over the world.
This was also a stark difference from the image she had in mind before arriving in Doha, where she thought she would face restrictions and her activities limited.
Looking back at her initial thoughts, Lynn said, “It has been nothing like that at all, I can do whatever I want.”
Meanwhile, Kristen, 32, also from Canada, had other concerns when she first moved to Qatar six years ago with her husband, who works as a teacher.
“My original worries were the bombings that would be happening and flying overhead of us, my protection and my safety in a country that is Muslim where women are predominantly covered,” said Kristen.
Apart from concern over being in a desert, Kristen thought she would be living in violence, citing common Western media discourse that portrayed the Middle East as a conflict-ridden region.
While Qatari women do dress modestly, much of the coverage of the region portrayed the Arab state as an ultra-strict country to live in. The reality is that non-Muslim visitors are not required to follow dress codes, and women in Qatar do not have to observe the head covering.
But before arriving in Qatar, Kristen looked into the dress code in Qatar.
“So I think one of the things that stuck in my head was ‘don’t wear camo’[…]that it’s going to reflect poorly upon the military as well,” Kristen jokingly said, laughing at the odd web result she encountered.
After spending years in Qatar, Kristen learned to easily adapt to the country’s lifestyle, after thinking that she had to completely change her own.
“I learned very quickly that you can adapt very easily and I love it. It’s become my home and I actually prefer to stay here for many years to come,” the Canadian national said.
Sitting on the other end of the park, just before the England v. USA match, 47-year-old Lee from Scotland, added his thoughts on his experience of living in Doha.
Unlike the other expats, he did not have any preconceived ideas before arriving in Qatar in 2009 and was completely open-minded about what life would be like.
Lee found himself in a welcoming community that made him enjoy life in the tiny Gulf state.
“The people that I met were some of the most open people that I ever met in my entire life,” he said, adding that Qatar has become an important part of his life.
Lee also said that many of his relatives in Scotland who have previously visited him in Doha even wish to return.
Apart from the dress code, Kristen had another interesting experience with groceries. This was during a time when Ramadan was in the hot month of August.
“I remember specifically I arrived in the Al-Sadd region and I had to travel across a deserted parking lot in the middle of the summer and it was August during Ramadan[…]it was so hot and I wanted to go buy milk,” she said.
After trying the milk, Kristen’s tastebuds were hit with a sour taste that she immediately spat out in the sink thinking “the milk” went bad from walking under the heat.
However, Kristen did not know that it was in fact laban, a sour yoghurt drink commonly consumed in the Middle East, especially during the fasting month of Ramadan.
“I took a sip of the laban and I immediately spit it in the sink. I was mortified, I didn’t know what to eat, what products to buy,” she said.
Since Qatar won the bid in 2010 to host the World Cup, preconceived notions and orientalist narratives about the region were quickly plastered all over some Western media outlets.
Some of those have been translated into a media campaign that many officials in Qatar slammed as “racist”. Most of the coverage centred on criticising Qatar’s human rights record, citing alleged violations of workers’ rights.
Still, Qatar responded by introducing major reforms that Qatari officials believe went unreported.
Commenting on the reforms, Lynn said that she was able to see the changes Doha has made over the years.
“I’ve been here that long and I can see it, I can feel it, yes there’s been issues but they’ve been dealt with and the workers come here because they want a better life for their families and they do get it,” said Lynn.
Lee also echoed Lynn’s sentiment, dismissing the media reports that many officials in Qatar had described as “sensationalist”.
“Please just don’t listen to state control media[…]just open your eyes and form your own view about everything. Jesus Christ,” said Lee, frustrated by the coverage of Qatar.
And as the first whistle of the game at the park went off, Lynn said “We’re all here united and it’s a great time to be here!”