Qatar: It's very warm, and very beautiful, and you're not allowed to touch anything
We were speeding through a roundabout, rubbernecking at the skyline, while our tour guide was trying to capture our attention. “When Qataris turn 18, native Qataris, that is, not ex-pats or migrant workers, they get a Land Cruiser if they’re a man and a Porsche Cayenne if they’re female. It’s all funded by the government!”
This, we later learned, was false. Or at least it wasn’t constitutionally ingrained. I can understand the confusion, since the sheer abundance of luxury vehicles careening around us could lead one to believe the citizenry considered them an inalienable right. The rest of this article, however, is true. This is unlike our publication I know, but in my attempts to caricaturize or embellish my spring break trip to Qatar, it became clear that the capital city of Doha is exaggerated and surreal enough without our hyperbole.
Qatar is the wealthiest country in the world, with an economy based on oil and cheap labor. According to Wikipedia, “The company [that] operates all oil and gas activities in Qatar” is owned by the emirate (monarchy), in this case the Al-Thani family, led by the self-aggrandizing Emir Hamid bin Khalifa Al-Thani. His Excellency knows that his country will one day be without its two sources of influence: their vast oil reserves and his glorious mustache. With a nod to his youthful Whitney Houston spirit, Al-Thani is investing in the children of his future by building Education City, the aptly named campus for the mostly Western colleges.
Imagine the nicest building on campus. I would say Willard because I’m a cornball, but there are other options like Harris or Tech. They would be equivalent to the stables in Education City, which I know because they in fact did have stables with dozens of horses. Northwestern-Qatar shares a building with Carnegie Mellon until our campus is done next year, and this “temporary” location is hands-down the most incredible college buildings I’ve ever been to. It is the prettier and richer Hilary Duff to Evanston’s more indie and older Haylie. In addition to NU, the complex drew the attention of Kanye “#1 Dry-Humper” West, who decided it was just opulent enough for him to shoot part of his Cruel Summer video there.
While Education City is pretty liberal, it is still undergoing a nationwide process that is both seismic for the population and really funny to watch. Qatar’s external modernity and their massive influx of foreigners (over 85% of the population are immigrants) combining with the traditional Islamic culture and government has resulted in human rights abuses and hilariously absurd moments.
While taking pictures by the NU campus, a student became inspired by the beauty of the architecture and started twerking. This drew the attention of a security guard, who pulled his car over and started berating a NU-Qatar student we were with for being a bad Muslim and not stopping the crazy American. Say what you will about our Segway cops, at least they’re not extras from Footloose.
It was a frequent site to see women covered completely except for the eyes, which were in turn focused completely on messages on their iPhones. In a car being driven into the desert, we heard an Arabic ode honoring one of the sheikha’s (princess) beauty and purity, immediately followed by Ke$ha’s "Die Young." In the shadow of a skyscraper built last year is a Burger King which still advertises the Burger King Kids Club, a campaign that was only big in the early 90’s. (Aside: Although launched as “multi-cultural” the group of cartoon kids in the Club are less diverse than Northwestern, with no actual Arab kids. In 2000, they added an Asian girl named Jazz who played trumpet and wore a beret, because you can get minorities, but dammit they’re going to be stereotyped.) The Qataris are still going to hunt with falcons, but when they travel with them the birds will be getting hot towels in first class one seat over.
What I’m trying to say is that Qatar has spent the last fifteen years going from a largely irrelevant desert community to the upper echelons of the global rich and famous. This is a little weird for them and they sometimes need the U.S. to hold their hand through it.
This isn’t holding back the students at NU-Qatar, though. All of them are either journalism or communication students, and they bleed purple. Beyond being way too sober to chant our fight song as loud as they did, they also procrastinate just like Comm kids; one girl was finishing up her paper on a boat trip to meet a deadline that night. There is so little connection between the two campuses, but while they could not be more physically apart, there are many commonalities. After all, most of us are privileged young adults who just want to get away from our parents as soon as possible. They just get to tan year-round while doing it.