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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Tour de Qatar (yes, really)

Saturday, M and I saw the final leg of the Tour de Qatar. The ladies tour came and went a a week ago and we did not see any of it. In fact, we have missed a few major sporting events here in Doha. Last fall we missed the Qatar Open tennis matches and also the England Vs Brazil soccer/football match. However, we were determined to see these world class cyclists duke it out here on our "home" turf so we quickly did an Internet search to find more information.

Luckily my husband is a cycling enthusiast so after we found very little information about future tour events (who wants to know past tour times?!) on the Qatar Cycling Federation's website, he went to Le Tour's website to find excellent, up-to-date information about Tour de Qatar events.
We found out that the last stage would be Saturday starting at 12:00PM and finishing around 2:00PM. The course would be easy to find and near our part of Qatar. The race would start from Al Wakra and end along the Corniche in Doha. So, around 11:00AM on Saturday, we got in the car and drove to Al Wakra.

Once we arrived around 11:30AM we noticed pre-race preparations underway. I love race day! It was so fun seeing all the police cars blocking off traffic and cyclists warming up! M and I are both runners who haven't been able to race since the summer in 2009, so seeing all this action was very exciting for us.

The funniest thing of the day was seeing the team crews all waiting along the Corniche. These men were all North American or European. Because it was a nice, warm day they all took off their shirts and lounged about in full view of local Qataris. Several abaya clad women stared, snickered, and covered their mouths after seeing the tanned bare chests of these non-Arab men. It was such a strange sight for us as well, that I made my husband take a photo of them. I said, "This is something that we will NOT see along the Corniche in Qatar ever again. Take a photo!"

The awards ceremony was also interesting. M told me that in European tours women give the cyclists their awards and kisses on both cheeks, but this simply was not done in Qatar. In fact, three obviously foreign women merely held a shiny tray of medals that were given to the cyclists by thobed Qatari men. I did not know the men who raced, but the winner was Francesco Chicchi from Italy. M knew Tom Boonen from Belgium and Tom seemed to draw a crowd from some Qatar expats.

Overall it was a great day. Just being at a race made us both want to train harder and find more races here in the Gulf.

Until next time,

Demographics in Qatar

(Image source: Immigrant Populations Worldwide by Wikipedia with author Stephen Bain, the darkest blue countries we see have a population with more than 50% immigrants)

Qatar is a tiny country by some comparisons. By now some of you have probably googled the place and found it to be a small peninsula off the much larger Arabian Peninsula. We are directly across from Iran by the Arabian Sea, and our other neighbors are the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

While the area is predominately Arab, both the UAE and Qatar host hordes of S.E. Asian (mainly Filipinos), Indian, and Pakistani workers. To the casual observer the population imbalance of local/immigrant is glaringly obvious. One can view a sea of men in light blue jumpsuits laboring in construction in the sun throughout Qatar. One can also view what seems to be one or two Malaysian or Filipino nannies per family of Qataris. Just last night M and I watched many Qatari families which all had one to six children walking through The Villagio Mall with one or two nannies in tow. Watching a nanny bring up a child (some with genuine love, and others with complete disdain for the child(ren)) makes me sad. However, seeing all these immigrant workers dwarf the local Qatari population only means one thing - present growing problems and future disasters because of the complete unbalance.
Let's look at some statistics: As of January 31st, 2010 the Qatar Statics Authority accounted for 1,681,099 persons. What's shocking about the latest count is the growing gender imbalance due primarily to male immigrant workers.

1,282,978 males
398,121 females

This gender and local/immigrant population imbalance has grown drastically since 2004. And I know of no means to stop it, except for something called "Qatarization" in which the Qatar government calls for the training and hiring of Qataris in the workplace - specifically the energy and industrial fields. Here's more about Qatarization from the English version of the website:

"Qatarization is the identification and development of quality, competent Qatari males and females to assume permanent positions in our industry. Our objective is Quality Qatarization.

The preparation of quality Qataris is based on performance, and competence rather than time, and should be balanced with operational requirements to ensure a smooth operation.

Qatarization requires the support and commitment of experienced Qatari and expatriate staff, at all levels, to develop and train inexperienced Qataris and help them gain valuable on-the-job experience."

Wow. Good luck with that. The grand majority of my Qatari students do not want to work. And really, why should they? Their families (whether it be fathers or husbands) will provide for them and the country itself brings in thousands of immigrant workers who are in need (not want) of work.

Anyway, here are more Qatar immigrant population statistics provided by the US Department of State from 2008:

“Population (May 2008 est.): 1,448,446;
males 1,096,815 (75.7%);
females 351,630 (24.3%).
Population growth (May 2008 est.): 59.6%.

Ethnic groups:

Qatari (Arab) 20%;
other Arab 20%;
Indian 20%;
Filipino 10%;
Nepali 13%;
Pakistani 7%;
Sri Lankan 5%;
other 5%.”

So, when people ask me "What's it like living in Qatar?" I often think that we are not living in Qatar, but rather a SE Asian/Indian peninsula where Qataris drive their cars around at neckbreak speeds and take their mob of children (and two nannies of course) to the malls.

Until Next Time,