Geography of Bliss: Qatar
by Waleed Ali Khan
“the entire nation of Qatar is like a good airport terminal: pleasantly air-conditioned, with lots of shopping, a wide selection of food, and people from all around the world.”
In an effort to keep myself somewhat intellectually stimulated, I read books now and then – that is between the breaks I take from learning fatalities on Mortal Kombat. The book i’m currently reading is “The Geography of Bliss” by Eric Weiner. It is intriguing to me not only because it deals with positive psychology but also because it is a travelogue – and its always interesting to learn about different ways of life. I’m planning to go on a trip completely on my own after I graduate in May and from what I’ve read about Bhutan in this book, I think that is where I want to go.
The book is divided into chapters, and it uses each country and its most well known quality to see if happiness is related to it. To my surprise, it includes Qatar and its wealth:
“…[a]nd if money can buy happiness, or at least rent it for a while, then surely Qatar, by some measures the wealthiest country in the world, must also be the happiest .. If you were to devise an experiment to study the relationship between sudden wealth and happiness, you would need to invent something like Qatar”
The author argues that, because of its new wealth or nouveau riche, Qatar craves validation. It uses extravagant amounts of money to be noticed in the world. The 2022 world cup bid and the barcelona sponsorship by QF proves it. Ofcourse there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. I couldn’t agree more. However, there are some very unfair assessments of Qatar made in this chapter.
The first comes from the comment on EC:
“Students earn the same education and earn the same degree they would in the United states only without the frat parties or the theater groups or, for that matter, any fun at all.”
Note to Weiner – for someone who is traveling around the world discovering happiness (that you yourself claim is not the same as pleasure), I would’ve expected you to have an open mind. The author doesn’t visit EC or talk to any student in EC. His only source of information is an american staff member at an undisclosed branch campus in Education City.
He proceeds to discuss the purpose behind western expats coming to Qatar:
“Places like Qatar attract people running away from something: a bad marriage, a criminal record, an inapporpaite email sent companywide and other sundry unhappiness.”
– there could be absolutely no other reason.
Now i’ve not been in touch with many western expats, but many of whom I have talked to are here to experience something different. Some of them want to be a part of something deeper than a 9 to 5 job. They take their work seriously. One of them reads my blog, and takes a genuine interest in what the students she supports are upto. Sweeping statements are never good, especially for someone trying to explore a different culture.
History and Happiness:
The quote at the top of this blog addresses this. This is perhaps one of the most eye-opening part of the chapter. It discusses the need for culture or heritage in order for us to feel a part of something bigger than ourselves. Life is short, but we would like to believe that we are a piece of larger puzzle, that our presence matters and that we’ve made a difference. History and Culture provide us that. When we see cultural landmarks, we realized that the place we stand in matters, and that some day, we will matter too.
The author, after visiting an old museum with an extremely limited collection of art, agrees with his friend that Qatar has no culture at all. Firstly, I don’t think such a thing can ever be true. Culture can never ceases to exist. The way one walks, eats, interacts, gets angry, uses his/her body language are all indicators of culture. A friend of mine once said that “People watching” is her way of discovering a different culture. We therefore decided to sit at a cafe and watch people pass by. Culture thus needn’t be in a form that is documented, and it can be felt through the lives of a place’s inhabitants.
I know it might seem that I hate the book. In fact, I found the book very enjoyable. There are parts of the Qatari society that it explores very well, particularly the importance of family and tribes – both the good and the bad sides. I recommend it to everyone. What bothered me was that this book is a bestseller and the author should’ve written a bit more responsibly since the book will change the perceptions of many.
Perhaps we need to live in a place instead of visit it in order to gain a full understanding of what it offers. I remember my first few weeks in New Delhi were very unpleasant. But as time went on, I began to love the huge, lively city where there was a greater sense of freedom than i’ve ever experienced. First impressions are, well, just first impressions.