The prospect of the job and of Doha itself were from the beginning almost hallucinatory. After four years over there, I could comfortably refer to it as “my other life,” though all of it remained improbable -- this city-state springing whole from the desert floor, bounding forward in less than two decades to become the richest per capita nation on the planet! I was happy to return to Ithaca when it was over, and yet, four years back, that other life begins to shimmer in my imagination. I rode fantastic horses and I wrote well while I lived in Doha. I moved in international circles among the prominent thinkers of many fields. I started to paint seriously once again, and when I told people I was an artist they paid attention. It was a place for dreams, all of us felt it, the vast possibilities – at least until you felt it starting to close in on you, that tiny peninsula with its restrictive customs and new laws, its expensive air fares, choked roadways, constant construction, and the ever rising cost of daily life, unmatched by commensurate pay raises (for the expats anyway). Place of paradox: a desert always, despite the many amenities to comfort the professional class and to inspire the nationals. Not many people had ever lived on this Saharan peninsula in the past; the heat and isolation would still make it impossible today without the modern infrastructure. And yet, paradoxically, I stayed in part because I liked the hot sun on my skin, liked the taste of salt thick on my lips after a morning of galloping horses on the beach (though that too ended when a vast housing project, an entire “city” near Doha began.) Before they became clotted with automobile and truck traffic at all hours, I liked cruising the nameless desert highways, where, as if out of the hazy past, a pack of grazing camels might suddenly appear.
In 2005 when I arrived, the nation’s economy was the fastest growing in the world, increasing yearly at a rate of more than 20%. I literally watched the Qatar Financial Center grow alongside my apartment tower, and watched on satellite TV the adverts for its investment services broadcast worldwide by the BBC. Whether you wore a white collar or one of the ubiquitous blue jumpsuits of the construction workers, you couldn’t help but feel like you were helping to create something positive. You couldn’t help but admire the country’s farsighted Emir, Sheikh Hamad, and his wife, the trail-blazing Sheikha Mozah. Just yesterday, in a move unprecedented in the Gulf Arab World, His Highness peacefully abdicated his throne in favor of his son. It had been expected, it was only a matter of time, but this too is a sign of how quickly the future is arriving for the Qataris. What will it bring? Nowadays they drive Porches and BMW’s, Ferraris and Lamborghinis on streets where their grandparents walked in the dust.