I am sitting in Doha Airport in Qatar. I am a passenger like all the others in transit. I am caught in limbo between a flight and a flight. What I see around me is a peculiar airport. What I see around me is the Middle East.
Airports are a sum of their people and profile of both passengers and staff here is interesting. Though all the announcements are in English followed by Arabic, there are very few Arabs here. Or least, you hear very little Arabic being spoken around you. The passengers are lower-end travellers from Africa, the Indian subcontinent and South East Asia with a few Europeans dotted in between. A lot of Muslims but very few Arabs. And yet we are unmistakably in Arabia – one can see flat, yellow desert for miles in every direction through the ceiling to floor windows. One in a while the opaque horizon will be broken by the faint silhouette of a skyscraper.
The staff are Philipino, Indian and East African. They speak English and a second language that they use more often than not. Their uniforms are respectable but the maroon colour scheme dampens their aura. The decor is impressive enough by Indian standards; it is clean and spacious but you need only look closely to see that the veneer of luxury that the Middle-East tries so desperately to maintain is slowly peeling away at the edges. The food court resembles an employees’ lounge and the images of food on the walls are nowhere near as enticing as they should be. You know when McDonalds take pictures of the food for their menus? And now think of your local burger joint and how much more budget those are. The free Wifi is a God-send but there are no plug-points from which to use a laptop for any sustained period of time. The few power sockets that are close enough to seating areas are all taken so you have this bizarre sight of middle aged Americans sitting on the floor using Skype.
All the characters are there but the show is not authentic yet. Not every country can pull off a Chang-hi or a Frankfurt but for all the wealth of the region, I was expecting something... shinier? This seems to me like what Indian airports will look like in 10 years time. An A for effort but a B- overall. At junctures where you expect the highest standards, you are met with the third-world psyche: we had to go through a security check as soon as we got off the plane and into the transit lounge just to make sure we hadn’t fashioned any explosives between our last baggage scan and now. It was surreal. But then the Middle East seems surreal to me. It reminds me of the Oscar Wilde quote about America: from barbarianism to decadence without the civilisation in between. But this is on another level.
I have no doubt that by the time the 2022 World Cup comes around, this airport and its people will rival any that the developed world can offer but for now, I am surrounded by women in burkhas walking 2 feet behind men who don’t know where they are going.