Greetings and welcome to my website. My name is Del and this is my first entry in ExtremeGeographer.com. I started a previous travel website in 2001 to describe my solo travels around America, New Zealand and Australia, but after I’d returned to America and gone back to work in 2004, I kept posting occasional entries there for many years. Over time, though, I’m afraid my entries became less and less occasional as I got busier and busier at work.
But now I’m embarking on a new adventure around America, so I’ve started this new website. I’ve taken dozens of road trips around America and most have had a theme, such as “The Lewis & Clark Trail” or “The Oregon Trail.” The theme of my upcoming road trip is “Geographic Extremes” so I’ve created this new website, ExtremeGeographer.com to describe my travels. Catchy name, huh?
So let me pick up where I left off. In 2013, I was living happily in Portland, Oregon and working at Metro, a government agency, when I got a good job offer in Qatar, a small peninsula of a country in the Middle East about the size of Connecticut, next to Saudi Arabia and surrounded on three sides by the Arabian Gulf – or what Americans call the Persian Gulf.
I accepted the job, moved to Qatar that spring and worked for three years in Qatar’s capital city, Doha (spelled as "Ad Dawhah" on the map here), doing computer mapping for the country’s urban planning agency. I worked in a 120-person group called the Central Planning Office (CPO), which helped coordinate the numerous transportation projects in Qatar, and I was a senior analyst in the five-person GIS (geographic information systems) team, spending most of my time creating maps for various bus transit and city planning projects.
I’m a geographer and have been doing computer mapping for the past 25 years, mostly in the Pacific Northwest. Although I’d worked briefly in Abu Dhabi, a large city in the nearby country of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) several years earlier, this was the first time I’d ever lived overseas. After living in Qatar for three years, I moved back to the U.S. in March 2016 and recently embarked on an extensive road trip around America, during which I hope to visit each of the Lower 48 states.
My Experience in Qatar
Living and working in Qatar was great – kinda crazy sometimes, intense lots of times, and definitely a sacrifice because I greatly missed America every single day – but overall it was a great multi-cultural experience. In fact, moving there was one of the best decisions of my life. I really enjoyed my time there and learned a lot about other cultures, and I hope to move back someday when the Qatari economy improves. I’ll describe my whole Qatar experience in more detail later.
For now, though, I’ll just say that I felt totally safe in Qatar – safer than anyplace I’ve ever lived in America, including Portland. Each summer I'd come back to the U.S. for a month of vacation and all of my friends would say the same thing: "But it's so dangerous over there. Aren't you afraid?" And each time I'd have to spend 20 minutes explaining that Qatar is one of the safest countries in the world and that everyone there was treating me exceptionally well. Sure, that was partly because I was trying to learn the culture and because I'd taught myself to read Arabic and knew a few handy phrases, like "As salam alluykum" (peace be upon you) or "Shukran" (thank you). But it's mostly because Qatar is a safe country. In fact, I always laughed when Americans would tell me how "dangerous" Qatar was, because I felt a lot safer in Qatar than America, considering all the wackos in the U.S. running around with guns.
I must admit that the main reason I moved to Qatar was for the money, because if you have certain technical skills, salaries in Qatar can be higher than in the U.S. (and quite a bit lower if you don’t). But what I really took away from my three years of living there was the amazing cultural experience, interacting with people from, quite literally, all over the world. That’s because 80% of Qatar’s population is imported from other countries. Oh, and because of that, 75% of Qatar's population is male, which also took some getting used to.
Above: In April 2014, I hired a driver one day and, with my friend and colleague Shashi, we drove around the entire country of Qatar. We did the whole trip in about six hours. (6:24)
The main thing I learned from my experience in Qatar, after dealing with hundreds (thousands?) of people from developing countries like India, the Philippines, Lebanon, Nepal and Egypt, was how lucky I was to be an American. To put it bluntly, I think we Americans are spoiled. There is so much bounty in the U.S, and unfortunately I think most Americans take it for granted. When you walk into an American grocery store, you can buy anything you want and as much as you want. When you turn on a faucet, there’s clean running water. When you drive on a highway, drivers are (mostly) courteous and you don’t have to worry about being robbed – except at the gas pump. And during an election, every vote is counted.
From the stories that my many expat colleagues and friends from Asia and Africa told me, not everyone in other countries around the world can say the same about wherever they’re from. Every year I came back to visit America for a few weeks and one of the things that struck me during my visits were all the trivial things that Americans complained about.
America is a great country – being an American, I think it’s the greatest country in the world -- and by living overseas, I gained a new respect for it. I don't want to sound arrogant or condescending, but I wish every American could live overseas for a while, because if they did, they probably wouldn’t take so many things in the U.S. for granted. Living in Qatar, and interacting with people from all over the world, including numerous developing countries, gave me a lot of perspective and appreciation for what I have here in America. OK, I'll get off my soapbox now.
And by the way, regarding the pronunciation of “Qatar”? The Qataris (and I) pronounce it “COT-ter.” not “ka-TAR” like many Americans pronounce it, and not “CAT-ter” like a lot of Brits do. Qatar rhymes with “water,” of which there’s very little. It also rhymes with “hotter,” or which there’s a lot. An awful lot.
I’ve posted scads of pictures on this page to give you an idea of what it’s like to work, live and have a bit of fun in the tiny country called Qatar.
Heading to Qatar
Fun at CPO