Sunday, April 22, 2012

Qatar and Obesity

Well a study has come out recently that notes Qatar as one of the most overweight nations in the world, with its citizens having very high obesity rates and cases of diabetes.

Unfortunately I can't say I'm too surprised. Exercise can be easily put off for relaxing with friends over food, and the heat and dust of summer makes exercising outdoors a real problem. Combine that with extensive wealth resulting in an abundance of servants, the popularity of Western fast food, and a culture where everyone drives, and it should not be surprising that there are weight problems.

When I first arrived in Doha I noticed that pretty much anyone arriving here gained weight. My colleagues and I called it the "Doha Two Inches", referring to the growth around your waistline in the first month of settling in to Qatar. Since then I have always tried to be mindful of my weight and while I have made some progress I still must admit I am overweight. Too much great food options I guess.

Being from North America (which has significant problems with obesity), then moving to Bermuda (in my opinion even worse problems with obesity), I didn't notice it as much moving to Qatar. Nowadays though I see so many obese children it is alarming. A lot of kids maybe 5 to 10 years old practically look like the Michelin Man.

A recent forum in Qatar called for the Government to put the calories on restaurant menus, especially fast food outlets. Coincidence that this happened around the time the study came out?

Thankfully His Highness the Emir is leading the way. His Highness has lost a lot of weight over the last year or so -- it's really noticeable. He's lost so much weight that I was worried at first he might be very ill but a Qatari friend reassured me that he is not ill, he is just losing weight. Hopefully others follow the Emir’s example (including me).

(I guess this is a bad time to let everyone know that I've updated my post about "Where to Eat in Doha" with the new Thai restaurant and a new café in Souq Waqif but . . . tough luck, eat the food and exercise some more.)

Friday, April 20, 2012


I was in Bahrain for a couple of days on business. It had been a couple of years since my last visit so I was curious to see if all the trouble caused a lot of changes.

It started off annoyingly when my colleague (also a Westerner) and I got stuck at passport control for over an hour. We walked up to passport control, give them our passports, then were told to go back and wait while they did checks. What they were looking for I wasn't sure but all in all we were there about an hour waiting. There was no one left in the customs hall when they finally give us back our passports. No explanation was given for what they were doing that took so long. While some people I met in Bahrain speculated about what was going on there is no way to know for sure so there's no point in repeating it here.

I did not see much of Bahrain and what I did see did not seem out of the ordinary. People there told us that in certain neighborhoods there was still a bit of trouble, mostly youths burning the occasional tire. Sure enough twice during our visit we could see small columns of black smoke a few kilometers away from the office tower. The people around us were pretty blasé about it, guess it was a common occurrence.

The F1 race is this weekend so the country likely has a lot of security out to make sure nothing happens. It would be a real public relations blow to the government if things got out of hand at the biggest event of the year. Guess we will find out next couple of days.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Qatari Marriage Statistics

The newspaper reported some interesting statistics the other day from a new study, "Marriages & Divorces, State of Qatar, 2010 (Review and Analysis)" by the Qatar Statistics Authority.

Apparently the marriage rate has dropped significantly in the last decade, from 34.9 to 24.1 for men (per 1,000 men) and 32.2 to 23.4 for women. Essentially decreases of around 25-35%! Nothing to be too alarmed about though - for comparison this recent article notes the UK rate is 8.7, this website has the US rate at 6.8, a government study shows Japan at 5.5, and in Canada it's gotten to the point where the government is not going to bother tracking it anymore (I can see why - an internet search showed in 2004 the rate was a mere 4.6! Still above the EU average though). The study attributes the decline in Qatar to the “high level of women's education and their strong access to the labor market, as well as high cost of marriage”.

Now there are some slight differences between the numbers, for example the Qatari numbers includes people aged 15 and above where other countries tend to use anywhere from 16-18, but even if you adjusted for that the differences between Qatar and the West are huge.

I'm not surprised there is such a large difference. If you recall marriages in Qatar are arranged and it is expected that a man will get married anywhere around age 22 to 27. I believe it is rare to find a Qatari man over the age of 30 who has never been married. Compare that to the West where lots of people never get married.

I find it interesting that the study feels the marriage rate is declining due to the expense of getting married (I believe it, click on my “Qatari Weddings” category to get an idea how much weddings cost) and because women were delaying marriage due to university and work. End result -- she wants to delay marriage because of education and he wants to delay marriage so he can save up for it (in Qatar the groom is supposed to pay for the wedding). I think there might be another factor as well, declining birth rates. Most of my Qatari friends come from families of around five children whereas I think not so long ago the average family size was even bigger than that. If birthrates have been declining over the last 30 years or so then there will be fewer people in their 20s then there were 10 years ago.

Now for my favorite statistic -- how many Qatari men who got married in 2010 already had one or more wives? Muslim men are allowed to have up to four wives, but how many in Qatar actually do? (Make a guess and then scroll down)

It turns out that 93.9% of men who got married in 2010 had no other wives. 5.5% already had one wife, and 0.5% already had two or three wives. So only about 6% of Qatari men have more than one wife.

So was it close to your guess? I thought polygamy would be a more common than that. Clearly even when allowed to have multiple wives most men are fine with one. I think Westerners just assume that it is a lot more common. Maybe in the past it was.

The study also tracked how many marriages were between first cousins, as well as between second cousins. Cousin marriage is acceptable in Islam and in many Muslim countries quite common (I believe in some areas of Central Asia it can be greater than 50%). This of course can create genetic problems, not so much from one first cousin marriage, but if the cousins were more closely related because parents or grandparents were also first cousins then the chance for genetic problems increases dramatically. In Qatar genetic screening is done if the couple is even distantly related.

It turns out that 26% of the Qatari marriages in 2010 were between first cousins, and an additional 21% was between second cousins. Unfortunately the statistics do not tell us whether the rate has changed over time. I suspect the rate has gone down a bit but that is only from anecdotal evidence based on discussions with my Qatari friends, many of whom told their families they do not want to marry a first cousin.

The Qatar Statistics Authority does publish some interesting stuff, I suggest that anyone really wanting to learn a lot about Qatar look at some of the studies they have done. You can learn a lot about the population this way.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Titanic Rumours

Since all the papers have been covering the 100th anniversary of the Titanic, I figured I would take a moment to point out that the story that a cursed mummy was on the Titanic is not true. is a fantastic website and I usually have to refer someone to it at least once a month. They try their best to investigate rumors and legends that sprout up across the Internet. Bookmark it!

From there I started doing some surfing on mummies, which led me to websites about the Valley of the Kings. Did you know that excavation of KV5 is still going on? Apparently it's got over 130 rooms! Check it out.

Man, Rameses II had a lot of children . . .

Saturday, April 07, 2012

A Day at the Museum of Islamic Art

Today they were having a bazaar at the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) park and I figured that was a good enough reason to spend the afternoon at the Museum. Not that I was really interested in buying anything at the bazaar but I did want to go back and see the Gifts of the Sultan again and wander around the park.

When I got there it was pretty busy, looks like the bazaar was drawing a good crowd.

After wandering around the bazaar for a while I went along the park to a special modern art exhibit the MIA had nearby.

Japanese modern-artist Takashi Murakami had an exhibition in Doha and while I'm not a big modern art fan I figured I'd check it out since I was told much of his work was similar to manga (Japanese comic books), which I like.

You weren't allowed to take pictures inside the galleries so here's my quick summary:

• Murakami’s art is said to be a combination of Andy Warhol (who was weird)
• and manga (which is weird)
• resulting in art that is . . . weird.

That said it was worth seeing, his work is bright and colorful and there was certainly moments where I would turn a corner and go, “Whoa” so at least it was interesting. I think children would like it as well.

I was able to take pictures in the gift shop, this couch . . .

. . . can be yours for the low, low price of QAR 285,000 (~$78,000). Matching chair sold separately!

I then went back to the Museum to visit the Gifts of the Sultan exhibit. You weren't allowed to take pictures but luckily I was only told that after I managed to get a picture of what is likely the most valuable piece in the collection, the Ardabil Carpet (even has its own wiki page).

After that I hung out in the new café that just opened there and had a latte. It's a really nice café. I was told that it was incredibly expensive but I found that the coffee was about the same price as other cafés (latte was a good size and QAR 18). Maybe the food is pricey? Anyway they served the coffee in these special insulated mugs that weren't hot to the touch which I thought was definitely a plus. Between the coffee, the mugs, the location, and the view, it's probably one of the nicest cafés in Doha. Worth meeting your friends there even if you're not planning to see the museum exhibits.

They had some books off to the side for customers to read while they have their coffee so I grabbed a photography book called “Visions of Yemen” by Sheikh Hassan Al-Thani. Amazing pictures, Yemen looks like a really beautiful country. I've been debating going to Yemen for the last four years or so but the instability there has always put me off. Mentioning my desire to travel to Yemen typically gets raised eyebrows and words like, “isn’t that dangerous?” from friends. I don't consider it too big of a deal when Westerners say that (I was getting the same reactions when I mentioned going to Syria [before all the recent violence] and I didn't have any problems at all and had a great time) but when my Qatari friends say the same thing about Yemen I tend to take their concerns seriously. When Gulf Arabs say going to Yemen is dangerous one should probably believe them! I do hope things settle down there soon because I really do want to go see Yemen one day.

Anyway after finishing my coffee I wandered around the park, which by this time was crowded with families enjoying the park and the playground. The outdoor cafés were packed with people and others were having picnics. One Western lady was even hiding some Easter Eggs and chocolate rabbits in some bushes for her children to find.

All-in-all a pleasant day. Have to enjoy them while you can -- summer is fast approaching.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Walking places

It appears my last post created a small flutter of activity as my comments regarding Doha becoming a city was noted on dohanews. One of the comments from the website caught my interest:

“Where do you live so you can walk places? I'm curious & envious.”

I live in the older parts of the city, in the labyrinths of apartment buildings where narrow roads are clogged with parked cars, faintly-lit cheap restaurants, corner stores, smoky shisha cafes and 15-riyal barbers. Neighborhoods like Mansoura, Najma, and Musherib. Where most Westerners don't live.

When I first arrived in Doha I, like other Westerners, lived in a nice walled compound with manicured lawns and a clubhouse with a pool, tennis court and other facilities. It was out near Salwa road and if I wanted to go out for a walk there was little to see. Strip malls full of furniture stores or neighborhoods of homes and compounds with high walls surrounding them. The only life was the constant traffic on the roads, resulting in long commutes to and from work. Living there certainly was not unpleasant but not very interesting.

Tired of the commute I moved to an apartment in West Bay, thinking that life amongst the skyscrapers would be better.

It wasn't much better. Aside from City Centre Mall there wasn’t much to see except tall skyscrapers surrounded by parking lots. With the exception of people walking in and out of the mall there were few people walking around and little to do in the neighborhood itself. It was sterile.

I decided to move away from glamorous towers and compounds to the older parts of the city. Here there are always people wandering around and while the area is a bit run-down and the stores are not fancy here at least there is life. When a friend helped me move from West Bay and remarked how, for the first time since he’d been in Doha, he saw children playing in the street I knew I had made the right decision to move. The old city is the area with soul.

Turn left and I can visit the tailor for a shirt or the barber for a shave; go straight and I’m at a park, turn right and there's one of many corner stores, or a cheap Indian restaurant where I get some dhosas. Go down an alleyway to get a karak, or maybe further down the street to get a fresh juice. Sit with a coffee and watch as dozens of men gather at the mosque when the call to prayer is announced, or mingle with the throngs of South Asian workers in the streets behind Souq Waqif. Go a little further and you're at the Corniche, or Souq Waqif, or the old souqs near FANAR. Go a bit further and you're at the Museum with its nice new park. No sterile skyscapers and parking lots, no deserted streets lined with walled compounds. Life. I go for a walk everyday around the neighborhood and every time see something different.

Westerners tend to gravitate to the walled compounds of Al Waab or the Lagoon, villas near Landmark or in Gharrafa, or apartments in West Bay or the Pearl. Those places are luxurious, clean, and exude safety, unlike the pockmarked streets, crowded shops, and shabby-looking buildings of the old city. But there's not much to walk around and see in those neighbourhoods. The Pearl is an exception but even then would you consider all the five-star stores and pristine walkways to be a city? More like a resort.

I don't begrudge people for wanting to live in the luxurious areas of town but I won't be moving back. I like it here.