A long day of travel to Doha, Qatar for approximately 80 Northwestern trustees, students, faculty and staff ended surprisingly Saturday night with a flash of lightning and a clap of thunder, followed a few minutes later by a sudden cloudburst that sent fat drops of rain spattering to the dry pavement. The brief sudden shower provided a fitting end to a day of surprises for many of the travelers, who came to Doha, courtesy of the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development, to mark the official openining of Northwestern University’s campus in Qatar. Fortunately, the logistics of moving 80 people across the world on several different flights went remarkably smoothly, thanks to the stellar advance work of the Northwestern University in Qatar staff and the gracious efficiency of Qatar Airways.
The first impression upon arriving in Doha at night is an immediate sense of contradictions: a simply designed mosque located directly across from the airport while the terminal road is snarled with an ORD-quality traffic jam; a tall minaret viewed from one side of the bus with the ubiquitous golden arches seen out the other window; and massive billboards advertising luxury housing developments just down the road from the serenely beautiful new Museum of Islamic Art, floodlit at night.
Twenty years ago when Atlanta was preparing to host the Olympics, local residents used to say, “Welcome to our beautiful city; come back when we’re done.” Doha creates the same sense of a city that is a work in progress. A forest of skyscrapers sprouts in the central business district and dozens of construction cranes dot the city skyline. The roadways change abruptly from smooth, broad pavement to sudden, bumpy detours. And even late on a Saturday night, the pneumatic whine and beep-beep-beep of backup warning devices from heavy equipment carry across the Gulf waters. So probably it’s a good thing when the unexpected shower drives us indoors to rest before the official programs begin on Sunday.