I’ve just finished a week editing the @WeAreQatar Twitter account.
It’s a rotation curation project – where a different guest editor takes charge every week, bringing their own perspective and personality to a shared account.
The idea started with the egalitarian Swedes (@sweden) and has spread round the world, making its way to Qatar last summer*. It’s a great way to boost interaction across the already wildly diverse demographics of Doha.
There aren’t any rules as such (bar common sense guidelines around inflammatory or offensive remarks) and no one is “in charge” beyond drawing up a list of volunteers and issuing the account’s password.
You put aside your personal proclivities for a bit (so all mentions of Reading’s fluctuating season stayed where they belonged, on my personal timeline) and whilst you might start with a few things that you want to point out, or get off your chest (like why people who complain about QF Radio every day don’t just listen to something else, or why q-tickets only lets you book online for that day and not actually in advance), the week quickly takes its own course.
Follow me around
Looking back over it, my week in charge was like a fast-forwarded version of life here. I covered a dust storm, rain, thunder and lightning and a weird gas cloud that no one (not even Qatar Gas) could identify.
It’s totally up to you what to write or share. Because of the account’s reach, people will contact you to draw attention to issues ranging from Syrian refugees and the Crimean independence vote, to weight loss junk mail and promoting their dog food business.
There were inputs from dozens of new-to-me voices from across Doha, all sharing and commenting on the big issues of the week, from the ongoing diplomatic kerfuffle between Qatar and its GCC neighbours; alleged further delays to the city’s new airport and President Obama’s imminent visit to Saudi. Not to mention a late but obligatory appearance by the 2022 World Cup.
(Unsurprisingly, given the apocalyptic driving here, this story generated the biggest response over the week. We all knew seatbelt use here was low; but less than 2%? That’s mind-scrambling…)
I got recommendations of Indian movies, learned that horses use Jacuzzis and watched as the Doha hivemind (Dohivemind?) collectively solved the world’s most cryptic and creepy ad campaign (check out the yellow billboard in this post’s first photo and see what you think it’s about, before clicking here for the answer. Kudos to whichever agency managed to flog that terrible concept to the client.)
I even wrote the odd joke or two…
Britain would win Olympic gold for self-deprecation every time, if only we were good enough
— We Are Qatar (@WeAreQatar) March 14, 2014
Curation was nothing if not varied and brings home to you in the most immediate way possible just how many nationalities and cultures call Doha home.
I wasn’t just treating my virtual guests to haikus about traffic, musings on drive-in zoos and jokes about British-themed parties, however. My week in charge coincided with me playing actual host as well – to a return visit from my in-laws.
So as part of getting out and about with them, I watched dressage for the first time, because it was on, and we were curious.
It’s not a sport I’ll be returning to any time soon (I could make quite a strong case for it not being a sport at all; with its combination of immaculately presented riders and horses prancing around a parade ring to Billy Idol, it’s more like something that would keep even David Lynch awake at night.)
We also did a debut breakfast buffet at the W, which was pancakes-and-maple-syrup-tastic, and almost compensated for the fact that we should have been at brunch instead, only someone left it too late to book…
So I had twin streams of commentary across the week. In the real world, observations from returning visitors about how much the city had changed in the past year (spoiler alert: a lot). In the virtual world, faces old and new brought issues from across the globe right to my door.
But across the week one issue dominated every conversation, on or offline: the disappearance of flight MH370.
It seems incredible to my layman’s mind that, in a world we are told constantly is being bugged, spied upon and monitored at every turn, that an entire plane could simply vanish off the face of the earth.
Because of the number of people here working for airlines, Doha is Aviation Geek Central. And so conspiracy theories abound, claims are made and debunked, rumours are passed off as fact.
But amid all the noise of the story, I couldn’t help but think of the passengers’ families. They may come from all over the world, but are united by tragedy.
I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like to have a friend, family member or loved one on that flight. The eyes of the world are on you now – and will probably be forever. The combined military might of dozens of countries, armed with the most advanced technology possible, is out searching for the plane and getting nowhere.
The fate of MH370 remains, at time of writing, a genuine mystery, seemingly the like of which we have never seen before. The anguish, the waiting, the not-knowing must be excruciating. That relatives are now resorting to threats of hunger strike in order to extract more information from the authorities shows just how desperate they are.
Watching the story unfold, piece by tiny piece, at a time when I was connected to people right across this city – who themselves hail from all over the world – I saw for myself how technology can make the world seem very small.
If only the families of the passengers on MH370 could say the same thing.