Qatar 2016

The bearded stranger clearly wondered what I was doing. I kept my phone in my lap the whole time. I didn’t look at it once. Perhaps he found that unusual in a teenager.

He had arrived with some others at my father’s majlis. A majlis is when hosts sit in their reception room and people come round to visit and exchange news. Food was served. Rice and meat. And the chickpeas, which we call hummus, had a surprise which fooled the stranger. In among the white peas were red lumps the same size. Sharp pepper!

Most Qatari reception rooms are large, with sofas around all four walls. People sit where they want but the greetings are important. My uncle arrived that evening for example, and I duly kissed him on the forehead in greeting. My father greeted his friends with the three quick bobs towards them as they went cheek-to-cheek. Someone came for business, was greeted as a welcome guest, and the invoice produced and cash discreetly handed over while the exchange of gossip continued.

The talk was of the war in Yemen, of mosques in Europe, of the foolishness of Egyptian leadership. It was also about people we know. Qatar is a small country and only 10% of the resident population is actually Qatari. We need to know who is who. So when my father has a majlis I leave my phone alone. I don’t play games, I don’t look at Instagram. I listen, and I learn who is who and what is what – and I want the visitors to know who I am. Only thus can I take my place in society when I am older, and that’s more important than anything I can do on my phone now.