The Golden Road

The Golden Road

The deathly silence of the minibus gliding along the pristine surface of one of Doha’s arterial roads, ruler-straight Roman road of modern-day emporers.  Blacked-out windows the sign that no slaves ride here.  Occasionally, a jovial slap on the thigh for the sleeping passenger in the front seat, Amit’s way of staving off the creeping solitude of cash-weary and computer-worn.  Eyes barely roll as another expensive cruiser steams past between the fast lane and the central barriers, with the ignorant confidence of some untold immunity.

Weaving between the rumbling trucks, corrugated hulks of refuse and rock, water occasionally dripping from rusting tankers driven by faceless brown arms, our spacewagon swings off the highway into the desert.  On through avenues of towering pylons, steel trees lining a dusty boulevard to an unknown purgatory.  Over the boulevard, a single bleached white hut with a single tree shading a water tank, offering cool and prayer.  Beyond this last outpost, bunded oil pipelines chase the horizon into the haze, imaginary canals where rocks are reeds and dust is all that floats.

Some miles further on, out of the haze, a city emerges – a district of identical portacabins four stories high, a clutter of buses parked askew between the rocks and debris hewn from the foundations.  Some nights, at dusk, it is framed by the aura of a deepening orange orb, the most unbroken of sunsets anyway in the world, across an unblemished sky and spirit-level horizon.

Beyond this nameless city, huge mounds in the desert.  Sometimes a row of trucks sits atop a ridge, an excavator’s crooked elbow silhouetted, as if ready to haul its hidden body back from greater depths.  In one place, a clear blue lake, an engineer’s mistake, an over-excavation exposing the high groundwater somehow irreverently laying bare nature’s determination for privacy in these parts.

And the city?  A road is being built in the desert. A vast road, a marvel of modern engineering and project management, where genius and innovation share the same breath of cock-up and mismanagement, in a land where only pipelines and pylons can bear to make their home. An army of engineers, some clever and CAD-savvy, some bossy and bullish, all literate and articulate, sit in air conditioned cabins, slaves to their screens and their deadlines.  Here, in these desert libraries, a good joke falls like a drop of rain in spring.

At the end of day, back in the spacewagons on the thundering truck route, our engineers will sneak a glance at the uncooled desert towers half a mile away, populated by workers from the furnaces of Sindh and Punjab, who have probably never lived in a cooled room. There is no public transport into town, no prospect of hitching a ride, no internet, the same meal every day.  Rumours abound of shootings on the tracks or riots in the camps. But are only rumours, for few know the locals and fewer know the camps.

For these men, and it is largely men, who live and work on construction sites in Qatar, there seems to be an unwritten rule of pride – they come to Qatar to earn their way in the world, and they ask no pity, want no pity, expect no pity.  Nor is Qatar a land they will come to know intimately – it is just a place, a land of mystery and money and madmen, ticket to a dream housed somewhere else.  For me – one day, when the dust has settled once more, maybe I will return to Qatar, and ride my bicycle by the great superhighway, a fool’s Golden Road, and smile, if only to myself, for those whose dreams chased us here.