• Jan Frederik

The Daily Dialogue #1

Opdateret: 5. dec. 2019

The Vital Dialogue

Qatar stories

To get on close terms with the locals

You get the greatest experiences as a tourist, the closer you get into the lives of the locals.

Many people might be a little reluctant to "embed" themselves in an area or a small group of people.

There may be several challenges that must be overcome, of which the two most common are: "You can't just push on like that", and "I don't speak the language, so how do I get agreements with completely strangers, and furthermore I don't even know if they're interested in something like that? "

As a dedicated street photographer, I have no problems "pushing myself".

On the contrary, my experiences with the camera throughout most of the world have shown me, that the very activity in showing each other interest is almost always met with great sympathy and provides a fantastic background for closer contact.

And then it is also very interesting that even though everyone is taking photos today, there is always a demand for good photographs. The interest in good photographs made during the gatherings with the locals is very high. Several times I have been asked directly if I would please bring my camera, so the photo as a door opener certainly does not belong to the past.

At Khaleds place

As an outspoken verbal person, my biggest challenge in relation to foreign cultures is definitely the lack of a common language. As soon as we are beyond what we a little arrogantly call the main languages, I will unfortunately fall short.

But there are now technical solutions that can, with a little ingenuity and practice, open doors that used to be closed. Google translate being one of the best. And if you furthermore connect a speaker to your device more people can participate in the conversation in high quality.

And if you have the opportunity to follow my suggestion of letting family, friends, and acquaintances of contacts and friends abroad inspire you to, who you initially contact, you have a really good starting point.

You are introduced to people in the foreign culture and thus are already well underway. You are invited into networks and circles of friends, where it is simply up to yourself to follow up and expand and make these contacts more personal.

Let me illustrate the principle by a personal example

Currently, I am on a tour of Asia and the Middle East, which so far is scheduled to take me to Qatar, Dubai, Oman, Thailand, Cambodia, the Philippines and Vietnam. It is my idea to "embed" in local areas, to stay in the areas for a longer time, so as to try to get a little deeper insight into the characteristics and culture of the places.

Don't get me wrong: Under no circumstances is this something that can be compared to anthropological studies, not at all. My intention alone is to dig a little deeper into the culture and the local areas than you normally do as a tourist - including engaging in personal acquaintances and friendships where possible.

I write, "so far scheduled," because in addition to the starting point in my own contacts for choosing destinations, I will let the people I get to know, suggest and introduce me to their contacts around the world - and in this way let curiosity and the situation play a part in choosing the next sites. And already here I can well reveal that my planned trip has already been given a loop, as Mauritania (possibly, security risks just need to be carefully assessed) has come up as a possible destination.

Well, let’s go back to my choice of the first destination.

For me it was quite unproblematic - and my postulate is, that so it will be for the vast majority of people. We pretty much all have family or know someone who knows someone, who can open the first doors for us.

My son has worked in Qatar for the past 6-7 years. And had he now acted like most expats by primarily engaging in contacts among other expats, Qatar would have been less interesting. Traveling to an Arab country and cultivating contacts with other Westerners, Canadians or Americans would, in my opinion, be slightly absurd.

My luck in this regard is, that from the very beginning my son has focused on getting to know the Qatari, the locals. The fact that he has at the same time managed to develop his job in a direction that has made him a mentor to many of the future leaders in Qatar makes it only so much more obvious to start here.

This meant that I was able to relatively easily understand and commute between two extreme positions:

The one in which the Qatari in their traditional hijab can be seen moving around apparently slightly arrogant and unapproachable.

The second, that Qatari, especially in family and friend environments, are more free and loose, hijab or not – having a belly laugh, exchanging jokes and observations.

Introduction to the network

Qatari is very hospitable. So it was quite straightforward for my son to introduce me to his friends and contacts. Everyone received me with great kindness and hospitality - and in a culture that respect the elderly, it also meant a great deal, that it was what I was, the elder - my son's father.

Now introductions can be many things. When you hear the word, you often imagine people meeting, giving hands and exchanging business cards.

It is probably the least important way if you want to progress in the knowledge of each other. It is far better to meet around common interests and naturally be introduced to the others in the community. Less rigid, more free and less obliging here and now. But with every opportunity to follow up and at least meet again next time, the community gathers.

Desert trip and winter camp

The desert is a great asset to Qatar. It contains many beautiful nature experiences and is also a great play and tumble place for people with gasoline in their blood. Challenging the many big and small, steep and less steep dunes in a 4-wheeler is something that attracts a lot of tourists as residents. Thus, there are several clubs and organizations that offer memberships and tours in the desert - including training in using the 4-wheel drive competencies in the more ambiguous areas. Something that may be needed.

Friday and Saturday are holidays. However, many only have Friday off, so on Thursday at the end of the day many of the weekend's activities start.

Just before take-off

I was invited to a desert tour by one of the clubs. We met at a common gathering place at the entrance to the desert, and as mentioned above, such a situation is optimal for mutual presentation and talk. At such a first meeting you meet a lot of new faces, and it can of course be difficult to remember the many strange names you are presented with. You do your best and you can resort to writing down a few words along the way.

A smiling, open and inviting community.

Great fun

After providing the proper air pressure in the tires, the caravan rolled out into the desert. An impressive sight. Small and mostly large 4 wheelers with radio antennae and flags on their way out to meet the desert hardships. As the event was open and therefore also involved several beginners in the noble dune forcing art, the route was relatively easy, but for a dune beginner like me, more than wild enough to be fascinating.

The end of the trip was the club's winter camp by the water, which we reached just as the sun set. Beautifully.


The first of November every year opens for “land-taking” in nature. Then all residents can drive out and acquire some land for the next six months by putting piles in the ground, and then placing caravans or pitching tents at the site.

And that's what many of the club's members had done - set up a shared winter camp with a toilet van, kitchen and a big shared open tent. A great place to end a desert tour and discuss the course of the tour. Many people cook by themselves, often barbecues, in front of their tents, while others have joined in some mutual dining.

That evening, however, the whole group was invited to dinner with one of the members, who has a permanent camp all year round right down to the water.

Off with the shoes and in for traditional Arabic food served on a large dish placed in the middle of the floor. You eat naturally with your fingers, reach for the dish and take some food, which you rub into a small firm ball with your fingers. Often, you ‘fence in’ your own small food area with the help of spices. It sounds easy and it looks easy, but it isn't! Fortunately, the host had been so kind to put out spoons and forks, that those of us who lacked finger-eating habits could use.

During the meal, the conversation went merrily, mostly in Arabic, but also frequently in English, so everyone had an opportunity to participate. Awfully cozy.

After the dinner and after a little post-dinner relaxation outside the tent, the participants returned to the camp and their own tents for spending the night.

Later in the same month, I attended another event at the same club. This time for advanced 4-wheel drivers. It was quite incredible how the drivers could manoeuvre

the big cars up and down of what from inside the car looked like 90 degree inclines - thrilling and addictive.

The route was deliberately made so difficult, that you could be sure that some people were stuck in between and needed assistance to get free. Towing a 4-wheel tractor weighing an average of 2 ½ tonnes free from loose sand requires technique and knowledge. Competencies that the drivers appeared to possess.

Then I should really add that a few days later I attended a "masterclass", where one of the most capable desert drivers gave a one-hour lesson to another advanced and competent driver.

A terrific experience, where gravity for periods of time could be perceived to be inoperative. Between the practical exercises there was plenty of time for discussion of the student's driving and thoughts along the way. These were very close conversations, which furthermore were based on what challenges the pupil was particularly anxious about.

For me it was impressive to see how just a few corrections and key words from "master" put the competent driver on track and in a short time dramatically lifted his skills.

Business & Pleasure - two sides of the same coin

Of course, business meetings are also being held for closed doors in Qatar. But a great experience for me, it was to be invited to several meetings where the door to the meeting room was open during the meeting with free access for those who had an errand.

The newcomers sat down, listened a bit, looked at their cell phones, and when there was a short break in the conversation, they contributed with their concerns. In this way, the composition and size of the meeting group oscillated, and you got to know several new people. There was time to exchange some personal comments and find out that you had mutual acquaintances, etc. etc. Very unlike Danish meetings with a convened circle of participants and an agreed duration of the meeting.

During such a meeting, my son and I mentioned that we were visited by our girls from Denmark (daughters/grandchildren) and during the conversation we referred to, that one of the girls in particular was very interested in horses. It immediately prompted one of the ad hoc participants to mention, that he had a good friend up north, who raised sheep, goats and horses. And he was sure that such a team of Danes were more than welcome at the friends - and then by the way he would himself come along. A little cell phone talk and an agreement was concluded.

The meeting continued - entertaining and charming, and the decisions needed to be made, were finalized.

A week later, when the girls arrived, the day of the visit to the agriculture in Northern Qatar came. We followed the promoter's car, and soon we teared along to the north. In the situation, you clearly get the feeling that speed limits are at best indicative. However, in many places photographic surveillance is set up, so it is not completely 'free' to drive to your heart’s content.

We were introduced to the friend, who smiled and gesticulating said: "Choose for yourself which horses you want to ride". He inquired a little about the girls' experiences and then he had a few suggestions for horses, whose temperament he meant suited the girls.

After a ride and a showing round at the stables, the two qatari led a sight-seeing trip that included a visit to the area's fort.

On friendly terms

We drove back to the stables, where in the meantime a few employees had brought coffee, cakes and blankets, and had started a small bonfire of nice smelling twigs so we could keep warm. Here we sat and enjoyed the evening silence as the sun went down, waiting for to join our new friend for dinner. The dining was not agreed in advance, but we knew full well that we were likely to be invited, so we were not quite unprepared.

Relaxing before dinner

Arriving at the friend's home we said hello to his 7 children. Women were absent.

The grown men and the two Danish girls put their shoes outside and went in for dinner, freshly roasted kid (goat) in rice and vegetables served on a large dish in the middle of the floor.

Danes at the dish

As in the desert, we ate with our fingers (here, too, guests had the opportunity to choose a spoon/fork). The friend's big brother joined us and the conversation, mostly in English, mixed with Arabic words and expressions.

Once again, you are struck by the limitless hospitality.There was an immediate sympathy and mutual respect for one another, which you rarely encounter to such a degree. Everyone listened to everyone, even the two Danish girls had all the time their father and grandfather meant reasonable to tell about their school and horses back in Denmark.

When we grown men had finished eating, it was the boys' turn. We needed a trip to the washbowl on top of the experimental dining with our fingers, and the boys needed to wash their hands before eating, so there was crowded at the sink.

But as a senior and a guest, my needs preceded everyone else's. Everyone stepped aside for me. The queue at the washbasin dissolved automatically completely and I was able to wash my highly respected fingers in good order. Perhaps you should consider proposing to the supermarkets (in Denmark Føtex) a similar, give-space-for-the-elder principle at the checkout queues.

Amazing: Visiting the stables by phone-light

As a picturesque ending to the day, the friend had planned a visit to the stables of sheep and goats with flashlights and light from our cell phones. Seeing our two girls standing with a few weeks old sheep and goat kid in their arms, while the kids confidently raised their heads against the girls', was in itself worth the whole trip.

"Can we take them home?"

After a farewell with repeated assurances that we were always welcome and that the girls could pass the stables at any time, the two qatari accompanied us the first way back towards Doha. They wanted to make sure, that we did not get lost!

Now when I mention Doha, I come to think of a small fragment of a conversation during the dinner. In Qatar there is clearly the same distinction between country and city, as we know it in Denmark. “In Doha, the pulse is high, people are rushing around, you have to drive by car no matter where you are going. Here in North Qatar things are going more smoothly. We all know each other and things follow a natural rhythm dictated by season, weather, animals, etc. They also say that we here in North Qatar live longer and look younger, than we are ”.


Photography on land, at sea and in the air

As most of you will know, I am a dedicated amateur photographer. Underwater, there are rarely any problems with permissions to photograph, on the land there may be cultural differences that you must be aware of - for example, street photography is not common or permitted in all cultures. In many places, photography with a drone from the air is quite another story, more often than not requiring special permits.

In all the contexts with other people where it made sense, I had mentioned that I had a few ideas for photography projects in Qatar - including a project that involved photo and video footage from the air.

And to my great delight, we were contacted by the head of the company holding some of the drone flying licenses in Qatar.

If you are going to fly with a drone in Qatar, you have to have a license issued by the authorities - something you certainly cannot acquire just like that. And furthermore before each drone flight, you must apply for a permit for the flight.

The Spark is ready!

The task in question was to film and photograph a tourist resort under construction in the desert by the sea. A great place and a great opportunity to refresh the drone skills that, like everything else, need to be maintained.

Now it seems, that we may be invited to similar drone flights elsewhere - and my hope is that these jobs can open the doors for my photographic helicopter perspective projects.

Poster with a selection of the recorded photographs

The little (travel) Spark drone flew smoothly across the ocean and into the area of the resort at a wind speed of 15m / s and up to 300m altitude, taking excellent video. Now, of course, I would not urge anyone to go beyond DJI's recommendations for the drones, but they are more maneuverable than you might think.

For flights with non-camera drones, the rules are somewhat milder. For example, when we talk about flying with drones equipped with a falcon feeding trigger mechanism. The drone is dispatched, the feed is released and the falcon turned loose.

As a small curiosity, I would like to mention that the photographs from the air turned out so well that I was asked to photograph and write text for a presentation folder for the resort - and not only that. I was asked if I would supply a few photographs for the decoration of the resort. The result was a 1 x 2.5 meter desert photograph copied in and pasted onto 10 pieces of 50 x 50 cm masonite.

Extremely exciting tasks I was very pleased to throw myself into.

Decoration: 1 x 2,5 m

Although it marred from the pleasure, that it turned out to be difficult to get paid for the services, I would not be without it.

In the slightly larger context, one could fear, that the conflict between Qatar and the other Arab states has hit Qatar a little harder than one really wants to admit.

By the way, a conflict which, in my view, is completely absurd, as the countries have far more similarities than differences. But in the end, it has something to do with pride and not losing face - a way of thinking that is slightly strange to a Westerner.

Altogether, it is hard not to be taken by the business pulse in Qatar. As a former entrepreneur and businessman through a long life, you are taken by the desire to pursue the many ideas and opportunities that lie ahead.

However, it sounds simpler than it is. There are a number of conditions that must be met before one can plunge into contracting activities. In particular the fact that one must be sponsored by a person or a company is often a delaying factor.

Media, art and architecture as cultural venues

As a keen photo enthusiast, it was naturally for me quite early in my stay to pay a visit to the Qatar Photographic Society. The site houses a photo club and fine exhibition facilities in the framework of the Center of Visual Art.

In parallel with this visit, I visited a few of Qatar's museums, the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA), the Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art and a few art galleries.

Everywhere I experienced an increasing openness and interest in dialogue with the outside world. A readiness that is experienced also in the themes and form of the exhibitions.

In that area, a lot has happened since my first visits to Qatar in the late 1990s.

Sammir Mohammad sculpture

I talked as much as possible with curators and the administrative staffs and small-talked with the attendants.

After a few days of visits and conversations, I was inspired to go a step further, namely to formulate a new way of exhibiting and exchanging visual art, in particular photography.

It turned into a little booklet entitled "Global Photo Gallery", which I intend to introduce together with my small presentation folder, "Copenhagen - Home of the Happiest Humans".

First I plan to present my thoughts to the photographically oriented environments and then in light of the experiences from this to the more 'traditional' museums.

Neither in the cultural sphere one should expect things to happen by themselves. Meetings with directors and administrative staffs are not in itself sufficient to create responsiveness and open doors for projects. Behind the cultural institutions you find the Qatar Foundation, which with strong messages in the fields of education, science and art, among others, is the governing and powerful player, which it is crucial to get involved.

With some luck, I have a way into the organization, a friend of a friend to whome I intend to present my refined considerations after a few more rounds among the museums.

The neat reception and responsiveness I experience on every behalf is highly motivating to continue. Time will show, what will eventually become with the projects.

The architecture of Qatar is another story. Doha City Center and the skyline consist of a large number of very different buildings each with their own characteristics. Many of the city's buildings, such as museums, conference centers, hotels, sports arenas, etc. are designed by first-rate international architects, creating a kaleidoscopic and vibrant urban environment, that with all its illuminations and reflexes changes its appearance throughout the day.

At the Museum of Islamic Art, I came across a book that, with great photographs and descriptions, explains the architectural development of Qatar until approx. 2012.

Here, too, is an idea, namely to continue and refine this work until 2022 by incorporating the latest technologies in the dissemination.

In this area I have also prepared a first sketch :-)

As you can see: Inspiration is hidden everywhere. And if you can make the right contacts and find your way through the government requirements, the possibilities are endless.

© 2020 Copyright Jan Frederik Bisbjerg