A breath of fresh air about Qatar

March 21, 2012 - 11:26:25 pm



DOHA: Diana Untermeyer, wife of former US Ambassador to Qatar Chase Untermeyer (pictured), endearingly sums up in nearly 250 pages Qatar’s rich past, vibrant present and promising future looking back to her wonderful three-year sojourn in Qatar and giving some of the reasons she keeps coming back in the last four years to a country she calls her second home.

The dearth of information about the country when Diana came to Qatar back in August 2004 when her husband started his diplomatic post was one of the motivations in the writing of the book, she said.

“Also, there were not much books about Qatar which were beautifully presented with photographs. I fell in love with the country so much, its culture and journey towards modernity and I wanted to share what I have learned about the country all over the world,” she told The Peninsula about what prompted her decision to write the book.

Titled ‘Qatar: Sand, Sea and Sky’, the coffee table book is her personal tribute to Qatar’s welcoming embrace for her seven and a half years of intimate conversation with the country’s breathtaking landscape, warm people and their fascinating culture.

“The absolutely stunning photography by Henry Dallal who makes spiritual attachment to his subject and the writing which will give a good history of Qatar from both roots, the Bedouin and the had her, the nomads and the sea-faring people gives people a real idea of what makes Qataris what they are today and how this is influencing their dramatic journey to modernity,” she explains.

The book depicts the innumerable reasons such as many expatriates like Diana find it easy to develop a fondness toward the country.

“I find the majority of Qataris to be very warm and hospitable. I love the landscape. I am from Wyoming in America where we have great plains that collide with mountains but very dry and arid and so I’m used to dry land so I love the dramatic desert scape jutting up to the beautiful blue sea. I also love Arabian horses. My childhood dream was to ride Arabian horses through the desert, not all people can live out their dream like what I had,” she outlines some of the things she loves about Qatar which are very much mirrored in the book she spent much time working on.

After leaving Qatar in June 2007, Diana has been coming back regularly to work on the book. Together with Dallal, she travelled the country doing photo shoots with the assistance of many Qatari friends she had known all the years she lived in Qatar.

“I had many Qatari friends who helped me, from the people in RasGas who were able to board my photographer on one of their helicopters to have great aerial photography to the chief of staff of Qatari armed services who set up a desert camp for us down on the border zone by the inland seas to take pictures of a totally pristine desert dunes without the tyre tracks.”

After it was launched at the Doha International Book Fair in December and at the James A Baker Institute of Pubic Policy Rice University, the book has received an overwhelming response.

“I’ve been giving a lot of speeches all over America and people are just hungry for information about Qatar. The response was overwhelmingly positive both from Qataris who I think are very proud of this beautiful book which represents their country and from people who want to know more of Qatar and the Gulf region in general.”

The book is a breath of fresh air, even for people who have been to Qatar for many years. It is like looking at the country for the first time as it combines history and fascinating observations of the author.

“People know more about Bedouin heritage than they do about the seafaring Hadher, the settled people, their experiences living in the villages and their activities like fishing and pearling which are all discussed in the book.”

The country has witnessed fast-paced transition in various fields with initiatives that demand world attention, but despite this many people around the world have limited knowledge of the tiny country and the book provides a rare vista deep into its identity, culture and vision.

“What is important about Qatar is they have the vision to progress their own people but also try to influence the region to make a transition to a more open and fair society. They move to create a civil society and try to support this movement which is vital. One thing I see very significant is the Doha Debates and the establishment of debating societies in schools because teaching young people to ask hard questions I think shows commitment to having a society that’s going to really take responsibility for itself.”

With regard to Qatar’s role in international affairs, Diana said it has been taking a very bold role in the society.  “Certainly Qatar is making a move to be a positive part of changes in the region.”

And for the next decade, using wealth to continue education of the people and sustain investment in human capital, she foresees a nation “that is more fully integrating as senior level Qataris enter all aspects of leadership of companies and also embraces a strong expatriate community which is an integral part of what Qatar’s development.”

Qatar: Sand, Sea and Sky is available at the Museum of Islamic Art and soon in Jarir Bookstore and Virgin Megastore.

The Peninsula