Omar El Akkado in Orion:
I grew up in Qatar, a tiny peninsula off the eastern coast of Saudi Arabia. Less than a century ago, before the boom, it was a desolate corner of the world, home to Bedouin tribes, shepherds, fishermen, and pearl divers. Today it is, by virtue of its massive oil and gas deposits, the richest country on Earth.
As in Alberta, Texas, and countless other little empires of extraction, money has lubricated a wild and rapid urban transformation in Qatar. The vacant lot where I snuck my first kiss is now a maze of sail-shaped skyscrapers. A playground where I learned to ride a bicycle has been cleared to make room for five-star hotels. The whole area—playground then and hotels now—stands on land originally reclaimed from the sea, in a neighborhood whose old Arabic name, roughly translated, means “the burial site.”
If the speed with which this transformation happened is unique, the trajectory is not. In the age of capitalism everything is a placeholder for its more lucrative replacement. And is there more universal an expression of nostalgia than to return to the site of your first kiss and find it unrecognizable? Time moves this way.
But there is now another kind of obliteration, another kind of burial. Within the next century, possibly within my lifetime, Qatar’s landscape will become uninhabitable.