Different Takes on Merqab St.

Mai Al-Mannai Finds her own way

 

My early journalistic college experience can be summed up in one word: uncomfortable. As a journalism student in Qatar I have had my share of difficulties. People here are not used to answering questions from strangers or revealing their names or phone numbers. More importantly, I am not used to asking questions.

 

I am a female Qatari student in Northwestern University in Qatar’s first class. The journalism program is the first of its kind in this region. Unlike students at other universities, we are constantly expected to go out into the streets, find stories and report. As a Qatari woman with no footsteps to follow, this is not a simple task. Our culture values reserved girls who are quiet and don’t leave their homes often. Naturally the attributes we are expected to uphold greatly limit us as journalism students. It is hard to fit the bill of what society expects from you when your career requires you to do the opposite.

 

Studying journalism means I have to speak with government officials, police officers and shop owners who are almost always much older, intimidating men. In this culture it is taboo to speak with members of the opposite sex. When our classes were held in Al-Merqab Street to report, I had to speak with these men and ask them about sensitive topics like their business troubles. I could see that the men were uncomfortable engaging with me, so it was very awkward for me as well. It was incredibly hard to ask for their phone numbers and hope they weren’t offended. Or worse, get the wrong impression.

 

In my sophomore year we had a class that was held in Al-Merqab Street, more or less twice a week. Any longtime resident knows that Al-Merqab is a flirting venue for Qatari bachelors. They prey on women of any nationality but Qatari women in particular. Initially I was very anxious.

 

But after being consistently hounded by these men, I interviewed many women about their experiences on this street and wrote a piece on it that forever changed my perspective on journalism. Almost all of the women described frightful experiences they had with men, but said they didn’t let the problems stop them from visiting Al-Merqab. They learned to face the problem head on, and it was incredibly empowering. That’s when I realized that the only limitation Qatari women journalists face is that they limit themselves.

 

Also, frankly speaking, as a Qatari I am used to being respected in my nation. I never in my life experienced the treatment I got while I was interviewing. Sometimes the people I spoke with would ignore me, give me fake numbers or tell me off for bothering them. I had to be persistent with people who clearly did not want me there and it was a completely foreign concept to me.

 

My classmates and I represent a new perspective on life for Qatari career women. By reporting and engaging with unfamiliar persons, we prove that working hard and out of the home is possible. We can change all the problems we face internally by letting go of the traditions that have lost their value in the modern age.

 

Qatar is in the midst of a radical change and the younger generation must make the most of it. It is only with experience and pushing boundaries that we will be able to change society’s perspective on what it means to be not only a Qatari career woman, but a fully realized Qatari woman.But before that can be possible, we need to learn to be comfortable with ourselves.

 

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