18 March 2014
Marhaba interviewed the well‑known British author and public figure, Frances Gillespie, who will be leaving Qatar after nearly 30 years, to hear her thoughts on how life in Qatar has changed over the last three decades and the career she has made for herself.
‘… when the Gillespies arrived in 1985, the level of traffic on the roads was like that on a Friday morning nowadays, and one could travel from one side of Doha to the other in no more than fifteen minutes. ‘The north side of the city ended with the Doha Sheraton Hotel; the Corniche had recently been completed and the palm trees and lawns planted,’ she said. ‘It was easy to reach an open area of desert to go for long walks – now one needs to drive for at least 45 minutes to get away from the trash-strewn areas around the city, and the busy roads.’ The population was only around 220,000 in 1985 – now it’s over two million. Expatriates visiting the villages were often invited into homes by hospitable local folk for a coffee and chat, but today there are just too many people for similar hospitality to be offered.’
‘I have known nothing but kindness and friendship from the Qatari people, and will follow closely Qatar’s progress even though I’m no longer in the country. I hope to return for visits.’
In 2000 Frances Gillespie was the coordinator of the Qatar Archaeology Project, a joint initiative between the Qatari authorities and the University of Birmingham. Her best-selling book Discovering Qatar, first published in 2006, was the first to introduce readers to a wide range of natural history as well as to the traditional culture, history and archaeology of Qatar. Since then she has published the first field guide in English to the birds of Qatar, which has now been translated into Arabic, and a series of six books for young readers on the fauna and flora of the country, in English and Arabic. She also acts as scientific editor on a number of publications, and has adapted an educational interactive website on the environment for use in Qatar. Her latest book, Hidden in the Sands, is the result of Frances’ long-held ambition to introduce young people in Qatar to the fascinating story of Qatar’s past. It is published in both English and Arabic and is used in Qatari schools.
Frances Gillespie’s books are available from most books shops across Qatar.