I live in Lego Land in the Land of Sand. Or to be more precise, my new-found home is in a compound in Qatar.

Compounds in the Middle East are a far cry from the compounds of South Africa, areas that were set aside as single sex, living quarters for migrant workers, like miners. Here, compounds are generally small, self-contained look-alike villages set behind high walls. The occupants are foreigners, and in our case, mainly Westerners.

They’re ubiquitous in Qatar, ranging in size, price and amenities.

In many respects, a compound is much like South Africa’s gated townhouse complexes, with managed access, security support and all the usual challenges of living in a shared community space.

Compounds are gated communities with high walls and generally come in beige. They’re found throughout cities in the Middle East.

But there are aspects about living in Lego Land in one of the wealthiest countries in the world that are so different – not unpleasant, just different.

By way of a disclaimer, I need to share upfront, that this compound is sought-after, well run and as choices go in a country where you cannot easily purchase property, an ideal option for newcomers.

For us, it certainly trumps living in a high-rise, as we did when we first arrived here in February 2022. (Yes, it’s been a year of here, already.)

Lego building blocks repeated

If you come from outside of the Middle East, one of the first things you notice about Doha, Qatar, is colour and the shape of the buildings.

The buildings come in 50 shades of beige, bar the odd outlier; those swanky skyscrapers and, in our case, our very own Lego Land.

Compounds are popular with those who are “passing through” as temporary occupants. This is our compound and, surprise, surprise, it’s not beige. I call it Lego Land.
I live in Lego Land – a large compound full of identical apartments and villas – that are all grey. These are the apartments.
The villas skirt the periphery of the compound. In Qatar, villas are generally just large homes, and not necessarily grand stand-alone dwellings, like those in the South of France! The pool is for the use of all residents.

You see, we’re not one of the washed-out yellow compounds. We’re painted a pale grey. This is replicated in a darker shade on the pavements and paved roads. But like almost everywhere else, we have flat roofs and each unit is identical to the possie next door.

But that’s where our mundane monochrome of our Lego-like environment ends.

Eclectic residents of Lego Land

Our compound, with its 115 villas and 30 apartments, houses a microcosm of the wider world. Those who live here come from around the globe.

I know this now, but when we first arrived in the scorching heat of summer (that’s June for Qatar), we barely saw anyone.

The 40C-plus temperatures meant those who hadn’t joined the annual mid-year lemming-run back to their home countries, remained behind their air-conditioned closed doors.

Eventually, when we heard the jubilant early morning or late afternoon screams of children and their parents (and nannies) who took advantage of the 39C start and end of the day as the temperatures dropped, we still had no idea from whence they came.

People who live in Qatar come from 119 different countries and make up almost 90% of the population. Generally, there are no obvious indicators as to the nationality of these individuals, unless you engage with them personally.

Or, your temporary home, Qatar, hosts the FIFA World Cup.

The four-week soccer spectacle last year unleashed fervent patriotism. Out came the national flags and fan gear, giving us the opportunity to identity the home countries of our neighbours.

The World Cup saw the banting and national flags come out on mass, including the flags of those not even competing in the four-week event in November 2022.

Even those who weren’t competing, shared their flags.

And sport, of course, proved an ideal conduit for meeting our neighbours – those upstairs, those across the corridor and the others who surfaced from their Lego Land units all decked out in their national fan gear.

League of nations

There are Spanish, Finnish, Turkish, Egyptian and Pakistani neighbours in our block of six apartments. There are resident cats and even a dog too. I had not so much as heard the latter bark, cooped up throughout the summer months.

Elsewhere, there French, Brazilian, Ecuadorian, Jordanian, English, Welsh, Australian, Scandinavian, Saudi, German, Greek and Portuguese families.

Living in such a multi-cultural environment goes a long way to countering the initial shock of the sterile sameness of the villas and apartments because of the ever-changing, ever-interesting and ever-energising folk who live here.

(Perhaps, if I hadn’t spent the bulk of my life living alongside Gqeberha’s green lung – the Baakens River Valley – I’d be less fussed about the cheek-by-jowl, clinical concreteness of it all. But to be fair, a compound allows individuals to live a lifestyle that is generally more relaxed than that expected publicly in the Middle East).

Some residents go to a great deal of trouble to brighten the front of their villas.

Safe space

So here, you can wander freely about in your shorts or cossie. It’s a different story in public where anything above the knee or off the shoulder is frowned upon. With the hosting of the World Cup, however, we saw more than the odd hem rise and shoulder revealed.  

Other freedoms and benefits come from living in a compound. These include:

A splash of colour, when the weather allows, goes a long way to break the sterile sameness of living in a compound, but it requires a full-time team of gardeners and copious amounts of water.

Support staff

The security team not only manages access into the complex, but cycle about engaging with residents. It’s a convivial environment – a bit like an old-fashioned British bobby on the beat – as our head of security pedals about checking up on his charges.

People place valuable items outside their homes, children abandon their bicycles all over the compounds and front doors go unlocked (ours included!)

It really is a safe and welcoming environment – not just the compound, but the country too. Qatar is in fact the safest country in the world according to the Numbeo Crime Index.

Support staff move around the compound on bicycles and tricycles.

The majority of the security personnel are from Kenya, just as those in housekeeping or the hospitality industry are mainly from the Philippines. This segregation of nationalities to various job types (transport, service, medicine, building, the police etc) will be the subject of another blog, once I establish the wheres and whyfors etc.

On-tap maintenance and gardening

As with the security personnel, there is a team of maintenance workers who fix everything from plumbing to pools and take exceptional care of the garden areas.

(As an aside, I was once told when I wanted to have an early morning swim, that I would have to wait. Struggling to convey the reasons for this, the Indian staff member explained that the “the pool has just had its medicine”!)

This team also cycles about the compound on their tricycles complete with the tools of their trade. I have even seen them move furniture on their grown-up trikes.

Compound maintenance and gardening staff use tricycles to move about and do their work.

The H acknowledges their worth, given his DIY skills. And I just love the attention given to the communal areas – ne’er a flower bed nor frangipani grove out of place.

Our tiny glass balcony on the ground floor looks directly onto to the latter. We’ve no garden but are fortunate to look onto a grassed area with frangipani trees. The flowers bloom all year round but come late September their beautiful fragrance is completely subsumed with the annual mulching of manure.

Our apartment looks onto this frangipani grove, which we pretend is “our garden” and where we braai. It is in fact a communal space for all residents.

Let’s just say, there’s nothing delicate about camel dung! (On this note, if you’d like to learn a little more about the value of camels, please check out the blog on camel (and car) racing.)


Amenities vary from compound to compound. We are fortunate to benefit from a gym, squash court, tennis courts, swimming pool, paddling pool, children’s play area and party facilities.

There are children’s play areas both in and outside the clubhouse.

I have to pinch myself during early morning swims when it’s just me and the dancing dragonflies making use of the Olympic-sized swimming pool.

The swimming pool is a magnet for families and children during the late afternoons and evenings – and a treat for me in the early mornings before work.

Most of the time, the club house, adjacent to the pool, houses hordes of children and their nannies. This is especially so in Summer when it is too hot to venture outside.  

The older children cycle or trot safely along on their bikes, trikes, scooters and other toys to the club house, leaving their “vehicles” in a specially marked zone outside the main entrance.

I just love the fleet of tiny-tot transport and then despair as to that which they might well aspire …

The children have a special parking spot in front of the Club House to park or drop their bikes, trikes and scooters.

Check my ride

You see, when you live in a compound, the toys of the bigger boys (and girls) just cannot be missed. There are no lock-up garages where I live, just open spaces in the Lego Land design kit, as well as specially demarcated covered parking areas and the roadside next to the kerb.

The compound is awash with gas-guzzling, massive SUVs with V8 engines. We’ve got a church vehicle – a Pajero, which is large by South African standards, but it’s a non-contender here, outmuscled on every side by the Land Cruisers, Range Rovers and large Jeeps.

With fuel costing just R6 a litre (I know, it’s not fair, is it?), Qatar really is a haven for bigger-better-faster vehicles.  

Most of the vehicles in the compound are SUVs but every now and then, beautiful cars, like this McLaren sports car, pop up.

Spoilt for choice

Regardless of transport type, we are privileged to live in a neighbourhood area that is easily accessible to everywhere else. Our surrounds are pleasant too – with the iconic 5/6 Arches bridge, the 5/6 Park, the Onaiza sport and recreation area and a neighbourhood populated by ordinary and some palatial homes.

Our compound is situated just outside downtown Doha where we once lived, and close to the iconic 5/6 Arches, captured in the background.
There are plenty of places to take a walk with the neighbour’s dog around Lego Land.

The underground Metro is just 2km away, and the city centre, where we used to live, closer still.

So, who’s coming to visit?

So who’s coming to visit. We’d love to show you around. By the way, the open land behind us hosts three cricket games every Friday (Friday being the first day of the weekend here.)

I’ve been here a year, you know!

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