Thursday, February 10, 2011


Usually when we go traveling, I get blogorrhea and have so much to say about a place that it can hardly be interesting.

Not so with Qatar. I'm not sure why this is. Maybe because I can't quite figure this place out. Parts of Doha are as bustling and run-down as any other Middle Eastern city that I've been in (well, not quite as run-down. This IS the Gulf, after all), and there's the usual mix of native Qataris, a vast subpopulation of Indians/Pakistanis/Nepalese/Filipinos that actually run the infrastructure here, and the remaining balance of white people who are either wide-eyed tourists or seasoned expats.

(As a side note: yes, the Qatari men are dressed in crisply pressed, exquisitely white kandura. I swear every time I read a description of the long traditional robes here I gag at the constant emphasis on how crisp, and how white they are. But seriously folks, they are SO CRISP and SO WHITE. It is a laundry miracle of epic proportions and I suspect the powers of darkness are involved.)

But other parts of Doha are a mystery to me. The girls and I walked around the West Bay area (I think that's what it's called) for a few hours yesterday afternoon and it's almost as if it's a city waiting to happen. There are gorgeous buildings all around and many more under construction. We were right in the heart of everything...and yet. There was nobody else walking around. Literally nobody. Sure, the pedestrian system here has a few kinks that need to be worked out (there are not enough pedestrian crossings and too many long stretches of roads with raised medians) but it's not enough to explain why at times, this part of Doha feels like a ghost town.

Anyway. File that away and let's move on to my favorite part of Doha so far: Souq Waqif.

I think every major city in the Middle East lays claim to some form of traditional souq (market/bazaar). I have been to the ones in Damascus, Aleppo, Amman, Cairo, Alexandria, Istanbul, Jerusalem, Sharjah, and Dubai. Souq Waqif is different from any of those. Parts of it have been beautifully redone and fitted with tourist-friendly fixtures (like public bathrooms). Other parts have been left alone and remain more authentic.

Gorgeous, no?

Yes, Baskin Robbins and Dunkin Donuts are in this souq, but at least they spared us the indignity of writing the names in English.

Wheelbarrows stacked up neatly against chiseled walls and a swept floor? At times things were just eerily tidy. Sometimes I felt like I was in Europe instead of the Middle East.

However, then we'd turn a corner and find ourselves in a totally different atmosphere and feel more like we were in Damascus. It was fascinating.

At the end of the evening, we enjoyed some mixed grills with hummus, baba ghanouj, and fattoush on the second-floor balcony of a restaurant in the souq.

In many ways, the Souq Waqif is like a kinder, gentler Middle Eastern souq. It has all the charm and ambiance of a traditional bazaar, except with clean public restrooms (I KNOW). Also - and this is both a positive and a negative - it doesn't have that evocative urine mixed with raw meat mixed with cumen smell that usually hangs in the air of any souq. So consider that in your calculations.


Matthew said...

I must admit to a pang at my forthcoming threadjacking (particularly as this *TEH FIRST*(sic) comment). ;)

I'm hoping I can distract from that by creative use of parens, memes and emoticons.

Anyway, did you happen to get the email I sent to your gmail address listed at your contact page? If you prefer not to pursue the topic, that is perfectly fine, I just thought I would check in case it had gone astray.

Regarding this particular post, the weird demographics in Qatar cause us ivory tower analyzers no end of problems in properly classifying the effect of Qatari policies on their population. I feel your pain. Given their operational capacity to deliver clean souq bathrooms, there should be bonus points.

Bridget said...

Just so no one is dying from anxiety about the matter Matthew refers to above, please know that I found his email from Jan 20 in my spam folder and I replied. It was regarding my FF post about visiting the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon and being freaked right the heck out by the Hezbollah. I hereby declare that I recognize (now that I'm out of that taxi) that Hezbollah most likely is not interested in kidnapping Americans who visit Baalbek and you should all take the opportunity to visit the ruins there because really, they are fantastic. I mean it.

/threadjack :)

Cait said...


Fromagette said...

Clean restrooms? Swept side allies? Umm, not like Europe. Or at least, not like big cities in France. If that side ally were in France, there would be at least 5 piles of dog poop in the picture. I think I'd rather be in Quatar. (And then I think about how much I love France and I begin to reconsider...)

Liz Johnson said...

"urine mixed with raw meat mixed with cumen smell."

I kind of want to recreate this in my kitchen, just so that I can really experience Doha, too.

Liz Johnson said...

(what I meant was - so that I can experience ARABIA, not DOHA, since you specifically mentioned that Doha doesn't smell like that. My comment made no sense. apology.)

Lark said...

Love the first picture. And I love hearing your descriptions of all these fascinating places in the world that I have never been to...and probably never will go to. When we are able to take out of country trips, we find ourselves in exotic places like Guatemala. Ok, Guatemala does have its charm and I actually do really like it...I was just trying to be funny. Hope you laughed.


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