Saturday, 8 June 2013

The secrets of the Souk

Ive been in Doha now for two months and I feel myself falling under its spell, largely down to my weekly trips to Souk Waqif, a place so full of atmosphere and life, where tourists and locals stroll the cobbled alleyways, and maze of tunnels to buy anything from camel key rings to carpets, slippers to swords ....in fact pretty much anything you can think of...... even, sadly, live animals and birds.  It's not just a tourist attraction, locals too buy all sorts here.... cooking pots, spices, nuts, dates, fabric, clothing, blankets etc etc..... I could go on!



Despite what the photos suggest, this incarnation of the Souk has only been in existence for a few years.  It was the site of the original Souk when Doha was a small village and the Bedouin would bring their products such as camel's milk and dates to trade.  In 2004, the Sheik decided to restore the area to its former glory and they did such a good job, it really does feel like stepping back in time.




The most wonderful area for me is the spice market - a labyrinth of
little shops selling every aromatic herb and spice you could wish for.  If only this were a scratch and sniff blog!  Imagine a soft warm blanket of coriander enveloping your senses as it bakes in the heat of the sun, waiting for the pigeons to feast.



Proving that this isn't just a place for tourists, the restaurants and cafes are heaving with locals, dining on dishes from around the middle east and other parts of the world.  Kebabs, tajine, humus and babba ganoush, followed by a relaxing puff on a shisha pipe while watching the rest of the world go by.


For me, though, the best thing about the Souk is Thursday and Friday nights...... live music every weekend.  Frame drumming and tablas setting the most incredible and complex beats to get the audience of 99.9% men - most in dishdashas (or thawbs) - up on their feet to dance......... and dance they do!!


What I love most about the atmosphere is that it is not drug or drink fuelled (neither are allowed here).  They just know how to have a good time, without any leud behaviour, drunken brawling or any kind of  aggravation with one another.   They hang out with their friends, and get along with people of all nationalities together - Qatari of course, Lebanese, Yemeni, Egyptian, Indian, Pakistani, Palestinian etc ....and the odd westerner, although I have to say, they are few and far between in amongst the dishydashas...as I like to call them....... Soak up the atmosphere!



I go along and stand in amongst them watching and listening to the music.  It starts around 8ish and goes on until 1130pm.  It is usually around the mid-way break that the real party starts, when the local guys start dancing together at the back - always in the same spot.


There are a few different styles - they told me they were traditional Yemeni dances.  It usually starts with 3 or 4 of them dancing in sync and then others join until there is a group of around 11 or 12 and sometimes more.  Witness the dishydashas in action !


Having been for the last few weeks, watching from the side-lines, generally swaying along, encouraging.... and videoing them! ...... last night, I was pulled in to dance by one of dishydashas.  It is clearly unusual for a woman, not to mention a western one, to join in with their dancing and no sooner had I started my tentative steps into joining their troupe, but I suddenly had a tight circle of guys around me clapping and whooping.....and videoing me!   It felt like an acceptance ritual - Ive seen the same guys down there dancing most weekends and one or two who know a bit of English have talked to me a little..... but this time, there I was dancing alongside them.



When the dance was over, they all gave me a group hug.... and the funny thing was that it didnt feel in the least bit threatening.   I feel safer here as a woman out on my own, than I would walking down a typical British suburban high street on a Friday night.  Of course, I know there are many reasons for that, too many to delve into here, but for now I'm just soaking up the atmosphere, the warmth, and the beat of my new home.



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