Friday, 23 January 2015

The winter colours of the souq

The beginning of another year in Qatar and a cool (sometimes cold!) breeze descends on the souq.  I love this time of year. .... With the change in temperature so a change of colours......white thobes and ghutras turn to blue, brown, black, even red (as sported by my friend Nasser). 


Ladies getting into different colour abayas and hijabs like the two ladies who passed by my table tonight dressed in all shades of pink! 




And on National Day 18 December, the colours of the Qatari flag are worn in many ways to celebrate the day in 1878 when Sheikh Jassem became Qatar's ruler and unified the tribes of the country towards beaming a nation state. 




The atmosphere is beautiful for sitting out in the evening with shisha, coffee, heavenly Arabian mint tea and the gorgeously refreshing lemon mint juice.

This year has only seen one or two days of rain so far, one of which I sat outside my favourite cafe and refused to budge even though I was getting quite soaked!  But like the smartest cows in the field, I was keeping my seat dry!!!




Qatar has its critics and and as the spotlight shines a little brighter with every passing year towards 2022 and the World Cup, the country is opened up as never before to the scrutiny of the world press.  Human rights issues are ever present here, particularly the treatment of the many expats from South Asia and Africa who do the real work around here.  Long working hours in the heat, passports kept by employers, no right to leave without the permission of the government (that rule applies to all expats, me included) and poor pay.  



So one of the reasons I love the souq, is that it is the one area of Doha in which everyone can mix together from the poorest to the richest, whatever the nationality.  The prices here are very low and kept low deliberately by the Amir to attract visitors whatever the size of their pocket.  The rents on the shops, restaurants and stalls are incredibly low and it's possible to haggle prices even lower.


The best thing though are the weekly concerts on Thursday and Friday nights by visiting artists from the region, some of them very big and famous in this part of the world.  Even better is that they are totally free.this is where some of the workers come to relax and enjoy some time together.  And the music, as I've described many times is fabulous.  Even the really big concerts to celebrate events such as Eid, various souq waqif festivals and of course national day are free.  





Another great thing about the souq (although many westerners wouldn't agree) is the absence of alcohol.  This helps to make for a more relaxed atmosphere, no bad or abusive behaviour and no tension.  Men, women and children of all races, colours and styles of dress rub along together in a casual and relaxed environment until the early hours.


Friendships are made across language and cultural boundaries and much hand shaking, nose rubbing and cheek kissing goes on.  An incredible blend of languages can be heard from the most common of Arabic, English and Hindi to all European languages, Urdu, Chinese, and many many more and as I write this, some Russians sat down at the table beside me!


So i continue to champion the souq as the place in Qatar where I feel most at home, where I meet local people and others from the region…... and from further away places too.  One evening, a lady from the United States came and joined me at my table because she was here on a lay-over to Nigera to see her daughter, and had a few hours to kill before her next flight.  We spent an easy 2 hours together sharing stories and then she went on her way…..  just another brief moment in time.

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