Published: June 27th 2012June 27th 2012
Qatari men chilling in the souq
... you might as well be wrong! If you ever felt the heat in some places in Europe, well forget about it and read this one. In Doha, Qatar, we have been hitting 55 degrees celsius in the last days! If you want to know how it feels, go to borrow a couple of blowdryers, open them to the max, add your own blowdryer and let it all blow directly in your face! This should be as close as it gets. The desert winds sweeping through Doha add their own part to the adventure.
This, besides the fact that the country is the only one starting with a 'Q' (in the latin transcription), should make Qatar a special place anyway. So what about the country? Well, as far as I know, the whole place is a flat, dusty peninsula where nothing really grows or happens.. Except of course the heavy work on natural resources (gas and black gold), which have given Qatar the highest GDP per capita on this planet and put the place on the map.. as you might know Qatar will indeed be the host of the FIFA football worldcup in the near future.
At the east
end of the country Doha, the capital, grows like a postmodern mushroom out of the desert sand, looking more like a fata morgana than anything close to reality (and the skyline does plenty of shiny blink blink in the evening hours). Doha is far bigger than a city with rougly 500.000 inhabitants is supposed to be, or maybe it seems so because the outside temperatures in this place make is almost impossible to actually move without a car. The total lack of public transport doesnt really help with the issue. Yesterday I gave it a try at 2pm (yes, I am a jackass indeed..). The idea was to walk from the hotel to the much spoken about 'Museum of Islamic Art', and if you look at it on the map its actually hardly a km from where i stay.. I eventually arrived a little dizzy and the museum was closed, so I decided to take a taxi back to my hotel where I slept my headache away for some hours.. Tough climate and yes.. I am pretty stupid!
In the evening the temperature eventually dropped to somewhere around 30 (!!) and I could manage to walk to a place
that people call 'Souq Waqif', the spot where beduins and desert dwellers used to trade their good during the last centuries. As in many places which have grown in unbelievable dimensions (in size and wealth) in a short time, also the Qataris seem to look for something like an 'authentic identity' in the postmodern fortress they have built, and are still building at an unbelievable pace. Who can blame them considering that the native population of Qatar is outnumbered by two to one by fortune seeking expats?
Souq Waqif is probably supposed to take that place: Small alleyways smelling of shisha smoke with Qatari traders selling their goods in an old-fashioned way to tourists and locals alike. I do not have any experience with other countries in the area, so I can not agree or disagree with what some people call some kind of kitsch 'disneyfication' of the place.
This south-east part of Doha, where I am staying, is connected to a jungle of glittering skyscrapers and office buildings by something the locals call the 'corninche', an 8 km promenade along the seaside where Qataris and none (in the cooler evening hours of course) run, walk and chat.
In the summer the corniche seems more like a bbq ready to fry your brains out, considering that most of the walk is in the bare sun.
Now, what is really weird about this place (besides that it starts with a Q), is the fact that for a tourist there is virtually nothing to do.. I mean, there are several museum and shopping malls (the one in Doha burned down, according to my Indian taxi driver), but there is just no place around here to sit and have a cold drink! Souq aside obviously, but the souq are only a couple of streets and they virtually shut at 10 pm. I don't really know where the Quataris spend their gas and petrol earned money..
The rich Qataris (I suppose there are no poor ones really) are seen driving around in their 4x4 cars (which they use for dunebashing in the desert, this seems to be the main hobby in this place except camel racing).. All this outside Doha in the desert of course. So who is this postmodern fortress for? Indians, Pakistanis, Filippinos, Westerners? Who knows.. maybe not even the Qataris themselves. Still the whole place seems a
Pearl and skyline
little bit artificial.. and the emptyness on the streets doesn't really help.
Talking about fun, its funny what is happening right now in my hotel.. Its Indian owned and Indian run. In good old fashion everything was plugged together with take and good hopes, and when I tried to fix the tv a glass plate fell under it and I have to pay 10 Euros.. At this moment some indian guy is painting my cealing while I am writing this :D Haha, lucky to check out soon!!
All in all, this is my first experience with the middle east. I find Doha a pretty good place to stay but it lacks a little bit of... well.. soul I would call it! This might change by time anyway, more and more people are moving here and the already exotic mix of cultures might well be able to create something of their own...
I leave you guys now, my new life in HK is starting soon :) and this is the answer to my quo vadis!
There are more photos below