Short reflections on life in Doha…
The group’s “alternative tour” of Doha was an important experience. History is best understood not by those who write it, but those who really build it: the common man. We left Education City and went to see a factory and parts of Doha that are normally hidden from the tourist’s eye. The contrast between the city’s grandeur (Education City, its museums and expanding skyline) and where the hands that created that grandeur lived was eye-opening. It made me think to myself, “Who really builds our greatness?”
Pedestrian life does not exist in Doha, a city shaped by unbearable summer heat and an automobile obsession. Life shuttles from building to building, AC blasting throughout any interior. Migrant workers walk alongside roads clogged with SUVs and sports cars, yet my restructured routines leave me envious of the freedom found elsewhere to wander by foot. Walking is now a luxury for me and a struggle for many others.
Trying on a burqa to enter the mosque was quite the transformative experience. I have always felt the need to look away from a woman wearing a burqa unless I was interacting with them directly. So I was quite surprised with the calming effect wearing it. In addition, the way appearances are completely transformed as one is only able to see a person’s face is fascinating. It gave me a greater understanding of women who wear burqas in their daily proceedings.
I entered the space swathed in black fabric, my face and hands my only visible flesh. The cloth around my face loosened, knowing it was unwanted. I don’t define myself in relation to religion. When asked, unaffiliated is the best answer I can give. I appreciate religious spaces with stunning architecture or a curious history. My focus shifts beyond their walls to the events that occur within them, events so foreign to me that I tense up. It’s as odd as listening to a conversation about hair styling amongst women with straight or wavy tresses that flow down towards their backs. My tightly coiled curls that grow thick, up, and out know nothing of those things.
One of our favorite places to go out in Doha is a shopping district called the Souq Waqif, which is modeled after an old marketplace with winding streets and lots of local vendors. Our first night out together as a group, we happened upon a tiny bread shop completely by accident and ended up with 5 huge pieces of the warmest, softest, most amazing flat bread for 1 Riyal (about $0.27). It was so nice to sit around a rickety wooden table outside the shop and start getting to know each other over something as simple and delicious as warm bread. The shop is now one of our regular destinations at the Souq Waqif and the bread we eat there has remained one of the highlights of the trip.
Stepping out onto a collection of rocks to find a seat where the waters of the Persian Gulf glisten below and the Doha skyline sparkles in the distance; it is difficult not to find wonder in a city in which a mere stone throw away from such a magnificent spot is a small shop on an unpaved road that serves delicious Karak Chai Tea. Essentially sitting on a tiny intersection between old-Doha and new-Doha, I couldn’t help but hope that no matter how small – pieces of old-Doha would prove resilient to efforts that might build them away.
During the Alternative Tour of Doha, we visited the industrial area, where I realized the extent of segregation in Doha. Uday pointed out that this segregation is frustrating especially because the segregation prevents the people who built Doha from entering Doha. This made me ask myself “What is Doha?” Doha is defined by these workers, not by the tall buildings. After this tour I realized I’ve spent my time in the western areas of the city. My ability to select the places I go limit my experiences. The tour also made me realize how lucky I am. We live in a world where it’s easy to take our lifestyle for granted, it’s important to appreciate what we have.
I got scolded today. Apparently, on the day that our group had gone on a fantastic alternative tour of Doha, some CMU-Q friends had secretly conspired to surprise me with a shopping trip to buy my very own thobe. Far and away, the most exciting thing about Doha is the incredible hospitality of the people here. I have made so many friends in such a short period of time that boarding the plane for our final destination will actually be difficult for me. Students in Doha have made sure that I have had something fun or interesting to do every night since I have been here. It is impossible to overstate their warmth or friendliness.
We were instructed to look for “community assets” as our bus made its way through what is called the Industrial Area of Doha: things like pharmacies, grocery stores, venues for entertainment. I did not really know what to expect, in what form these “assets” would be made manifest in this neighborhood. As our bus rounded a corner my gaze was attracted downward to a movement on the ground. In the shade of a parked car, for the brief moment that the speed of our vehicle permitted me to observe them, I saw three men crouched around a board game. One player’s roll of the dice was what caught my eye, and at once it surprised and comforted me to find some relatable joy that connected my own memories of childhood to this city of such rapid change.