Monday, August 20, 2007

Qatar: Dig a Little and Unearth the Local

Qatar is another one of those booming places in the Middle East that are a strange mix of old, ancient, modern, Arab and American. All popping up out of the desert. I walked this evening from the hotel, parked on the waters edge, out through the dark to a shopping mall. It was like walking through a new housing estate, with new roads laid out and services installed, street lights installed, palms planted and gently clicking in the slight breeze, but with houses yet to be built. In the middle distance I could see a large, unlit, multistory block house that I was told was the shopping centre. I wandered across a vacant lot, sinking into talc like dust and sand, plopping along creating my own mini sandstorm. The sun had sunk into a saffron sky a few hours earlier but the stifling heat meant I was carefully pacing myself. Stepping inside the mall was like stepping into another world - from the velvet quiet of the night to the blurring speed of a hectic mall, with thousands shopping or making the most of the airconditioning.

But I did not come here to get lost in Western style malls. I had the good fortune today to be taken, during our lunch break, out to the fish markets. These are well and truly away from the regular tourist beat and they even took our local contact a while to unearth. That they were so far from the water was not a good sign. But here was local colour and smell, characters who eyed us warily and others who hammed it up for us. Naturally they were disappointed we were not buying. But in this heat, with no, or very little ice, you had to be quick to get in front of the locals who were snapping them up as quickly as they were cleaned and whisking them away. I hope they were taking them away to be chilled. Cleaned by an expert if not surly looking team of cleaners who gutted and scaled in a blur of movement that was a little disconcerting.

April 2005

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