16 February 2008

Souk on This

After many months here in Doha, I am finally managing to find some things to see and do here besides complaining about the lack of things to see and do. One recent find was Doha's old souk. It's no competitor with Istanbul's Grand Bazaar, but amongst Doha's sterile forest of glass-façaded skyscrapers, I discovered Souk Wafiq, one of the few surviving fragments of old Doha. It's old character has not been destroyed by updating its shops and facilities to serve contemporary needs, but neither has its vibrancy been choked by well-intentioned but misguided attempts at "preservation", thus avoiding an artifical, Disney-esque result. Pavements, lighting, and ventilation have been upgraded; historical elements have been preserved, and its clear that obviously incongruous shops (such as computer retailers) have been kept out, but otherwise it's an ongoing commercial enterprise, with merchants selling spices, supplies, desert and maritime gear, jewelry, clothing, antiques, artwork, furniture and carpets. So often living in the Middle East imparts a sense of despair that Arab society is incapable of basic competency, but every so often something like Al Jazeera broadcasting or the Doha souk comes along to provide a bit of hope. Following are a few shots I took whilst wandering around on a quiet Saturday afternoon.

In addition to the souk itself, there are a few blocks of traditional homes around the souk area that have been carefully preserved, and even a traditional mud-plastered fortified tower (that no doubt once represented the bulk of Qatar's defence expenditure) has been retained.

And if you're worn out by a day of haggling and carrying around your purchases, at the end of the souk a cluster of cafés and restaurants – Turkish, Moroccan, Egyptian and Lebanese – stand ready to serve up a meal in traditional surroundings.

16 February 2008