Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Qatar Experience II

 After the initial southern belle reaction to the hotel and the food and Doha's public bathrooms (so clean! so bright! so perfect!) we settled down to enjoy our classes-even the homework was fun, albeit scribbled down at breakfast or in the car. After 3pm we had a lot of time to kill, so we visited the thousand and one tourist attractions Doha has to offer. Ok, I can count them on my fingers. There was the Museum of Islamic Art, an impressive structure built on the Corniche and designed by architect M. Pei. Really fascinating stuff. You walk through each exhibition room based on time spans and witness how the spreading Islamic empire's identity was formed from the cultures and traditions of far east Asian countries all the way to Andalusia. Paintings, carpets, coffins, robes, jewelry, buckets, Quranic inscriptions, pencil cases, lanterns, tiles, knockers, screens, lattices, beakers, compasses, etc. It was so much to take in, and oh so beautiful.

Suq Waqif was another attraction. It's an old suq, or marketplace that retains some magical aura because of its original authenticity and age. It's popular because it is proof that Doha has some cultural aspect. Now it's being modernized by new building structures made to look like they are old, and all the restaurants that were once located along the Corniche were forced to relocate to the suq for tourism purposes. The smell of incense pervaded the air before we turned to the restaurant sector. Big fans were blowing outside stores and restaurants alike, to combat the heat and humidity, which was at its strongest at night. It's rare spotting a Qatari though. The tiny country is made up of, what two thirds expats? We still prefer Jerusalem's Old City, no doubt :)

The city center mall was right around the corner from our hotel. The girls went and marveled at the clothes and the expensive prices. It was also a chance to capture Doha's glass skyscrapers against the night sky as they went walking, forcing themselves to become immune to the heat. The other fancy mall, Villagio, had the whole roof from the inside painted like it was Hogwart's very own Enchanted Ceiling. It has its own river too, complete with a couple of gondolas. Both malls unleashed the horror of "Islamic Swim-wear" to us. I've seen pictures of the burkini before, but having to see it from a close-up on a mannequin makes it about a million more times uglier.

Dina and I were lucky to watch the last episode of The Doha Debates this season live. The wording seemed a little off: "This House believes that resistance to the Arab Spr ingis futile." Typing that now it makes perfect sense, but I remember during the debate I was racking my brain trying to paraphrase the motion into something more understandable. Nadeem Houry, supporting the motion was passionate in voicing his opinions, but I found them a little too optimistic. On the opposing side, Jane Kinninmont had to remind the audience a few times that the motion is not about whether they are against the Arab revolutions, but against the presumption that the dictators will simply roll over. It was very interesting too see and hear. Personally I was on the fence, infused with optimism that no matter what the dictators will do the people's resolve won't be broken or tampered with-the wall of fear has been broken-, and then with a more realistic outlook as dictators can buy off the protesters and won't desist in their killing sprees. Don't forget to tune in! Oh, it was broadcast on June 4th and June 5th. Never mind.

At VCU on another night was the book launch for Kate Lord Brown. It was our first sighting of Qataris! Dina received a signed copy, and there was a reading and a Q and A session followed up by finger food.

Our last tourist stop was at the Al Jazeera compounds. Getting through felt like going through a watered down experience at Ben Gurion airport. In the Arabic compound, we saw the museum, a small room that displayed the jackets of slain journalists, the wreckage from its bombing in Baghdad at the start of Bush's holy war, the calligraphy of the logo, the sketches of the logo itself, the letters Sami al Hage wrote to his wife during his seven year unlawful detainment in Guantanamo Bay (we saw him in his white dishdashah, standing an arm's length away from us. He received his Qatari citizenship on the day we visited!). We entered the newsroom and the people working there barely gave us a second glance. We stood next to the auto-cue (but out of the camera's way) as the two anchors rattled off the world's news. Then we went to the English compound, whose interior design doesn't give the feel of a permanently 90's stuck atmosphere. The lighting was pretty, oranges and pinks and purples. Our tour guide, who happens to be my relation, told everyone that we were from the Palestine Writing Workshop. Everyone perked up at "Palestine" looking at us with renewed interest. Those Paalistiniyunns. Hello, welcome! Enjoy your tour! Al Jazeera struck me as being laid back and quiet. I half expected it to be intimidating, full of frantic people and chaotic scenes. Also, I could have sworn it housed a breeding terrorist cell. Still, it was nice looking at the empty studio rooms and learning what people did there.

It was our last day, and we took a lot of pictures with our new friends. I wanted to catch the sun set while riding a boat, so Dina and I got dropped off at the Corniche and clambered upon a ship. There were absolutely no waves, and the water wasn't Mediterranean clear. Didn't stop us from taking more pictures of each other and the beauteous sun set, reflecting off the glass buildings. Half an hour later we stepped on concrete again, and forgetting we weren't in the hisbeh hassled the poor Indian man to accept the little money we had. I think I won him over when I said, "It's our first time here!" with an innocent fresh green smile. I stopped short of mentioning that we came from Palestine because that's just a dirty tactic. One I will use on later trips no doubt.

After that there was a small event for the participants of the Summer Writing Institute, made especially for the "Palestine delegation." We had trouble getting to the venue but finally we made it. The techniques we learned during the week will definitely help in writing more consistently now, khalas there's no excuse. After a late dinner everyone read a piece that they wrote during the week. It was a last hug, smile, and pose for a picture opportunity. After getting back to the hotel, I stayed up to have my own private time at the beach, 4 am. Wearing my own improvised Islamic swimwear, I swam in the sea, watching Doha's sky turning lighter and lighter, wishing I could stay for one more week. 

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