Tuesday, 17 March 2009

47 tailors

The Gharrafa Immigraton Dept building (see it framed by the overpass at the start of this video) keeps watch over the traffic's endless courtly minuet on the roundabout.

Doesn't look too chaotic in this vid, but it was a quiet time of day (early afternoon after the shops have closed, and people have been to the mosque and gone home for an hour or two); and admittedly Immigration Roundabout, being grade-separated, can't claim to be the craziest in Doha, though attend closely and you will see a few jousts.

Anyway, enjoy the movie and try to imagine crossing the road laden with loot from the market - first the slip road from Al Luqta St to 22 February St (often empty but watch out for fast cars), then the two exit lanes from the roundabout (probably the trickiest bit, the drivers are going for it), over the wide median with its landscape paving and quaint street lamps, next the two lanes feeding the roundabout (10% of drivers will surprise you by waving you on, but don't expect the rest to do so even if you have stepped out into a stationary gap) and finally the slip road from 22 February to Khalifa. You soon develop a technique, but beware, stay sharp, it's rough out there.

After that it's only about 200 metres to home along the wide pavement by the zig-zag wall (but suddenly there's only a foot-wide footpath at the corner of the street so you need to look for turning cars) - that's our building second on the right (with the green tree).

Look beyond the steetlamp centre right in this picture, you can see one of two concrete staircases (there is a matching one on the near side). These lead down to a sort of viewing platform each. However, the top of the stairs is hard up against the inner ring fence you can see, so agility as well as daring and an overdeveloped sense of curiosity will be necessary for anyone to attempt to negotiate the stairs and take in the view of the underpass traffic and the colourful mosaics adorning the side walls. They need not fear asphyxiation, though - the paved area on our corner of the interchange is adorned with several noisy exhaust vents which appear to be part of a high-feficiency extraction ventilation system for the approx 100 metres of underpass beneath the roundabout, worthy of a fully-enclosed tunnel.

But back to the local souk - this is sort of the front view as you approach from the roundabout, with obligatory Al Ahli billboard keeping the mosque tower company. Once you are safely through the gap in the wall and onto the sandy astroturf berm, still keep a watch out for cars darting about the car park, or you may find yourself Experiencing Love again.

There are two or three alleys like this one, each with a typical Doha selection of trading establishments selling variations on the usual combination of watches of various degrees of blingness, shoes, perfumes and fabrics, with the occasional addition of a kaleidoscopic stack of cheap toys and ornaments. (The stocktaker in me wants to compute the total number of watches for sale in all of Doha - with maybe 100 in the window of each of the 20 or so of these boutiques, which of course equals the merest whiff of the total acreage on display in the endless kilometres of similar establishments, grand or lowly, to be found in the souks, malls and maze of streets of old Doha Central and the surrounding suburbs - well, it must surely be in the billions. I'm sure there's one for me, but will keep looking for a while yet, in the hope of scoring the ultimate diamond-encrusted wonder toy - will have to hone my bargaining skills).

The covered concourses are welcome relief from the heat of the day (all shops however humble are airconditoned). I inadvertently left the camera on Aperturte setting for the next pic, but bunged it in here anyway as the result does give a feeling of the merciless noonday sun (get a grip, it's not even summer yet, still only 25-30 deg, but then when summer comes you just don't go out in it, so this will do for now).

This is what it really looks like. On two sides of both car parks you see the rows of gents' tailoring establishments - that's right, I just couldn't help counting, 47 of them side by side, sweeping the dust off the tiled pavements outside their doors, or calling out a cheery greeting in the hope of getting you in for a chat and maybe a measure-up, which will provide the occasional commission to pay the rent, or even sewing away among the bolts of shirting and suit material. The consensus is that once you have solved the puzzle of which one to pick, you are almost certain to get a perfect fit for a very modest price.

As well as the 20 general traders, there are also several shoe shops, maybe ten ladies' tailors (one doesn't stop and stare, so not accurately counted), several fabric shops, three photography studios in a row, a stationer's, a post office (Arabic only, so finding out the cost of post to NZ - no, not the Netherlands - was fun), a shop selling CDs and DVDs of the Holy Q'ran only, a couple of decor galleries/chocolatiers/florists and an art shop, a babywear shop, a toy shop which demands further investigation, a furniture studio (awesome tables and wardrobes in the local style with studs hammered in all over, in patterns), several eating joints not to mention a KFC and a Yellow Cab Pizza, Bird World and Animal World, two or three of the ubiquitous and mysterious Trading and Contracting Companies (consisting of a gentleman behind an impressive desk, plus one or two equally plush leather settees) and an emigration consultant, and oops I forgot the pharmacy selling Lady Diana Breast Enlarging Cream among other more plausible remedies, but that's about it apart from the shoe and watch repairers (see below) and half a dozen barbers. No grocery shops, but there are a few nearby.

No worries, I don't need to cross the main road to get a haircut, there are at least ten more barbers in the back streets behind the apartments (photo gallery of some of the finer local shops coming soon). Again, it's just a matter of picking one with enough English so as to avoid getting a #1 cut or a shave, and who leaves your ears intact. Will have to tackle the problem soon, as witness this three week old photo of me and Angela's E-Schoolbag Program colleague (and our neighbour) Nancy Groh, on our first visit to the local market, with the shoe and watch repairers' alley in the background. These guys appear to have the business advantage of low or no rent, but one can't help asking: how do they actually make a living? I guess they made the judgement that anything is better than working six days a week with pick and shovel for QR600 a month like the majority of the vast labour force from the Subcontinent do. Or perhaps they sucked at that - those who can, dig, those who can't, repair shoes and watches?

The question can be applied equally to the tailors, or the whole Doha retail establishment, the general ethos being to group traders in a particular commodity or service together in one alley or street or district. So you want a desk? go to the furniture souk, which when you finally track it down, turns out to be surrounded by streets of furniture shops; a mobile phone? there is a whole building with nothing but comms specialists (and a street 20 minutes walk form here with at least 50 of them along with a few computer shops; jewellery? do not hesitate, the renowned Gold Souk awaits. There are even highly specialised subgroupings, e.g. three shops in a row selling nothing but chandeliers, or several offering intricate metal balustrades only, or even the only two bicycle dealers I have seen, opposite each other (you do see a few daredevils on bikes amid the traffic).

You see hardly any such third-world sights as this in the main souk area in the middle of town - can't speak about elsewhere until we get transport and can explore a bit more, but presumably other suburbs have their own colourful patches of street trade. It does add something to the general air of a work-in-progress toward a paved and sanitised metropolis.

Then there's this guy (he must have been at lunch, but had pinned up a notice giving his mobile number). Either he did something that caused him to be removed to 100 metres from his fellow stallholders; or he knows something they don't. When I get that fancy watch and it turns out to be a Casio rip-off and breaks down in the first week, I will have no problem deciding who to go to.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Are you Experienced?

Mouse has been a bit anarchic again today, sometimes ignoring all clicks, then suddenly dragging and dropping things all by itself; it managed to post this post without any content while my back was turned, but we may now have reached an understanding (I brushed some crumbs off the tablecloth - will get that dam desk soon), so thanks for your (!) patience.

In fact, all sorts of things can make you a bit dizzy here - just looking at the buildings is enough for some people;

Or trying to cross the road - sometimes even the Indians just give up...


Although you'd be mad to even try here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dD8SuZnHfho (I reckon there's an even worse one, known as "no-rules intersection", just few blocks from here - will get the video cam out one night).

But for me a week or two ago, and now Ange this weekend, it was the inevitable ills that beset hard-working new expat consultants (or in my case, houseboys without the sense to resist the charms of the Delicious Samoosa shop round the corner). Debilitated respectively by tummy bug and flu, and encouraged by colleagues and neighbours (and thanks to medical insurance), we were driven to discover the reality behind the ubiquitous banners and billboards, and Experience Love at Al Ahli hospital.

This is one of half a dozen new medical centres opening around Doha, and going by the look of the exterior of some of the others, may not even be the ritziest. Never mind, the interior of Al Ahli is an experience, and the Love isn't to be sneezed at neither. I was seen by a very personable lady Arab doctor who put me on an IV drip without ado; the nurse even brought me something to read when I asked (The American Journal of Cardiology, who could ask for a more sleep-inducing publication?); then sent home with the requisite antibiotics and electrolytes from the hospital pharmacy, (pausing only to hand in the prescribed IV fluid at the clinic counter to top up their supply, a logical system I suppose). Ange struck a rather busier time and had to wait two hours to be seen, and the queue at the pharmacy was a bit of a scrum, but the waiting room couches are very comfortable, and there are plenty of Arabic magazines to gaze at.

Meanwhile life goes on in the big hospital, literally all around you - a triangular five-storey atrium with ward corridors looking down, and on the ground floor all the information desks, registration counters, clinics, genteel waiting spaces and ivied fountains you might expect. Not to mention an upmarket cafe, a chocolatier where you could buy a presentation basket the size and shape of a small pram to celebrate the new arrival; and a gentleman in an immaculate thobe, bearing a silver tray and coffee pot to offer refreshment to any and all those reclining on the couches (though I was in no condition to accept).

Porters push hotel-style trolleys (the ones with an arched rack to hang things on) in and out of lifts; as we waited at the front entrance for the driver to come, another patient was being collected in the family Land Cruiser - in went several large suitcases, half a florist's daily output, the inevitable choccy basket, etc; but the porters had considerable difficulty shoehorning the gilt tea-trolley in on top. Insurance might not pay for all that (on top of the fees, which don't muck about) should we ever need to be admitted.

I was going to take some photos, though not sure if snapping away even in the grand atmoshere of the atrium is quite the done thing, but sensibly the camera batteries chose to die just then (didn't see a little shop anywhere on the premises where you could buy such supplies); sooner or later when we have transport, must include at least some exterior shots in the gallery of fine Doha buildings that is itching to be compiled.

Meanwhile, alternative accommodation is available if you're a space-minded gal:

and as you're all waiting to see if there was anything to experience, that'll be

for now.

Back to nursing duties, then (we are nearly better, thanks).

Friday, 6 March 2009

Video on the roof

Success! Blogger lesson 1: don't try to upload too many images at once, even though the program seems to want to let you. Lesson 2: perhaps avoid Thursdays, go for net-quiet Friday morning instead. So here's the video I promised.

And for those who get nauseous at the sight of wobbly handheld non-steadicamerawork (in the best arthouse tradition folks), or who would like a bit more detail, here are the panorama images, arranged neatly in columns for you, i.e. top to bottom = left to right (I tried to arrange them in pairs across the page, but that's blogger lesson 3).

First, looking broadly to the south, with Western Bay CBD on horizon at left, sports stadium invisible in third picture due to wide angle.

Then looking north, with busy Khalifa St featuring large, familiar Gharrafa flyover on left and traffic Dept building across road on right. The two conical tents of Landmark mall may or may not be visible on horizon in third pic.

And there's more where that came from, if you ask nicely.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Up on the roof

Set the alarm for 5am, but if you wake a bit early you'll catch the first prayer call of the day from the mosque across the road. It soon becomes a familiar part of your soundscape while stumping around getting breakfast, prior to seeing the breadwinner off at 6.05 and debating whether to sneak another hour under the duvet or get on with putting off doing another blog post.

Not that there hasn't been enough other stuff to keep the houseboy from getting this blog together. Sorting out visa renewal, trudging to the shops and back, laying low with intermittent tummy bug, going out to dinner with NZ friends, doing battle with computer stuff I should have learnt long ago, all makes the days fly. Not to mention normal houseboy stuff (cleaned the windows, you can see out now, we shall discover how soon the dust builds up again), and a bit of nesting (e.g. hanging pictures) on the assumption that Angela's hard work will pay off and her team will gain another year's contract, meaning we stay beyond July.

The nesting now only lacks obtaining the elusive desk or whatever (anything!) to fill up the empty corner of the re-arranged room and dump laptops, guidebooks, paperwork etc on. Meanwhile, the dining table will do. During the day I can email while listening to peculiar music through a long extension cable from the Mac to the (cheap from Carrefour hypermart, but chunky enough sound) speakers we have set up by the TV. In the afternoons after the missus comes home, we work away on opposite sides, occasionally looking up and peering vaguely at each other from behind our LCDs like crazed Battleship players.

But around 5.30pm is the most magical of the prayer calls, particularly if you head for the roof. Whether the skies are clear, or more often the dust haze is hanging around, it's a nice time to poke your head out of the stairwell door and see if some of the other kiwi expats in the building have heeded the "beer call". Or if not, just as nice to lean on the parapet and take in the sunset, the intricate cityscape, and the all round siren sound of the muezzins.

Here are a few glimpses for you. You have to imagine the soundtrack for now - I did do a panning video from each side of the building (but after the calling had finished), then suffered a few hiccups uploading the clips, but we are working on it folks. Meanwhile, here we are looking west towards the Gharaffa Interchange (sun is setting, traffic is light, but 5.45pm isn't rush hour here, is it).

Now looking more east than north (see, I am starting to patch together a sense of direction), we can see the upwardly-mobile skyline (a bit low-res to see the cranes but they are there) of the Western Bay CBD on the horizon, with narrow dusty forgotten (you have to go three blocks before finding a sign) Saad bin Eyas St in front.

Turn to the south and in the dusk the tower and arches of Khalifa stadium (built for the 2006 Asian Games) look more like some sort of spooky spaceport (which wouldn't be out of place here). You can just see the shelf about 10 storeys up the tower (level with the top of the hoops, on the left side) which contains a swimming pool for some reason.

And back to Gharrafa as the sun goes down, with Al Luqta St (continuation of Khalifa St which goes past our front door) showing the way towards the cranes of Education City and the desert beyond. Just a taste then, but pretty, eh?

The same evening as I took these photos and the videos, I also did a four-shot 150deg panorama from each side of the building so you could have a proper look at it all, but blogger choked on the upload. If I can't get them posted here I'll see about putting them on facebook, so keep checking. Learning all the time, isn't it.