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.


  1. Whoops, I think you've turned comments off for the latest post, so I'll comment on this one instead.

    It certainly can be difficult figuring out which of the multitude of communication mechanisms are useful. I think it's important to at least give each one a bit of a try though (which is what you seem to be doing).

    Just because something works for one person doesn't mean it'll work for another. I, for example, fucking hate Facebook, it's just not for me. My chief complaint is that it reminds me too much of social interaction at Intermediate School - all peer pressure and the number of "friends" one has. I know who my friends are, and it's not defined by who last threw a sheep at me or whatever.

    I have however been amazed to find out how much I like Twatter (and try following @serafinowicz if you're willing to give it one last try). A common Twatter complaint is that people don't want to hear about the trivialities of others' lives. Well, (1) exercise a bit of self-censorship, (2) none of the people I'm currently following seem to do this, stop following dull people! Like I said though, it isn't for everyone.

    I just recieved a card from a friend in England, I thought I'd write back rather than email, but now I have to hunt down an aerogramme.

    Also, Damian Wossname on public address is bemoaning how old/middle-aged he is, having just turned 35. Fuck's sake, he might as well give up totally, I'm surprised he's even heard of the internet!

    Also, I'm sure I've read Was . . .

  2. still trying to post this comment, 35 yeh right, maybe he was being cute & pstmodern