Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Tuesday, March 24 - Waqif Souks

Today was another interesting and fabulous day. The day began with us hiring a driver and going to Waqif Souks. These are the shops at the Arab market, full of souvenirs, but also shops selling fabrics, household supplies, jewelry, and much more. It is a very large area with aisles and rows of shops. We started out visiting the spice markets, then proceeded on to all the other colorful markets full of Middle Eastern wares. There were brightly colored scarves of all types displayed at many of the booths. There were shops selling traditional Arab clothing, gold and silver jewelry shops, Bedouin antique shops, and souks selling brightly colored camel blankets and other Middle Eastern blankets. I noticed right off that there were groups of tourists with a group leader holding a sign so they wouldn't get lost and could stay together. That is a major difference between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Anyone could come to Qatar, and since you get the entry visa at the airport, it is not difficult to be a tourist here. Saudi Arabia is not open to tourism. As strange as it seems, I almost found it annoying being around these typical tourists. I don't really consider myself a tourist. I told Lucy the definition of a tourist is "A person who wants to go some place different, but when they get there they complain because it's not like home." I'm not complaining because the whole time we have been on our trip it has seemed like home. We had great living accomodations at the Larsen's house, and since they are living in the same house that was the floorplan of our home in Arabia, then it really did feel like home to me. Gennette's house is very comfortable also. I guess since we aren't staying in hotel rooms night after night, then it doesn't feel like we are tourists. Also since we are familiar with the sights, the culture, and customs and both lived in this atmosphere for 10 years, then it still feels more like home than a vacation in a strange land. We got some wonderful photos today that were typical of the working life here. Goldsmiths and silversmiths were sitting on the floors of their shops using antique, odd looking tools to form their crafts. As one man was sautering the gold, we got the idea that he might possibly repair Lucy's glasses. And for 30 riyals ($8) he did just that. I thought it was quite interesting that we had inquired at a very fancy eye glass store in Khobar and they were unable to do it, and here in this little 8 ft. by 10 ft. room, a little Pakistani man sitting on the floor with his tools did an incredible repair job. He used a very unique, old fashioned drill of which I took a photo. I walked by a group of Arab men sitting outside of their shop visiting. They were sitting in white plastic lawn chairs, and one man had his feet on the chair with his thobe covering this legs. Completely relaxed! I walked up to them and asked them if I could take a picture. They said yes, and after shooting the photo, I walked back and explained to them that I found the Arab culture so refreshing as to how they make the time and find the time for visiting with friends. I know that Americans go out to eat to visit with their friends. I have often commented on why it is that when people want to visit, they always think they have to eat also. I peered into an Arab coffee shop and saw two men sitting on a bench, their legs pulled up under their thobes. They were smoking from a water pipe. In Arabic, a water pipe is called a nargeela. Personally, I call them bongs or hubbly bubblys. I saw very few people smoking cigarettes. Instead, everyone (including women) use these brightly colored water pipes. In the evening, the area was filled with people dining at the outdoor tables of the restaurants and water pipes were at every table. I walked into the coffee shop and inquired about the water pipe. The Arab man explained how it was used, and of course, I asked for his photo. That was another great Kodak moment! Later I told Eyad (Gennette's husband) that even though I don't smoke, I would find it interesting to try it out. He said that you don't have to put tobacco in it. You could also use dried fruits. And of course, there is always the old standby of hashish. Another interesting site which I have never seen before or even heard of was "cupping women". I was walking down a side alley when I saw a sign on a door that said, "Cupping women - working time" and then proceeded to give the days of the week and the times that these cupping women would be there. I thought, "What on earth is a cupping woman??" I was standing there reading this sign when an Arab man passed me. I stopped him, asked him if he spoke English, and then asked, "Could you tell me what a cupping woman is?" He began to explain that it is a woman who is like a doctor and she draws blood to make you healthy. He said something about them exchanging the blood. I thought maybe it was a phlebotomist. Then Lucy walked up, and I told her about this experience. She pointed out the sign high above the door which showed a man's head with a "plunger" type of device stuck to the back of his head. It was actually a glass jar that they heat up and place on a person's body. It creates a suction and creates some health benefit. I think I need to go to google and check it out. We also went to the section where the falcons were. In Arabia, the falcons are used for hunting and for competitions. When I lived in Arabia we had a man in our Stake who took care of the King's falcons. Falcons can sell for as much as 15,000 US dollars. I do have a falcon hood at home, and here we saw the falcons wearing their hoods. As we were weaving among the alleys and aisles looking for the falcon section, we ran across the "paralegals". This was a very small, narrow alleyway lined with booths. Sitting inside each booth was the "paralegal". On the outside of each booth was a sign stating "internet, visa, passport" and "work permits". People who can't write would go to these booths and get their legal paperwork done. Across from the shop where Lucy got her glasses fixed was a little old man with the worst dental situation I've ever seen. I am not trying to be rude because he proved to be a delightful little man who visited in Arabic with Gennette. He would never allow us to take his picture, however, he did insist on dressing me up in an abaya with beautiful veils and let them take my pictures. When he insisted on dressing me in these scarves Lucy and Gennette were standing in the doorway saying, "Oh my gosh Karen, you've been dressed up so many times! We have to go!!", but he insisted, "5 minutes!!" and so we had another dress-up photo session. But this man had teeth of every color, black, white, beige, brown, and shades of each color. I counted at least 6 missing teeth. One thing I have noticed since being back in the Middle East is how "real and down to earth" most people are. They smile genuine, wonderful smiles and don't worry about being self-conscious about their teeth. We visited with a 72 year old pearl diver. He had a shop that sold pearl necklaces, seashells, and other items from the sea. Gennette said that the Emir had given that man this shop space so that he could have his own shop. He had a large sign posted outside of his shop that had pictures of him in his younger days. It was advertising his strength and he was labeled a "body builder". We went inside the shop to meet him. He came outside and did a demonstration for us on diving. We have a picture of him with his nose clip attached to his nose, a weight around his foot, and a basket hanging from his neck which he used to collect the shells. He told us how strong his muscles were and said he sleeps on a bed of nails and sometimes sleeps on glass. Then he took a board that had had nails driven through it, and laying his arm on the extended tips of the nails, he asked Lucy to press very hard on his arm. She pushed as hard as she could, and it didn't hurt him at all. He did have nail marks in his arm afterwards. It was amazing, and I have to admit, I haven't run across too many 72 year old men like this pearl diver in Qatar. About this time, we heard the call to prayer and many of the shops began closing their doors until 4pm when they would reopen. I rounded a corner and came to a large open area with many brightly colored (mainly red) rugs, camel blankets, and other goods. As I tried taking pictures, I discovered that my camera battery was completely dead. I was so frustrated because this happened just as all the shops were closing. Meanwhile, Lucy and Gennette were in a jewelry shop where Lucy purchased a turquoise and coral necklace. I ran back and told them I was going to try to find a place that sold batteries. As I was wandering from shop to shop asking for batteries and showing the merchants my camera batteries, I came to a little shop selling photographs of the way that Qatar looked many years ago. Much to my delight, the Indian shopkeeper sold batteries. I was inside the shop when Lucy and Gennette arrived. They were telling me to come with them to go find lunch. I told them I first had to buy batteries, and so they came in the shop with me. They were looking at these old photographs on display when an Arab man walked in. He was dressed in the long white thobe with diamond cuff links, wore a white gutra on his head, and here in Qatar the egal (black rope on their head to hold on the gutra) has long black tassles hanging down the back. He spoke excellent English. He began talking to us, telling us about the photos, and we followed him into the back of the shop where there was a large room. Red Middle Eastern carpets covered the floor and large cushions covered in Middle Eastern fabrics lined the walls for seating. The walls were displayed with large photographs of the way Qatar looked back in the 1940's. He told us about the history of Qatar, the changes made here over the years, and said that if I had been here 30 or 35 years ago I would have been kidnapped due to my blonde hair. He was so interesting as he told about growing up in Qatar and the history of this little country. Then, as I purchased my batteries and we were discussing where we should eat lunch, he asked us if we would like to go with him to lunch. He had a friend with him, a tall black man from Sudan who lived in China and was working in the import/export business. His name was Mutasim. Evidently, they were friends doing business together. We didn't want to intrude on their business lunch, but at the same time, how many times do you get invited to lunch by an Arab man? From now on, I will call him Sheik, because as we later found out, he was most likely a Sheik there. I do have his real name and email address, but for privacy reasons I will call him Sheik. We began walking towards the restaurant. We had also met a woman, Brigitte, while we were in the Pearl Divers shop. We had invited her to join us for lunch since she was by herself, so it was Gennette, Lucy, myself, Brigitte, and Gennette's friend going to lunch. Brigitte was originally from Switzerland, but currently living in New York and working as a piano technician. A family in Qatar had flown her over there to do a two hour job on their piano. So Mutasim, the Sheik and I were walking together, while Lucy, Gennette, and the others followed. I was hoping they would take a photo from the back with me walking down the street with these 2 men, but I didn't want to turn around and do hand signals and look like an idiot. We went to a very classy restaurant. Above the large dining tables were canopied draped fabrics. As we were seated, I sat next to the Sheik but was very careful not to sit too close. We all ordered hamour (fish) and rice dishes. When they arrived, they were huge. In fact, when the server brought the first plate, I thought he was going to go around the table and dish some out for each person. I had no idea that each person would receive that quantity. The Sheik also had ordered some "unique to Qatar" appetizers. Then for over two hours, us five women sat and listened to this most interesting man. We were highly entertained by his stories. When they served the Arab coffee, he told us that when you drink Arab coffee you do not set your cup down on the table. You hold it in your hand the entire time until you are finished. None of us had it, so it really didn't matter, but it was interesting to learn the Arab rules of etiquette. He explained how they used to use egals (the black rope they wear on their head) to hobble a camel so that he can't stand up. We learned that the Sheik was 45 years old and was married to a woman from Italy. He passed her picture around the table. He was very well traveled throughout the world. He told us a story that touched each of us, actually bringing tears to our eyes. One time he only had 100 riyals in his pocket, and his wife had asked him to bring home some food. As he was on his way home, he spotted a man who was very poor, wearing tattered clothes and asking for a ride. The Sheik gave him a ride, but also in hearing this poor man's plight, he gave him the 100 riyals, all the money he had at that time. He went home and told his wife he hadn't brought any food home.
Two days later a knock came on his door, and it was a man he hadn't seen in a very long time. This man told him that he had been looking for him for 2 years, and that he had come to return to him the 10,000 riyals that this Sheik had loaned him several years before. To hear him tell it was very touching. He spoke with a soft, but commanding voice. We could have listened to him all day, but we were grateful for the hours he did spend with us. That story reminded us all of the scripture about casting your bread upon the waters. As we were leaving and parting ways, we all shook his hand and hugged him, and some of us (not me!) even kissed him on the cheek. I think that was Gennette who was brave enough to do that. When we were leaving the restaurant the people who worked there addressed him as "Sheik". Later we wondered who this man really was that was so kind and gentle, so interesting and wise, and who we shared with one of our favorite days in Doha! As we said goodbye to the Sheik and his friend, the shops were reopening their doors for the late afternoon/evening crowd. We visited some fabric stores, and Lucy bought Bud a thobe to wear around the house. They actually are very comfortable. We came to an area where some veiled Arab women were sitting on the ground prepared to make a special type of Arab bread to sell. We asked if we could take their pictures and they agreed. As Lucy ordered her bread, I was taking pictures of this process. I found it amusing as this woman took the lid off of her green tupperware bowl and dipped her bare hand in the bowl, bringing forth a large handful of batter and plopped it down on the griddle in front of her. I thought of the sanitation laws in the States and I said to myself, "Oh my gosh, she didn't use a plastic glove! That would never fly in the States!" In Las Vegas, I would be appalled if someone did that. But here in the Middle East, out in the open market with all the smells of spices, henna, and incense
floating through the evening air, it didn't bother me one bit. I love the "real life" aspect of this place. I love how the people are not self conscious or embarrassed about sitting on the ground doing their work. I don't feel like I see a lot of shame among the people here. It is just life as they know it. In the area where these ladies were selling their freshly made bread, men with wheelbarrows were wandering around looking for anyone who needed their assistance. Their job was to carry packages or recent purchases in their wheelbarrows. It's basically a "purse taxi". Great idea for those of us with heavy purses!! Most of the wheelbarrows had burlap sacks or other coverings in the bottom. I ran after one man to get a photo of him wheeling a little girl to her car. When I first saw these men with the wheelbarrows, I had been in an alleyway. A little man pushing his wheelbarrow approached me. He only spoke Arabic. He asked me if I wanted his services. I had not seen this before, and as dumb as this sounds, I thought he wanted to give me a ride. LOL Boy, am I glad I didn't sit down in his wheelbarrow. That would have probably been a first for him. We visited with a very nice veiled woman who was selling perfumes and incense. This trip to the Middle East is the first time I have personally visited with so many Arab women. She mentioned about her little boy, and I wondered how these women manage to sell their goods on the streets, and take care of their children. I guess it must be similar to moms in the states who work outside the home. After we were "shopped out", Gennette's husband came and met us. He was hungry for dinner while we were all still full from our feast with the Sheik. We were like a cluck of hens chattering about our day with the Sheik. Eyad enjoyed our enthusiastic stories, and we joined him for dinner at that same restaurant. It was a little embarrassing walking into the same restaurant where we had had lunch, and this time we were with a different man. The same waiters as before greeted us. We commented on how we had brought a different man with us this time. I said to the waiter, "This is Gennette's husband." He asked, "And where is your husband?" I replied, "Oh, I don't have one right now", and he asked, "So, are you free?" I had to laugh at that because I felt like I could have been his mother. Since I wasn't that hungry, I ordered my favorite, tabbouli, Arab bread, and hummus. Tabbouli is finely chopped parsley with onions, tomatoes, and spices. It is great to mix the hummus and tabbouli and eat it with the bread. And I can't forget to mention the Arab dates! We had a wonderful dinner to end our wonderful day at the souks, the Waqif souks where we dined with a Sheik!

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