AdventureMan could hardly wait to show me the change in the very heart of Doha. When I lived in Doha, the Souk al Waqif / Iranian souk was off limits to most Americans, considered a very traditional place, and a dangerous place for a casual visitor.
Of course I went! I have found that if you dress modestly and behave respectably, you have little to worry about in Qatar, or Kuwait, or even Saudi Arabia. People are gracious and kind, and you find the most interesting things – tools for the old coffee roasting braziers, old weavings, old pieces of hand crafted silver . . . you just have to take your time and look.
My favorite booth in the old Doha souks was the man who hand embroidered the men’s bisht, and who pounded the silver flat with a leather covered hammer. I loved the colorful scribe’s booths – sadly, now missing, in the interest of a much larger parking lot for the souks.
Oh! The changes!
They have totally updated the souks – put in reliable electricity and running water, and did not raise the rents for the merchants. Painted everything, gave it a historically accurate facade, put covers over the walking paths made of the old beams and palm branches to shield shoppers from the heat.
But the most amazing change of all is the nightlife. The square where the hardware merchants used to vend their nails and chains and locks, where the shoemakers would mend and polish your shoes is gone, and in it’s place are multiple restaurants and cafes, interspersed with antique shops, specialty shops: people who carve miniature dhows and sailing ships, a shop for sharp edged swords and khanjars, a shop specializing in custom made eqals (the black band that holds the gutra on the head; Qatteris have long tassles coming from the eqal down the back), a couple places for smoking the narghila, and assorted souvenir shops.
Restaurants! Bright twinkling lights! The smell of roasted meats and fresh fruit drinks! Places to sit out in the courtyard, the sounds of laughter . . . Doha has a nightlife!