Friday, January 05, 2007

Greetings from Qatar

PH, StrongOpinions and I arrived here late last night. We flew separately (the vagaries of arranging flights at different times, with some coverage by frequent flyer miles, some by a grant from the Seminary, some by Mibi's American Express card. The flights were uneventful, although it is a bit disconcerting knowing one is getting here by flying directly over Baghdad. L and I caught a taxi home to their place, while C waited for PH and StrongOpinions, whose flight from Frankfurt was an hour later than ours.

Since last year, Qatar has hosted the Asian Games, and the amount of new construction for that event, as well as ongoing new construction, is staggering. Towers and construction cranes everywhere you look. We were shocked by surprisingly cold weather - the coldest in memory - and since houses aren't fitted with heating systems, it made for a rather cold night last night. I only brought one fleece top with me, and I'm wishing I'd brought more sweaters.

One sign of the cold weather is the garb of the men, who, instead of wearing their traditional crisp white thobes, are wearing winter-weight grey or brown ones. The women, as always, are head-to-toe in black hijab. Some of the women's robes (called abeyas) are dressed up with sequins and stones in patterns. I saw several butterfly patterns and some gorgeous embroidered flowers. Another variation is in the face scarves (niqab). Some women wear none, some wear a soft black cloth that hooks across and covers the nose and lower half of the face, some wear scarves that merely have slits to see out of, some have an odd metal piece that attaches to the scarf and covers the nose and mouth.

Going to the supermarket is another cultural shift: in addition to chocolate and almond croissants, you can buy savory ones dusted with zaatar, the spice mix of sumac and sesame and oregano and other good things. American foods are in the foreign foods section. In the produce department, okra is labeled as "lady fingers." There are no pork products.

We dined at a favorite Middle Eastern restaurant, Turkey Central. No, there were no turkey dishes; the original owners were from Turkey. Freshly baked lavash and pita bread. Hummus, tabbouleh, baba ganoush, grilled meats, freshly squeezed fruit juices. We had a friendly argument with our waiter over whether to order the 30 rial or 40 rial mezze platter. He won. He was right. The mid-size platter was more than enough.

Then, on to the souqs. These traditional storefront markets were restored in recent years. Walking through them is like going back 2000 years, except for the stores that have small appliances in them. The spice markets are the most wonderful, with open bins of fragrant cinnamon and cardamon and pepper and cumin. I could just sit and take in the aroma for hours.
We got some honey at a store that had different honeys from Ethiopia, Yemen, Oman and Qatar. Pricey but good. We'll see if we can get them through in our checked luggage.

StrongOpinions is feeling jet-lagged and homesick. I'm hoping she'll perk up a bit tomorrow. We're all a bit tired. Eight hours time difference is a challenge.

Because the Muslim weekend is Friday and Saturday, we had church this morning at the english Speaking School. Around 100 attendees from a broad variety of nationalities. A lovely liturgy crafted from elements of the CofE "Our Common Worship" but tweaked to have more biblical references and some features of liturgical traditions of the various nationalities of the people who attend. I'll be meeting with a number of the members as part of my research. I've got meetings tomorrow with Father Ian about my work here - today in church he said something about preaching - oh my!

More to come, hopefully with some pictures. Salaam aleikum!


Cathy said...

I look forward to seeing your pictures. Keep warm and keep enjoying the sights sounds and smells of another culture!

Laura said...

Now that I'm catching up on your travels, I have to say - LOVE your descriptions of the souq. I just love walking through those chaotic, fragrant, and equally oddly serene places. Can't wait to check out Turkey Central when we're there. (I'm making note of your favs!)