Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Walking places

It appears my last post created a small flutter of activity as my comments regarding Doha becoming a city was noted on dohanews. One of the comments from the website caught my interest:

“Where do you live so you can walk places? I'm curious & envious.”

I live in the older parts of the city, in the labyrinths of apartment buildings where narrow roads are clogged with parked cars, faintly-lit cheap restaurants, corner stores, smoky shisha cafes and 15-riyal barbers. Neighborhoods like Mansoura, Najma, and Musherib. Where most Westerners don't live.

When I first arrived in Doha I, like other Westerners, lived in a nice walled compound with manicured lawns and a clubhouse with a pool, tennis court and other facilities. It was out near Salwa road and if I wanted to go out for a walk there was little to see. Strip malls full of furniture stores or neighborhoods of homes and compounds with high walls surrounding them. The only life was the constant traffic on the roads, resulting in long commutes to and from work. Living there certainly was not unpleasant but not very interesting.

Tired of the commute I moved to an apartment in West Bay, thinking that life amongst the skyscrapers would be better.

It wasn't much better. Aside from City Centre Mall there wasn’t much to see except tall skyscrapers surrounded by parking lots. With the exception of people walking in and out of the mall there were few people walking around and little to do in the neighborhood itself. It was sterile.

I decided to move away from glamorous towers and compounds to the older parts of the city. Here there are always people wandering around and while the area is a bit run-down and the stores are not fancy here at least there is life. When a friend helped me move from West Bay and remarked how, for the first time since he’d been in Doha, he saw children playing in the street I knew I had made the right decision to move. The old city is the area with soul.

Turn left and I can visit the tailor for a shirt or the barber for a shave; go straight and I’m at a park, turn right and there's one of many corner stores, or a cheap Indian restaurant where I get some dhosas. Go down an alleyway to get a karak, or maybe further down the street to get a fresh juice. Sit with a coffee and watch as dozens of men gather at the mosque when the call to prayer is announced, or mingle with the throngs of South Asian workers in the streets behind Souq Waqif. Go a little further and you're at the Corniche, or Souq Waqif, or the old souqs near FANAR. Go a bit further and you're at the Museum with its nice new park. No sterile skyscapers and parking lots, no deserted streets lined with walled compounds. Life. I go for a walk everyday around the neighborhood and every time see something different.

Westerners tend to gravitate to the walled compounds of Al Waab or the Lagoon, villas near Landmark or in Gharrafa, or apartments in West Bay or the Pearl. Those places are luxurious, clean, and exude safety, unlike the pockmarked streets, crowded shops, and shabby-looking buildings of the old city. But there's not much to walk around and see in those neighbourhoods. The Pearl is an exception but even then would you consider all the five-star stores and pristine walkways to be a city? More like a resort.

I don't begrudge people for wanting to live in the luxurious areas of town but I won't be moving back. I like it here.


Anonymous said...

Just my kind of living. Don't Pearl etc is living in a plastic bubble.

Tracie said...

This is exactly the kind of neighbourhood we sought out when we lived in Canada. We're definitely missing it. Not sure the areas you mentioned work for commuting to Al-Khor...but we'll definitely take some time to walk those neighbourhoods. Not the same....but will be a refreshing change from 'mall-life'.

Glen McKay said...

Hi Tracie. I suggest the area around Souq Waqif or Al-Nasr (where Doha Clinic and Turkey Central are) for a first-time wander-around. Al-Nasr has some new buildings being constructed in the middle but you can keep walking past them and you'll get to another section with more shops.

Anonymous said...

Glen, I am transplanted Canadian as well - just arrived in fact. I live in the exact area you are referring to - close to Al Jaida (sp.?) Tower and just down/up from Souq Waqif. I especially like the fact that there is life on the streets until late at night - its gritty and alive. I can't say I have seen any children, but feral cats..check!
As for the Pearl, Villagio or such, I am so new here I have only made my first ventures out to the Souq Waqif and Souq Najada. So I cannot compare. I assume they are as you suggest - walled in and manicured. Thanks for the blog and hope to run into you in the area...! PW - Toronto.

Glen McKay said...

Hi PW, welcome to Doha. Yep, feral cats are a given wherever you are in Doha. They do a good job keeping the mice in check though so I'll take cats wandering around any day.

Villagio is a mall. The Pearl is a huge development so is not really "walled-in" like a compound but yes both are very manicured. Some people like to live in luxury. I'm not one of them. Doha is such a safe city that I'm just not bothered being in these not-so-glamorous areas. I still stop by the Pearl once every few months or so just to see how the construction is going.

I go to Souq Waqif frequently so if you see me feel free to say Hi.

Anonymous said...

Just the kind od thing I wanted to live: not being in an aseptic compound or in west bay to live an "expat" life. Unfortunately, after more than a year in a shabby compound where you have to call everyday for something going wrong (electricity, AC etc...) I lost the war and agreed on going in a top compound. As I believe life is not within those walls, I guess it's up to everyone to get out and see the life around, try barbers and karaks here and there... I understand families though who would rather have their children within the safe walls of a compound rather then in streets where cars don't even bother if children are playing or biking around. But I agree on the fact that "compound" life is not real life.

Anonymous said...


Glen McKay said...

No, not really. I live in the old parts of the city but not near there. You're right though, my description could be anywhere in the "old city".