I hope you don’t mind me asking?

After discovering that we can’t hire a car while our residents visa’s are being processed we decided to try another option to get out and about. Today we hired a car with a driver and hit the town. Our driver was a man of very few words who had moved to Qatar from Sri lanka 2 years ago. He spoke the international language of Cricket but apart from that it was a pretty monosyllabic trip.

First stop was a trip to our next home. The children and I have been busting to see our future compound. G and I are still unsure on how we will cope with compound life, we chose NOT to live on a compound in Libya but when it comes to Doha, it’s a compound or a compound, we chose a compound. The children on the other hand speak about compound life with a dreamy far off distant look in their eyes. They love the idea of a “communal” pool and playground and being able to ride their bikes door to door. Security is incredibly tight at the compound gate so no chance of getting in but we did manage to have a glimpse of the playground and pool area. The children gave it a big thumbs up and I was pleasantly surprised, as far as compounds go, it looks pretty good.

Then it was off for two completely different shopping experiences. The first experience was “The Mall” which was scary. Scarily familiar. Marks and Spencer to the left, Starbucks straight ahead, Zara, H&M and a Boots pharmacy to the right. At the back of the mall a food hall that looks like all other food halls. The Mall was a mix of Qataris and Expats. It all felt very safe and very familiar. I imagine after you have been here for awhile it would be a good escape for cup of coffee and a bit of a shopping fix but having just arrived from the US it all felt a bit to close to home. I wanted to go to the Souk.

Souk Waqif is situated in the old city. We arrived at about 8pm and the place was pumping. The car park was overflowing with a mix of vehicles, small overloaded sedans with children sitting on the laps of adults (that was us), and large SUV’s or Landcruisers with families or single people on a night out.

We started off in the “Old” souk. Not only was there so much to see, there was so much to smell. With a mixture of coffee and spices the smell was fantastic. As I stood in the shopfront of yet another spice store with a very confused look on my face a very friendly local woman approached me. In broken English she began to explain what I was looking at, she was getting frustrated at her lack of English but it was a LOT better than my Arabic. One of the spices, she explained was to burn at your front door, it not only made your house smell fabulous, it also banished evil spirits. In her words “the smell is good and how you say hmmmm Casper, Casper no more”. The Old souk is full of older men sitting on cushions in small shop fronts smoking Shisha pipes. You could buy anything from traditional clothing, scribes, spices, food and maybe even a Falcon. The bird not the car. The children were very taken with the bunny, bird and kitten section of the Souk. The bunnies were white and fluffy and everyone had a hold. There was the familiar “can we, can we” whine with the even more familiar low voiced “NO” from the parents.

The new Souk is a representation of the new Qatar. It’s designed for tourist but there are plenty of young hip Qatari men and women. I loved the contrast of the young men with a Shisha pipe in one hand and a Blackberry in the other. Tables full of women all in their Abayah, smoking the Shisha and enjoying a meal. There were so many restaurants and so much to see. Number 1 and 2 think of themselves as budding photographers and took their cameras. We had talked to them about being careful with their pictures, I remember taking a photo of an older woman in Libya and being hissed at and realizing I had just done something incredibly offensive. A young Qatari woman noticed number 1 taking a picture and asked if she could take a picture of 1 taking a photo of something else. “Sure” said 1 with a nervous giggle. After she had taken her picture 1 whispered in my ear “Can I take a picture of her taking a photo?” I thought about it for a split second and decided if we asked nicely it surely wouldn’t be that offensive? We were declined and it was a little uncomfortable. I think the young woman felt terrible that she couldn’t oblige and number 1’s cheeks immediately turned crimson, for a brief moment I thought she may cry. We all smiled and were very apologetic for asking but 1 was embarrassed. As we wandered off both feeling a little dejected I said “you didn’t do anything wrong, you asked politely, you were declined, you did it all the right way… don’t ever stop asking people when you’re not sure”. 1 immediately smiled and said “you’re right, you can only ask, Mummy, can we have a bunny?”

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