Ethiopians fans in Doha

Ethiopian Expats in Doha (Pic du Jour)

‘Community’ is the prompt for this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge. I immediately thought of expats and the communities they create when forced, by choice or circumstance, to live far from home. And that led to this shot of part of the Ethiopian expat community in Doha, Qatar, who gather each May to cheer on their nation’s runners at the annual Diamond League track & field meet.

The jobs that bring them there vary wildly, but for the many who work in the construction trade or as domestic workers, their experience isn’t pleasant. Here, those troubles are set aside and forgotten, for at least for a few hours.

Photo snapped in Doha, Qatar, 14-May-2010
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Vidblog – May 2011

Since June’s already half over, it was time to finally finish up this vidblog for May, the first of what I hope will be a monthly look back and some people, places and things.

This is mainly odds and ends and pieces and parts – some video, time lapses, and photo motions – shot in Doha, Qatar, Hengelo, The Netherlands, Ostrava, Czech Republic, a few airports, and in and around Ljubljana, Slovenia, in May 2011.

Mister S
by Tortue Super Sonic music/ Tortue_Super_Sonic/

CC / Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 France License

Doha West Bay quickie

No, not quite exciting as the title implies.

Before it slips even further from memory, here’s one last bit from a four-day trip to Doha earlier this month. I blogged briefly about Doha’s West Bay at roughly this time last year; the changes over the past 12 months have been quite remarkable as this city continues to reinvent and reconstruct itself. A friend’s observation is probably the best way to describe – somewhat insane and beautiful at the same time.

A few other recent pieces from Doha: quick tours of the Souq Waqif (a MUST visit) and the studios of Al Jazeera. Previous posts from Doha are here, and you can check out a few dozen pics on my flickr stream here.

Doha’s Souq Waqif, a quick stop

Here’s another brief bit from Doha, a few scenes shot from the hip at the Souq Waqif last weekend.

It’s a lively place in the mornings and evenings – particularly the latter – where locals and visitors come to shop, browse, and socialize. It’s undergone an immense transformation over the past few years, redeveloped in an attempt to keep some of its authentic charm – there’s been a souq here for centuries – but adding a bit of upscale panache to match the transformation of Doha as a whole. Those sorts of reinventions generally don’t work, but it does here, remarkably well. Said our taxi driver, an immigrant from India who’s been in Doha for five years: “It used to be for everyone. Now it’s only for rich people.”

Maybe so, but it certainly beats the monstrous malls recently built in Doha, and is an must-visit if you’re spending more than a day in town. I’ve been here three times in the past 15 months, and it’s a joy to explore. Virtually anything can be found there, from local traditional garb and beautiful embroideries and perfumes, to food, spices, musical instruments, and pre-colonial antiques. Look for the pink dyed rabbits in the pet shop alleyways and be sure to find the falcon market. The shop and stall keepers are laid back, not in the least bit pushy, and do accept and expect some bargaining.

There are also several very good options for a meal that won’t break the bank, generally from $8-15 for a main dish. Or simply hang out with a coffee or some tea, enjoy an apple or grape shisha and watch time pleasantly pass by. Don’t waste your looking for anything stiffer than a Red Bull because you won’t find it. And don’t come in the afternoon because most of it’s closed.

Some useful links: [Qatar Visitor] [wiki] [Lonely Planet]

The song in the video is You never know where you`ll wake up by _ghost / CC BY-NC 2.5

Quick tour of Al Jazeera

I was invited on a tour of the Al Jazeera studios while in Doha last week, and snapped away as much as I could without being too much of a nuisance. The result is this short and somewhat disjointed tour of my own.

Soon after its launch in 1996, the network quickly and dramatically changed the television news voice of the Middle East and Arab world, giving people in the region an option other than their own state-run and censored news outlets. Ever since, and over the past six months in particular as popular uprisings swept through the region, it has made plenty of enemies in its immediate neighborhood. Simply stated, Al Jazeera’s coverage of those uprisings has been the best that any news organization in the world has provided.

In 2006 its English-language service, Al Jazeera English, was launched, and today has an estimated reach of 100 million households, with broadcast centers, in addition to its main base in Doha, in London, Kuala Lumpur, and Washington DC. It’s available virtually everywhere on the planet, except for the USA.

In the early part of the decade the Bush administration was openly hostile towards the network, going so far as spreading the farcical notion that it was an arm of al Qaeda. In 2001 its office in Kabul was hit and destroyed in a US missile attack. In 2003 its office in Baghdad was also hit by a US missile, killing reporter Tareq Ayyoub and wounding another, even though Al Jazeera provided the US State Department with the coordinates of its bureau six weeks earlier. In late November 2005, the UK’s The Daily Mirror published details from a leaked memo saying that Bush had considered bombing Al Jazeera’s Doha headquarters in 2004 with Marines were in the midst on an assault on Fallujah. Tony Blair supposedly talked him out of it. [Wiki story on the memo is here.]

The Bush era characterization is not the official view anymore, but major cable players –Comcast in particular– are still resistant to the idea of adding the Al Jazeera option to their US markets, and robbing US viewers of the best coverage of and from the Middle East. The network’s mounted a PR campaign to expand its presence in the US – details are here.

Al Jazeera is hardly perfect (show me a media outlet that is). They’ve made some big mistakes, and acknowledged them. It’s still largely funded by the Qatari government, which officially carries a ‘hands off’ approach, although you’ll be hard-pressed to find any real hard-hitting reportage on Qatari affairs. But in just half a decade, it’s managed to put a more genuine face on the Arab world, give a voice to the people there, and provide a much more accurate portrayal of the region. That’s something that was long overdue.

– –

The music in the video/slide show is Funky Intermission (Version Three) by Coruscate.

60 minutes in West Bay, Doha

A quick midday stroll through Doha’s West Bay zone, one of the most rapidly-expanding areas in the world. Most of this futuristic skyline didn’t exist five or six years ago. It likely won’t be recognizable five or six years from now. West Bay is the international vision Doha, and by extension, Qatar, is showing to the world. To call it a present-day city in the making is an understatement. I had a hard time finding its heart. It’s even more difficult to find its soul.

The heat index was 41 ºC, or 105.8 ºF. Which is probably why I didn’t encounter too many people going for similar strolls at one in the afternoon. The lack of sidewalks didn’t help, either. With the exception of the popular corniche, pedestrian-friendly it’s not. About two hours later a thick haze enveloped the entire city, considerably thicker than the one that typically blankets the area. It reminded me –and others– of Beijing.

Foreign laborers do the construction. By many accounts and reports they’re paid about $200/month. [Here's a brief letter written by one, an Indian who's found himself stuck doing the rounds in Gulf state construction.]

Qatar has the highest GDP per capita in the Arab world, and the third highest in the world, according to the World Bank. It sits on 14% of the world’s total known natural gas reserves. It’s also home to the highest per-capita carbon dioxide emission levels, a staggering 55.5 metric tons per person. That’s almost double the No. 2, Kuwait, and three times that of the US. Carbon footprints don’t figure largely into the picture.

More pics from the 60-minute stroll here. More pics from Doha here.

In transit, Riyadh

Lufthansa 0620 from Frankfurt to Doha stops in Riyadh in late evening. It’s when most of the passengers end their journey.

The last drink service is about an hour before landing. Some thirty minutes after that flight attendants roll their carts down the aisles to collect all alcoholic beverages, whether the passenger nursing the drink is deplaning or not. We’re reminded that booze is strictly forbidden in the Saudi Kingdom. Even on planes that sit on runways for about forty minutes.

A few rows ahead of me, a woman dressed in jeans and a Gap sweatshirt gets up to go to the restroom after surrendering her half-finished glass of red wine. She returns a few minutes later wearing a dark, long, flowing abaya with an equally stylish shayla wrapped around and fully concealing her long black hair.

On the return midnight flight, I was already dozing as we approached the Saudi capital, just thirty minutes after leaving Doha. An attendant nudged me gently and pointed to the seatback pocket in front of me.

“Are there any pictures of women in lingerie or bathing suits in there?”

I had no idea what she was talking about and don’t recall ever being asked such a question.

She pointed again, but this time poked a finger at my mangled copy of the Herald Tribune. Those too, she told me, are forbidden in the Kingdom. Even in transit.

I honestly can’t answer. “I don’t think so, but I don’t really know.”

She took the newspaper and stowed in the overhead compartment.

“Just in case,” she said. “You can read it later.”

redhead 03, originally uploaded by pirano.