Highlight #5 – The Museum of Islamic Art
The MIA sits on the waterfront promenade close by the Souk Watif. Close by, dhows bob in the midday sun, their owners resting in the shade or lazily covering imperfections with a splash of paint. These boats are mostly for tourist sunset cruises, but at this time of day it’s too hot: torpor has set in. One man asks me if I’d like to take a cruise, but it’s almost an apology. He doesn’t want to go out, not in this sun. He’s visibly relieved when I decline and keep walking. I’m thirsty, and I’m hoping that the museum has a café.
The Museum is a striking building. It’s large, and beautifully designed in square-stone geometry. It peers through towering glass windows over the gulf at Qatar’s modern city. It doesn’t look back to the old town, to Doha’s heritage, to the way Islam organically formed the city. This cannot be a co-incidence.
You approach via a seemingly endless pathway, led by a bubbling, artificial river. By the time I arrive, I’m hot and tired, and probably a little burnt. I want to get out of the sun.
Having passed through the inevitable metal detector and security I head directly for the (mercifully present) café, where I wait an aeon while a single waiter meanders through the service of 6 giggling young ladies. There are drinks and sandwiches available, but all I want is water. At least it’s cool in here.
After an age in line, I’m eventually able to present my tiny bottle sparkling mineral water for purchase. The price, I’m told, is 14 Riyals (about $5 AUD), but I get no change from 15. As this is a religious place, I choose to believe this was unintentional.
Once hydrated, I can look around. Smooth white marble dominates, with suspended walkways and sweeping staircases. It’s gorgeous.
The exhibits are beautifully presented over a number of floors, and includes ancient jewellery, books and pottery. A Mohammed Ali exhibition is also on show. Overall, it is not to be missed.
By now, my feet are sore, and I take the opportunity to return to my hotel in the Souk. This is my last night in Doha, and I’m glad I took the extended stop-over rather than slumming it in the airport. If I had any regrets, it’s that I didn’t get out to the desert. After all, fancy coming to the Middle-East and not seeing sand. Idiot.
That night, I head back into the Souk for dinner. Ideally, I’d like to eat a local meal. I locate a well recommended rooftop restaurant, but the shutters are closed as the wind is too high. On my request, they open up and give me a seat on the balcony, but this wasn’t preferential treatment: they were virtually empty. A large screen TV on the wall blares out the premier league.
They don’t have local specialities, or at least not on this menu. I can eat Indian food, Australian or Brazilian steak. I opt for tandoori, and sure, it’s nice, but I still can’t wash it down with a beer. The muezzin rings out over the darkening city.
As is my usual practice, I’ve selected an early morning flight out of town. One of the magnificent turquoise taxis collects me before sun-up. My driver is an Indian fellow, and garrulous. Where are you from? Do you like cricket? Have you been to India?
More than 88% of workers in Qatar are foreign, with Indians being the largest group – there are about 650,000 Indian workers here. There has been a lot of criticism of Qatar’s employment policy, which has hit the spotlight after the nation won the bid to host the 2022 Football World Cup. The kafala system, as it is known, prevents workers from changing jobs or, indeed, leaving, without a permit, and many have described this as leading to a form of modern-day slavery. My driver expresses no concern, though. He says the country has lots of money, and a good government. He’s happy.
I tell him I haven’t (yet) been to India, but I’ve been to Nepal. He is strangely quiet for a time, then says “Are you angry at me now?”. I’m not quite sure what he means.
$25 later and I’m in the terminal. I doubt I’ll be back in Doha, unless the UN employs me and sends me on a conference tour, but it was definitely worth it.