Today’s Flaneuring post comes from Qatar, by Betsy Riley. I’ve only been in the Qatar airport but have heard the country is comparable to Djibouti regarding the heat so I feel an affinity with Betsy. Plus, she wears Asics. Me too. And, I got my “Bake Chocolate Chip Cookies in Your Car” recipe from a blog out of Qatar, so yeah, the heat is real.
My foot falls heavy on asphalt, stirring up a sand drift trying to form along the walking path’s edge. Even in this city of concrete block villas, latticework aluminum skyscrapers, and roundabouts bursting with color-coordinated petunias, the desert refuses to be brushed aside.
That rubble and dust haunts at the edge, it slips in poorly constructed windowpanes and scurries under doorjambs. Street sweepers help the onslaught – once I witnessed a backhoe removing sand by the bucketful from a road – but in the end one must resign herself to this fact: There will be sand in my pockets.
I hesitate to walk for leisure in my part of the city. What our corner of Doha lacks in sidewalks, it makes up for in sewer excavation projects. For that reason, I have driven five minutes up the road to a designated exercise path. Away from the popcorn man, burnt caramel and salt steaming from his open stall. Beyond the sprawling schoolyards, their whitewashed walls towering above me. Past Arabic signs directing the way to funerals and weddings, the two times in a man’s life a tent is erected in his honor.
Having parked my car, I head eastward, my back to our village within the metropolis. A skeleton of one such wedding tent gapes open at my right. Gold-gilded chairs are stacked in a jumble; hastily rolled red carpets are heaped outside the enormous metal frame. I imagine the men who gathered there last weekend, the coffee that was poured and poured and poured again, the sheikhs who sat in honor, the succulent lamb meat falling off the bone and scooped up by the right hands of guests.
I step out of my daydream and finally face the desert, that friend I sometimes mistake as foe. There is a light breeze; dust drapes like gauze over the sun. I smell nothing. No familiar agarwood incense hanging heavy, no simmering stews spiced with cardamom and cinnamon escaping from outdoor kitchens. The smell is neither foul nor pleasant. It smells of what we came from.
Shrubs dotting the horizon appeared shriveled and dying at a distance, but when I stop now to finger them they are robust, all hardy leaves feathering along a spine in chaotic patterns. These bushes are the fit ones who have survived this harshest of climates. They are the heroes here, in their faded, heat-ready clothing.
The path broadens and divides into two: a stretch of rubber pavement on one side, a bicycle path on the other. A man in exercise clothes met me earlier with an awkward nod. Two expats cycle past without acknowledging me. Though I strain to guess nationalities from their banter, a truck of potable water rumbles by and ruins my fun.
It is just me now, my Asics padding on this path paved with old rubber tires. I hear my own heavy breathing. A prop plane arcs overhead. A loud diesel engine guns up the incline every minute or two. Otherwise, silence. My heart rate quickens. My senses settle in to enjoy the company of the desert.
Betsy Riley lives and works in Doha, Qatar, her home of five years which she affectionately calls “the land of sheikhs, shisha and shish tawouk.”