Cats About Town

In Doha and around Education City, there are these funny cats. They are not pets, and they are not really feral. They are community cats, who eat out of the garbage and are petted by students in equal measure. Tonight I held a crepes dinner, where we traded stories about the local cats. One guest hated this one white cat who used to chase her CMU to the dorm every afternoon, and then sit outside the door of the dorm, trying to sneak in. Apparently, it also stared creepily. Another guest objected, saying she really liked the cat because, late at night, it would walk beside her on her way home, escorting her to the door of her dorm. Last night, a pair of toms pictured, below head-butting, kept a number of people up all night with their caterwauling.

Some of the cats below are from Doha’s Souq Waqif. Its small collection of community cats seemed to be tolerated by the shop keepers (though probably not in the shops) and beloved of limo drivers waiting out the afternoon siesta (1-4pm, when its too hot to do anything and everyone outside slows down or finds a place to nap). Below are some of the kitties about town:

The Souq was incredible. The smell of spices sitting in open boxes, peppers and curries and raising all wafting in the shade felt comfortable, homey. The sounds of the call to prayer was startling at first, but then I recognized the words (I had downloaded podcasts of the Koran last summer to get comfortable with the sound of Classical Arabic). The feel of the bunnies in their too small cadges, the slickness of the shopping-bags every shop handed out for tin bowls and jars of honey alike, the twist of my ankle on the uneven (but still smooth) stone pathways of the souq were involving.

I felt recharged after walking around the souq alone, nothing like how I feel after going to a mall. I do still need to work on bargaining–for example, with the aromatic Yemeni honey I bought, it tasted so good I just took the offered price. Ditto with the camel wool I bought for my drop spindle (a treasure from my last trip here). The only place I tried to bargain I stopped as soon as I processed that the shop owner;s opening bid had been 2/3s of the written price; I had no interest pushing further.

The souq is one of my favorite places in Doha–like China Town in San Francisco, it is a mix of a Western fantasy of what a souq (or bazaar) is and an actually market-place used by Qataris and other people from the region. Some of it is “disney-fied” but I believe some of it is authentic as well (just like China Town).

I am struggling with whether I should try to document what I love about the souq with photos. On the one hand, I want to represent it fully here. On the other, I really disliked being photographed today by westerners (and some guys who looked like they were from the region) just because I was shopping and in a crowd. It felt invasive and alienating, like by taking photographs they were removing themselves from the souq. I don’t want to leave the experience of the souq to photograph it.

Inspirational Quote:

“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.” – James Michener

2 responses

  1. I so envy you these experiences! Of course. if I were there I would go home with a dozen cats – if any would go with me! Some look like tiger descendants! Can you photograph the foods? in stalls or on table. Do they have those carved dowells which stir up chocolate?
    Love, Baba

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