Doha: I Have Heard So Much About It. And Here I Am, Standing On Its Ground

-Bea C. Pilotin

Doha, Qatar: In here, I feel safe leaving my phone and wallet in a restaurant. I feel safe from being robbed. I’m safe in this place.

I came with no preconceived notion of the Gulf because I knew nothing about this beautiful and amazing place. And as I stepped out in the plane eleven years ago, I was perplexed seeing so many white robed men, who, I assumed were all angels. Yes, the ‘Angels’ here on earth.

This was what it sounded like.

A high-pitched sound woke me up on my first day in this place. I turned over and buried my face in the pillows and wrapped myself with my blanket but the noise continued. Is it someone singing? My cousin is singing at this hour of the morning? I asked myself. I dragged myself back to consciousness and sat up, yawning. Blurry-eyed, I reached for my bedside lamp. It wasn’t there. Comprehension dawned and I shook my head at my bewilderment. Of course, I wasn’t at home. And that musical wailing that was amplified across the City must be the famous call to prayer.

I have read the muezzins calling the faithful to prayer five times a day from the Mosques, and now I was hearing it for the first time. A little tingle of excitement ran up to my spine. Who would have thought that I, timid and unadventurous woman, was lying in a bed, in an Arab Country, thousands miles away from home, listening to the famous call to prayer? I laid back against my pillow and immersed myself to that beautiful sound. All over the Islamic world, no matter where they were or what they were doing, practicing Muslims would face towards Mecca and behind to pray. It’s a bit like the Angelus bell but it’s nothing as exotic as the muezzin’s amplified call.

I got my first look at the City in the daylight. Brilliant sunshine and the bluest of blue skies greeted me. Across the street, men in white thobes stood chatting outside a stall. Traffic whizzed up and down the road further along. As I stood squinting in the bright sunlight, a blast of hot air hit me and inhaled the scents of aromas of the flowering shrubs and the aromas of coffee and spices that were wafted along on the warm breeze.

I sat on the balcony, holding a copy of Gulf Times, one of the Qatar’s English Newspapers. It was a lively newspaper that covered world affairs as well as the neighboring Qatar and the Gulf area. A section in the information guide showed maps of the Gulf giving the weather forecast in the area and I was fascinated to see a little diagram giving details of rising sand as well as wave height in feet. I wondered if I would ever see a sandstorm. After all, Qatar was built out of the desert. The temperatures were in the high eighties and if the high eighties was winter weather, God knows what the temperatures would be in high summer. Then I noticed a little column that gave the times of prayers. I have learned that the prayer that I just had heard in the early hours was called, ‘Faj’r’ and that very soon, I would hear the call for ‘Dhuhur,’ the midday prayer. Then there would be, ‘Asr’ the afternoon prayer, Maghrib and then at about ten-past seven, the ‘Isha’ and it was the last prayer of the day.

The time had come to spread my wings, I went outside because I was dying to see the first glimpse of this Islamic City with its magnificent mosques and high-storeyed towers, its palaces, the Souqs and the beautiful flowered-filled parks. With mounting excitement, I watched white-robed men converge upon the nearby big mosque.

On the streets, the traffic was fast and frenzied and I was totally intimidated by the horn-honking taxi drivers, the huge and beautiful BMW and Range Rovers. The roads themselves were narrow and the shrubbery and greenery took my breath away, the roundabouts were spectacular with their display of flowers and emerald grass.

On my way, I saw one robed man with neatly trimmed beard staring straight ahead. “Is he a Sheikh?” I mumbled, was intrigued. Well, what I knew was that, only a member of royal family was entitled to be called a sheikh. In Saudi they’re called Prince. I noticed that women were very traditional, covered from head to toe. There were lots of misconceptions about Arab women. They’re not the downtrodden type the West thought they were. Arab women have a great power in their own homes and in their community. Their veils gave them privacy. I saw Indian and Pakistani women in their colorful saris seemed to glide in and out. And the Arab women in their black abayas looked so mysterious, beautiful and exotic.

Middle Eastern hospitality was hailed the world over and the Qataris were no exception. True to their Bedouin heritage, I was overwhelmed by the genuineness and the scale of hospitality that’s proffered in Qatar. As one of the expats with a curious soul, the sights and experiences gladdened my heart- from culture to shopping and dining. It offered a variety that genuinely satisfying and memories I would always treasure.

The City looked so incredibly amazing. I knew of course, that the City was built on an Island. Yes, I read that. It’s amazing. I was drank in the sight of the high-towered city gleaming in the sun, as the water on the Corniche glittered green and turquoise on all sides.

“Doha,” I whispered once again to myself. It sounded so exotic. I have heard so much about it. And here I am, standing on its ground.

She’s a Qatar-based Filipino Author and Mogul-New York Influencer. Born in the Philippines. Studied at St. Paul University and at STI-College