On New Year’s Eve 2010 I traveled from where I was living Sharjah, UAE to the enchanting location of Doha, Qatar. I stayed until the next day, getting to experience New Year’s Eve in Qatar.
A city of one million, Doha is the capital of the emirate of Qatar, an extremely wealthy desert land in the Persian Gulf. Like other countries in this region, Qatar has a long history of pearling and a shorter history of oil and natural gas drilling to keep the money flowing in.
Doha is a very quiet city, the local people possessing the dignified and refined spirit common amongst the natives of the Gulf states. New Year’s Eve was not party time like it is in other countries. Although it had its moments, the holiday was mostly quite sedate.
Qatar was really off the beaten path in 2010, and the tourism infrastructure was basically nonexistent. The city had several hotels but no trips into the desert or sightseeing tours that are offered now. Doha was a small city, though, and pretty easy to get around by foot, bus and taxi.
After I flew to Doha and checked into my hotel the morning of New Year’s Eve day, I strolled over to Souq Waqif. This was at the time – and probably still is – one of Doha’s biggest draws.
Souqs, or outdoor marketplaces in the Arab world, are colorful and fascinating places. Most are pretty chaotic and intense, such as the souqs of Jerusalem and Cairo. In the Gulf, though, the atmosphere of the souqs is calm and quiet, like the behavior of the people.
Souq Waqif may have been subdued, but it was richly exotic. Walking amongst its vibrant colors and gazing at its bejeweled goods was a completely fascinating way to spend New Year’s Eve day.
One of the sights in Souq Waqif which really struck me because I haven’t seen this in any other souq in the Middle East were the animals. Birds of yellow, green and blue chirped loudly next to tiny, scared rabbits.
These little rabbits sat there calmly, with none of the playfulness of babies, leading me to think these must be the smallest full-grown rabbits on earth. A man who seemed very sad was minding the birds. I’ve never forgotten how he looked.
Videos speak louder than words. Here is what is probably the only video in the world of Souq Waqif in Doha, Qatar on New Year’s Eve day 2010. It’s one minute long and captures exactly the spirit of the souq on that day.