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Big, Black, and Nappy in the Persian Gulf Part II: Gulf Culture

8 August 2008 8 Comments

Did I say culture? Of course you know that meant the weird and wonderful things I saw while spending almost a month in Doha, Qatar, right? In case you missed it, this is a follow-up to “Addressing Some Myths”.

When I travel, I like to think of myself as a real-life version of Miss Pacman chomping her way through whatever region I’m lucky enough to explore. The Persian Gulf was no exception, and as a result I’ll be wearing a lot of vertical stripes this summer if you catch my drift. I tried both Iraqi and Saudi food for the first time and made off with enough saffron and Arabic Coffee to open my own cafe. I fell in love with a Qatari dish called mathrooba, a rice, vegetables, and chicken porridge that I’ve since tried to recreate twice, failing both times. My hotel served international fare, so when I saw “Philly Cheesesteak” on the menu I simply had to try it to get a taste of home. This is what I got:

Yes, that is cream cheese, barbecue sauce, and hunks of meat on a sesame seed roll. All of my Philly people know that calling this a Philly cheesesteak is sheer blasphemy.

Doha has two major shopping areas that together exemplify the traditional yet modern feeling of The Gulf. The first, Old Souq Waqif, is a maze of dusty buildings with clay walls and hundreds of shops selling any and everything. The Souq also has a bunch of very popular shisha cafes (pictured above) – no they’re not smoking that “good stuff,” just flavored tobacco. I ended up spending so much time shopping in the souq that people started to know who I was and I made a few random friends. One was the owner of a shop who didn’t speak much English but could tell that I had a good sense of humor, so he gathered all of the objectionable products in his store onto one shelf so that I could take this photo:

“Virginity Soap,” was the one he threw in just as he started asking me questions about how to get a U.S. Green Card. I told him what I always tell ’em: I don’t know nothin’ about no paperwork, man…

This sign in the souq, when read aloud, is not safe for work in English but roughly means “Tobacco Palace,” in Arabic.

For a more modern experience, Doha’s City Center is one of the hugest malls you’ll ever see. Boasting five stories with hundreds of shops, an ice skating rink, and arcade, this place had my feet throbbing trying to catch a good deal. They had all of the normal stores we have and then some. There were also a whole lot of Pakistanis and Filipinos in there buying cheap clothing with poorly interpreted little English phrases on them from Carrefour, which is kind of like Walmart. For example:

The worst of all was this nightgown. In fact, I promise $100 to anyone who can convincingly tell me what this is supposed to say, because I still have no clue.


As much as I’d love to give away that $100, if no one answers by the time I post the final installment of this series, “So Are There Black People Out There?” the contest will be closed. Stay tuned!

8 Comments »

  • Qucifer said:

    ROTFLMBAO @ the “objectionable products and the engrish translations… cause I know is not Japan or China But this shit is STRAIGHT UP ENGRISH

  • Ginneh Akbar said:

    I think haram would be the appopriate word for that cheesesteak.

  • Kellybelle said:

    Awesome. I want to travel to the Middle East so bad, but I’m scurred.

  • Invisible Woman said:

    WTF is Virginity Soap?!

  • Kyle said:

    Foreign (i.e., non-Philly) cheesesteaks amuse me, too. I always order them, knowing I’ll be disappointed. West of the Susquehanna, they tend to throw green peppers on there. Sometimes tasty, but decidedly inauthentic.

  • Ehav Ever said:

    Hey Thembi,

    Great account. It is so interesting how different and at the same time similar things are in the various countries here in the Middle East. I love your accounts. Keep them coming.

    Hey IW, more than likely the soup is supposed to make one feel just as it sounds. Or someone may actually believe that it can turn back the clock so to speak. ha ha

  • Anonymous said:

    “Do you want to wear pink lace?”

  • dewfish said:

    I want that “Basecut Ball….COUCH!!!!” T shirt. that would be cool.

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