Previous trips can be accessed by clicking the following links:

Iceland, Finland, Estonia, Russia, Mongolia, China, Thailand, Cambodia and South Korea

Germany, Poland, Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Israel, Jordan and Denmark

Hawaii, Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia, Nepal, India and England

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

11/1: Human Slavery & Stunning Architecture in Doha, Qatar

Located within the oldest part of Doha, the capital of Qatar, were the Mshereib Museums. They had been closed when we saw one of them a couple of days previously so we were curious to tour them this morning. The straightest shot there was walking through the Souk Al Wakif once again, where we stopped briefly at the Art Center there.
The marble floor:
All the detail in the Mona Lisa painting was done in Arabic script!
I wonder how many people could be fed from one of these Ostrich Eggs before they were so cleverly decorated!

Just like the Museum of Islamic Art, visiting the four heritage homes, located between Al-Jasrah and Mshereib, two of Doha’s oldest quarters, was also free of charge. Mshereib Museums was an important part of Qatar’s national history and an integral aspect of the inner city’s regeneration of the old commercial center.
The first home was Radwani House which was built in the 1920s and provided an insight into how family life evolved in Qatar over the years. The room below was the exquisite Reception Area where we were given complementary bottles of water to stave off the heat. It was so comfortable sitting there, I half thought of suggesting to Steven he wander around Radwani House by himself and tell me all about it later!

The ceiling was an attractive feature of this part of the home.

We watched as this very energetic teacher explained the room's items to her group of English-speaking students from one of the city's international schools.
We saw the changes brought about to family life by the discovery of oil and the arrival of electricity. We learned how families were closely connected and how they spent their daily lives before the advent of modern day conveniences.

Excavations carried out by archeologists at Radwani House were the first archeological digs in the center of the city. These excavations produced a number of important finds which provided clues to the daily life during those times.

The complex was comprised of four heritage homes. As we finished seeing one, we were then escorted to the next home by very smartly attired guards. At each home, we were again offered free bottles of water. The Company House was set within a house that was once used as the headquarters of Qatar’s first oil company. 
The possibility of drilling for oil in Qatar had been discussed since the early 1920s. In 1926, the British Anglo-Persian Oil Company sent one of its geologists to Qatar to report whether there might be oil reserves on the peninsula.
In the home's courtyard, we learned that before the nationalization of oil, Qataris worked under British bosses and Indian supervisors as laborers, riggers, drivers, mechanics, carpenters and firefighters, changing positions as requirements altered.
Life wasn't easy for the laborers. One of them described their living conditions as being in a sort of barracks made of mud and stones with 20 or so men in one room and beds made of iron.
We read the interesting stories of men who worked in the fledging oil industry for BP and helped transform Qatar into a modern society. Seeing their photos brought them to life for us as no dry description of their lives would otherwise have done. Hassan joined the Company before the war. He was retained to work here in Company House as a 'boy' and, in 1946, he became a 'coolie' at another site. He taught himself to drive by observing a friend who later became a driver.
Muhammed began work in the Company before the war as a telephonist. Needing to remember only a few numbers and armed with a little English, he worked eight hour days and earned 30 rupees a month. During WW II he did what he could to survive. Muhammed worked in Bahrain's pearling industry and, when the season ended, in the laundry room for the Bahrain Petroleum Company. Later he toiled as a Company watchman and driver before returning to work in Qatar as a driver in the oil industry.
Hussein bin Hussein Jaber but known to all as Bu Abbas was perhaps the Company's best-known employee. He began his working life as an oarsman on a dhow, the Arab boat. Arriving one day in Bahrain, he encountered cars for the first time. Bu Abbas paid 40 ruppes - well over a month's wages - for driving lessons as felt he should learn to drive on land as well as on the sea. 
Bu Abbas started work for the Company driving geologists around the desert in a large truck loaded down with camping gear and provisions before driving the International truck nicknamed the 'silver menace.' The roads were dirt tracks slicked down with oil to make them more passable
The Decades Before Oil: Before the discovery of oil, Qatar was a maritime nation that depended on fishing, trading and hunting for natural pearls as its main sources of revenue. The country was hit hard by the economic recession that followed WW I, the Great Depression and, crucially, the popularity of the cultured pearl which was developed commercially in Japan in the 1930s. On the eve of WW II, Qatar was a country in poverty and with little hope for its future.
Fast forward to the beginning of the 1960s when Qatari authorities worked to achieve their long-term ambition: national control of their oil. Political changes and rapid economic growth in the region secured independence for many of the Gulf's protectorates.
Qatar became an independent state in 1971 and three years later formed the General Petroleum Company. By 1977, it and Shell Qatar Ltd. had both become fully nationalized to become Qatar Petroleum which meant the country's oil and gas were at long last managed by the state. 
We were then escorted to the next building where there was an exhibit called 'Strange Wonders.' The title 'Strange Wonders' was based on a quote on one of the original Qatari oil pioneers who recalled 'we they were seeing so many things of the like of which we had never even imagined. 
Colored tins, pineapples, pears, oranges, all kinds of strange wonders." Just as so much of what many of what the oil pioneers saw was so unusual and strange all those decades ago, we thought the exhibit about a new way of texting called '3 Arabizi' was odd!
In the Mohammed Bin Jassim House, we traveled back in time to appreciate Doha’s history and its unique architectural heritage. The home was built by the son of the founder of modern Qatar and was one of the first to be built in Mshereib which means 'a place of drinking water.'

Its well provided some of the best water in Qatar and formed a focal point for the community. Mshereib developed as a base for tradesmen in the pearling and fishing industries.

Photo of the Souk circa 1940:
Settlers in Mshereib built their homes and neighborhoods in ways that sheltered them from the sun's fierce heat and took advantage of the prevailing winds' cooling effects. They erected them close together to create narrow alleys with plenty of shade. These alleys had the benefit of channeling breezes around the homes.

The earliest known aerial photo of Doha, taken in 1947:
Aerial view of Doha, 1955:
The purpose of the last building, Bin Jelmood House, was to raise awareness of, and play a pivotal role in, the global abolition of human exploitation. A trader nicknamed 'Jelmood' which means 'rock or hard man' lived with his family in this home in the mid 20th century. Among the goods he bought and sold were enslaved people. We traveled back in time to discover how enslavement spread with the march of civilizations over thousands of years.
The home's reception room for visitors!

Enslaved people were integral to the economy of both the Roman Empire and ancient Greece. One in every four Athenians were enslaved at the height of Greece's power between 450 and 300 BC. They were frequently depicted in cultural forms as diverse as funerary stele (stones inscribed with details of the dead), pottery and theatrical comedies.

Slavery in the Arabian region was widely practiced in late antiquity and the pre-Islamic period. Enslaved people came from the eastern Mediterranean, Egypt and Africa. Mecca and Baghdad were leading commercial centers and major slave markets. Indigenous Arab populations were enslaved through warfare and tribal conflicts as were people who committed certain offenses. It was so sad reading that poor families felt they had no recourse other than to sell themselves and their families into slavery. Manumission or the freeing of slaves was rare. 
The Influence of Islam: Islam regulated the institution of slavery by improving the lives of the enslaved through the Qur'an's teachings and sayings, according to the exhibit. 
Sharia or Muslim law contains rules governing slavery but Islam prohibited only the enslavement of Muslims. It allowed capture in war, purchase and birth into slavery as the only methods of enslaving people. 'Islam encouraged humane treatment and the freeing of slaves as an act of piety.'

Early 20th Century Qatari Society: In the early 20th century, Qatar was a tribal sheikdom of just 27,000 people. Tribal membership numbered from 50 to 2,500 and each tribe was associated with a particular region or settlement. Of the 27,000 people living in Qatar, some 6,500 were Africans of whom 4,500 - 1 out of every six - were enslaved. Most African slaves worked in the country's pearling industry.

Modern slavery: Qatar, like every nation, has long since abolished slavery. Yet we all continue to be faced with a global problem. Slavery not only continues in the present day but may also be a greater human tragedy than it has ever been. An estimated 27 million people are victims of modern slavery around the world and almost every country is involved. Most modern slavery takes the form of human trafficking. 

Some shocking facts: The UN Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking estimates that 2.5 million people are in forced labor, including sexual exploitation, at any given time as a result of human trafficking. Human trafficking ranks among the most profitable among international crimes together with illegal drugs and arms trafficking. The estimated global annual profits in industrialized countries are a staggering $3.1 billion.

What was among the most troubling facts was that an estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked each year. In addition, of the 190 nations in the world, 161 have a hand in trafficking as either a source, point of transit or destination for victims. This 9 yearold girl was trafficked with her entire family from one of the poorest states in India and sold to the owner of a brick making factory.
Modern day slavery includes forced labor in sweatshops and factories. This boy was photographed as he searched for rubbish in a river in Thailand.
I found the panel on Consumer Goods particularly riveting. It asked how much do we know about where the things we use come from? Our home, the toys children play with, the cars we drive, the food we eat - all those may well include products made by enslaved people. 

The next panel discussed Mobile phones, products we all have.  By the end of 2011, it was estimated that there were nearly 5 billion mobile phone contracts worldwide. Many of the materials used in smart phones, computers, MP3 players and game consoles come from mines in the eastern Congo using slave labor. These materials are known as 'conflict minerals.' Profits from these mines are often used to buy arms for conflict in the region.
Child camel jockeys: Camel racing is a popular heritage sporting event in Qatar and the other Gulf states. Camel jockeys, usually children, were recruited for their lightness and agility. By the mid 2000s, more than 40,000 children, mostly from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia and India were camel jockeys in the Middle East. 
I wasn't surprised to learn that many of the children sustained major injuries in the races. Since the keeping of underage jockeys was illegal, they recived no medical treatment and suffered prolonged pain. Some of the children died. In 2005, Qatar banned the use of child camel jockeys and replaced them with robot jockeys invented by the Swiss. A newer version was later developed by Qataris.
After reading so much about slavery and human trafficking still happening today, I was numb. I had never expected that so much of what we saw and learned in the last house would be so 'heavy' and thought provoking when we decided to visit Msherieb Museums. I found it illuminating to see how frankly and apparently honestly Qatar's own involvement in their country's slavery was addressed.

We left the Museums at 2 and decided we needed some fresh air and exercise so we walked back toward the Corniche, the 8km-long walkway along Doha’s waterfront. 

City clock with Arabic numerals:

We had walked the part of it before toward the Museum of Islamic Art and decided to walk the other direction today toward the city’s West Bay, the heart of Doha’s business district.
This building was the Ministry of the Interior:
As we passed a number of traditional Arab boating vessels known as dhows, crew members asked us if we wanted to go on a 30 minute boat ride in the bay for $30 but we declined, preferring to walk.
It was very hot walking on the Corniche but the decent breeze, overcast skies and the attractive palm trees made it a very pleasant walk.

We saw a number of exercise stations at regular intervals along the way but didn’t see anyone using them probably because it was so hot. 
There were free phone charging stations at the exercise stations which I thought was a brilliant idea.
All along the Corniche were separate, well tended flower beds of red, white and pink petunias.

The city looked like it was one big construction site.

The massive sign had the days, hours and minutes that had been counted down to the 24th Men’s Handball World Championship held in Doha last year.

As we turned the curve in the Corniche and neared the business district, there was a new sight every few minutes.

We were constantly impressed by the city’s spectacular architecture and skyline.

So many of the buildings were blue to reflect, we thought, the water they faced in the bay.

Qatar Petroleum:

Once we had finally walked all the way over to the West Bay, we were again asked if we wanted a ride back on a dhow. It sounded more appealing then because we were hot and tired but we again declined.
A sheltered Muslim pray area:
I imagined the coffee pot sculpture reflected Qataris' love of coffee.
What an interesting mix of limestone and glass.
I have never considered myself to be an architecture buff before but the sheer number of gloriously different and intriguing buildings in Doha converted me once and for all.
We had thought we would take a bus back to the other side of the bay but we never could figure out where to catch it so we ended up taking a taxi instead. The driver, a fellow from Kerala in south India, told us that were only 300,000 Qataris in Qatar but 550,000 Indian workers in the small nation. Steven and I joked that we must have met a good number of his fellow citizens as every man we met in the stores, museums, etc barring one or two had been from Kerala!
While we had been walking on the Corniche, I remembered the man we encountered at Bahraini passport security a few days ago who wondered what on earth would hold our attention during our three day visit to Qatar. Despite some initial misgivings, Steven and I really enjoyed the great variety of what Doha and the environs offered: a world class Museum of Islamic Art, an intriguing souk, dune riding in the nearby desert, the very interesting (to me at least!) Mshereib Museums and, to top it all off, a relaxing walk along the Corniche with amazing views of Doha Bay.

Posted from Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe on November 23rd, 2016.


  1. When you get to Dubai,stay near the metro,it will only cost you 5 Dirham to get to & from the airport.Tell me about Bahrain,I haven't got there yet.

    1. Renting a car in Dubai. Check out the previous posts on Bahrain. They go into great detail about what we saw and the difficulty getting around. Hope it helps.


We love to hear from you!!!!