Friday Morning Cruise through Doha

Friday, for Muslims, is a special prayer day, for this is the day of the Jumu’ah prayer, or the congregational prayer, typically held around noon. In Doha, government offices are closed on this day, and most of the shops will shut down from around 11am to 1pm to allow Muslims to gather for this commitment. Some mosques are so full at this time that men will have to unroll their prayer rugs and pray on the streets outside a place of worship. Around the time of the Jumu’ah prayer, Friday is also when the main roads in Doha are at their most serene, like the barren desert landscape that comprises most of Qatar and is devoid of activity while the sun glares from its perch.

For me, Friday is my long run day. I find it best to take care of this compulsion first thing in the morning before I am alert enough to talk myself out of it. Rousing anywhere from 6-8am, I immediately don my running attire, put in my headphones, cue up my Spotify workout playlist, and then ride an elevator down to the floor of the gym. 50+ minutes later my run is done, and the rest of my day is free.

This past Friday, after running, a restlessness came over me. Maybe I was a little stir crazy from the lack of daytime activities due to Ramadan, maybe I was burnt out from the spring semester and my first academic year at Qatar University, maybe I needed to reconnect with friends and family back in the US that I haven’t seen for 10 months; regardless, I felt like getting out of my apartment and decided to go for a cruise through the empty roads of Doha. So, I donned some clean clothing, plugged my phone into the auxiliary port of my car stereo, cued up my Spotify driving playlist, and drove my Dodge Challenger away from Lusail City.

Bad luck to talk on these rides/ Mind on the road/ Your dilated eyes watch the clouds float/ White Ferrari/ Had a good time/ 16: how was I supposed to know anything?–“White Ferrari” Frank Ocean

From my building, it is only a few blocks to the entrance ramp of the Lusail Expressway, which runs from Lusail City (where I live) to West Bay (where most of the skyscrapers are located and Al Corniche begins). The expressway was relatively empty; I had my pick of all four lanes. The engine of the Challenger roared, and before I knew it, I was up to 120 km/hour (the posted speed limit is 80 km/hour). The car was made to accelerate (I believe, 0 to 60 km/hour in about 6 seconds), and without any other cars on the road, I was without any points of references to gauge how fast I was going. All I knew was that it felt good to tear down the road.

I headed south on the expressway and crossed over the canal separating Lusail City from the neighboring Pearl. Only about one quarter of Lusail City is finished, so if I tried to drive north on the expressway, I would soon encounter a U-turn that would shoot me back the way that I came. Much of the roads, near where I live, were recently finished and are so new, in fact, if you look on Google Maps, you will not see any trace of them—according to Maps, I was driving over an invisible bridge.

As I crossed the canal, the first buildings that I encountered were the Mondrian hotel and the Lagoona Mall. The Mondrian is a boutique hotel with a distinct design. I was told that it was designed to resemble a falcon resting in a nest. The Lagoona Mall is a luxury mall, but I think of it as my neighborhood mall. I run there when I need to buy water or basic produce from the Carrefour. Jutting out of top of the Lagoona Mall are two zigzag towers, which serve as high rise apartments. At a dinner party, I met an American woman who lives in one of the apartments. She complained to me about the noise that jet skis make as they race up and down the canal beneath the towers.

After passing the Mondrian and the Lagoon Mall, there is a straight stretch on the Lusail Expressway, but in the distance are the Al Wahda Arches. During the day, they are like two blank rainbows that intersect in the sky, but at night, they are illuminated pink and purple. However, unlike actual rainbows, you can approach the arches, growing and towering alongside the overpass that turns towards the West Bay. When I first arrived in Doha, there was still scaffolding on the arches. I would see molten sparks drip down from them at night as welders were finishing work on the structure.

Sad hopes I’d hidden under/ Tangled inside of me/ You spoke like broken thunder/ Deep into the center of me. –“Thunderclatter” Wild Cub

Passing by the Al Wahda Arches, I turned towards West Bay, the most prominent district in Doha. Here there are a dense collection of skyscrapers, businesses, hotels, restaurants, and embassies. In the West Bay, I feel like I am driving underneath mingling giants as the buildings loom above me. My driving slowed down by the stoplights and turns that I had to anticipate in order to weave a path out of the West Bay and towards Al Corniche.

I eventually made my way out of the city center of West Bay and towards the Sheraton Grand Doha Resort which sits prominently alongside the ocean and resembles a posh ziggurat. Built in 1979, it is the oldest building in the West Bay, and one of the oldest buildings in modern Doha. I also consider the Sheraton one of the endpoints of Al Corniche—either the start or the finish, depending on which direction I am headed. That particular morning, the Sheraton was at the start of Al Corniche.

Al Corniche is the street that runs along the ocean. There is a promenade where people walk, run, or stroll. Dhows are moored along the length of the corniche. Like much of the life in Qatar, during the day, the boats rest, but at night, they come alive and light up like bioluminescent sea creatures, luring tourists on rides with their neon performance.

Unh, look/ I’m a real rare individual/ I’m in the physical and the metaphysical (yeah)/ I know you need your alone time, that’s critical/ But I need some of your time, is that hypocritical?–Big Sean verse from “Alone (Remix)” Halsey

After driving for about 6 km along Al Corniche, I reached the Museum of Islamic Art. The museum sits on an artificial island in the harbor like a cubist woman wearing a niqab. Two almond sliver eyes stare towards the heart of old Doha. The MIA was designed by I.M. Pei who was 91 and supposedly retired at the time, but he was coaxed out of retirement by the persuasive Qatari royalty that allowed him to build the museum that he wanted to build.

Across from the MIA, the Spiral Mosque of the Fanar, Qatar Islamic Cultural Center pushes into the sky like a screw twisting into the heavens. Neighboring the Spiral Mosque is Souq Waqif, arguably the pulsing social heart of Doha. Like much of nocturnal Doha, the souq is at its most vibrant when the sun disappears behind the horizon, and the temperature becomes cooler.

I drove further south toward the construction site of the Qatar National Museum which is inspired by the desert rose, crystal clusters of gypsum that resemble crisscrossing flower petals. It was at this point that I turned around and headed back north to my home.

I am smitten/ I’ll do anything (I’ll do anything)/ A kiss breath turpentine/ My crush with eyeliner –“Crush with Eyeliner” R.E.M.

While heading north on the Lusail Expressway, I drove past the Katara Cultural Center, which houses an amphitheater, an opera house, a multi-purpose cinema, and a beach. In the cooler winter months, there are a number of events held at this location. However, during Ramadan, there is a night festival where venders sell coffee, tea, and snacks to patrons who drive up to the stalls and honk their horns for service.

After passing Katara, I decided that I didn’t quite want to end my cruise, so I made a detour into the Pearl, an artificial island spanning nearly four million square meters, shaped like a leaf extending away from the Qatar mainland. I drove through the luxury high rises, the Venetian-style apartment buildings, and the marina filled with $1 million yachts. When I first came to Doha, I was in awe of the opulence and wealth concentrated in the Pearl, but after being here for the past 10 months, I know that much of the buildings and retail space in the Pearl sit unoccupied, waiting for a boom of residents and customers.

Finally, following my meandering through the Pearl, I returned to its more ambitious but relatively unfinished younger sister, Lusail City.

I got soul, but I’m not a soldier/ I got soul, but I’m not a soldier/ I got soul, but I’m not a soldier…. –“All the Things that I’ve Done” The Killers

Expats talk about the cycle of falling in and out and then back in love with Doha year after year of living in the city. During my Friday morning cruise, I had the chance to look at her with unhurried eyes, and I was able to remember my initial infatuation with the exotic, budding city. I am not sure where I am, in terms of my feelings for her, at this point. Maybe I will love her again once I get a break from her, return back to my home in the US, travel to other countries during my holiday, and appreciate what she offers me. Still, after my cruise, I was heartened when I thought about the promises that she made to me about the future.

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