A Qatari Adventure, Day 1

The group of Pace seniors and Mr. Newman and Ms. Smith had a great day in Doha, Qatar today! After a flight through Amsterdam and onto Doha, we finally landed smoothly in the desert peninsula bordered by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. As many of us have studied Iranian and Middle Eastern politics and history in school, having the opportunity to fly over the snow-capped mountains of Iran and Syria was one we won’t soon forget. Immediately after de-boarding the plane, we were startled, but awed, to see so many women veiled in abayas, or head-to-toe robes that may cover everything but the women’s eyes. Although we were not used to this in the beginning of the trip, this is now a common sight, as many of  the women are veiled here in Qatar, as is customary in some Islamic nations. Interestingly, one can see the considerable amount of jewelry, make-up, and fashionable clothing underneath the abaya around the feet and wrists. Our first full day in Doha began by our waking up early to journey to the Islamic Cultural Center. We were able to receive a comprehensive and very interesting tour about Islam and the people and traditions of the religion. Morgan and Claire and Ms. Smith (named “Mama Helen” by the tour guide) all had to wear abayas to enter the communal mosque above the center. We then met a master calligrapher who wrote all of our names in one of seven different forms of Arabic script and we were able to have one made saying Pace Academy as well! After this fascinating visit, we headed to I. M. Pei’s architectural contribution to Doha’s identity, the  Islamic Art Museum. This is a major attraction in Doha, and we were led around the exhibits by a well-informed and very friendly woman. We viewed different ancient texts and textiles, Persian rugs, paintings, weapons and armor, and more. The exhibit featured not only a diverse collection of art from different cultures, times, and artists, but also a look at the rich use of geometric shapes and vivid colors.  In addition, the importance of ornamentation on everyday objects emphasized creating beauty in even the simplest tasks.  Overall, we saw an incredible collection of art in a memorable architectural masterpiece.   In the evening we took a Dhow Cruise in the Doha bay area with another American school from Massachusetts. As we cruised the Arabian Gulf, we witnessed the illumination of the Doha skyline at twilight, highlighting the shapes and colors of Doha’s modern architecture. Following this cruise, we all walked to the “ancient” souq (built less than two decades ago, styled to look ancient. Think something out of EPCOT theme park) which was incredibly diverse and interesting. Arriving during the Spring Festival, we watched traditional Arab dances, marveled at the variety of goods for sale (and for barter), and enjoyed Syrian food, which included delectables such as humus, kibbe, shwarma, and kebabs. Tomorrow we are going to Parson’s Engineering and meeting with Mr. Sadaka and his businessmen at the Parson’s Doha office and the Lusail City build site and facilities.