August 2017

Danshal Sundial

The Earth is spinning on its axis, meanwhile orbiting the Sun. A bird sings to me intermittently, while I sip my camomile tea, on the balcony of Room 12.

The Sun has just risen. It bathes the wall opposite in golden light and the danshals, projecting from the wall, are casting long shadows from East to West. From time to time I look up from my work and watch the shadows move. They move very slowly and it is hard to relate this to the speed of the gyrating planet.

As the day goes by the danshals function as a sundial; their shadows – each one – enscribe an invisible ellipse, precisely in accordance with the Sun’s path. If I had a long pole and a piece of chalk, I could calibrate the wall, to tell the time.


The danshal is not generally thought of as a timepiece. It is a beam made of timber, often from Zanzibar, which supported the roofs and floors of traditional house in Qatar and other countries around the Gulf. The wood was so expensive, because it came from far away, that the beams were never cut; that is why they project from the wall, casting shadows as the Earth spins. They were re-used again and again. There is a lesson here to be learned for today.

Later, as I pass the concrete walls of the National Eid Ground gradually taking shape, I notice a modern-day danshal; steel reinforcements sticking out of the wall, casting shadows in the same way. The steel will be snipped off – I hope it will be recycled.

One day I want to found a charity to gather construction waste and distribute it for re-use around the World.