May 2017

Waiting To Fall

The Sun is going down and there is the very slightest chill in the air; but it is peaceful, and silent.

As I turn a corner from Sikkat al Sakhaa, I am struck by the sight of a handsome liwan (a traditional colonnade – a place to sit outside, in the shade).

It is poised; about to Fall.

The beams sag, the roof is frayed – impossibly fragile – and is gradually falling away. It is like an anatomical specimen; a diagram of layers of skin; danshal, basjeel, mangrour. But in this case the body is not dead; nearly but not quite. Indeed it could still be brought back to life, but there is very little time.

The inner layer of the liwan – what was once a wall – is now largely a pile of rubble on the ground; mounded up around the columns. But notwithstanding this dereliction, enough of the wall is still intact to give it support.

I look closer and hold my breath as I notice, on the left, that one single bone of this building has been truly eaten away to an impossible thinness. It is a point of support on which the entire structure depends. If I stand here and wait, it will collapse, I know it will. I stand back.

However dangerous it is, its last stand is noble, but its fall will be messy. The pristine white land cruiser, parked beside will be covered in dust if it comes down, and might be dented. The ‘No Dumping in this Area’ sign, which is already leaning as if it wants to lie down in the debris, will be flattened.

For some reason I think back to the year I was born, in London, 1965; what was this place like then ? Unusually, the liwan seems to have been built on the outside of a house; looking out to a small public space, or is it that where I am standing now was the interior of a private courtyard; the inner sanctum of a home ? Either way this liwan blurs the boundaries between indoors and outdoors, and between public and private, in a way which is well suited to the beautiful weather. So much has happened in the last forty eight years but these stones still stand.

Sudddenly a noise breaks the silence; the maghrib muezzin fills the air. The first to sound is far away on my right, the second behind me on my left. Gradually as the sounds rise, and merge they sing to each other from street to street, bouncing off the walls of buildings and so, defining the space of the neighbourhood.

The minaret ahead of me calls out last and loudest; I wonder if its vibrations will bring the liwan to its end but thankfully, no. This muezzin call is one I have never heard before. Going up at the end of each phrase, its curve seems to echo the shape of the crescent on top of the minaret; the shape of Doha Bay.

I stood waiting for a long time and night fell before the liwan did.

It stands there to this day, or so I believe.