Doha: A Touch of Arabian Hospitality
We heard the rapping sound long before we reached his shop. I was visiting my sister, currently living in Doha, Qatar, and we were visiting the souqs. Though many of them are modernized, enclosed in buildings, this was the older variety, with narrow pathways under corrugated tin roofs, and we were the only Westerners around. When we realized we were passing the source of the sound, we stopped to take a look. He saw us watching him work on the gold trim around the neckline of a formal black robe, and he waved us in.
He sat on the floor, wearing socks but no shoes, and had in front of him a block of wood covered with a white cloth. After stitching the decorative border in gold, he’d put the newly-sewn section face-down on the block and use a small mallet to hammer along the back side of the border, smoothing it out. This was what we’d heard as we approached. A stream of Arabic, which my sister and I do not speak, was directed toward his assistant, a man who’d sat silently in the back left corner of the shop since we entered, and who now got up and left.
As my sister and I occupied the only chairs in the shop, the tailor showed us that the gold thread itself would be threaded through a needle, then passed along a block of beeswax, to make it more supple to work with. And the results of his labor were, of course, impressive. Shelves behind him were filled with finished dishdashas, ready for sale. Just then, his assistant returned, bearing a tray with small glass cups of steaming hot tea, which were offered to us.
Some women’s veils were there, too, we found out, because the tailor began pulling them from the shelves (separate, of course, from those holding the men’s robes), urging my sister to try them on. First came a short veil, covering just the head and shoulders, meant to be the first worn by a young girl, then there were the larger ones for adult women. The most beautiful was a very fine, cobwebby wrap, meant for decoration more than concealment, which had shiny paillettes worked into the fabric, not merely attached after it was made. The two of us, trying to be polite, would try to refold each one, but were amused to be scolded for doing so; that was the assistant’s job! The veils were instead tossed carelessly into a corner, to be dealt with later.
While we were finishing our tea, the tailor explained that his profession had been in the family for at least four generations: he repeated, “My father, my father,” while gesturing ever upward, or back in time, with his hand. Now, it seems, he has a daughter who’s good about learning the business, but a son who would rather play football (soccer). This led him, quite naturally, to ask what our father does for a living. This created a pause, because two American women who have already been to their college reunions are more used to talking about their own jobs! Luckily, our father had worked with chemicals and dyes, so we were able to say that he’d made the colors for fabrics, which was a nice connection. Too, the news that our father also had sons was important, greeted with relief and the traditional kiss toward heaven.
My sister and I were happy that, as we left, we could say, “Shukran,” which is “thank you” in Arabic; that was the least we could do in repayment for such a wonderful experience!