The day light­ning flashes up­set res­i­dents of up­mar­ket is­land

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

“WHAT’S new? Well, mum, I can tell you the weather’s been quite ex­tra­or­di­nary. Thun­der, light­ning, a right desert storm. And there have also been re­ports of flashes at the Pearl. Res­i­dents are very up­set, es­pe­cially since it’s meant to be an up­mar­ket de­vel­op­ment.”

I over­hear Nick, my Ir­ish col­league, on the phone to his mother, and my in­ter­est is piqued. The Pearl-Qatar, an ar­ti­fi­cial is­land of­fer­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion, high-end re­tail and a va­ri­ety of restau­rants has proved very pop­u­lar with ex­pats liv­ing in Doha, es­pe­cially those from the West. It’s dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand why res­i­dents would take is­sue with flashes of light­ning. The phe­nom­e­non has oc­curred through­out Qatar this past week, with thun­der­storms and grey skies caus­ing more than a pass­ing re­sem­blance to Cape Town in win­ter – or sum­mer, given the rains which have re­cently lashed the Cape.

On a wet day in Qatar, though, the Mer­cury still hov­ers around 25 de­grees Cel­sius. Kids run out into the streets at the first sight of rain here, rel­ish­ing the chance to cool off af­ter a sum­mer that of­ten saw tem­per­a­tures rise above 50. That’s win­ter in Qatar for you. It’s even cel­e­brated at school, with my three­year-old daugh­ter, Saabi­rah, ex­cit­edly telling me: “School was so much fun to­day, daddy. It was rain­ing, and we got to play out­side and splash in the pud­dles.”

A bit dif­fer­ent, I’m sure you’d agree, from the Cape Town ap­proach of bundling up your kids and keep­ing them in­side when wet weather holds sway.

Some tongue-in-cheek com­ments on so­cial me­dia have credited the re­cently anointed new emir’s “be­gin­ner’s luck” as the rea­son for the wel­come weather change. His High­ness Sheikh Tamim Bin Ha­mad Al Thani, who re­placed his fa­ther as ruler of Qatar, a few days ago per­formed the Is­tiqsa (rain-seek­ing) prayer, and the heav­ens opened al­most im­me­di­ately af­ter. Be­gin­ner’s luck, per­haps, al­though it’s also pos­si­ble he had an eye on the weather fore­cast. Just say­ing…

It’s not all fun and games in the rain, though. As the Gulf so rarely ex­pe­ri­ences rain­fall, coun­tries in the re­gion are gen­er­ally not ad­e­quately equipped to han­dle a sud­den down­pour, es­pe­cially when it comes to hav­ing proper drainage sys­tems. The view has per­haps been that money spent on in­fra­struc­ture to counter a phe­nom­e­non that oc­curs only a few days ev­ery year, if that, is not money well spent.

Roads have been flooded, with the north­ern ar­eas of Al-Shamal and Al-Ruwais hard­est hit, and pho­tos cir­cu­lated online of res­i­dents us­ing small boats as a means of trans­port. Malls have also ex­pe­ri­enced se­vere leak­ing, caus­ing stores to shut down for main­te­nance and mop-ups. So busi­ness un­usual all round, then, which makes the re­ac­tion of the Pearl res­i­dents to the ex­treme weather con­di­tions tough to fathom.

Nick ends his call and turns around to find me stand­ing over his shoul­der. “Oh, hello, some­thing wrong?”

“Well, I couldn’t help over­hear­ing your con­ver­sa­tion,” I re­ply, “and was just won­der­ing how on earth res­i­dents at the Pearl can work them­selves up over flashes of light­ning. I know the place is sup­posed to be a bit of an oa­sis in the desert, but it’s not ex­actly im­mune to the weather.”

Nick looks con­fused, be­fore bel­low­ing: “Not flashes. Flash­ers! As in guys who do this,” he says, open­ing and clos­ing his suit jacket to make sure I un­der­stand. “I was just telling my mum that I’d read re­ports in Doha News about flash­ers tar­get­ing women at the Pearl,” he ex­plains, ref­er­enc­ing a daily blog about hap­pen­ings in Qatar. “Ap­par­ently women liv­ing there have posted ac­counts on Face­book as well as spo­ken to Doha News about mul­ti­ple in­ci­dents in which men have ex­posed them­selves, with one res­i­dent say­ing she was ap­proached while walk­ing with her chil­dren. Po­lice are in­ves­ti­gat­ing.”

Okay then, it seems the rain hasn’t been the only aber­ra­tion re­cently. And as nice as it’s been to have some relief from the usual dry heat, given what’s been go­ing down at the Pearl, I hope the weather clears quickly. The last thing we need is for per­verts in rain­coats to be given an ex­cuse to run around...

● Fol­low Bawa on Twit­ter @rid­waan­bawa

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