The day lightning flashes upset residents of upmarket island
“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...
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