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Full moon in Doha

Friday January 5, 2007

Don Christopher

As the fading sun falls below the minarets of the fish market and the old mosque, the men file into the iftar tent set up for Ramadan on the concrete platform behind my house and beside the electricity substation.

There has been a stiff breeze all day and the incoming tide seems to have freshened it. Helpers try to lay polythene sheets on the carpets which will serve as the men?s tables ? all are men ? but they blow up and flutter in the wind, and are only ready for the food to be laid on them when the diners sit cross-legged on the edge of the sheets to pin them down. Water and dates are brought first to break the holy fast, and then the more substantial meal in silver foil wrapping, chicken and mutton and hamour and rice, with bowls of glistening cos lettuce, blue and red cans of fizzy soda. The men are all dressed in dun and sandy coloured kurtas and baggy trousers, with lacy tight round hats of a startling white. The colours, on this evening of devotion and mystery, are of white-shirted farm labourers getting in the barley on a late summer evening in a John Nash painting. They take their meal in silence.

I feel intrusive watching them from the lonely staircase window, and turn away. As I do so I see that the elderly tom who sometimes sleeps in the outhouse kitchen is sitting high on my garden wall overlooking the iftar tent. He looks fairly confident watching these proceedings, leaning slightly forward like a friendly vulture. The window has a Norman arch and the light slanting down the stairs from the fading sunset on to the desert coloured walls is ecclesiastical, almost lime green.

A little later, swimming off the library beach past the new extension to the harbour, I dimly see (it is too windy and the water too choppy for me to wear glasses) what I take to be a hoisted buoy or navigational marker just beyond the ringed-off beach of the new Al Sultan Beach Resort behind the mosque. A fish suddenly leaps in front of me and I blindly swim into an underwater rope, perhaps something to do with the building works at the harbour, which snags my feet and then my chest. The daylight is fading, and as I turn to strike back for the shore I see with flooding relief that what I had taken for a buoy is the full moon magnificently rising, suddenly illuminated as if it had itself just swum into the sun?s rays, of a soft burnished champagne colour, like a fob watch polished by years of being lovingly slipped in and out of a waistcoat pocket.

By the time I get within the arms of the new harbour the wind has dropped and the sea to my right is gunmetal blue, interleaved in the gentle shallow waves with the pinkish gold of the dying day, and to my left it is laid out freshly, virginally, before the moon, now brightening whiter by the minute. As I reach the beach it is still below the houses behind the mosque, throwing up a penumbra in the sandy air like the golden dome of some ancient Byzantine cathedral, but as I reach the jeep it has swiftly cleared all the roofs and now casts a bright long shadow across the beach.

Twenty minutes later, driving to the new supermarket (a mini-mall increasingly full of western as well as sub-continental expats) I glance across the creek. Al Khor means ?the creek?, in the old English sense of an inlet of the sea rather than a fresh water stream or tributary, and Said, who was born here and who found me the house, told me it also means ?the tongue?. I see shimmering beyond the black mangroves a patch of water lying under the moon, like a silent snow-covered field in the time of King Wenceslav in the Christmas carol.

After I unpack my shopping I sit on the upstairs balcony and watch the moon soar across the eastern sky as the calls to evening prayer begin to resound from all sides.

The sun and then the moon, the moon and then the sun; the north and the south, the world ? and the other world. The thought leaps up unbidden of a good friend of mine, Noreen, whose full name is a phrase which means ?the beautiful two lights of the world?. How her parents must always rejoice at their happy choice of her name.

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