The fairy lights shone in the dusky light, zig-zagging their way from one side to side of the long expanse of grass to the other. The smell of frying burgers and fries mingled with the sweet aroma of crepes, Nutella and ice cream. I could see cups of thick black Turkish coffee being poured next to a stall with frosted cupcakes on display. The tall glass buildings that make up Doha’s sky-line towered over us, reflecting the last rays of the sunset in the late evening glow. Around us children ran and played on the grass, friends talked as they waited for food and families relaxed at picnic benches as they dined.
Shall we or shan’t we?
It had been a struggle to get to the Doha Food Festival. Some over indulgence on our part the day before and a high energy kid’s birthday party that morning meant that we were all tired and feeling lethargic. It was a school night, the weather forecast was looking less than appealing and we were tempted not to bother going. What a mistake that would have been!
As we strolled around the park, I couldn’t help but notice the blend of races. The outdoor food events are one of the best times to people watch: one of the times when everyone goes out to experience the festival and take advantage of the cooler temperatures. As I gazed at the people around me I took in the familiar sights of the local Qatari men in their crisp white thobes and the ladies in their black abayas. Some of them had sequins sewn into intricate patterns on them and they glittered as they caught the light. They greeted each other with a series of kisses on each cheek. A mix of nationalities around them all wandered through the crowds chattering happily. I lost track of the number of languages I overheard.
Food, glorious food
We debated our menu choices for the evening while we explored the food offerings. The kids discussed the various merits of curries and burgers while my husband and I were drawn in by a stall selling a variety of fried chicken sandwiches and wraps. I was intrigued by a place selling just fries but with every topping imaginable – from cheese to curry to chilli. Curious bodies crowded close to see if it was worth a try. Nearby, a pizza stall attracted the kids and they turned to us begging for an Italian treat instead. We sighed – it was a popular choice and the queue was already stretching away.
In the distance, at the other end of the park, a pirate ship shaped bouncy castle bobbed and dipped as children sprang about. We headed there to buy some time before we ate. Our son and daughter quickly disappeared into the play area. Occasionally they would emerge demanding water, out of breath and sweating from the exertion. Our friends had arrived and they were playing with their kids, chasing each other in and out of the maze of steps and slides.
The pizza arrived and they finally materialised, flopping down on the grass next to us. They devoured the pizza, the melted cheese stringing out as they tore slices from the box. We watched them, amused, as we ate our own food, garlic mayonnaise and coleslaw oozing out of the sides of the burger bun. Once they were finished they ran straight back into the bouncy castle to continue an intensive game of tag with their friends inside.
Make this moment last forever
I watched them with their faces glowing with laughter, happy friendships and the sheer delight at finally playing outside after a long hot summer. I tried to imprint the occasion on my memory: the darkening sky against the dainty fairy lights, the perfect temperature with the soft breeze playing around us, the smells of the different foods and the sound of people talking and children playing…
It’s not about the food
It’s all too easy to get so involved in daily routines that we forget to seize the day. I spend so much time planning the big things, the holidays and constant travel that we love so much. And I forget that there is so much in our own city and country to explore and experience. We won’t be living here forever and I know I’ll regret not making the most of what’s on our doorstep. I would have been kicking myself for missing the opportunity to get out and do something fun, something different. I’d have been angry with myself for not taking advantage of a temporary festival or the amazing climate that has suddenly appeared.
In all honesty the food at the festival wasn’t the greatest. It wasn’t bad, by any standards, but the variety was lacking (I’m still to be convinced that 7 burger vans were necessary) and the quality was fine at best. They won’t be earning any Michelin stars or even AA Rosettes. But it wasn’t the food that made the night great.
Seize the day
It was the fact that we took advantage of the chance to do something a bit different. We mingled with people from all walks of life when we rarely get a chance to do that here. All too often, I find myself caught up in day to day life – I think we all do. Taking the time to do something different sometimes feels too much like hard work to me. I had all the excuses not to go to the food festival and was close to using any of them. Believe it or not, sometimes we just forget that we live in the Middle East, that our reality is not the reality that we would have had if we’d stayed at home. And going to the food festival was a great reminder of what we have, right at our fingertips.