"Short stories and travel reports from my life adventures around the globe".

Ashraf, a short story from Qatar.

Taxi driver Doha 2001.

Ashraf, a short story from Qatar.

In the summer of 2001 I boarded a near-empty Qatar Airways flight to Doha. Reuniting with my family who’d recently moved there for my father’s new job, it was my first time living abroad.


My first weeks in Doha were about as pleasant and stress free as I could have hoped for. I lived with my family in an expat compound called Beverly Hills Gardens. It was just a fifteen minute drive from the city’s commercial district. With row after symmetrical row of terracotta villas, the place had everything young unemployed me could’ve possibly needed.

There was a gym, saunas, squash courts and a small store selling American snacks. Moreover, my new home also had a massive swimming pool, complete with a wooden bridge and an illuminated waterfall that came on in the evenings. Life certainly wasn’t bad!

Beverly Hills Garden Doha 2001.

Beverly Hills Gardens, Doha. August 2001.

Then there was our villa, a massive home that comfortably housed my parents, brother, sister, dog and I without ever feeling cramped. It was the most luxurious home we’d ever had and I remember feeling like the guy who’d won the lottery. In those first few days I did little more than lounge about the house thinking about what I was going to do with myself in Doha.

Ashraf, a short story from Qatar.

Family villa Beverly Hills Garden Doha.

Ashraf, a short story from Qatar.

When I finally felt the need to escape my suburban bubble, I’d grab a lift into town with my dad. Soon after, I started hailing one of the many orange and white taxis driven by English speaking Indians, Pakistanis and Sri Lankans.

Doha was literally stood at the entrance gates of what would become an unprecedented economic boom. Hence I could see the city developing right before my eyes as I sped down its shiny new roads.

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With much curiosity, I’d watch from the car window as teams of construction workers toiled away on the skeletal frame of yet another five star hotel. In between the city’s limited collection of sights and pockets of residential areas, I saw wide expanses of dusty, vacant land.

Here and there, Coming Soon billboards trumpeted the impending arrival of international fast food chains. It was also common to see armies of landscapers out in the burning sun, laying down lush beds of grass for a new city park. 

Ashraf, a short story from Qatar.

Iranian Market Souq Waqif Doha Qatar

Souq Waqif, aka The Iranian Souq.

My first trips into Doha included lengthy investigations of Souq Waqif, also known as The Iranian Souq. I spent many an hour here wandering through its spice shops, tailors and stalls of handmade crafts. When my legs tired, I’d refuel at one of the many teahouses, or outside a favourite kebab restaurant.

There were also countless visits to Doha’s Corniche, a palm-fringed promenade that formed a seven kilometre horseshoe around the deep blue Doha Bay. However, the uncompromising summer heat proved so aggressive the corniche was virtually deserted in the day.

Doha Bay.

Doha Bay.

Photo courtesy of Diego Delso. 

In contrast, early mornings and evenings saw the whole place spring into life with joggers, ambling couples and families picnicking on the grass. I always felt so perfectly peaceful there, a feeling I’d never really had before.

Ashraf, a short story from Qatar.

Doha Corniche Qatar.

Doha Corniche.

Photo courtesy of Darwinek.

One evening I took a long walk down the promenade, before grabbing a few beers at The Sheraton Hotel. This was one of the few places an expat could actually consume alcohol. From there I flagged down a taxi home, which was when I first met Ashraf. ‘‘Welcome, where you go?’’ he asked, a baby faced man with a gap tooth smile and a Clark Gable moustache.

‘‘Beverly Hills Gardens’’ I replied, as he let off an impressed whistle, beating the steering wheel excitedly with his fists.

‘‘Wowee! … American yes?’’

‘‘No, English’’.

‘‘Wowee! … Stinking rich yes?’’

During the drive I learned that Ashraf was a 20 year old Pakistani from Karachi. He’d come to Qatar to seek his fortune, a plan that wasn’t working out quite as he’d hoped.

‘‘All I am wanting is beautiful wife and big family’’ he explained, his moustache twitching excitedly at the thought. ‘‘But first need money. No money… no beautiful for Ashraf’’.

Ashraf a short story from Qatar.

Ashraf, a short story from Qatar.

As we pulled up at my compound’s security gate, I gave the guard a familiar wave and he lifted the barrier to allow us through. Parking right outside my front door, Ashraf grinned and whipped a battered, food-stained business card out of his wallet. “Don’t forget me’’ he said, popping it into my hand.

‘‘You want go somewhere, call me.

Anyplace, anytime… Ashraf come!’’

His first assignment was an expedition to Doha Golf Club, an eighteen hole championship green that was one of the first grass golf courses ever built in The Middle East. I spent the morning caddying for a friend, who unlike myself could actually play.

Meanwhile, Ashraf napped in the car park until we finished. ‘‘Golfing people have big money’’ he told me with a yawn, biting his lip thoughtfully. ‘‘For them beautiful is no problem’’.

Doha Golf Club Qatar.

Doha Golf Club.

A couple of times a week Ashraf ferried me over to City Center, Doha’s biggest and newest shopping mall. My dad was the general manager of X-Treme World Entertainment Centre, Winter Wonderland Ice Rink and Fun Waves Water Park. Needless to say Ashraf was in awe, the Rupees virtually flashing across his alert eyes like neon lights. ‘‘Wowee!’’

City Center Mall Doha Qatar.

City Center, Doha.

Trips around the city with Ashraf were always entertaining. Like most people in Doha he drove like a maniac, window rolled down, music blaring out from a pile of tatty mixtapes. It was mostly unlistenable Asian pop, all hard dance beats and shrieking female vocals. But every now and then a surprise track popped up to break the monotony.

It didn’t take long for me to identify the recurring theme. Pink Floyd’s Money, The Beatles’ version of Money (That’s What I Want), Abba’s Money Money Money and She Works Hard for the Money by Donna Summers. ‘‘Ah these famous!” he groaned, with a frustrated shake of the head. “Song is true, is a rich man’s world. Not a world for Ashraf’’.

Ashraf, a short story from Qatar.

Doha Bay Qatar.

Doha Bay.

It wasn’t long before my trusty driver started to become tardy. First he was twenty minutes late from picking me up at the corniche after a morning of water sports. Subsequently, he began arriving later and later. One day, on my way back from City Center, Ashraf claimed to have no change. As a result, I ended up giving him double the fare, a difference I never recovered.

A few days later, I had a lunch date with a Scottish girl I’d met on Doha Corniche. The plan was for Ashraf to come and pick me up. Then we’d shoot over to her place before heading to the restaurant. She’d seemed impressed when I foolishly told her about ‘‘my driver’’. That day Ashraf kept me waiting for over an hour, ignoring my missed calls before finally showing up with some cock and bull story involving a sick uncle. I did not get a second date.

The final nail in Ashraf’s coffin came when he woke me up in the middle of the night with a somewhat frantic phone call. ‘‘Mr. Leighton!!!” he cried, as I propped myself up in bed, blurry eyed and confused.

‘‘Ashraf have BIG problem!!!

Taxi engine finished… three thousand Riyals for new! Can you help?!?’’

By ‘‘help’’ of course he meant fund the entire project. Moreover, ‘‘I pay you back’’ was exposed as a hare-brained scheme to refund me via free taxi rides. Even in my sleep addled reasoning I understood that three thousand Riyals was equal to several hundred trips to City Center and back. Maybe even with a return leg to Saudi Arabia thrown in for good measure. 

Ashraf clearly wasn’t happy that I hadn’t stepped in to bail him out. A few days later he was due to take a friend and I to the cinema. For that appointment he didn’t show up at all, hence I decided it was time for our intercultural adventure to end.

Short story Qatar

Ashraf, a short story from Qatar.

It was a full week before he called again. ‘‘Mr. Leighton!!’’ he sang, all cheer and charm. ‘‘I no hear from you. Where you go today?” I gently informed Ashraf that I wasn’t going anywhere with him ever again. After that I sat listening to the grim silence on the other end. ‘‘Ok’’ he said eventually and hung up before I could offer my lukewarm condolences.

I have no idea what became of Ashraf. Maybe he’s still buzzing around Doha, his hopes and dreams sagging by the day. Or perhaps he put together a cast-iron saving plan. Possibly he met a naïve foreigner from whom he could extract large sums of money. Whatever the case, I do look back on our brief time together fondly. And I genuinely hope that somewhere… somehow… finally… there was some ‘‘beautiful for Ashraf’’.

‘Ashraf’ is the first chapter of my short story series The Qatar Collection.

I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001. So why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.

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  • qprgary

    That story of Ashraf took us back to our years of working in Jeddah, where we came across hundreds of these guys. Interesting and sad at the same time.

    March 11, 2021 - 9:47 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Agreed. I was an impatient twenty something at the time, maybe I was too hard on him. It would be fascinating to know how his life panned out. Thanks for reading Gary.

      March 11, 2021 - 9:49 am Reply
  • Mary Phillips

    I had never heard any of your stories from Qatar. This was entertaining. I’m left to wonder how Ashraf went on in the world.

    March 11, 2021 - 9:52 am Reply
  • Simon Mack

    this was recommended by a friend, very natural style of writing with nice undertone of dry humour throughout. stories look great too with all the pictures and video. looking out for the coming chapters keep up the good work

    March 11, 2021 - 10:38 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for reading Simon!

      March 11, 2021 - 10:39 am Reply
  • Team Leisure

    Enjoyed…The old orange/white Taxi was a site to behold. These guys used to sleep in them to avoid accomodation costs. Remember the body odour and stale cigarette smell. The government eventually put an end to them in order to make the place look more like Dubai. The decree came out that Taxi’s over 5 years old were to be retired. Hope they have kept one for the museum.

    March 11, 2021 - 11:27 am Reply
    • Leighton

      The Doha Taxi Museum, someone should get onto that!

      March 11, 2021 - 11:28 am Reply
  • Natalie Lynch

    This really brought back memories for me. I do hope Ashraf found his beautiful. Can’t wait to read your next piece.

    March 11, 2021 - 11:36 am Reply
  • Little Miss Traveller

    An enjoyable read. How Doha gas changed so quickly. I’ve visited twice recently and both times had fun stopovers.

    March 11, 2021 - 12:59 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      It seems to be a great stopover location these days. I would love to revisit my old haunts one of these years. Assuming they even exist anymore!

      March 11, 2021 - 1:27 pm Reply
  • Mandy

    I have just read your story about Ashraf… made me smile as some things never change. By the way Beverly Hills Gardens has changed it name to Beverly Hills 1. There are now at least 16 compounds called Beverly Hills followed by the number presumably in the order of which they were built ie BH 2, BH3 etc As people have said to you, you will not recognize Doha although some landmarks are obviously still the same, like the Sheraton, although it has been engulfed by high towers now. An interesting read! I look forward to read more.

    March 11, 2021 - 2:47 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Mandy, thanks a lot for reading and taking the time to reply. It would be fascinating for me to return to Doha and have a look around, try and find those old places, if any still exist. I’ll definitely be returning to The Sheraton for a drink. I used to play weekly 5-aside football in the courts near the main entrance. Hope you enjoy the other stories.

      March 11, 2021 - 2:51 pm Reply
  • Memo

    Never having been to Doha, I started using Google Maps to get a visual orientation to your story. You and Google go well together. BTW I think Ashraf would have been history when he cost me the second date.

    March 11, 2021 - 4:42 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Ok, so maybe I’m too nice! That balances out the guilt I sometimes feel about ol’ Ashraf.

      March 11, 2021 - 5:16 pm Reply
  • Lyssy In The City

    That was not how I expected the story to end! I was hoping for a blossoming friendship 😂 but what a cool experience to live elsewhere and be able to explore!

    March 12, 2021 - 3:30 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha ha thanks Lyssy, I’m happy to confound expectations if nothing else. Hope you enjoy the remaining chapters!

      March 12, 2021 - 7:57 am Reply
  • Rebecca

    It must’ve been a very interesting time to have visited Doha 20 years ago, when it was just about to become the big, international boom of a city that it’s now today. That part of the world fascinates me, and I’d like to visit Qatar, along with it’s neighboring countries of the UAE and Oman, someday…and I’ll be sure to avoid the “Ashrafs” in town, hopefully! 😉

    March 12, 2021 - 5:25 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Qatar will always be special to me, simply because it was my first time living outside The UK. Looking back, I was so wet behind the ears. But not so naive that I was willing to buy Ashraf a new taxi engine! Thanks for reading and hope you enjoy the rest of the stories.

      March 12, 2021 - 8:01 am Reply
  • WanderingCanadians

    How neat that you were able to see the city develop and grow right before your eyes. That’s too bad about Ashraf. I hope finds his beautiful someday.

    March 12, 2021 - 12:21 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for reading! Hope you enjoy the upcoming chapters.

      March 12, 2021 - 12:25 pm Reply
  • Jyothi

    Truly enjoyed! Yet another great post, Leighton!

    March 12, 2021 - 3:39 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thank you so much! Seven more chapters of my Qatar short stories still to come.

      March 12, 2021 - 3:46 pm Reply
      • Jyothi

        Good…looking forward to it!

        March 12, 2021 - 3:48 pm
  • 100 Country Trek

    Love hearing about this ..never been to Qatar ..looks like a great place to see

    March 19, 2021 - 2:51 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for catching up with the series! It was an amazing experience, although I hear that Doha has changed so much it’s completely unrecognisable from the city I once lived in.

      March 19, 2021 - 7:42 am Reply
      • 100 Country Trek

        When I return to other places in the World they are very unrecognizable.

        March 19, 2021 - 11:18 am
  • InsideMySlingBag

    Looks like a whole series of short stories you got there from your time at Doha! Do you continue to frequent the place?

    March 25, 2021 - 7:32 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Sadly I haven’t been back since I left. And the city has changed beyond recognition over the last twenty years. Would love to go back one day and see what it looks like now.

      March 25, 2021 - 8:37 pm Reply
  • jasonlikestotravel

    What a wonderful read. It must be so strange going back to Qatar and seeing how much it has developed, particularly with the World Cup on the way. A friend of mine said similar about Dubai and how it changes pretty much every time he returns.

    Hopefully Ashraf got his beautiful ending too 🙂

    April 7, 2021 - 2:33 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      I’d love to see how the place has changed. The city that Ashraf and I knew is virtually beyond recognition. Hope you enjoy the rest of the series Jason.

      April 7, 2021 - 2:58 pm Reply
  • ayesha

    This was such an enjoyable post to read! well done 🙂

    April 11, 2021 - 12:31 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thank you Ayesha! Hope you enjoy the remaining chapters.

      April 11, 2021 - 7:36 am Reply

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