Qatar and Johah

December 1975. Today I went to meet Johah (Abu Mansur). I arrived at the gate of his garden at one minute to eight o’clock. Immediately up cruised Johah in his 380S and called for his servant to open the gates to the garden. The man had little or no sight. Obviously he had been maimed in early life, and in compassion, and for cheapness too, Abu Mansur employed him as a gardener and watchman.

Years ago, as I used too visit the Montaza Gardens, then the only place of note and beauty in Doha. I remember far away in the desert a dusty collection of trees and shrubs supported by a donkey-diesel well phut-phutting away day and night. Today it is a grand oasis the middle of concrete Doha. The land is worth hundreds of thousands of pounds out Johah, black as the Ace of Spades, but with the largest white heart for miles around will not sell. He has no need to do so he has a millionaire’s income.

To look at him one wouldn’t think so. He is squat. Five foot five inches. Tough as a wrestler and built as a man with a weapon to boast about. As a boy he was servant and slave to a minor Sheik and later became his trusted Wakhil (steward) controlling the Sheik’s household, collecting rents and tithes and generally making himself amenable and useful in all ways.

Johah married first a local girl who gave him a most handsome son, Mansur. His next wife was of Palestinian birth with a Jordanian passport. She prospered and gave him many children but fell from grace when he returned from a visit from Egypt with a new fat female built like the proverbial small house. So, Johah has three wives, the first in quiet regal residence, the second in retirement and the third now spending his money away in Cairo buying property for herself.

We walked and talked our way around the garden. He has planted orange trees, fig, mango pomegranate, banana and olive trees.

He lacks for nothing except grape vines.

“How about this one, will it do?” said Johah.

“Yes, it is good and tall at the top, but this one is better” I said, for I had come too Johah’ s garden to cut the top off a spiky fir bush to use as a Christmas tree.

Last night while visiting George and Victoria’s house we spoke about the approaching festival. Weil said, “We need a Christmas tree” and asked his mother to buy one in the local toyshop. She refused. The price of such imported toy trees is ridiculously high and a proper tree is more seasonal. I thought of Johah and rang him on the telephone at his house in the Suq. He lives in the middle of the Suq in a confusion of ramshackle buildings one fused into the other as he added rooms to houses and houses to each other.

As we cut the tree I said, “Abu Mansur, if you do not wish to sell the garden why don’t you build a beautiful house for yourself in the garden?”

He thought for a moment.

“I will not build a house I will build THREE houses and solve all my marital problems, yes, that is what I will do”.

After putting the treetop into the boot of the Buick, thank goodness they are the size of an Austin Mini; Johah induced me to go with him to see the seven houses he was building.

Plans prepared by a competent draughtsman engineer in his own time, a hired practical building foreman, his bank account and a fund of common sense and Johah set about building seven houses on a plot of land he had bought for a peanut price many moons ago. The houses were not far from his garden and in prime positions. Five were almost completed. They were superbly built. The fittings, the doorframes of best teak. The aluminium windows nestling under deep shaded verandas, the fully tiled kitchen, the ceramic tiled bathrooms and the cool marble floors were all delightful. Built to a high standard. And so is going to be his asking price for rent from the local oil company. He expects to receive about nine thousand riyals each month for each villa. And on an investment of not much more than two hundred thousand riyals for each villa the return is a good one. His seven houses will increase his income by eighty four thousand pounds a year.

Already be is receiving thirty thousand a year from the four flats he is letting to a Japanese Company and he has not yet started to count his income from other sources. The property he owns in the Suq and elsewhere brings him in a tidy sum. Of course the rents, paid by locals aren’t half as high as those paid by expatriates of foreign firms yet they are quite steep and creep up each year. I reckon, that of’ the properties I know he owns his income is now reaching £150,000 a year net – for he pays no income or other taxes, for the simple reason they do not exist.

One can quote countless examples of this success story. In fact, I am not at all sure one should not highlight the careers of those of the original inhabitants of Qatar twenty years ago who by now have not increased their fortune by at least one thousand per cent. All the young men I knew in Qatar in 1948 to 1955 have become rich beyond their dreams. Some drive Rolls-Royces having learnt to drive an oil Company lorry twenty-five years ago. Some are Ambassadors or Members of the Legislative Council. Many could not help but succeed they were there at crucial time and circumstances more or less forced them into riches. Others, seeing the opportunities were bold and became Merchants and Bankers or builders and contractors. The flood of finance from the O. P. E. C. dream has released the second version of Tales from the Arabian Nights and this modern version is richer, more glamorous and more startling than the old tales could ever be.

Tonight I am invited out to dinner at the house of my ex houseboy.

Johah is very real. A few days ago I met him at a party – he enjoyed dancing with the Q. P. C. wives.

Another debacle avoided >>>