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“DADDY, there was a fire at Villaggio Mall. My teacher told us.”
These were the words that greeted me when I picked up my nine-year-old daughter, Alyssa, and my four-year-old son, Kendall Cole, from school on Monday.
I didn’t take much note of what Alyssa was saying, mainly because I was battling to get out of the backed-up traffic and the blazing heat.
We’re heading into summer in Doha. Temperatures are already hitting the mid-40s at that time of the day.
Alyssa’s school – the English Modern School in Madinat Khalifa – is a stone’s throw from the Villaggio Mall, where the fire my daughter spoke about would claim 19 lives – two of them South African.
It wasn’t until much later in the afternoon when my wife mentioned there was a post on Facebook from the SA Social Committee – an organisation in Qatar that keeps South Africans up to date about news and events in this country – that we realised the extent of the incident.
We immediately started to check on news websites, flipped through television channels for the latest.
We heard 12 people had died.
Some time later I got a phone call from a friend, who is originally from Cape Town but now living in Doha. It was his birthday.
He asked me if I knew anymore about this fire at the Villaggio Mall.
All I knew was that this blaze was serious. Later he would tell me that friends of his had lost their triplets in the fire.
I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that my friend had a dreadful birthday. He messaged me later to say he was very emotional.
As news started to trickle in, the Adams house in Al Gharafa became a sadder place. By then 19 people had perished.
I am a father of three. I genuinely don’t even want to begin to imagine what family and friends who lost loved ones in that blaze must be going through.
As it stands, investigations are under way to determine the cause of the blaze.
There are also many unanswered questions about seemingly unclear evacuation routes and plans and a faulty sprinkler system.
No doubt things will become clearer in the next few days and weeks. But right now, Doha is one terribly sad place. It’s as if you can feel it in the air.
Many of the people I have spoken to since Monday speak of their shock, their grief and how their thoughts and prayers go out to everyone affected by this tragedy.
I, too, am overcome with sadness.
l Robin Adams is a Cape Town journalist based in Doha. He is a sports anchor and producer for the Al Jazeera network