So, I figured I’d give a little more detail about my overseas adventure. Since the Middle East isn’t well travelled by Americans (espeically Qatar), I thought I’d give a little more insight into my experience while I was there.
The Middle East is definitely an interesting place. At times I still felt like I was in America — A lot of tall buildings everywhere, the city structure is similar, but the architechture is very unique. The people and the culture is what made it feel different — as it does most places.
First of all, the women wear abayas (cloaks) and a niqab which covers the head and face except for the eyes. The men wear thobes (an ankle-length tunic) and the headscarf which they change colors depending on the season (white in warmer weather/black or red and white checks in winter). Needless to say, I felt pretty strange walking around in my “Western wear” even though not everyone was dressed this way. Basically, it’s okay for non-Muslim women to wear anything that doesn’t show knees or shoulders. And I usually would wear scarves just for added coverage. Still, I’ve never felt more like a piece of meat! You’d think I was walking around wearing a bikini with some of the stares I would get when I was alone. Sorry Sir, I’m on vacation — Not here to find a husband!
Day 1 in Doha — My first day wasn’t too interesting. In fact, I requested a boring, relaxing day since I was on vacation. Even though I enjoyed my time in Amsterdam, it was stressful trying to figure out everything and the travel was exhausting. So, I spent my day hanging out at the pool, going to the gym, and hanging out with little Dane, my brother’s Rat Terrier. I kept him for a few months when Jordan first moved to Doha so we bonded and I instantly became his favorite (naturally) so he was very excited to see me after being apart for a few months… Anyway, that evening, Jordan picked me up and took me to the Corniche so I could take pictures of the skyline of Downtown and see the Museum of Islamic Art. I didn’t go inside, which I regret, but the building from the outside was gorgeous! Afterwards, we ended up going to the W Hotel for dinner at Spice Market. This is kind of funny since there’s one of these about 2 miles from where I live, but I knew I’d never go so I wasn’t opposed to the idea. We had a great dinner and ended the night from there.
Day 2 — This was probably the most eventful day I had during my visit. Also, the day I was introduced to what we all call “culture shock”.
I got up and got ready to meet Jordan for lunch in the city and he had an “Abdul” (a taxi company) come pick me up and take me to the mall. This was nice because he could text the company the address of where to pick me up and where to take me and most trips were about 30 riyals — about 10 US dollars. Anyway, as I’m walking to meet Jordan and his co-workers for lunch, the noon call to prayer music starts playing over the mall speakers. It’s beautiful, yet erie. That was one of the most fascinating parts of the Middle Eastern culture. It’s so interesting to me that they have wailing towers all over the cities and it plays on the radio and things stop for a little while. These play 5 times a day — dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset, and 2 hours after sunset.
Also on this day, I was held like a prisoner in the compound coffee shop. Basically, if you have money in Doha, you live in a compound. But not for safety reasons. Doha is pretty safe because they’re strict on punishment, but they do this more so for status reasons. They all have guards and on this particular day, they refused to let me in because I was alone and Jordan was not at home since he was working. He assured me before I got there that I would have no problem getting back in, so he sends me off and off he goes to his afternoon meeting.
Of course, I show my 2 forms of identification plus the house key that he gave me since I would have to have that to get back into his house. I get that they can’t just let anyone in there, but my parents were there 2 weeks before and had no issues! So, they made me stand outside the compound for about 20 minutes while they called Jordan to get verification, but he wasn’t answering his phone. Uncharacteristically, I pitched a fit. I demanded to speak to someone else and refused to stand outside, locked out of the compound until my brother could answer the phone. That could have been all afternoon! Once I talked to a manager, we made a compromise. I was escorted in by van and they let me into the club house where I had to hand over my key and was watched by security until my freedom call came. Then, 2 days later, I came back alone, rolled down my window and greeted the security guard who wouldn’t let me in before. I smiled. He laughed, and let me through the gate…
That night, we went to The Pearl for dinner, which I mentioned in my previous post. The Royal family has homes on a private part of the island, but other areas that are open to anyone and houses Rolls Royce and Ferrari dealerships along with yachts and other boats out the docks. We ate at an Asian restaurant and then went to the Grand Hyatt for a drink where we had a bit of a Seinfeld moment with the valet — “Usually the O stays with the B!”. Besides that, it was a beautiful place.
Day 3 — Jordan set up another Abdul for me to take to Villagio Mall. This was absolutely one of the most spectacular malls I have seen. Also, another culture shock. I met his friend, Kathryn, there and we had lunch at the Shake Shack (amazing!) and walked the mall together. We did not take a gondola down the canal as seen in my previous post, but it was interesting to see. I also saw a “squatty-potty” for the first time. I had such a great time talking to her and I loved hearing about Doha from her perspective.
For dinner, Jordan and his friend John and I went to a Thai restaurant called Thai Snack. This place had about 200 pictures on the menu of items to order. And we were not disappointed! I enjoyed it and, thankfully, the weather was nice while I was there (in the 70’s) so we were able to sit outside on the patio. Apparently, this place can get pretty hot in the summer and the power has gone out there a few times during dinner. No thanks… Afterwards, they decided to take me to a place they call the “thobe bar” because the Qataris are allowed to drink in their National dress at this bar, unlike the others. [Side note — Bars are only located in hotels]. This bar will remain unnamed. Just in case. I would hate to ruin it for them. It was quite the sight to see — 1) I was the only female in the bar, and 2) Qatari men greet each other by a handshake AND touching noses, which I witnessed.
Day 4 — This was my last day in Doha, and was not too exciting. We met for lunch at the K-180 Hotel at Yum Yum, a French restaurant located on the top floor. The food was fantastic and had a great view of Downtown and the Corniche. I had an arugala and pear salad to start, some type of basil ravioli for the entree (see below), and taramisu for dessert. Yum yum! Pun intended.
Day 5 — We are in Dubai at this point. The night before we took a 45 minute flight over, but arrived late so we just went straight to the hotel. That morning, we decided to go explore Dubai Mall which is HUGE. When we walked in, we immediately found the entrance to the aquarium. It would have been nice to see, but we only had a short amount of time before we needed to be back at the hotel for our desert excursion. We had brunch, visited the (Vegas style) fountains, and layed our eyes on the Burj Khalifa in all it’s glory. Breath taking. Then, it was off to the desert! This included a falcon show, dune bashing (essentially a roller coaster on sand dunes), camel rides, and dinner at the camp. Dinner consisted of chicken schwarma and pita bread and rice and other Medditeranean/Middle Eastern style food. Our driver was nice enough to drop us back by Dubai Mall later so we could see the Festival of Lights. It was beautiful! The Burj lights up like the Effiel Tower at night and the paths by the restaurants were colorful and bright with the smell of sheesha in the air.
Day 6 — We woke up that morning and immediately headed to Mall of the Emirates. At this mall, they have an indoor ski slope. Unfortunately, I couldn’t go since I haven’t skiied before, but Jordan went and said it was great. Apparently, some people would only ride the ski lift and some women and men were skiing in their National dress. While he did that, I wandered the mall. I didn’t see anything too exciting except an Emirati walking quickly past me with a man in a suit (who I’m assuming was his “assistant)” walking swiftly behind him into a thobe shop.
Unfortunately, our time ended quickly and we were back to Doha which meant my trip of a lifetime was over.
It was an eye-opening experience for me. I have never seen so much money in my life in one place. And poverty such a short distance away. There’s really no barrier between the two. The amount of wealth is not something you will ever see in the States. Maybe close to it, but not to that scale. Apperance is very important to them, somewhat in a different way than it is here, and the sense of arrogance and entitlement is overbearing. It can be described best through a joke my brother told me: What’s the definition of a milisecond? The time between the light turning green and the Qatari honking behind you… There doesn’t seem to be much respect for others or anyone’s time but their own. They do what they want however they want. If you’re not driving fast enough, they’re right behind you letting you know by turning their brights on so you’ll know to move out of the way. I even saw someone stop and park in the middle of a roundabout! Who knows why. They cut in line or honk their horn until someone comes out to help them if they want service somewhere. That wouldn’t fly here. It’s fascinating, really.
**Fun fact: Qatari’s love juice. Since they don’t serve alcohol at restaurants outside of hotels, they have menus of fancy style smoothies and juices.
It was a great trip. I loved learning about this culture and would love to go back and visit more countries in that part of the world. Apparenly, there’s an amazingly, beautiful mosque in Abu Dhabi that I need to see… Add it to the list!