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Many Adventures of a Nomadic Poet A young poet with Asperger's makes travel his passion, and away he goes...

A Day in Qatar

QATAR | Monday, 8 April 2019 | Views [179]

Having finished a 15-hour flight from Melbourne, I’m in the Middle East for the first time. Several years ago, I told my mother I was thinking of a trip to Iran and she responded resoundingly with “NO, stick to the South Pacific!” She watches Fox News and CNN too often. My sister Dannielle is getting married in a few days and I thought since I have to put a dent in my Australian journey and go through this rigmarole, I thought I’d add another country to my list. Oksana raves about Qatar Airways (which she flew with to Bali) so I thought I’d try them out. Though part of the upper echelon as far as airlines go I’ll admit I like Turkish Airlines better. The turbulence was a bit bad at some points, so I ended up having my first glasses of wine of the year. My resolution for 2019 was no drinking, but I think I’ve done very well and I shouldn’t be too hard on myself.

Sticking out like a thumb from Saudi Arabia, Qatar is a place built on oil money. Before the discovery of oil, it was one of the world’s poorest countries. Now, it’s one of the richest with nearly everything being imported, including labour: with a population of 2.6 million, only about 313,000 are Qatari citizens. Petrol is, needless to say, cheap and therefore nearly everybody owns a vehicle. This means public transport is infrequent. You’ll have no trouble finding Burger King, McDonald’s, and Starbucks, among other chains but be prepared to pay through the nose…Qatar is an expensive place. 

Qatar is one of those places which, at first glance, seems very bland and dull but spend some time and it will latch onto you. I’m kicking myself now for spending only one night here. My CS host is Check, and he’s the ambassador of the Central African Republic; my first time staying with a diplomat on my travels. He’d be at meetings all morning and I needed some sleep, so I set my alarm for 1 PM after taking the bus and then a taxi to his place. Souq Waqif would be on my radar…

In an Uber into downtown Doha, it’s my first time visiting a souq. Spices abound and the scents wafted through. I couldn’t help but buy some cinnamon and nutmeg. Aunty Jo could bring all of her spice jars here and fill them for substantially less than what she’d pay at a supermarket (to go with much better freshness and quality). 100 grams of cinnamon would set me back about $1 and 50 grams of nutmeg would set me back about the same thing. Some locals in traditional garb would allow me to take their photo…

…as would this guy here. He’s so heavy I could feel it as he sat on my arm.

It’s not only spices you’ll find at Souq Waqif; you’ll find rabbits, birds, fish, dogs, fruits, vegetables, furniture, toys, and the whole lot. You'll find rabbits in little dresses.

The one thing I didn’t see today is carpets and rugs, but I’m sure they’re around.

I can never emphasize enough the importance of travel and the lessons you gain that you won’t learn in any classroom. One of my favourite instructors once said “travel is one of life’s great teachers” and he’s not far wrong. Even going to a country like Qatar that won’t have a million historic sites will be a cultural experience for anybody. Just imagine: there are flights from Philadelphia to Doha…you could go from feasting on pork roll and Tastykakes to shopping for spices, smoking shisha, and hearing the evening call to prayer in only 14 hours. You’ll put Fox News to shame and come home with glowing stories and fresh spices from Souq Waqif. It amazes me how even amongst people I know with a lot of money who have travelled so little. Regardless of what some people expect, I have a lot of years of travel left in my tank. The Middle East is, at least until this morning, the big blank spot on my travel map and I vow to undertake many journeys here. This morning I set out in long pants because I wasn’t sure what kind of dirty looks or hostility I could have received but I noticed plenty of people, both men and women, wearing shorts, short skirts, tank tops, and so forth. I would say if you plan on entering a mosque or going to holy sites, wear pants (or at least keep some in your bag to change into) but if you’re going to the souq and to museums you’ll be just fine wearing shorts. Unfortunately both the Gold Souq and the Falcon Souq are closed on Mondays so I’ll have to plan another trip to Qatar. The great thing about Qatar is that it’s built as a stopover destination and Qatar Airways operates a “spoke and hub” type network, so I’d say it’s inevitable I’ll end up here again (and I can always plan for longer than a day). I would recommend at least three nights for Qatar, and go into the desert if possible even for just a day trip.

Travel is like a game of chess: it’s all about strategy and planning your next move. I did just that as I headed toward Check’s home this evening. I used my 24-hour bus ticket to get to Pearl Qatar, though it’s still too far to walk to Check’s home so instead of hailing a taxi on the street I asked the girl at the reception desk to order me an Uber. I spent 10 Qatari riyals instead of the 20 I paid this morning from the same spot. 

My flight from Doha to Philadelphia was very early, so one of Check's secretaries, who is from Mauritania, would give me a lift to the airport. I eagerly await my next visit to the Middle East. 

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