Sunday, March 27, 2011

The misadventures of Doha, Qatar

In the midst of a revolution that was brewing in Egypt on January 25th (billed as "the day of rage") I was headed to Doha, Qatar for a professional development workshop with a couple of other teachers from school. It would be an understatement to say that we were preoccupied with the events unfolding back home. In the span of three days the situation in Egypt went from bad to worse as the Internet and mobile phone service was "turned off". I did manage to speak to Ana via landline-the only available source of communication into the country. 

The uncertainty and worry I felt watching burning buildings and the police attacking citizens on Al Jazeera was compounded by Doha's soulless landscape. I don't know if I exactly hated Doha, it just made me feel numb. The setting was like a watered and beaten down version of Dubai complete with expats, tall buildings, and malls. Not exactly a flagships for culture. File Qatar as a "paycheck" destination.  

Taxi are inexpensive but expect to endure a long travel time from point A to point B. Celine Dion and easy listening hits played at high volumes are a favorite among the Filipino and Indian drivers, this was confirmed on at least a half dozen trips. On only one occasion did a driver dare to play the Hot Topic variety of punk like AFI and Jimmy Eat World. 

On a positive note, my haircut from the Indian gentleman was quite the experience. I think he threw in a couple of wresting moves by the way he twisted and stretched my arms, back, and neck. The drumming on and the slapping of my head was the pinnacle of the session. Did I mention I only went in for a trim? By the third neck pull I as ready to tap myself out. Since torture was the theme of the day, a visit to the men's massage center a couple of blocks down from the hotel was mandatory. The smallish man from Nepal did an excellent job of pouring the bottle of massage oil on my back prior to literally walking all over me. He was dead on when he commented that my muscles felt like they hadn't been worked on in 10 months. How the @#%! did he know that?

A trip to Qatar also meant a possible encounter with the ever-elusive Grant. Grant is a friend from back in the day that we all dearly miss. A Grant sighting is worth a trip to the corner market for a lottery fact chances are better at seeing a California Condor on the moon. Spouses of mutual friends doubt his existence. True story-back in college 20 years ago we drove up to Glenwood Spring, CO for his band's gig and almost died twice in 12 hours. Although there is no evidence to back up the following claim, we did meet up on my last day for a lengthy lunch at a Turkish restaurant in an older part of Doha.  

The #1 attraction in Doha according to Trip Advisor and Virtual Tourist is Souq Waqif (a traditional Arabic market). Compared with the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul or the Medina in Marrakech it will seem like the bedroom closet. The highlight of the Souq was the diorama model of Doha's greatest architectural hits. Just think you can see the #1 attraction and the rest of Doha in one stop. Note the famous Al Fanar Mosque on the left.
The real Al Fanar Mosque...

Are you a tightrope walker in need of an off season job in a warm location?
Perhaps another famous building, seeing grass was picture worthy enough.
A common sign along the streets.
View of City Center along the corniche
Villaggio Mall is another top five attraction complete with gondolas and a canal... 
not to mention the indoor ferris wheel...

and roller coaster. It was hard to contain my excitement.

Aspire Tower (Doha's tallest structure) is nestled in between the Villaggio and Al Ahli Stadium home of the 2011 Asian Cup games.  

Aspire at night.

A soccer final in the desert without Krispy Kreme doughnuts is like a fish without a bicycle. Nachos were also on the evening's menu...cold congealed canned cheese, ketchup, and Saudi Arabian tortilla chips. I discovered the truth about the nachos the hard way.
Watching the news was depressing as hell so I bought a ticket to the 3rd place match between South Korea vs me a quitter as I left the stadium at the start of the 2nd half.  
Opposite of the Villaggo Mall and Aspire Tower was Fun Park...the highlights were the human foosball booth and the blinding mechanical flamethrowers that shot fire into the sky (see above). 

So I bought a ticket for the final- Japan vs. Australia (didn't know Australia was in Asia-goes to show you what I know). As fate would have it, the organizers oversold the event by 10,000 tickets in addition to letting the locals in for free fearing that the TV would show a bunch of empty seats. The eventual outcome was 1000's of empty seats, 20,000 pissed off ticket in hand fans, and riot police. I talked with a couple of angry Aussies who made the trip but were denied entry. No refunds either amigo. The evening was solidified by another hour-long cab ride listening to My Heart Will Go On shuffled every third song.  

There was question if we would be able to fly back into Egypt. The flight's time was change to accommodate the 4 pm curfew. The definition of eerie is flying on near empty commercial airliner and circling your destination of 6 plus million inhabitant several times and only seeing deserted streets.     


  1. You should have taken a picture of Grant...

  2. Matt-trust me I thought about it...but thought it might spoil the mystery. He still looks like Grant.