When I was booking my flight to go see my parents in Ethiopia, the cheapest and fastest route ended up being through Doha, Qatar. Qatar Airlines was having amazing deals to try and convince people to extend their layovers so I thought, "Why not? When else would I go to Qatar?" So instead of taking a direct flight back from Ethiopia, I spent two days in Doha, Qatar. The last time I was in the Middle East, I was 19 years old in Egypt during the Egyptian revolution. 6 years later, I managed to find myself alone again in another troubled Middle Eastern country, this time in the middle of a boycott by all its surrounding neighbors. Awesome.
On my flight to Ethiopia, I met an Ethiopian man who lives in Qatar, who was traveling with his family who lives in Atlanta. (I mean, what are the odds?) We started talking in the immigration line and when I said I was going to Qatar, he offered to show me around. My childhood indoctrination of "don't talk to strangers" runs deep within me, so I never say yes to this kind of thing. But after two weeks around Ethiopians, meeting his family, and a gut instinct, I decided to take him up on it.
I arrived in the morning to the Doha airport and got the shuttle to my hotel. Thanks to Qatar Airlines, my 2-night stay at a 4-star hotel only cost $50. It was incredible. My room had a view of the Arabian Gulf, and the hotel had a beautiful dining room with a giant chandelier and an outdoor pool. It was heavenly.
I'm going to start the rest of the story by saying, I was perfectly safe. Nothing bad happened to me and I was never in danger. After I got settled in, my new Ethiopian friend Lakew picked me up and showed me the sites of Qatar. (Now you may be thinking, is it really a good idea to get in a strange man's car in a foreign country? That is a reasonable question to ask, and one I asked myself in the moment. Not going to lie, there were some strange moments, but it was also really great and gave me the opportunity to see parts of Qatar I would never have been able to see. I trust myself and my judgment and never said yes to anything that made me uncomfortable).
Anyway, Lakew took me outside the city to see the surrounding area of Qatar, which is just a barren desert. Qatar feels like what I imagine Mars will look like in a century: uninhabitable outside of man-made infrastructure. Qatar has a terrible history of human rights violations, and it's not hard to see why. The temperature was 113 degrees with 70 percent humidity and construction was still going on. I can't even imagine what that would feel like. We went out to the sea, where I got out for approximately 3 minutes before needing to get back in the airconditioned car.
The Qataris have more oil money than they know what to do with, so the infrastructure is just absurd. There are flashy, stange looking buildings everywhere, and everything shines as if its brand new. There's even a man-made island called "The Pearl", which is where we ended up going for dinner. There's opulence everywhere. It also happened to be the end of Ramadan and Eid, so we went to a restaurant that was doing free henna tattoos. It all felt like a surreal dream (and not just because it was still over 100 degrees at night).
The next day, I went to the Islamic Museum of Art, which was incredible. I haven't done any Islamic studies since my study abroad trip in college, so I loved being immersed in the history of this incredible culture. Islamic art is virtually all based on repeating patterns, that give the illusion that they go on into infinity. It's all deeply theological and incredibly beautiful. It's also right on the water's edge, with an incredible view of the skyline.
Afterward, I got lunch with Lakew and then decided to spend the rest of my day by myself. As grateful as I was for a tour guide and friend, I had only one thing on my mind: sitting on a beach.
My hotel was a just down the block from the fabulous Hilton hotel, which is easily the nicest hotel in the city. The night before, we went to the restaurant connected to the hotel, so I knew they had an amazing beach and pool. I decided to test my luck and just walk straight through the hotel and to the pool and act like I belonged there. As I have learned many times in my life, confidence will get you anywhere. I walked straight through, found a good spot, and had the best afternoon ever. I read, swam, and enjoyed the last day of my trip.
I ended my evening back in my hotel room, with room service, a fuzzy bathrobe and episodes of The Man from High Castle. It was such a treat to have a mini solo vacation, even if it was in a boycotted Middle Eastern country. It made me want to take advantage of exended layovers in the future. I'd never plan a trip to Qatar, but it was a great place to spend a few days!