Today's Stamp: 1 Day in Doha: Qatar
Always take the Long layover: spend time in new places
All photos taken by Samantha Isom with the exception of photo OF Samantha, shot by Gary Buckland
On January 27th 2017 the (then) new President of the United States (Donald J. Trump) wrote in an executive order to BAN entry into the United States to people from these 7 countries: Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. Mind you, (as quoted from the New York Times) "Most of the 19 hijackers on the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Shanksville, Pa., were from Saudi Arabia. The rest were from the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Lebanon. None of those countries are on Mr. Trump’s visa ban list." This executive order has since been in the courts and placed on 'hold' (as of June 11th 2017 when this blog post was written).
....."It turns out that unlike it's restrictive Saudi neighbor, women can drive, vote run for office and freely participate in social and public life.".....
When I go to Indonesia, I fly Qatar Airways, from NYC to Doha (Qatar), then onto Denpasar, Bali (Indonesia). Qatar is located on the Persian Gulf with it's only land border being Saudi Arabia (herein referred to as 'Saudi'). On Monday June 5th 2017, it was announced that at least 4 Arab nations (Saudi, Bahrain, UAE & Egypt) severed diplomatic ties with the state of Qatar, Saudi being the ring leader (so to speak) of this action (backed by Trump). Qatar gets about 40% of it's food from Saudi. All of these nations except for Egypt ordered their citizens to leave Qatar. In Dubai, it has been made illegal to speak of sympathy to Qatar, and offense punishable by deportation and or jail time.
My flight from NYC to Doha (Qatar) landed at 06:30 Tuesday June 6th. when booking, I purposefully customized my journey with the longest layover I could get away with (on a single ticket). I ended up with 20 hours in Doha (Score!).
Prior to leaving I booked a half day ride in a 4x4 in the Qatari desert, culminating with a stop at the inland sea (border to Saudi). I also booked a low cost Hotel so I could take a disco nap on a real bed, and take a shower prior to heading back out on a 9 hour flight to Bali. There are only 4 seats (possibly 3) in the 4x4, and so far it appeared as though I was the only person on that excursion (at time of my booking). I thought it would be nicer to have a travel buddy so it wouldn't just be myself and the driver going on a 4 hour desert excursion, and requested to the booking agent if anyone else were going and if there was any room in their vehicle I would like to join rather than going it on my own. I was blessed with one more person booking last minute (Gary from CapeTown, South Africa).
Once in Doha, I picked up a VOA (Visa On Arrival) for about $27USD. Mind you, I arrived Jun 6th 2017...which was just the 1st week into Ramadan. Once I picked up my visa I couldn't go back into the international terminal, where all the food stands were still open. So, thankfully I had packed my snacks and filled up my water canteen beforehand, knowing full well I might be out of luck to find a coffee or anything else open during daylight hours in a 'Sharia Law' State. I went out and got a taxi to my hotel (The Green Garden Hotel, in Doha) I had booked in advance for $50 via www.booking.com. After about an hour, I heard from the driver letting me know he was available to pick me up early (originally scheduled for 9am) so we could then pick up the other traveler (Gary) at the airport.
We picked Gary up around 9am and away we went. Driving through a bit of Doha, through the towns of Al Wakrah & Mesaieed (home to the Oil refineries), then stopped to deflate the tires. You see, once off road, and onto the sand dunes, they need to deflate the tires to about 10psi in order to move freely through the sand. We stopped at a small Oasis, where a few Sudanese men and a couple of Camels were gathered. For about 20,000 Qatari Rials you could ride on a camel so of course I said YES!!! Despite it being Ramadan (and about 09:45) we were served tea in a shaded area out of the (40c--aka 110F) hot sun.
The tires were now down to 10psi and we were on our way through the sand dunes to the Inland Sea. Our driver (Amir) was originally from Pakistan and had been living in Qatar for about 13 years (and loving it). He told me many people from all over come to Qatar for the good paying work opportunities. Amir, also shared with me that "Women have (some) freedoms in Qatar". I thought (but not saying this out loud of course) 'oh boy what the heck does that mean...'freedoms'. It turns out that unlike it's restrictive Saudi neighbor, women can drive, vote run for office and freely participate in social and public life. Of course this commentary has got me thinking, as much as I complain about my home 'State of the United', I'm extremely appreciative right about now with the freedom prior generations fought for me to have. BE THANKFUL....
....."to the narrow ridge and over to the other side where the 4x4 was most often completely sideways with sand blasting up the down facing side of the vehicle.".....
I could not have had a better person to share this ride with. Gary (from Cape town) was 'right on time'. all three of us enjoyed engaging conversation about life in Qatar, Capetown, NYC and London (where Gary & his family had lived for quite some time, prior to moving back to Cape Town). Gary and I spoke on the lasting effects of apartheid both in S. Africa and it's American counterpart. It's through conversations like these that we can continue to make strides in people's way of thinking which inevitably bring about positive change over time.
....."which turned into his putting his arm around me pulling me TOO close".....
Through all this conversation we would often yell out a few screams and laughter as we climbed steep sand dunes to the narrow ridge and over to the other side where the 4x4 was most often completely sideways with sand blasting up the down facing side of the vehicle. Thankfully this 4x4 was equipped with roll bars (and air conditioning!...it was 41c at 11am!). After some time up, down, and sideways (often feeling like I was riding on a velodrome), we arrives to the Inland Sea. It was there Amir spilled the beans about the news released only a few hours prior: Qatar had been diplomatically isolated by many of its Arab neighbors.
....."insulting someone is a punishable offense".....
As Gary and I look across the water to the Saudi border, Amir spoke about his recent trip to Saudi and how easy it was for him to freely travel over the border. He began telling us what few details he had and shared his confusion in all of this (and concern). I must say I was quite perplexed, by hearing this and even Gary wondered if it had something to do with Trump's recent visit to Saudi only a week or so beforehand. Qatar may not be the most socially 'free/open' State, but Qatar is quite welcoming, & home to one of most progressive news agencies in the world (Al Jazeera) which by the way is STATE funded. News broke that the airline Gary & I flew in on (and I'm scheduled to go back to the States on) is not allowed in Saudi airspace, nor the airspace of the other States involved in this political move. All Qatar airways flights are banned from these other state's airports, basically 100% ties were between those countries and Qatar has been severed.
Now, about safety: traveling as a female. Remember that part earlier when I said I was fully prepared to take this desert ride alone (as the only passenger that is).....after what I'm about to share with you occured I am ever more thankful for Gary's last minute appearance on this trek. After our visit to the Inland Sea (on the Saudi border) we went to a nearby beach camp which was completely empty (not 1 person anywhere in site---remember it was 41c and still not even midday). Amir took a selfie of all three of us, then Gary went off to explore a bit of the (empty) camp. Amir tagged a bit too closely to me as I was trying to do the same as Gary, then proceeded to take a selfie of just he and I. This is where it gets a weird. He stood next to me for what I thought to be 1 (ONE) selfie, which turned into his putting his arm around me pulling me TOO close for several more pics. RED FLAG! I don't know about you, but there is ONE thing I think can hold certain people back from traveling (besides their excuses about money and time): FEAR. As a brown person fro the states I grew up afraid of just about everything: getting pulled over by the cops, being harassed at a remote gas station (hearing music in my head from the film 'Deliverance'), and as a female there of course is that issue of unwanted male 'attention'. In this case my radar went OFF and I quickly shuffled closer to Gary and made sure he was always within an arms length. Now, perhaps I was overreacting a bit...could be so. However, in a strict state where insulting someone is a punishable offense, I felt I had to tread lightly in my reaction to Amir's newly found comfort in my company. Gary was dropped off 1st, then I. As I quickly shuffled out of the 4x4, Amir offered a 'free' city tour to me later (after dark) and suggested I call him (via What's App). Nervous, but NOT showing my true feelings, afraid of offending him if I flat out said NO, I told Amir, I needed to rest a bit and couldn't give an answer right now. Thankfully I safely checked into my hotel and got that much neede 'disco nap' so I would be ready to go hit the souq for nightfall. Ladies: always trust your gut instinct! When in doubt GET OUT. Listen to the interview (video below) with Sophia, about travel alone as a female.
Just before nightfall I took a taxi to Katara Cultural village. As I'm walking along the water, I hear a LOUD BANG....sounded like a cannon. I quickly realized this was the indicator that it was time to break the fast and immediately I could hear the call to prayer nearby.
After the call to prayer, I jumped back in the same taxi that brought me to Katara (Abu from Ghana) and went to the Souq Wakiff. There I found the streets bustling with energy as it was now long past Iftar. I'm sharing with you (see video below) just a glimpse of the wonderful stroll through this bustling Arabian marketplace.
Now having (finally) gotten something to eat at an Iraqi restaurant, and buying some incredible sandals at one of the shop in the Souq, it was time to head back to the hotel, have that last shower, and head back to Hamad airport. Next Stop..........