Let me tell you a little story. Like all the best stories, this one begins in Paris. ???? You may recall, a couple years ago, I convinced Terry we should go to Paris so he could attend a sports medicine conference out in Monaco. Paris was wonderful, and the conference was a big success (mostly because it got us to Paris ?). Terry kept in contact with several of the people he met there, one of whom was this Irish guy. When we were considering other job options a year or so back, Terry reached out to this guy about any possible opportunities. He said he didn’t know of anything, but was hearing some good buzz about this place in Qatar . . .
Fast forward to last fall. We’d researched this place in Qatar and it looked like it’d be a rad place to work at. And lo and behold, they were holding a conference in February. For free.
You see where this is going, right?
(Qatar. It’s going to Qatar.)
I was a little nervous about going to the Middle East. Not like nervous-for-my-safety, more like nervous-I’ll-dress-inappropriately, or nervous-about-being-in-a-hotel-alone-with-a-baby-while-Terry’s-at-his-conference kind of nervous. But all in all, everything went splendidly. (I think I must have blocked from my memory the nights where Sander was crawling all over both me and Terry, clawing our faces while we desperately tried to convince him to sleep.) But we had a great time. I know Qatar’s not topping anyone’s list of travel destinations, but they’re holding the World Cup there in a few years (for soccer, not quidditch, sadly) so maybe it’ll start to be more of a hot destination.
We were there for about a week and Terry was at his conference for only three of those days. We stayed at the Saraya Corniche hotel, which I’d highly recommend – big gorgeous room, wonderful service, and within walking distance to the souq, the corniche, and the Museum of Islamic Art.
I spent a lot of time walking the corniche – besides just enjoying the sights and sounds of the ocean and the endless blue sky, that was usually my best bet to get Sander to take a nap on the go. He is a champion sleeper at home but a runner-up sleeper when we’re traveling (although he’s getting better – it’s a skill! He can learn!). But he got the hang of sleeping in his stroller while we walked up and down the coast. We also took him to the little playground just across the way, and he had his first chance to experience the magic of a swing. I grinned like an idiot the whole time, watching him smile and try to lick the chain.
One of our favorite things about traveling in Asia is all the fun markets – bazaars just never get old to me. But I’ve been to enough markets in south-east Asia to know a bit what to expect. The souq in Doha though had a totally different flavor. We had a blast winding through alleyways crammed with spices, abayas, camel saddles, pottery and carpets.
We ate many a meal at the souq, and not one of them was a disappointment. There are a million different cuisines served in Doha, and we tried a good sampling of them – Lebanese, Moroccan, Turkish, Yemini, Iraqi. By far our favorite was the Yemen place. We went twice, in fact. The second time we got to sit on the floor to eat our food, which was lots of fun – even if we were scrambling to keep Sander from crawling to our neighbor’s food and swiping it. By the end of the week we were desperate for some vegetables and fruit – there was just so much meat and bread in every meal. I feel like you could really thrive there on the Atkins diet. Regardless, we gobbled up the beef stew and GIGANTIC pita bread at that Yemen place (seriously – that bread was like five times the size of my face, no exaggeration).
The days Terry was at his conference went better than I thought they would. Sander and I went a couple times to the Museum of Islamic Art, which is not only free, but really cool! The building is gorgeous and was designed by the same guy who did the pyramid outside the Louvre in Paris. The exhibits were fascinating – lots of old coins and carpets and stuff. And the cafe is seriously not to be missed. (Also, they serve lemon mint juice all over there – get some. Trust me.)
I went to the Villagio mall one of the conference days because it was right near Terry’s conference and we were meeting up there for dinner. I wandered around with Sander for a while, enjoying the fancy stores and trying to pretend I felt totally at ease walking by super high-end brand names like Gucci and Prada while decked out in Target attire and flip-flops. I of course made a stop at Coldstone, since they don’t have ice cream in my city in China. The cinnamon ice cream with crushed graham crackers was delicious, but it was even more fun to watch the guys scoop it for me – they were throwing the ball of ice cream in the air with their metal spatulas and tossing it across the counter to the other employee, who caught it in a cup before offering it to me. If I’d known what was about to happen I would have filmed it. I’ll just have to remember instead.
Sander and I also visited the cultural center and the mosque. I was a little nervous to go by myself – I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but we had a bunch of time to kill so I gave it a try. Everyone was incredibly kind there, and happy to answer any of my questions. I looked around the cultural center for a while, reading up on Islam while Sander entertained a Qatari guy in the traditional thobe and ghutra by just being his adorable baby self. Then I braved going up to the mosque. They sent me with a female escort, who had my don one of the flowing black dresses complete with headscarf before she took Sander and I into the mosque. We were the only women in there and could look down through the divider on just a few guys praying down below. The whole thing was so fascinating to me. I was endlessly amazed at both how different and how similar pieces of Islam is to my own religion (I belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints). The muslim people I came across in Qatar were incredibly kind and welcoming, and the country as a whole felt very safe and inviting. I hope people feel as welcome in my home country as I did in theirs.
Terry was back to touring around with us after his conference. My favorite memory of him from this trip will be watching him run down the street for 10 minutes, chasing after a herd of camels and their riders, trying to get a good picture.
For Middle East beginners, I’d say Qatar felt like a good place to start. It’s a bit more progressive than some of the nearby countries, so I didn’t have to dress completely covered. I walked around in jeans and a tshirt most of the days, and definitely saw women wearing less. I nursed Sander in public many a time (albeit with a cover on, which is what I usually prefer anyway). The driving was not anywhere near as bad as China, even though everyone visiting at Terry’s conference said the driving there was terrible. People spoke English for the most part. And we went at what felt like the perfect time of year – the end of February, when it was in maybe the low 80’s for most of the time. The prices for food and souvenirs and lodging was definitely more than what I’ve become accustomed to here in southeast Asia, but I guess it takes a special place like Thailand to have incredible hotels for $17 a night. Still, we had a wonderful time and would definitely be up for going back someday.
Especially if that Yemeni restaurant is still around . . .