The heat hit my face with oppression. It’s like its own medium; there’s air, water, and Doha heat. The horizon was hazy as the wind kicked up dust. Every surface was laden with a fine tan dust, like everything had just left Burning Man. Qatar Airways was treating me like royalty in relation to my normal life. Immediately after exiting the plane I stood in line and received a complimentary hotel room at the Oryx Rotana, valued around $300. They also gave me 150QAR ($40) for meals. I hopped on a shuttle and was taken to a swanky hotel on the outskirts of the main downtown Doha. A beautiful young girl in a white dress sat in the foyer playing a piano as we entered and were checked in. I stood to the side, in black soft-shell pants, hiking boots, t-shirt, crazy hair and an unkempt beard while the rest of the guests streamed in. Everyone else was clad in gorgeous, long dresses or shirts and ties, long white gowns called “Thobes” with gutra headdress, consequently, I caught a few fleeting, condescending glances from the obviously rich. In my room I showered under an overhead rainfall shower, and relaxed on my king size bed, watching tv. After a short rest I decided to venture out into the parts of the city nearby. I walked to a busy street and began walking towards the main high rises of downtown Doha. I wouldn’t venture that far however, downtown was still miles away. The busy street was loud and well lit. Tall bright street lights lit the walkway ahead of me. Massive bright, white construction lights illuminated vast expanses of land where foundations and new high rises were being constructed everywhere. The buildings around me boasted intricate, swooping architecture of mostly windows trimmed in artistic lighting designs. People streamed past me in their suits and families wandered in and out of high end electronics and grocery stores.
At a crosswalk I looked down the cross street into the contrast of a totally different Doha. This side street seemed to narrow into nothing the further down my eyes focused. The street lights closest to me seemed to dim by gradient the farther away from the busy street, until they disappeared altogether. There, only the dimly lit fluorescent lights from the cluttered shops lit my way. Road construction crews had erected tall fences with netting on them, leaving only about three feet of sidewalk between a translucent fence and the dirty walls of the buildings. I passed dark alley ways, silhouettes of people were backlit by the low, dusty glow of small windows. The alleys were intimidating and dark as far as I could see with low wires everywhere, the garbage swirled as the breeze funneled through the narrow alley. People shuffled from door to door, dark shadows moving through a dark medium. The farther from the busy street I got, the more stares I began to draw. Before too long people would stop walking and watch me walk by, and follow me as I passed. I started feeling nervous at all the gazes, people were staring daggers at me as if to say “You don’t belong here.” I was too nervous to stop and take a photo, every time I paused even for a second people stood and stared at me.
I was angry at myself for feeling conditioned into this nervous state by the United States’ tendency to fear people of the middle east. These were normal, kind people and I could walk on this street without any issues. I wanted to see the real Doha, the people of Doha, not the businessmen traveling through Doha. I pushed past my anxiety and forced myself farther into the darker reaches of the street until there was only foot traffic below the power lines, and faces were barely visible in the poor light until they were just a few feet away. The angry stares continued.
A man smoking a cigarette stopped and stared at me, seemingly angry, as I passed and I turned back to see he had stopped walking and was still staring when I ran into someone. It scared me and I staggered back apologizing nervously. That was it, I turned around and began shuffling quickly back down the half mile of dark, dirty, walking street I had covered. I could see the tall lights of the big street in the distance and knew I would be more comfortable there. I turned back onto the seemingly more safe street lined with businessman and sighed the tension away. A few yards down the street a man in a white Thobe with gutra and a red beard caught my gaze, but instead of staring daggers at me he smiled, lifted his hand and exclaimed “Hello! How are you?!”
“I’m great thanks” I smiled in response.
Yeah, I think I’ll finish my walk out here..
The next morning I caught the hotel shuttle back to the airport. During the drive I realized just how far away from the city of Doha I actually was. I was on the very outskirts of town, and probably shouldn’t have been wandering dark streets alone. I told my shuttle driver about my walk and he looked in the rear view and smiled.
“Yes” he said “you should always stay in the street lights, it’s the same where you come from no?”
“Yes, yes it is” I agreed. He was right.