Going East to Get West

Trip Start Sep 12, 2005
Trip End Dec 12, 2005

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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Well, I don't think we would go the private route to rent a car again. It was just a little too strange - and I think we could have gotten into a lot of trouble if we'd been in an accident or had to show the car registration for some reason. Even the parking ticket left us feeling unsettled and I was also a little nervous when three of Mohammed's buddies showed up to take us to the airport (why so many?). We also found out that somehow he knew that we had an additional passenger, perhaps through the Tower Hotel. It all worked out OK in the end, but we'd be a little more cautious (and a lot less naive) next time!

Since flying out of Pakistan (another predominantly Muslim country) in 1984, it was the first time I'd encountered the private room for searching women going through security. It's a little curtained off area where women travellers are body searched without the prying eyes of onlookers. And they certainly give you a thorough once-over!

We had bought the cheapest flight we could find to Casablanca which happened to be with Qatar Airlines and went through Doha, Qatar, so we spent four hours flying east to turn around and fly west again! But it was an adventure! The plane was only about a quarter full.

We arrived at Doha just after 7 pm to 26C which felt like heaven - we haven't experienced temperatures that warm since the marathon in Berlin. As the evening progressed the rather small airport terminal became busier and busier. By about 10 pm it was just humming; the women's washroom was lined up 20 deep. All the place really consisted of on the main floor was a huge duty free, a small partitioned off waiting room/women's prayer room, as well as a smoking room (with no ceiling so the smoke circulated upwards) and three fast food restaurants/two departure lounges on the second floor. There was not nearly enough seating room for the passengers; most were relegated to finding a place on the floor/leaning up against a wall. Those who weren't buying up the loot in the duty-free, that is! Prices were very reasonable (especially compared to the Amman airport); travellers were purchasing chocolate, wine, cigarettes - and, to my surprise - huge cans of Tang and bags of powdered milk in vast quantities. And you couldn't even get close to the gold counter! Apparently, Qatar is one of the best places in the world to buy 14 and 18 karat gold. And the perfume! Everyone was trying out new fragrances. The whole place put me on sensory overload! (And it didn't end in the airport - the perfume testing continued on the plane to Morocco!)

We were quite impressed with Qatar airlines. The service and the food were good; on our layover in Qatar we were even provided with a meal voucher (which turned out to be good for only chicken and chips, but oh well).

It wasn't until after 2 am that our flight actually left. Until our departure I did enjoy people-watching; there were people from all over the world - it was like a meeting of the United Nations in one small place. There were Muslim men from Qatar dressed in their long white tunics and white headdresses, rolled up at the sides to resemble a sort of Middle Eastern cowboy hat, and their wives shrouded in black; Sri Lankan women dressed in gold-trimmed saris in brilliant greens and purples; and turbaned Sikhs from India. I imagined the stories and destinations of the travellers I saw there: an Indian family travelling to England for a family wedding; four Russian men on their way to Thailand for a raucous holiday (that was already well underway); Mongolian agrologists returning from an agricultural conference in the US; a Thai woman and her British husband travelling to rural Thailand to adopt an orphan child; a Malaysian mother and her son going home after receiving medical treatment in Germany; a black American nurse on leave from her nursing position in the UAE; a group of Morrocan women returning from a pilgrimage to Mecca (accompanied by a male escort, of course). Even if it was all just speculation, it was a wonderful way to pass the time!
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