For me hands down Doha, Qatar, has to be one of the most boring places on the planet.
It’s nothing like its role model, Dubai, an established and relatively sophisticated city. Doha is still establishing roots, literally. Some newly-planted palms along the boulevards and corniches have yet to relax their fronds. When I was there last week the temperature soared to 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Other than migrant workers slaving to put the final touches on the city’s new football stadium, nothing much seems to go on outside air-conditioned offices and hotels.
Freud would have had a field day in Doha.
Futuristic high-rise office buildings shamelessly resembling penises have sprouted in short order aiming to rival Dubai’s. One is simply referred to as “The Dildo”.
They’d better hurry up and figure out how to artfully cover up the new stadium by 2022 when Doha hosts the FIFA World Cup. Many snicker how it resembles a vast vagina.
The Queen of Qatar is apparently keen on developing Doha’s hip art scene. On my first visit I caught Damien Hirst’s Exhibit called “Relics”.
Housed in the “Al Riwaq space” next to the Islamic museum, these relics include a £50 million diamond-encrusted human skull, and, among other sliced animals, a great white shark floating in formaldehyde.
Bronze fetuses stood sentry like gargoyles outside the exhibit.
Twice I’d gone to Doha to meet with editors at Al Jazeera English . I’d hoped to get a glimpse inside the media house’s building complex, but security appears even tighter than Nairobi’s current US Embassy. (The embassy was bombed in 1998, allegedly by Osama bin Laden).
Well, that’s not likely to happen.Apparently, most of the staff were on holiday so all that remained was a skeleton crew and they don’t allow casual visitors.
Who are they trying to barricade themselves from? Beelzebub? Egypt’s military regime, perhaps.
It didn’t help that I’d arrived during Islamic festival of Eid (not to be confused with IED).
Families, mostly from Saudi Arabia, poured into hotels. All of Doha seemed to become an Islamic version of Romper Room.
I’d moved from hotel to hotel trying to find peace and wind up a story I was filing for AJE. Everywhere I went, including to restaurants in some better hotels, I was shot the evil eye from inside the slits of women’s burqas.
What did I do to deserve this hostility? My legs and shoulders were covered.
A male friend later suggested that as a blonde traveling alone Saudi women probably assumed I was a Russian hooker.
There was no escape.
The second time I went to Doha was last week, the beginning of Ramadan. I did manage to meet with an editor on a Thursday.
I’d hoped to get a pass inside the AJE complex but again only a skeleton crew.
Friday morning before my afternoon flight back to Dubai, I’d planned to visit Islamic museum. But, on Fridays, most public buildings are closed.
Before leaving I said to someone residing full time in Doha (whom I never got the chance to meet) that I clearly picked wrong times to visit.
He replied dryly, “There’s no good time to visit Doha.”