Monday, April 23, 2007

LETTER FROM QATAR

My fellow Americans: If you are planning that next big vacation to Hawaii or maybe the Daytona 500, I'd suggest you reconsider and head for a week in the gulf region of the Middle East. I know that wasn't high on your holiday agenda, but maybe it should be. It's wonderful here. I'm in Qatar -- get out the globe -- but could as easy be in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, or the island of Bairain. Don't come in the high summer months -- it gets up to 40 c here, which translates into 110-115 f range. Come right now, in April, when it's only a mild 90 f during the day and cool at night and the living is pretty damn easy.

And it's not expensive, assuming you catch a good deal on air travel. The Qatari rial exchanges at 3.5 to a dollar. You can buy an entire male Arab wardrobe -- gown, pants, head dress, and some bond beads thrown into the deal -- for about 125 rials, or $35. It's all white cotton, very nice and very comfortable. A cab ride from a hotel to the local sueq, or marketplace, will run you about 9 rials. If you wish to rent a car, gas here is ridiculously cheap -- about 75 cents a gallon. You get the idea. We're not talking a $15 cup of coffee at a snooty New York hotel.

The gulf region is the cutting edge of the Middle East in every way. It's like the transition zone between the West and the Arab world, kind of like getting to know the blues by listening to the Rolling Stones. One big travel manual called Qatar the most boring place on earth, but they were wrong. Apparently they had never been to Kansas (just kidding, I love Kansas). I'm sure the pleasure dome of Dubai, the Las Vegas of tfhe Middle East, is a lot more fun, but since most of us Americanos know so little about this part of the world, everything here is, at least initially, new and exciting.

The main thing, I guess, is that it's just refreshing, almost liberating, to be at least slightly out of the oppressive mindset of American media, ie Washington politics and Hollywood hogwash. This morning's Qatar Tribune did report on the Sundance Film Festival and flip a TV dial and you're watching Larry King on CNN Worldwide, but that stuff has the same impact here that the Nigerian election or English football has in the New York Times, ie, not much. I know you world travelers out there already know this, but even most of you know Europe and that's it. This ain't Europe. This is a brand new world that will sooner than later leave Europe and the US on the downside of history.

More to come. Gotta go eat a date.

2 Comments:

Blogger Jenny Junipero said...

Lovely! Longing to hear more and get some hard facts on accessibility.

1:50 PM  
Blogger Allen said...

Jenny, I'm not all the good on hard facts. I'm more of a sensory impressions guy, but in general, in Qatar, access is not much of a problem because everything is as flat as the desert. There are, strangely enough, only eight accessible hotels rooms in all of Doha, so that's a situaton that needs to be rectified, for sure. Which it in doubt will be, because the Qatari are very efficient and gracious -- I'm sure someone is working on the problem righ now.

12:46 AM  

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