My ID: 7:40pm, Saturday, 11 August 2007: Doha International Airport
Qatar Airways flight QR52 from Washington-Dulles
My Initial Descent into the Middle East came by way of Doha, Qatar. Sent by my employer of the time for a business meeting, I wasn’t really sure what to expect on the other end of my 14-hour flight. I knew I was excited—a kind of excitement I had not felt since my Initial Descent into Asia a few years earlier. The feeling of embarking on a new adventure in a place completely opposite to everything familiar to me.
I remember following the course of the flight on my in-seat map, and noticing (as it would turn out later, in both directions) that we avoided flying directly over Iraq. I wondered if it was still some fallout of the political confrontation started by the United States. I remember looking down as we descended below the clouds and seeing nothing but yellow sand, stretching in every direction into eternity. I remember popping over a glowing sea of blue as we approached Doha, and seeing half-constructed buildings sprouting out of the desert like pine trees against the edge of the water below. And then I remember being on the ground.
Funneling out of a massive, state-of-the-art 777, into a little bus, it felt like the airplane I had just flown on came from the future and the airport I was now walking into came from the past (this is very soon to change, as New Doha International Airport nears completion). I began to sweat immediately upon feeling the August desert heat (my boss had warned me about this), and followed the queue into a glowing white immigration hall. After clearing customs and collecting my duffel bag, I will never forget walking around the corner into the Arrivals hall and being met with a wall of men—all men—all dressed exactly the same. The men were different colors—some very light, some very dark, and some in the middle—but all were dressed in white robes and sandals, with headdresses that were either white or red and white. If I didn’t know I was in a different world from the view out the window upon landing, I definitely knew I was now.
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