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An American in Qatar:

Going Home 

When I posted my last entry a few months ago, I'd been living in Qatar for over two years, things were going well and I was "loving life," as they say.  As I described in that entry, I’d adjusted to life in the Middle East reasonably well and had become comfortable with the cultural differences.  In fact, I hadn't made a major faux pas in months.  I also liked my job, doing computer mapping work for Atkins engineers at the 120-person Central Planning Office (CPO) in downtown Doha.  I missed America, of course, but greatly enjoyed my new life and job in Qatar and envisioned staying in Doha for many more years.



Above:  The country of Qatar (highlighted in red) is about the size of Connecticut and borders Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf.

I had a growing sense of concern, however, because every time in my life that I've felt things were going well, the other shoe would always drop.  Sure enough, in November, a week after I had cautiously admitted to a friend back in America that I was the happiest I'd been in years, I got some bad news at work.  Everyone in the Central Planning Office was called to an all-staff meeting on the 16th floor one afternoon and we learned that our contract was being terminated.  The entire office was being cut due to a sharp decline in oil prices and a growing economic slump in the Middle East.


The economy of every Persian Gulf country was being hammered by a sharp drop in oil prices.  Consequently, mass layoffs like this were becoming common.  I had sensed the first tremors in Qatar about a year earlier when I started hearing rumors about massive cutbacks.  Thousands of expats like myself had poured into the Persian Gulf region a few years earlier when oil prices were above $120 a barrel.  But now, with oil prices sinking to $29 a barrel, thousands of expats were flocking to the airport departure gates, heading home.


Above:  The Central Planning Office's GIS team.  From left to right:  Indu, me, Peter, Oumer and Shree.

Things in the Middle East happen very fast.  The Central Planning Office was created in 2011 within just a few weeks of the initial idea, as I described in my December 2013 update.  And now it was being liquidated, and almost just as fast.  Gulf economies are very much "boom and bust" and if you work there, you have to always be prepared – emotionally, financially and every other way – for the worst. 


I wasn’t terribly saddened about going home, though, because I had spent almost three years in Qatar, I’d saved up a little money and had had an amazing adventure.  I would’ve much preferred to stay in Qatar because I loved living and working there, but I was fine with moving back to the U.S., too, because I missed home and was looking forward to taking some time off and starting my next adventure.  In fact, the first thought that popped into my head after I heard about our office’s demise was, “Road Trip!” 


Fortunately the Central Planning Office was given four months of notice, meaning that our jobs wouldn’t disappear until March 1, 2016.  Therefore I spent most of those four months planning a major road trip around America, which would start in the spring of 2016 shortly after I returned to America.  I also spent a lot of time perusing the Toyota.com website while deciding what kind of truck I wanted to buy when I got back to Portland, having sold my Honda van in 2013 shortly before I moved to the Middle East.  I knew it was going to be a Toyota truck because I drove my 1985 Toyota pickup truck over 250,000 miles around the country and to all Lower 48 states before I gave it to a friend in 2010.  But the big decision was between gray and white.  I eventually settled on a gray, 2016 four-wheel drive V6 Tacoma. 



Above:  Almost every weekend I walked three miles down Doha's waterfront, called the Corniche, and then back to my apartment.  My destination was "Del's Beach."  Here's a video.  (8:43)

I also spent time during my last four months in Doha saying goodbye to many of the wonderful places I had known in Qatar.  That especially included the Corniche, Doha's beautiful, six-mile long waterfront park, where I had walked almost every weekend over the past three years.   I walked on the Corniche just about every weekend except during the hot summer months, of course, when hardly anyone in Qatar ventures outside for more than a few minutes.


Each year in October, after enduring the long, hot summer and when daily high temperatures had dropped to "only" about 95 degrees, I started venturing out of my apartment every weekend, usually on a Friday but sometimes on Saturday (weekends in the Middle East are on Friday and Saturday).  Then I walked about three miles down the Corniche to a little spot that I called "Del's Beach," one of the few patches of sand on Doha Bay.  Some weekends I walked the entire six miles to the end, to the Museum of Islamic Art Park, and then back to my apartment, for 12 miles total. 


I continued this weekly Corniche trek through the winter months and into the spring until about May, when temperatures once again reached the mid-90s.  There usually weren't a lot of people on the Corniche in hot-and-humid October, but by December, when the weather was perfect with high temperatures only in the 70s, the Corniche was often packed with pedestrians, joggers and bikers.  While walking down the Corniche during the winter months, you see people from, literally, almost every country in the world.  I didn't have a car in Qatar, so walking on the Corniche every weekend was always one of my highlights of the week and I visited it often during my last four months in Qatar, saying a quiet and bittersweet farewell.



Above left:  Doha's Corniche starts here at the iconic Sheraton Hotel.  The hotel was built in the 1980s.  At that time, this modern area of high-rises, which is today called "West Bay," was nothing but sand.

Above right:  And here's what the West Bay area of Doha looks like today.  This is Al Dafna Park on the Corniche.  That's the Tornado Tower towards the center, another iconic building in Qatar.



Left:  Dhows are common on the Corniche. For a few dollars you can ride one across Doha Bay.

They're sort of like taking a horse-carriage ride in New York City's Central Park. 




Above left:  Fishing is popular on the Corniche, too, – though frankly, I never saw anyone catch a fish.

Above right:  The leaders of Qatar on the side of a building.  On the left is the former emir, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, who stepped down in 2013.  It was the first peaceful transfer of power of any country in the Persian Gulf.  On the right is his son and the current emir, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.



Above left:  This was my destination during my weekly walks down the Corniche, a small patch of sand that I called "Del's Beach."  Catchy name, huh?

Above right:  Another Friday morning on Del's Beach.



Above left:  The Corniche was crowded on National Day, December 18, equivalent to the Fourth of July in America.  The temperature was "only" about 75, so folks were wearing heavy clothing.  We're just not used to this cold weather!

Above right:  Kicking back at the end of the Corniche.  That's me and my 10-year old JanSport daypack at the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) Park, enjoying the view.



Left:  Folks enjoying National Day in 2015 from MIA Park.

The "Extreme Geographer" Idea Takes Off

Except for those folks who had lined up other jobs, most of my 120 colleagues at the Central Planning Office were very saddened – no, make that depressed – about our termination notice in November.  I was too, to some extent, though I was trying to focus on the bright side.  Most of my CPO colleagues spent the next four months not doing much of anything in the office except occasionally training the people who would be taking over for them.  That has to be the saddest task you can ever imagine:  training someone to take over your job while knowing that you’re being terminated.  But it had to be done. 


Above:  The Central Planning Office was unusually quiet during the four months after our termination notice in November.

It was a strange four months for everyone in the office, as most folks were in a mixed state of denial, shock, sadness, apprehension and lethargy.  A few lucky folks, mostly the engineers, landed jobs elsewhere in Qatar but the rest of us were preparing to move back home, whether that be India, the U.K., Sri Lanka, the Philippines or, in my case, the U.S.


I was in a slightly better mood than most of my colleagues at CPO, though, partly because I didn't have a spouse or family to support.  There's little job security in the field of engineering consulting and indeed, that's a major reason why I've never gotten married, because I don't want to worry about supporting someone else.  Heck, I have enough to worry about just supporting myself.


I  spent a lot of time during those four months, like I say, planning my upcoming road trip around America.  I was trying to look forward to something rather than look back on memories and missed opportunities – opportunities like looking for another job in Qatar when I had a chance, instead of being such a loyal employee to the CPO.  And so, the day after we got the news about our contract cancellation, I sat down at my desk at CPO and asked myself, “Where in the U.S. do I want to go?”  There was suddenly no billable work or pressing deadlines to meet, so with nothing else to do, I opened my GIS (i.e., computer mapping) software and started creating a dot map, putting a dot on each place that I wanted to visit in America during my upcoming planned trip around the U.S.


During the next few days certain themes emerged as I occasionally updated my dot map.  I had placed dots on some of my favorite places that I wanted to visit again, like southern Utah and Cape Hatteras in North Carolina.  Other dots indicated places I had never been, like Memphis, Tennessee, the largest city in the U.S. that I had never visited (it's ranked #28 in U.S. population.  Over the years I've visited cities #1 through 27).  And still other dots represented my friends and relatives around America that I wanted to see – and a few that I didn’t especially care to.  OK, Aunt Edna, I’m just kidding.


Above:  A portion of the dot map I created in Qatar as I planned my upcoming trip around America.

As I started planning my upcoming trip around America, I also put a few dots over places of geographic extremes, like the easternmost point of the United States (in Maine), which I’d visited in 1985, and the westernmost point of the Lower 48 states (in the state of Washington), which I had visited in 1993.  I'd always been fascinated with geographic extremes. 


“Heck,” I said to myself as I looked at my map – I would’ve said something more colorful but this was the Middle East and swearing is discouraged – “if I’m going to those places, I should also go to the southernmost and northernmost points of the U.S., because I’ve never been there.”


And so I put a dot on Cape Sable, in Everglades National Park on the southern tip of Florida, which is the southernmost point of the contiguous United States.  Then I put a dot on the northernmost point of the contiguous U.S., a place called the Northwest Angle in northern Minnesota.  The Northwest Angle is about 20 miles north of the 49th parallel, the imaginary line that runs west from Minnesota to the state of Washington and defines the U.S. border with Canada.


Now, some of you might think that Key West, Florida is the southernmost point of the Lower 48 states and not Cape Sable.  But Key West is an island, so yes, Cape Sable is the southernmost point of the United States mainland.  And because the geography of America was still uncertain in the 1700s, an obscure place called the Northwest Angle in Minnesota, which is surrounded by Canada, is the northernmost point of the Lower 48 states.  Few people have been to the Northwest Angle and fewer people have been to Cape Sable because both places are hard to get to, but I wanted to visit both.


Those were the extreme cardinal directions:  North, South, East and West.  Then I decided to also visit the extreme ordinal directions during my road trip:  the Northeast, Southeast, Northwest and Southwesternmost points of the U.S.  Using my GIS software and Google Maps, and sitting at my desk in the soon-to-be-defunct Central Planning Office, I calculated the coordinates of these locations and studied the aerial imagery at each point. 


I also did some Internet research and realized that, surprisingly, no one seemed to know where these extreme ordinal points were located.  For instance, I read several stories online that said San Diego, California was the “southwesternmost point of the United States.”  But they were wrong, because according to my calculations, the southwesternmost point of the United States was near Lompoc, California, a bit farther north than San Diego, certainly, but a whole lot farther west.


A few weeks later – by now it was early December – I started calculating the extreme inter-ordinal points of the Lower 48, deciding to visit those places during my trip, as well.  That's because, after all, I'm the extreme geographer!  These included the north-northwesternmost point, the south-southeasternmost point and the other six inter-ordinals.  Altogether then, between the cardinal, ordinal and inter-ordinal points, there were 16 extreme compass points around the U.S. that I wanted to visit during my upcoming road trip.  I put them all on a map, here:



Above:  The 16 extreme compass points of the U.S.  They include the four cardinal points (N, S, E, W), the four ordinal points (NW, SW, NE, and SE) and the eight inter-ordinal points.


I did some more Internet research and realized that no one had ever been to all 16 extreme compass points of the United States (or if someone had, they had never documented it).  I decided to become the first.  But I also wanted to make it a feasible task given my somewhat- constrained budget and timeframe, so I decided to limit my quest to the contiguous mainland U.S., also known as the Lower 48.  My rules for this “Extreme Geography" trip around America, therefore, were simple:

• No Alaska

• No Hawaii

• No Islands

My goal was to become the first person to visit all 16 extreme geographic compass points of the Lower 48 states, literally the 16 corners of America.  And since my trip’s theme would be "geographic extremes," I started adding more extreme destinations other than the compass points, including the highest city in the U.S. (Leadville, Colorado), the lowest lake (the Salton Sea in California), the lowest city (Calipatria, California), the longest highway (U.S. Route 20), the coldest city (International Fall, Minnesota), and the driest place (Death Valley).


By February of 2016, I had created a map containing over 100 destinations around the United States that I hoped to visit.  I also started creating my new website, which I called www.ExtremeGeographer.com.  I was proud of the dot map I had created.  Now I just had to connect the dots!  I knew that I’d be in Qatar for another few months but I was eager to get back to the U.S. and start my trip.



Above left:  In late November I invited my American friend, Tom, over to my apartment to celebrate Thanksgiving.  I had cooked a turkey the year before, but this year I settled for turkey sandwiches.

Above right:  Tom enjoying his Thanksgiving feast:  Turkey sandwiches, stuffing, scalloped potatoes and cranberry sauce.

A Winter of Fun (and Stress)

My final two months in Qatar, from mid-January until early March of 2016, was an endless stream of logistical hurdles as I prepared to move back to America.  One the the biggest challenges was my furniture, which had been shipped from Portland to Qatar in 2013 on a container ship.  My parent company, Atkins engineers, had agreed to do that as part of my job contract, and they were also responsible for shipping everything back to America for me. 


Above:  That's me in front of the West Bay Shuttle Map, which I created in 2013.  This poster is in the lobby of the MMUP building.  Over 10,000 paper copies of my map were printed and distributed to the public.

I spent a lot of time organizing the move:  meeting with several estimators at my apartment who surveyed my belongings, getting quotes, then having the movers pack everything and haul it off before they stuffed it all into a 20-foot steel container for the long boat ride through the Suez Canal, across the Atlantic and back to America.


I also spent a lot of time closing out my apartment lease at the Beverly Hills Tower and running around town closing my various accounts.  And, of course, I said goodbye to my colleagues at CPO, many of whom I’d grown close to during the previous three years.  The last day of the Central Planning Office was February 29 and that afternoon we had a group lunch at a fancy restaurant across the street – the first (and last) group lunch in CPO's nearly four-year history.  The farewell lunch was both sad and joyful.


And then there was my food situation.  Shipments of food to Qatar, as I described in an earlier entry, are sporadic so if you see something you like on the grocery shelves you should buy a lot of it, because you may not see it again for months.  I've always been a food packrat, like always having at least 12 boxes of cereal in my pantry (because you can never have enough cereal), but that tendency was greatly amplified in Qatar.  I'd accumulated a large stash of canned and bottled food over the previous months (years?) and now I had to find someone to give it to.  



Above left:  My food stash.  Who wants 17 bottles of Hunt's BBQ sauce?

Above right:  Fortunately, my colleague Michael and his Aussie girlfriend did. 


I had started whittling down my stash in November when I learned about the upcoming layoff, but frankly you can only eat so much spaghetti and pickles in three months, so by February I still had a lot of food left.  Fortunately, I found a colleague at CPO, Michael, from Australia, who was staying in Qatar.  So on the Saturday before I left Doha, I invited him and his girlfriend over to my apartment.  They happily raided my pantry and carried off 17 bottles of Hunts barbeque sauce, 13 boxes of Tuna Helper, 12 bottles of "Chicken Tonight" and three large jars of Vlasic pickles, among other goodies.


Life was crazy during my last few months, but before I left Qatar I decided to have some fun.  I realized that even though I had been living in Qatar for nearly three years, I hadn’t seen much of the desert (nor had I ridden a camel).  So in early February I decided to go on an all-day “desert safari" to do both.  I invited a few friends from work, including Nafez, my Jordanian friend from Sacramento; Shashi, my IT friend from India who had joined me on my “Qatar in One Day” drive around the country in 2014; and Mubeen, an IT colleague from Chicago.  All of us, and Mubeen's son, met early on a Saturday morning for a guided tour of the desert dunes.



Above:  Here's a short video of our "Desert Safari" in the Qatari desert, near Saudi Arabia.  We had a crazy driver but somehow survived.  And the camel ride was awesome. (6:35)

Our white-robed driver picked us up in Doha and we rode several miles south of town, then we pulled off into a sandy parking area.  It was camel time!  My friends didn’t want to join me on the five-minute ride – they’d had their fill of camels, apparently – but I was thrilled to ride a camel for the first time.  Riding a camel, as I discovered, is easier than riding a horse because instead of rocking from side to side, like on a horse, you glide gently from front to back.  It’s very soothing and rhythmic, so much that I almost fell asleep.


While I was on the camel, our tour guide, a young Arab guy who spoke little English, partially-deflated the tires of his SUV to improve the traction in the sand.  Then we embarked on our thrilling journey across the sand dunes.  Actually the word “thrilling” doesn’t do it justice because our driver was borderline-crazy.  He drove along the crest of a massive sand dune, right to the precipice, then turned the steering wheel and we plummeted down the dune.  Have you ever heard four grown men (and one boy) shriek with unrestrained terror?  It’s not pretty.  Then the somewhat-sadistic driver did it again, and again.  It was exciting, I have to admit, and something like riding on a sandy roller coaster.


Above:  Shashi and I enjoying our barbeque lunch on the beach after my swim in the bathtub-warm Persian Gulf.

After a half-hour of dune bashing, as they call it, and racing across the sand flats, we reached our destination:  several large, white tents perched on the edge of the Persian Gulf, where we spent the afternoon.  First we played volleyball in the sand, which I enjoyed immensely.  As I mentioned in one of my first entries of DelsJourney back in 2001, I played volleyball almost every Friday night for 10 years at Portland Community College, but I hadn't touched a volleyball since then and really missed it.


Afterwards I went swimming in the placid waters of the Persian Gulf.  Yes, it’s just as warm as you imagine, well over 80 degrees.  Floating in the peaceful waters of the Persian Gulf was blissful and I could’ve stayed there for hours.  But it was time to eat, so I joined my friends for a barbeque chicken lunch on the beach.  Then around 4 p.m., we all piled into the SUV and drove back across the dunes with our crazy driver.  He reinflated the tires near the highway, then we got back on the pavement and rode back to Doha.  It had been one of the most exciting and interesting days of my three-year stay in Qatar and was well worth the $40 each of us had paid.



Above left:  Our group early on Saturday morning before heading to the dunes.  Those are my co-workers Nafez, Shashi and Mubeen (with his son).  Our crazy driver is on the right.

Above right:  That's "Del of Arabia" on the right.  This was my first, and so far only, camel ride.  I loved it!



Left:  My muzzled (but not puzzled) camel.




Above left:  After the camel ride, it was off to the dunes!

Above right:  Our first stop was on the Persian Gulf in southern Qatar.  That's Shashi with his new selfie stick.



Above left:  Mubeen decided to roll up his pants and enjoy the sand.

Above right:  That's the forbidden country of Saudi Arabia in the distance.  Saudi is very conservative and is much more difficult to visit that more moderate Gulf countries like Qatar or the UAE.  This was the closest I've ever been to Saudi.



Above left:  Back in the SUV, we continued on our merry way across the dunes.

Above center:  We reached our destination around 1 p.m., an outpost on the edge of the Persian Gulf.

Above right:  We spent the afternoon here, swimming in the Gulf, playing volleyball and eating a delicious lunch.



Above left:  The happy crew cooking up our BBQ lunch.

Above right:  And the happy crew eating it.



Above left:  The happy crew getting ready to depart.  We all had a lot of fun on our desert safari.  In fact, it was one of the best things I've done in Qatar since I arrived here in 2013.

Above right:  Reinflating the tires before we hit the pavement again.  They had partially-deflated the tires earlier to give the SUVs more traction in the sand.  What a great day!



Above left:  Back at work:  This was the last day of the Central Planning Office, on Monday, February 29, 2016.  That's my desk on the 14th Floor.  I've posted on my wall the Arabic alphabet.  And my monitors have photos of Oregon's Multnomah Falls.

Above right:  Three of the senior managers at the Central Planning Office on our last day:  Gerry, Joep, and Geoff.  Joep is from the Netherlands, while Gerry and Geoff are from the UK.  Everyone was heading home.



Above left:  As were my colleagues Nafez (back to Sacramento, California) and Shashi (back to India).  It was a sad day.

Above right:  Our group lunch during the last day of CPO.



Left:  Here's the West Bay Bus map I created.  It was one of the first projects I worked on at CPO, in 2013. 

About 40 of these metal signs were posted around Doha, one at each bus stop.  And over 10,000 paper copies of my map were printed and distributed to the public.

My Final Week in Doha

My last week in Qatar, in early March, was especially hectic.  I had told my jovial Irish roommate, Gerry, that I was leaving so he had found another place to stay at Beverly Hills Tower in late February.  It was a larger apartment, he said, but he had to share it with three roommates.  He much preferred living at my place, he told me, but it was tolerable.  I sold Gerry some things I didn't want to ship back to America, especially electronics that wouldn't work in the U.S., and he dropped by one afternoon during my last week to pick them up.  He gave me one of his Corona beers and, in return, I gave him a prized bottle of K.C. Masterpiece barbeque sauce that I had found on the Carrefour grocery shelves a few months earlier.  Gerry had fallen in love with K.C. Masterpiece a few months earlier and said that it was far better than any barbeque sauce sold in Ireland.



Above:  During my last week in Doha, I went to Souq Waqif with my good friend and CPO colleague, Shashi.  He was going back home to Bangalore, India the next day to look for a new job and a wife.  And presumably in that order!  Here's a video.  (2:29)

A few nights later I had dinner at Souq Waqif, the historic marketplace of Doha, with Shashi, my bright, young IT friend from India.  Shashi was sad to be leaving Doha the next day and returning to India, but on the other hand, he was looking forward to getting married once he returned home. 


While eating dinner at a rooftop restaurant, as I enjoyed my braised camel (hopefully not the same one I'd ridden a few days earlier), Shashi explained to me how his parents were looking for a suitable bride for him to marry.  I was fascinated with this idea of arranged marriages, which is common in India.  I was going to miss my cheerful and inquisitive friend, and as we parted, I wished him well in his future endeavors.  I hope to see him again someday.


The day before my flight back to America, I got together one last time with Nafez and Mubeen.  We had become good friends these last three years at CPO and I always enjoyed spending time with them.  The three of us met at Souq Waqif around noon and ate lunch at a Yemeni restaurant. 


Above:  My colleagues Mubeen and Nafez enjoying their Yemeni lunch, including massive flatbread.  It was delicious.

I’d never eaten Yemeni food but one of the signature dishes, as I learned, is a very large flatbread, like a Mexican tortilla but three times larger.  It was sort of like eating a newspaper but much tastier (though less informative).  The lunch was wonderful but bittersweet because we knew this would be the last time we’d see each other for quite a while, if ever again.  They were both flying back to America the following week with their families:  Nafez to Sacramento and Mubeen to Chicago.


They dropped me off at Beverly Hills Tower that afternoon and we said goodbye.  That evening I walked over to City Center Mall, which had become like my second home these past three years, to reminisce and have a final dinner of grilled kebabs at Shater Abbas, then I walked back to my apartment.  It was hot and humid, typical weather for mid-March and very much like the evening I had first arrived in Qatar almost three years earlier.  Back at my quiet apartment, I did some last-minute packing as I, sadly, prepared to leave Doha.




Left:  In early March I walked down the Corniche one last time, to meet Shashi for dinner at Souq Waqif. 

These are dhows on Doha Bay.




Above left:  And the pond at Sheraton Park.  The water level rises and falls every hour, so you can get stranded out there if you're not careful!

Above right:  Pearling was the mainstay of Qatar's economy before oil was discovered in the 1950s.  Pearls are still very much associated with Qatar.



Above left:  Here's Souq Waqif, the historic and traditional marketplace in Doha.  It's the most popular tourist destination in Qatar.

Above central:  Construction cranes are everywhere in Doha, though with the economic slump, they're not as ubiquitous as they were in 2013 when oil was $120 a barrel.

Above right:  Inside the Souq (pronounced "sewk" – rhymes with "soup") Waqif.  It's an interesting mix of shops with clothes, handicrafts and souvenirs – though not a very practical place to shop if you're an expat.



Above left:  Firing up the grill at Souq Waqif.

Above right:  Shashi and I met up that evening, then we had dinner at this Moroccon rooftop restaurant.  I ordered the braised camel.  Gosh, I hope it wasn't the same one I'd ridden a month earlier!



Above left:  Saying goodbye to my good friend, Shashi.  He was flying back home to India the next day to get married and find a new job – though probably not in that order.

Above right:  Winding our way through the busy Souq.  The Souq is a meeting place for local Qataris and gets very busy in the early evenings.



Left:  Doha's skyline during the four-mile walk back to my apartment. 

I was going to miss this view.




Above left:  My last week in Doha was frantic.  The movers came and packed up all my furniture.  It was being shipped back to America through the Suez and Panama Canals.

Above center:  My former roommate Gerry stopped by and gave me one of his Corona beers.  Alcohol is legal but heavily restricted in Qatar, so this was only the third beer I'd had since arriving here in 2013.

Above right:  Gerry carting off the goodies that I'd sold him. 



Above left:  The day before I left Qatar, I visited Souq Waqif one last time to meet up with Nafez and Mubeen.  For some reason, I keep running into camels.

Above right:  Feeding the pigeons at the Souq.



Above left:  Enjoying a farewell lunch with Nafez and Mubeen.

Above right:  I hope to see them again back in the U.S.

Flying Home – with Sister Golden Hair

Actually, I almost didn’t leave Doha.  I did some final packing in my apartment that last evening and went to bed around 10 p.m.  My flight to America was leaving Doha at 8 a.m. the next morning, so I had called for a cab to pick me up at 5 a.m.  I set my alarm for 3:30 a.m., then I set another alarm for 3:30 a.m. as a backup.  And then – being a total worrywart about such things – I set the alarm on a third clock for 3:30 a.m. as an added precaution.  With three alarms set, I went to bed assured that at least one of them would wake me up on time.


Above:  My bedroom, with its original furniture back in place, on my last night in Qatar.

I got a little sleep, then I woke up and snoozed for a bit in my bed.  After a long while I started thinking, "I wonder what time it is?”  I lazily opened my eyes and glanced at the clock:  4:37 a.m.  It took a few seconds to register.


“4:37!  My taxi will be here in 23 minutes!!”  Somehow all three alarm clocks had failed to go off (they were new clocks that I’d never used before.  Or more likely, it was user error).  I sprang out of bed, took the world’s quickest shower, gathered my stuff and said a very quick goodbye to my beloved and empty apartment, which had been my home for the past two years.  I raced to the elevator and made it to the lobby at 4:58 with my heart pounding.  The taxi driver was there waiting for me, so I threw my luggage into the trunk and we headed to Doha’s Hamad International Airport.


My flight left Doha shortly after sunrise and I settled back into my window seat.  As I described earlier in my website, I have a strange flying tradition:  each time I fly out of the Middle East bound for America, I put in my earbuds, turn on my MP3 player and play the 1970s hit by the group America called “Sister Golden Hair.” 



Here's the 1970's group America singing Sister Golden Hair.


I’ve flown from the Middle East back to the U.S. eight or nine times during the past decade and on each flight, and as soon as we’re airborne, I turn on my MP3 player and listen to that song.  As I described before, It’s partly because of the group’s name (America) and partly because it reminds me of someone I knew back in high school (yes, she had golden hair – but she wasn't my sister).  We all have funny traditions, I suppose, and that’s one of mine.


I had grown accustomed to the 24-hour flights between Doha and Portland by now and actually enjoyed them.  Well, I enjoyed them as long as I had a window seat.  On planes, as in life, I like to have my own little space.  Wherever I am, I don’t need a big place, like flying in First Class or living in a big house, but I want it to be mine.  Call it the "cubbyhole syndrome."  I like window seats because no one can intrude on my privacy, and I also like looking out the window.


Above:  Boarding the plane in Doha on my final flight back to America.

Yes, I’m one of those annoying folks who always has their window shade open on long flights while everyone else watches a movie or snoozes with their window shade closed.  On any flight except over an ocean, I plaster my face to the window, staring in wonder at the scenery below as I think about when I last visited there, or the history of the area, or what people down there were doing, or if I’ll ever visit that place, or a million other things.  As a geographer (and the extreme geographer, no less!) I’ve always been fascinated with looking at the earth.


Along with listening to "Sister Golden Hair" and staring out the window, I have another tradition every time I fly back to America:  I always try to take a different route.  On previous trips back to Portland I’ve changed planes in London, Manchester, Kuala Lumpur, Amsterdam, Madrid, and New York City.  On this trip I was flying from Doha non-stop to Chicago, then on to Portland on another flight.  The Doha-to-Chicago flight was 16 hours but I enjoyed it, ate lots of (pretty) good food, looked out the window quite a bit, and watched some good movies and a few bad ones. 


As much as I loved Qatar, it was always nice to return to the U.S. and I enjoyed setting foot at O'Hare Airport.  Back in America at last!  I laid over in Chicago for a few hours and ate some good ol’ American food at the airport – a pepperoni pizza and a huge chocolate chip cookie – then boarded a plane to Portland.  I landed in Portland around 8 p.m., which meant that I’d followed the sun all day, seeing it rise in Doha, following it across Europe and America, and now setting here in Portland.  The setting sun was an appropriate metaphor I thought, because as I stepped off the plane I realized that my three-year adventure in Qatar was really over.


Between frantically waking up in Doha and then watching the sun set in Portland 28 hours later, it had literally been the longest day of my life.  But after my long journey it was wonderful to be back in America because, as a young girl from Kansas once said, there’s no place like home.



My journey continues in my next website:  www.ExtremeGeographer.com.




Above left:  On my last evening in Doha, I visited City Center Mall one last time.  Located only a few blocks from my apartment, I had spent a lot of time here over the past three years.  I would miss it.

Above right:  Riding to the Doha airport at 5 a.m.



Left:  Flying over the Pearl just after taking off. 

So long, Qatar!




Above left:  Back in the Northwest, bound for Portland.

Above right:  Arriving at the Portland airport after my 24-hour flight.  Home at last.



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