My new Egyptian friend Rawya, pictured above, left an open invitation for me to visit her in Doha, Qatar. So when it was time for me to take a break from Cairo, I knew just where to go.
Thanks to Rawya the tour guide, I really enjoyed my first visit to the Arabian Peninsula. We went to the beach, the desert, the market, an obscenely giant shopping mall and the Al Jazeera television station headquarters where she works. Below are a few highlights from my mini-vacation:
The afternoon I arrived it was way too windy to venture very far away from the main road (those are not our tracks in the sand), but I have always held a fascination for the desert. It amazes me when I think about how people can adapt and survive in such a place.
In the case of the Gulf States, people found unimagined riches--oil and natural gas--beneath the sand. Qatar is now one of the richest nations in the world, with the ruling al-Thani family owning the rights to the natural gas and oil deposits.
One of my favorite stops on the Doha tour was the headquarters of Al Jazeera English, which is right next to the other Al Jazeera station, the Arabic-language version, the one that the Bush administration allegedly considered bombing in 2004. Rawya is a producer for the international television network. I actually think they're better than CNN--less likely to do the same old lame info-tainment reporting so typical of American television news. (Sorry to all my buddies in the American television news business, but...)
Buttons galore in the control room. Live television is pretty amazing. I always thought putting a newspaper together every single day was one of the great feats of modern man. Television is so much more immediate, publishing constantly throughout the day.
The makeup room. Who knew there were so many shades of foundation?
Doha also has an interesting market or souk. The Gulf is much more religiously and socially conservative than Egypt is. From an outsider's perspective, this means that women and men are more separate, and women are more likely to wear the niqab, or face covering. Above, folk musicians perform in a courtyard. Women sit and listen on the left, men over on the right and mixed groups sit at a restaurant in the foreground of the photograph.
Okay, so men really do wear the white robes and the checkered scarves in the Gulf. It's not just a stereotype. I don't know why that fascinates me, but it does. I walked through the men's side in a cute, short dress to get this picture, which was rather intimidating.
People did not harass me while I was in Qatar--a nice change from Cairo. The souk was clean and spacious, and the men relatively well-behaved.
Rawya and I of course had to go scarf shopping. Above, she tries to decide between green-and-black or green-and-white while I vainly include myself in the picture.
There were actually tons of women in the souk too, but they were more camera-shy. And I was on vacation!!! Leave me alone.