I’ve been in Doha, Qatar since the start of the new year running a conference for work. As part of an effort to let attendees relax and get to know the country better, our partners organized a caravan of off-road vehicles to take us romping around the desert near the Saudi border. The ride was actually quite gentle compared to my past experience, but it was still thrilling to cruise along the very edge of a dune, and bounce around the desert for a while.
This experience of course reminded me of our full-day swimming, romping and dune-boarding adventure in Egypt. While this trip was shorter due to time constraints, it was great to see some more of Qatar. I think everyone who came was happy to get out of the city (I am a city girl but I need frequent doses of nature), and more importantly, to get away from the conference center and have a few laughs without spending half their rent on a glass of wine.
The roads are structured like the US. We drive on the same side, we have the same number of lanes and similar traffic patterns.
Except for one thing.
We encounter never more than five cars at a time, even on the only highway that goes out of Habana. We crawl along at 30 or so, and no one honks.
They do, however, drive right into you a la Cairo. I’ve definitely had two cars drive into me at about 5 mph already. That doesn’t sound fast, but it is when that’s the speed of an old hunk of metal going into your leg.
Here’s a list of things that are so normal here I’ve already forgotten that they’re noteworthy. It’s funny that sometimes the biggest differences fade away because no one else sees them as remarkable, which is perhaps why almost no one mentioned any of this to me before I came.
Cats are everywhere. Consequently, there are no mice or rats
Men link arms or hold hands. this is normal behaviour for straight guys who are friends
You can almost always see at least one minaret
Everyone rounds when dealing with money
There are bidets in every bathroom, even if it’s just a little tube inside the regular toilet that inaccurately shoots water
Men with guns are everywhere. Egypt is I think the most chillax police state in existence. Mostly, they just want to employ more people so there are soldiers and antiquities/tourism police everywhere
People just chilling on the street. Everybody stands and chats in the street, people sleep on the sidewalks or sit on them for some tea
Cars here are nuts. Triple parking is common, and everything is always bumper to bumper. Not like our exagerated expression, but legitimately jammed up against each other
The smell. Food is made of different stuff here, so the trash smells different. Also, their sanitation system is quite different from ours. The first day or two my nose was in pain from the smell. I realized the other day that I don’t smell anything. I don’t Cairo got cleaner. Also, I bet New York or Boston smells would assail the nose of any Cairene
Women are dressed in various interpretations of the hijab. The range goes from tight, revealing clothing to naquib (face covering), head scarf and long, black, loose-fitting robe.
Basically, things are as different from home as they possibly could be, while still maintaining enough similarities to make my head spin.