We spent New Year’s Eve in Qatar. We flew in on 31 December and spent a few days in Doha on our way to and from Australia during January. It was over a year and a half ago since we left Qatar. Breaking the long journey to Melbourne made the trip to Australia much easier but also meant I could catch up with old friends and colleagues.
It felt a lot like coming home, arriving at Hamad airport and returning to the familiar sights, sounds and smells of Doha. On the first evening, after eating in the Souq, I momentarily began heading to the underground car park to go to Al Sadd, before realising I had sold the car and vacated the apartment, didn’t have a residents permit and no longer lived in Qatar since June 2016.
Nothing had changed and yet everything had changed. The journey from the airport was totally familiar as were the Riyal notes I paid to the taxi driver. Little had visibly altered other than the many huge images of the Emir adorning building and smaller versions on the rear windows on land cruisers. Al Bidda Park is finished, Musherib looks much closer to completion, a few more roundabouts have been replaced by junctions and the old broken paving along the Corniche is being replaced.
Qatar Airways no longer seems to offer free hotels nights during layovers, but room rates are very low, perhaps reflecting the over-supply of beds following the Saudi blockade. They also, inexplicably, restrict time in Qatar on the return journey, which meant that we were limited to only 20 hours layover on our way home but managed three days on the way out.
An article in the Independent newspaper in February described Qatar as “an international pariah state”. I’m not quite sure what’s going on here as Qatar, whilst nowhere near perfect, does not exhibit the disgraceful behaviour of Myanmar to the Rohingya for example. Qatar is no different from the other countries in the Arabian Gulf, so I fail to see why it was singled out. What I am saying is that I still felt a sense of loyalty to the State of Qatar despite being away for 18 months.
I intend to return the next time we can use Doha as a layover. Not sure when but I’ll definitely be back.