Qatar: Leaving on a Jet (Airways) Plane

Fun fact: I went to Doha twice.  In one week.  This experience is best described as feeling like I was on a tryout for "The Apprentice" in the Middle East.

First, let's establish the overall working parameters for Doha.  The work week runs Sunday through Thursday and the typical working hours are 7 am - 3 pm.  Upon arriving Saturday night, it was a fast dash to the hotel to unpack, desperately try to unwrinkle the suits, and then set the alarm clock for 5 am on a Sunday.  Who thought this was a good idea?

Doha from the air
By Tuesday lunch, our team was pretty whipped from the missing weekend but in good spirits nevertheless.  That is, we were in good spirits until the project leader returned from the contracting office with bad news.  A signature wouldn't suffice to execute the contract; a company stamp was a pre-req, too.  While the rest of the team muttered about how this all seemed rather silly, I was on the phone with my team in Mumbai rather immediately.  From past experience on international contracts I've learned that when you're told you need a stamp, you need a stamp.  That's all there is to it and there will be no further discussion until you have a stamp to validate any words you wish to share.

We did not have our stamp with us.  Not really something you carry around every day, amiright?  But I knew one existed in the Mumbai office.

Up against the impending deadline of the project leader's Thursday morning departure, the two of us went into no-nonsense taskmaster mode to get a stamp in Doha in under 36 hours.  Here's where things started feeling like they were made for TV because the absurdity level just kept climbing.  FedEx and DHL couldn't get through customs fast enough, airlines don't do private courier services here, no one in Doha would turnaround a custom stamp order in under three days, and no one from Mumbai could fly into Qatar without a visa, which required at least 24 hours of processing time.

After two hours we had exhausted every single channel and the only viable option was to put me on a plane later that evening.  I had the visas, the passport, and most importantly,  incredible hotel staff in Mumbai who facilitated a room in an otherwise booked hotel so I could nap, shower, and eat before getting the stamp and hopping back on a plane 12 hours later.  This project leader is a very seasoned and very savvy traveler but even he was impressed when all it took was one phone call to set up my entire itinerary.  I may have to name my first born child "Trident."
View from plane after take-off.  This is Doha's version of Lake Shore Drive/Marine Drive.
Anyway, back and forth I flew.  Time was just as blurry as the Mumbai sunset below.  I experienced a severe case of Groundhog Day when I flew BOM-DOH-BOM on the same flights, on the same aircraft, eating the same airport lounge food for several meals in a row, but was otherwise unscathed when I touched down in Mumbai for good Friday morning.

Well, not totally unscathed, to be honest.  Being on all these flights struck a nerve and at first it was a pretty bitchy nerve that was later humbled.  Something like only 20% of the people in Qatar are native Qataris.  The rest are migrants and about a third of those migrants are Indian.  Nowhere is this more evident than when queuing to board the plane at either Mumbai or Doha.

Four check-in desks, one giant mess
I was one of fifteen women on a 737 jet  and the whole cabin had the feel of a circus taking place in steerage.  If ever you have a stereotypical thought in your head about what it's like to fly in India, I assure you, this flight matches that perception.  At first it was simply annoying and the late hour paired with my still lagging jet lag did not help matters. My seatmate literally reached over and attempted to use my in-seat television screen because his was broken.  He treated everyone within a five row radius to the music on his cell phone.  He and his buddies enjoyed several complimentary beers and whiskeys each time the bar cart came by (and as a side note, I'm not certain this is the best flight for an open bar cart.)  I offered him my uneaten, wrapped dessert and he took it, shared with his friends, then proudly deposited the empty container in my lap.  The plane honestly smelled, the noise level was comical, and the boarding and deplaning processes forced me to push ahead or risk being trampled.  The tsunami of 18-24 year old men rushed through each step with incredible vigor and my cranky self just wanted order.  It's like what Bill Cosby says of parents: they are not interested in justice - they want QUIET!

Thankfully, each time I come close to getting on that high horse known as American privilege, there is something that knocks me back down again.  That something was observing the non-Qatari section of the emergency department a few days later.  (Yes, the department is separated by both nationality and gender).  When you see swarms of young men hop on a plane in hopes of finding work and providing for their families, and then you see those same men end up in the emergency department because of construction accidents or car crashes from prevalent reckless driving, looking back on the circus plane full determined young faces is tough.  On flight #3, the second Mumbai-Doha leg, I silently scolded myself for being annoyed by my first seatmate as the cabin revelry amped up again.  It was as if I knew how the movie was going to end for some of this batch and it is not the movie ending they are envisioning.   

Ok!   So, enough of all this.  Doha was a tremendous experience and I gotta say that it felt pretty cool to actually have local (!) professional contacts to call upon when caught in a bind.  One of those contacts also came through on a fun request, too.  Stay tuned.

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