I recently spent about a month in the Middle East. Not nearly as scary a place as I envisioned. In fact, it was just the opposite. Clean and modern and safe.
My Middle East Bucket List
1. Visit two new countries.
I’m making my success explosion noises here pretty loudly. I visited four countries in total; three new ones. The United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Oman for the first time and another visit to Kuwait.
2. Do something in the desert.
I went dune bashing in the United Arab Emirates. You sit in a giant beast and drive erratically over the sand dunes, holding on tight and squealing in delight as the car tips precariously. Hopefully your driver knows what he’s doing and you don’t die.
3. Go inside a mosque.
I’ve seen a lot of old churches in Europe and older temples in Asia, but this was my first mosque. It was stunningly beautiful and I don’t say that lightly. Chicas had to wear scarves to cover their heads and long sleeves, so I felt slightly put off by that, but it was all part of the experience.
4. Get used to the call for prayer.
The first call for prayer starts early in the morning, at a time when sensible retired people are sleeping. It’s a voice over the loudspeaker reminding you that it’s time to show gratitude. Get your lazy butt up and give some thanks. It only took about four days before I could sleep through the nudging.
5. See an animal. Preferably wild.
This one was harder than I thought it would be. I saw camels and falcons in the desert, but they weren’t wild. I went to an aquarium in Kuwait and saw a bunch of creatures, but they weren’t wild. Oh, I got to hug a penguin in a mall in Dubai. That was really cool, but again, not wild. You can go skiing there too. Malls in Dubai are insane.
While walking along the Corniche in Doha, I did see a guy catch a fish. That fish was probably wild.
6. Do something with cars. The Middle East is big on cars.
I went go cart racing in Kuwait. It’s just driving around a little track in a little car, so you’d think it would be just like driving. But it’s better than regular driving. I think maybe it’s because the tiny cars make you feel like a giant.
I made a list of some other fun facts about cars in this area.
- Everyone has giant beasts for transportation.
- Gas is very cheap.
- Uber works in Qatar.
- If you go above the speed limit in Kuwait, your car beeps at you until you slow down.
- Tailgating is pretty much mandatory.
- Muscat is the most car centric city I’ve ever encountered. Public transportation was virtually nonexistent and areas of interest were so sprawled out that walking or biking was impossible. Rent a car if you go there.
- Parts of Fast and Furious 7 were filmed in Abu Dhabi.
7. Inspect an alternate life.
My first cousin lives in Kuwait with her husband and her daughter and I stayed with them for a bit. If my parents had remained in India and not ventured to the United States, I think I could have my cousin’s life. She got her degree in chemical engineering in India, entered into a love marriage (that’s the term for a non-arranged marriage in India), made a kid, and moved to Kuwait. She’s been there for a few years now and her life seems idyllic.
A maid and a cook come twice a day, a man comes to iron clothes once a week, a lady comes to thread eyebrows whenever she needed it. Of course I availed myself of that service. She did a fabulous job of it too.
Admittedly, this was a bit extreme as she’s currently pregnant and on bed rest. If it had been “normal” times, the maid and the cook would have only come once a day.
I envied her life not because of these luxuries though. Her apartment building is filled with other Indian expats who are constantly coming and going, chattering, bringing food, throwing parties and chilling.
Every day felt festive and fun. She had a community of close friends that rivaled anything I’ve ever seen. Her smart and happy 9-year-old daughter raced downstairs each night to play with her friends in the lobby. Her kind and generous husband seemingly knew everyone, joking with whoever happened to be in the elevator.
There was so much joy in the air.
8. Question life choices in Qatar.
Okay, of course that wasn’t actually on the Middle East Bucket List initially, but I added it after the fact so I could cross it off angrily. Angry explosion noises.
Qatar was my third country on this trip. The United Arab Emirates and Kuwait preceded it and I could not have designed a more fabulous time at that point. My sister and her significant other accompanied me to the UAE and there was so much to do there. I stayed with my cousin in Kuwait as mentioned above and loved it, constantly laughing and exclaiming.
But in Qatar, I lost my way. I fell into a despair hole. Loneliness swallowed me whole. Usually when traveling solo, I schedule something with a blog reader or a friend of a friend or meet people along the way. But I couldn’t connect with anyone in Qatar. It sucked.
Doha is a very modern city, but with little to do there. The souks (old timey markets) and the walking path along the water (the Corniche) were daily haunts of mine.
But after a few hours and 10,000 steps of sadness, I’d retreat to my hotel room and watch the Fast and the Furious movies on television. There I moped and felt crummy, questioning my life choices, trying to pinpoint the exact wrong turn I made.
The place was cool enough. Perfect weather. Walkable areas. What it didn’t have was someone I could point stuff out to. Like the guy wearing traditional Arab garb, smoking shisha and hanging out with a falcon. Only the man smoked the shisha. I think. I didn’t want to stare.
9. Get your shit together in Oman
To alleviate my depression, I yelled at myself, then reached out to souls on couchsurfing.org. I hung out with some fabulous fellas in Muscat, smoking shisha and gazing at the beach.
It’s people that make the places. Friends and healthy relationships make life worthwhile and enjoyable. Other people.
The good news is that most people are mostly good and there are good people everywhere. Even in a scary place like the Middle East.
Shit people are everywhere too, but they’re not magically identifiable by something like nationality. As nice a fantasy as that is to believe. How easy life would be then, huh? No need to work on the hard stuff. :-/