I’m going to tell you a story about a man.  This is a story about a man I met in Qatar.  It’s a story that is, well, it’s interesting.

I arrived at my hotel in Qatar around 10:30 pm.  I was staying at the Hyatt and using saved points.  In total, for two nights, I used 10,000 points.  This is a fantastic deal and this hotel is one of the best I’ve ever stayed in.  Ever.  I decided to use hotel points in the Middle East for a few reasons.  Mostly because they required very few points, and also because I just felt safer being in a hotel that was ‘comfortable’ to me.  When I walked in, I immediately saw a number of international guests, and even a blonde woman.  It gave me some comfort and I knew instantly that I would be just fine – better than fine – in Qatar.

I checked into my room and decided to get something from the hotel restaurant for dinner.  I hadn’t eaten yet that day, and while I wouldn’t normally go out after dark, I thought that the restaurant in the hotel should be safe.  I found a table outside on the courtyard.  It was about 95 degrees – at 11 pm – but the staff moved one of their portable air conditioning units next to me.  Yes, Qatar has portable air conditioning units that they move for guests dining outside.  They are everywhere.

There weren’t many people around, but enough that I didn’t question it.  After all, it was 11 pm.  A waiter handed me a menu and as I was perusing it, a man who was sitting alone a few tables away came over and sat at my table with me.  He asked me if I would like to try shisha (like hooka).  I politely declined.  He proceeded to ask me if I liked scented oils and put some oil on a napkin for me to smell.  Oh, okay, this makes sense.  He’s trying to sell me his scented oils.  I can certainly shoo him away quickly, I thought.

I told him it smelled nice but wasn’t interested at the moment.  He continued on to tell me just to think about it and let him know.  He asked where I was from, what I was doing in Qatar, and so on.  All of the typical questions you ask when you meet someone new in a foreign place.  I probed him as well.  He is a chemistry teacher that received his PhD in Malaysia and that’s why he is so into creating his own perfumes and oils.  Okay, this makes sense.  Not super fishy, but annoying that I’ve become his prey for the night. 

He told me that he has a wife and three children.  What are you doing out at 11 pm?  Shouldn’t you be at home with your family?  He asked me how he could get business from America.  I mean, that’s a loaded question, but maybe that’s what he wants from me.  A connection to some money.

The conversation went on for about 10 minutes, which included him ordering some tea for me.  I wasn’t getting a great vibe but I’m also trying very hard to be open to different ways of life, so I made sure my shirt wasn’t sitting too low on my chest and that I wasn’t leaning towards the table so as to imply an invitation.  Really, this strange vibe could all be in my head.

He asked where I have all traveled and questioned if I had ever been to Amsterdam.  I told him yes and he asked me if I have ever seen a live sex show in the Red Light District.  I curled my eyebrow and told him no, with a disgusting look on my face.  I have seen a live sex show in Amsterdam, but what kind of question is this for a stranger you are trying to sell scented oils to?  He explained that he’s not allowed to drink but if there’s something to watch, how can he turn his head?  Yep, totally creepy vibe has been confirmed.

He continued on to tell me about the benefits of scented oils.  He explained that they are used a lot in massages and then asked if I preferred women or men to massage me.  I quickly told him only women.  He proceeded to tell me that in the Middle East, when a woman massages a man, he gets a ‘stand-up’ because women don’t touch the men often.  He said that “sometimes the stand-up is so big it comes out of the blanket” as he gave me a perverted smile.  Okay, yep, time to get out of here.  Totally not interested in hearing about your ‘stand-up.’

I was literally chugging the tea in front of me and had given up on food as he went on to tell me that there are a lot of benefits of scented oils in the bedroom.  He explained to me that the men in the Middle East “are bigger because they don’t cut small pieces of the penis off” and asked if my husband had little pieces of his penis cut off.  How does one respond to this?  I just stared at him.  He continued on to ask if my husband and I did special things in the bedroom.  I grabbed my phone and said, “No, but I think I need to go call my husband right now,” and got back inside that hotel so quickly.  I rushed to my room, carefully watching to be sure I wasn’t being followed.

The next morning I was planning on heading to a part of town where there was an old souq and restaurants and just generally good exploring territory that can be done on foot (or wheels in my case).  The taxis are quite expensive in the Middle East (in some countries, only men are allowed to drive the taxis, which drives the cost up).  However, there is an app called Careem which is the Uber equivalent in the Middle East, and it’s very affordable, so I called a Careem from the hotel.  The men working at the door asked me if I was alone and said, “You must be strong woman.  You go alone?”  Of course, not a totally unexpected response, but sharing because it’s certainly an abnormality for these cultures to see a disabled woman alone.

I got into the car and we didn’t exchange a single word.  It didn’t bother me.  He had my location based on what I put in the app and perhaps he didn’t know English.  We took off and were on our way.

I was following along on Google Maps to be sure we were going the right direction.  At every intersection, he continued to go straight but my directions were showing a left-hand turn.  Hmm.  Perhaps there’s something in the traffic pattern that he knows that I cannot see.  As we continued on, missing about six opportunities to turn, I started to panic.  This was it.  This is how I’m going to die.  He’s taking me to the desert.  He’s probably telepathically called all his buddies and told them he has a blonde girl.  They’ll have their fun with me and then I’ll die.  I am going to die in the Qatar desert.  At least I’m dying at a high point in life.  I debated about throwing myself out the door of the car if we were to slow down at some point.  I wouldn’t have my wheelchair, but surely someone would help, right?  At what point would he be moving slow enough that I could get out without serious injuries?

I pulled up the Careem app (I had been following directions on Google Map) and as soon as I did, I realized that I had put in the wrong drop-off point.  He was bringing me to the exact place I had put in.  I changed the location in the app and then said to him, “I am so sorry.  I need to go to Souq Waqif in Doha.  I put in the wrong place,” and pointed at the correct location on my phone.  He smiled, chuckled a little, and said, “No problem.  I can see how you got them confused.  They are very similar.”  We turned around and he politely brought me to where I wanted to be.  He was professional, kind, and helpful.

He dropped me off and asked for payment.  I explained that it went through the app onto a credit card and we parted ways.  I headed into the souq for about an hour before finding a restaurant where I had lunch.  As I was dining, my Careem driver found me and told me that the credit card payment did not come through.  I pulled up the app, and he was correct, I had indicated that I would pay with cash.  I apologized profusely and gave him the required cash for his services.  Seriously, I couldn’t figure out the directions and then I managed to not pay him for his services.  He was gracious and calm, and I’m so grateful that he was able to find me so I could properly compensate him.

I’ve had no other issues in Qatar.  The men have been polite, courteous, and nothing but helpful.  I get an occasional glance of the eye, but as Tony says, “Men will be men.  You knew that going on a trip alone.”  Had it not been for the one man asking me about my husband’s ‘stand-up’ on my first night in Qatar, I don’t think I would have been so on edge.  I’m actually quite enjoying the people of Qatar and the culture.  It’s very hot every day, well over 100 degrees, but the people of Qatar have figured out air conditioning.  They’ve done more than figure out air conditioning, to the point that it’s almost too cold inside.  There was a lot of talk about hosting the World Cup 2022 in Qatar, and they committed to making sure the air conditioning would be adequate, including some technology that pulled the heat out of the stadium and into the sky.  Having been here, I think they might be able to pull something off.  It’s a wealthy country, and they have solutions for the temperature no matter where you are.

And on that note, I think I’ll go find some breakfast outside with an air conditioning unit next to me!

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