Monday, February 14, 2011

A Hostel in Doha

Doha, Qatar
City of Doha

I had read about the Doha Youth Hostel before flying over to Qatar, so after I walked out of the Doha Airport that night, I asked a taxi driver outside for a lift to the place. The drivers weren't sure where the hostel was, but they still argued over the price. I figured I would probably get stiffed, however I was so tired I didn't care. The line-up at immigration had been so-o-o-o long and so-o-o-o-o-o unbelievably slow, what with the girls filing their nails and making phone calls in-between stamping passports. I just wanted to get out of there.

I got in a taxi. My driver, a dreadlocked, Bob Marley lookalike from Eritrea, kept driving and driving and driving and driving until I thought I was headed back to the UAE. I whined about the distance from town, until we finally turned right on to a dingy street full of stray cats and overflowing trash receptacles. He pulled up beside one and mulled over where to go next. The garbage stank. I thought he was lost, but he scratched the stubble on his chin and said he was sure he knew where the hostel was, he just had to think for a minute. 'Could you put the fast forward on the thinking?' I said, holding my nose, 'because I'm dying over here.'

We drove off and circled a few more blocks and finally there it was - the Doha Youth Hosteling Association. The taxi waited while I went in to see if there was a room. For a moment I was blinded because the spotlight that lit up the joint was so bright that for a moment I thought I'd arrived at Auschwitz, the only thing missing being the doctors and the gnarly dogs to greet me. But the place was empty, with just a few Indian men lounging around watching television and smoking cigarettes.

I went back and paid my taxi driver fifteen dollars U.S. and dragged my bag into what looked like a vast recreation room. One half of the room was filled with wooden tables and chairs, while the other was wall-to-wall cushions a la Morocco. A Sri Lankan fellow about 40 years old took me upstairs to show me my room, and in between showing me the bathroom and clicking the television controls, he complained ad nauseum about his miserable life, and especially his miserable boss whom I was soon to meet. 'He's Egyptian, you know,' he said, as if no further explanation were required. He had lost his house in the tsunami in Colombo, his brother-in-law was sick, his kids needed to go to school, and he made no money at the Hostel. 'Only 1,000 riyals a month, 24 hours a day, you know.' It was the usual story of underpaid, menial work, although by the look of the place, it didn't look like anybody had been working that hard.

The room was musty, and garbage overflowed from a small bin in the corner. When I pointed it out to the gnasher, he bent down, picked it up, tied up the two loose ends, and chucked it out the door. Pulling back the bedcovers, I discovered a curly, stiff, black hair on the bedsheet, then another one, so I shook out the comforter and laid it over the sheet, took the comforter off the other bed, shook it out, and laid that over the bed for the blanket. I never took off my clothes.

The bathroom wasn't much better, and I gagged when I looked in the toilet and saw an encrusted brown slider stain. The room had about as much warmth as a prison cell in San Quentin and the only thing lacking were the screaming inmates. It was going to be a dreadful night, but I wasn't about to head back to the center of the city to look for something else at that late hour. I was now grumbling about the price. Forty dollars U.S. a night for this?

I went downstairs to hand over my passport and pay the infamous Egyptian buffer who was running the show. I complained about the price for a room that hadn't been cleaned, and as I passed him my passport he gave me the most supercilious smile I've ever seen in my life. I sensed that any complaint about him was probably true.

Breakfast was included so early the next morning I headed down to the breakfast area, which happened to be where everybody had been lounging the night before. In the daylight, I could see the floor and the breakfast tables were stained and greasy, and the top plate on a stack of dishes had black symmetrical particles all over it, which were suspect, but I didn't get close enough to examine them. The hard-boiled egg was so hard boiled it was green, and so dry that I couldn't swallow the damned thing. I panicked and thought I was going to choke when it caught in my throat. It was one of those - I'm going to die here? moments. I had toasted white bread, cheese triangles, jam, and finally, instant coffee with which to wash it all down. I've had worse, but combined with the room, I was pretty much done.

I immediately got online after breakfast and booked a hotel room at La Villa Palace. For almost the same price (181QR/night) I got a clean bed with no pubic hairs that was close to town and the corniche. I even had an arrow taped to my side table pointing to Mecca, in case I got caught up in my room.

La Villa Palace
La Villa Palace

Doha had some of the biggest buildings I've ever seen, and so much glass!


These window cleaners were headed up to clean a very, very tall building. I got dizzy and felt sick just looking at them.

I went to some shops and absolutely EVERYTHING was wrapped in plastic. There wasn't one thing in the store that wasn't double-wrapped. It made me sad to think of where it was all going to end up.


I bought a few things at Swarovski's. The shop was incredible.


These Nepalese men worked at a tailoring shop right across from the hotel and they were at it day and night. It was a total sweatshop - sweaty and dusty.