I’m gonna skip ahead to the part of the day where I wound up on a camel.
Okay, I’ll give a little context: after day two of the conference, I was getting ready to go on a tour of Education City with the other ND kids. It wasn’t something I necessarily really wanted to do, but I had no other plans. Our hotel was in the middle of nowhere in the desert, so getting around was a little difficult unless you were in a group. There was a group going to do something, and since I like doing things, I thought I’d tag along.
But as we were leaving the university to go on our tour, I caught wind of another plan, one that seemed a lot more exciting. A group of Indian and Pakistani students were planning on going to seeing Qatar’s sand dunes, but they needed one more person in order to secure a certain price point for the tour group. They asked me, and, despite hardly knowing the plans and hardly knowing some of people (I’d met them before in Nepal, but I only knew one or two of them well), I figured it would be more fun than seeing some school buildings with Americans who I’ll get to see back at ND whenever I want.
So without knowing where I was going or what I was doing other than the very vague plan of “see the sand dunes,” I hopped in a Jeep with a random Saudi Arabian driver and five other people who decided they’d rather speak in Urdu than English.
The car ride took about an hour, and for the whole hour, there were very few English words spoken. That’s not because these people couldn’t speak English — I know for a fact that their English is very good because I’ve had good conversations with many of them before — but they just preferred Urdu. I mean…they had no obligation to speak English just because I was there. But it was kind of awkward sitting there for an hour, hardly able to participate in the conversation — though that’s normally what happens when I go to parties, so I guess it wasn’t that unique of a situation.
After an hour in the car, the Saudi Arabian driver took us to a little camp site in the middle of the desert and kicked us out. I was still a little confused about what was going on, owing to the whole not speaking Urdu thing, and the fact that the camp site had camels was not helping me to understand things better. All I knew was that I was going to see the sand dunes; camels were not a part of my expectations.
But I have nothing against camels — I’ve only ever seen them at zoos, but they seem like cool animals. Given the chance to ride one, I would do it. And that’s what I did.
It’s a shame it was so dark by the time we went because in all of my photos, I kind of look like an amorphous ghostly blob of flash. Sometimes photos taken with flash look cool because they make you look adventurous and fun, but that’s not so much the case when your photographer is sitting on a bumpy camel and so all of your photos turn out blurry. I don’t know, maybe it gives it a grungy dark teenager aesthetic?
I wish I could tell you my camel ride was magical and exotic, but really, it was a little boring. We basically went in a circle in a small lit area and took pictures.
What was magical and exotic, though, was our drive through the sand dunes afterwards. I didn’t know where we were going. I didn’t know what people were saying. I didn’t know if our driver was licensed, or if he was following a particular path through the dunes, or if he was going to drive us into the desert and put bullets through all of our heads. I had no data by the time we made it out into the middle of nowhere, and no means of communicating with the world if I got lost or kidnapped. In hindsight, maybe I should have been a little more more cautious, but the risk was what made it exciting and adventurous.
After driving around for a while, our driver stopped and kicked us out again. Some of my friends pulled out…some substance to smoke (that’s not a euphemism, I really don’t know what it was — they offered to let me join, but they would only tell me it was “an Indian speciality,” and in a brief moment of prudence, I figured maybe I shouldn’t get stoned in the Middle Eastern desert), and a few of us decided to go for a walk down to the water.
In my limited knowledge of deserts, I don’t think water is something they’re used to have. I’m pretty sure the lack of water is kind of how deserts are defined. But somehow, I wound up walking down a giant hill of sand with my stoned friends behind me towards a lake (?) in the Qatari desert. Like I said, it was a weird experience.
Perhaps the stupidest thing I did this whole night was walking around the desert with no flashlight, no sense of direction, and no idea what I was doing. Somewhere in the back of my mind, it occurred to me that I could get lost and die of dehydration out there in the Qatari desert. But apparently, that voice wasn’t very loud because by the time I realized that what I was doing was stupid, I was already too far away from the car to see it. Of course, the Saudi Arabian driver couldn’t be bothered to turn on his lights so we could find where he parked, so our group was literally just wandering around the desert in the dark. Not to mention of course, that half of our group had just smoked “an Indian speciality.”
As you can tell, though, I’m here writing this blog now, so I didn’t die. We made it back to the car safely (the white of the Saudi Arabian driver’s Jeep was just barely visible in the darkness), and he drove us back to civilization without murdering us.
This blog is going on way too long and I’m tired of writing so I won’t keep going, but the night didn’t end there. No, of course not — after our desert exploits, we had to hit the town and get dinner in the busiest part of the city. And of course, we had to wander around for an hour before we could pick a place to eat. And then we had to sit there and chat for an hour in Urdu — regardless of the fact there was a confused, jet-lagged American girl with wet sand in her shoes sitting there, just wanting to go home and sleep.
We made it back to the hotel, but not until 11PM. I guess that’s not super late, but after being jet-lagged, waking up at 6:00AM so I could sit in class all day to listen to discussions about Islamic theology, and then hiking around the desert for hours, I was pretty exhausted.
Anyway, that’s my Qatari desert adventure story. Hope you had fun reading it — I sure had fun living it.