I arrived at the American Air Base at Doha, Qatar at about 8 AM. I proceeded to the Air Force customs counter. Because I was travelling on to Bangkok via commercial air, I had to go through Qatari customs and then off the base to the Doha International Airport. Therefore, I had to “enter” the country through Qatari customs. Qatari customs, when I have gone through it, consists of one Arab sitting at a counter mostly waving you through. He checks nothing. At times, no one sits at the counter and there is the entry stamp just sitting there. The first time I went through this customs stations I had to go and find the customs agent for a friend, Jamaal, who was travelling back to the States. I had already passed through and had my passport stamped. Jamaal had lagged behind and been detained by the Air Force because of something in his baggage. He was always slow so it was no surprise to me when after 15 or 20 minutes Jamaal had not come through the customs stations. I left my bags sitting on the other side of the customs trailer and went to find Jamaal. When I finally got him through, there was no customs agent in the trailer. He had gone off to drink chai or to pray or God only knows. I went out to find him. When I found him, he entered the trailer and looked at the stamp as if to say why did you not stamp it yourself. I just laughed which brought a smile to his face. He stamped Jamaal’s passport and we proceeded through the metal detector which to my knowledge is always switched off.
On rare occasions, there are two or more people in the customs trailer. When this is the case, they will usually run your bags through the dusty x-ray machines while talking to each other. Then wave you through no matter what is in your bags. (I once carried a lighter in my carry on baggage from Afghanistan through several countries–Cambodia, Thailand, Dubai and Abu Dhabi. No one raised an eyebrow. It was not until I arrived in Atlanta and was exiting the airport to fly no more that a security guard discovered it and confiscated it. I questioned the guard fairly harshly. Asking why he would take the lighter when I was exiting the Airport and would not be boarding an airplane. He told me that he was just doing his job. I replied; “Then you have a stupid job with stupid fucking rules.” And walked on. America is a pain. I don’t fully agree with the paranoia that has become the norm in the American government. We are becoming truly byzantine in our rules, regulations and laws. Bottled water?)
By about 9:30, I was at the Airport. I had a ticket to Bangkok. The problem. My flight departed from Kuwait and I was in Doha. I had to get my ticket changed. I proceeded to the counter of a local Travel Agent and attempted to get my Gulf Air ticket changed from a Kuwait departure to a Doha departure. No success. I was told that I would have to go to the Gulf Air office in downtown Doha to get it changed. I asked if there was not a Gulf Air agent in the Airport. There was but it was in the back area. I went off to find it. I had to go back into the administrative offices of the airport. I found the office and walk inside. A woman and a man are sitting in the office. Neither of whom speak much English. The man goes off to find the manager. The manager walks in. Offers me chai and asks how he can help me. I explain my situation and he tells me that I would have to go to the main office in Doha. I ask him if it is possible to help me from here as I have two bags and a back pack with me and I don’t want to drag these bags with me all over the city. He attempts to help but cannot seem to get the system to work.
I decide to blow off the Kuwait flight altogether and to purchase a new flight from Doha to Bangkok. It costs me about $500. The flight doesn’t depart until around 2000 hours that night. So I have about 10 hours until departure and about 8 hours before I can go into the gate departure area.
I feel sticky and disgusting from sleeping in the air terminal at Bagram for two days. I decide to try to get a shower somewhere in Doha. There are airport hotels and shower rooms in Dubai, Amsterdam, Bangkok and several other places through which I have traveled over the years. Nothing of the sort exists in Doha. Qatar is a surprisingly backwards country for being so affluent. I hire a taxi to take me to a hotel. I grab all of my bags and throw them in the cab. And off we drive. After several tries, I could not find a hotel that rented by the hour so that I could take a shower. For some reason, I had no problem writing off a $500 ticket from Kuwait to Bangkok, but, I would not pay 80 bucks for a shower. $80 for a shower seemed offensive. Another scam in another Arab country. And I was tired of Arab stupidity and rigidity.
I abandon hope of taking a shower. But it’s only 11 AM. I still have 8 hours to kill before I can get to my gate for my flight. I tell the taxi driver to take me around and show me the major sights around the city. Apparently, my taxi driver is an idiot. He doesn’t know a thing and doesn’t know how to play it up for a tourist minded person like me. I ask him to take me to see Al Jazeera. I want to get a picture of the evil purveyor of Islamic propaganda and the protectors of terrorism worldwide. It’s a curiosity. He drives on.
We drive for about 15 minutes and I’m getting impatient. I’m thinking about just heading back for the airport when the drivers pulls up outside a place that he calls Al Jazeera. I stand outside of the cab to take 4 or 5 pictures. The idiot then proceeds through to the gate of what I am thinking is Al Jazeera. There are these security guard looking guys at the gate. They stop us. They ask us to pull over and exit the vehicle. Then they detain us. I try to tell the taxi driver to leave. He won’t budge. I get fairly irate. I ask why I am being detained. They tell me because they saw me taking pictures.
There are no signs prohibiting photography. “Photography not allowed” signs are no where to be seen. But to show that I have no problem and want no trouble I delete the pictures and show the guard. I just erase the whole memory stick in my camera. Now I have no pictures on my camera.
The taxi driver and I are told to sit inside the guard booth and wait. The taxi driver enters the booth and sits down. I sit down across from him and scowl at him. I ask him why he went through the gate. Tell him that he is an idiot and stare off into the distance. Every few minutes, taxi guy looks at me and I glare back. I think that I would like to smack the hell out of him and tell him this. I wonder how I picked the dumbest taxi driver in the Middle East. Every other taxi driver I had met before had been crafty and out to make a buck. This guy seemed to have a singular ability to drive and no imagination. IDIOT!
I keep asking the guards why I am being detained. The guards give me the same answer over and over. “No problem.” Mostly because none of them speak English. I’m told that they must talk to their Sergeant. A half hour passes and a Sergeant stops by and tells me the same thing. “No Problem.” I keep asking. “If there is “no problem,” why am I being detained?” All I get in reply is the same; “No problem.” But now it’s “We must wait for Captain.”
After waiting another half hour, a Sergeant and an Officer arrive. The Corporal and Sergeant who were there confer with the new arrivals as they whisper and point in my direction. The Officer steps over to me and asks to see my camera. Asks me to show him the pictures that I had taken. I tell him that I deleted them. He asks me why. I tell him that I was told to do so. Not completely accurate. It seems to satisfy him with me. Conversely, it seems to make him angry at the police officer who I singled out as the originator of the order.
I am told to get into a Toyota Landcruiser. I tell the Police Sergeant that my bags are in the taxi. He tells me to take my bags out of the taxi and place them into the Toyota. They are taking me to the local police station. I’m getting pretty nervous. I’m still not sure that these are real police. I’m thinking to myself that I’m in danger of being an Al Jazeera Friday Night Special. My head is in danger of being separated from my shoulders in an Al Qaeda Allahu Ahkbar saw fest.
They tell my taxi driver to leave. Before he leaves, he tells them that I owe him the fare. I curse at him and tell him to go to hell and refuse to pay the idiot. The police Sergeant tells me that I must pay. I’m feeling threatened enough over the whole picture debacle. Who knows what they might charge me with for refusal to pay this moron. I pay. I let them know that I feel cheated as I throw half of the fare on the ground. I spin around and get into the Toyota and slam the door shut.
I think the Police find it humorous. When they get in the vehicle they are motioning toward the taxi driver and laughing. I smile a bit. Feeling the tension ease a bit. I start to talk to the Police Sergeant in the front seat. I assume he is a Sergeant. His stripes look like those of our Police Sergeants in the U.S. I tell him that I am nervous. Frightened. I’m still a bit nervous that these jackasses are going to cart me off to some damn non-descript room and start hacking my head off and screaming Allahu Akbar at the top of their lungs. I’ll be posted 2 hours later on the Al Jazeera website. The Sergeant tells me that there is no reason to be nervous. I am safe. This comforts me little.
They take me to the police station. It’s a simple, yet, officious looking building. That eases my mental discomfort. I still keep getting the “no problem” comments. I still keep asking; “If no problem, why detain me?”
The building to which I am taken reminds me of the scene in which Peter O’Toole is taken to in the city of Aqaba in the movie Lawrence of Arabia. In the scene, Lawrence is tortured by a sadistic Police Captain. I’m hoping that no similar character arrives on the scene to beat me with a whip and pinch my nipples. This thought makes me laugh a bit. Later in the movie, Lawrence helps the Arabs of the Arabian Desert capture Aqaba.
I sense that I am ok. But still not sure.
They place me in a room with two desks and a bench. I sit on the bench for a while. The cops bring in a thief with a bag full of cell phones. They start to ask him questions. At one point, he must have given them a wrong answer. It sounded like he was being a smart ass to me. The Sergeant in the room reaches over and smacks the hell out of the guy. The guys head bounces off the wall behind us.
At about this point, one of the other Sergeants take me to another room in the back of the station. It’s hot as hell back there because the air conditioner is broken. I sit back there sweating and falling asleep. After about an hour of sweating and dozing, I walk to the front ant tell them that I am hot. Is there another room I can sit in and wait? They take me to a third room which seems to be a business office. Business men keep coming in and out paying the Officer inside money and kissing his hand. I have no idea what kind of service they were purchasing. I just witnessed a lot of kissing and money changing hands.
I’m now sitting in a plush chair and I keep dozing off. At one point I cross my right leg over my left leg this points the bottom of my foot at one of the Officers in the desks. I look at him in a daze. The sergeant walks over and tells me to put my foot down. Explaining to me that it is bad manners and disrespectful to point the bottom of your feet at another person in Arab custom. I think about saying that it’s bad manners and disrespectful to arrest someone and detain them for no reason in my country but think better of it. He gets no argument out of me. I lower my foot.
Eventually, the Captain of the Station walks in and asks questions about me. He then questions me. Why was I taking pictures? What was I taking pictures of? Why am I in Doha? For whom do I work? When do I leave Doha? When is my flight? How long have I been in Doha? I tell him that I was taking pictures because I thought Al Jazeera would be a good story to tell friends back in the States. I answer all of his questions and act as patient as I can. Then I ask him if I am being charged with anything and if not when I could go. He tells me to wait.
More waiting. I’m going insane with all of this waiting and no information.
Finally, I am taken to the Captains office. He lectures me on taking pictures of sensitive sites. Telling me that there is “NO PURPOSE! NO SENSE!” in taking pictures of Al Jazeera. I tell him that I’m a tourist and it was a curiosity to me. I keep repeating that there were no signs. How is one to know that one cannot take pictures if there are no signs prohibiting the act?
They keep asking me why I was taking pictures. I keep telling them the same thing. They ask me if I am a U.S. soldier. I tell them that I am not but that I work for the U.S. Army. Then they ask if I work on the base outside of the city. I answer no and that I am passing through Doha because I have finished a contract in Afghanistan and that I am going home via Thailand.
They start asking me where I was when I took the pictures. I describe the place. It turns out that I was taking pictures not of Al Jazeera but of the Qatar National TV Station. This is why they are upset. It is against the law to take pictures of this place. There are no signs prohibiting photography. In English or Arabic. Hhow would I know this? I realize that retard taxi driver took me to the wrong side of the compound to take the pictures and that is why I am being held.
Finally a CID Inspector shows up. Ahmed. He is of Pakistani descent. Ahmed talks to the police Captain about me. The Captain and he discuss me for 15 minutes or so. Ahmed tells him that there are no signs. Since there are no signs there is no crime. He tells them that I was doing no wrong. Since there are no signs, the guards should not have detained me.
The Captain can’t believe that there are no signs around the TV Station. So he tells the Ahmed the CID Investigator to take me to the TV Station so that I can show him where I was when I was taking the pictures and the route that I travelled to get to the TV Station. We travel the course of my earlier journey with the idiot taxi driver. As I had said all along there were no signs prohibiting photography. Ahmad takes me back to the station. We go inside the station to the Captains office and Ahmad re-affirms that there were no signs. The Captain tells him that I will be released.
I’m getting nervous. By this time, it’s 6 PM. My flight leaves at 830 PM. It’s getting close to my departure time. I should be at the Airport already sitting at the gate. I’m thinking. “Yeah, I’ll get released and miss my flight.”
Ahmad takes me outside and buys me tea at a local vender outside the station. He offers me a cigarette. I laugh and think of all the movies where those soon to be executed are offered a cigarette. After another hour and a half of signing statements and going back to the scene of the “crime,” I am released. Ahmed volunteers to take me to the Airport. I chat with him the whole time and he apologizes for the overzealousness of the guards and for my troubles. He gives me his email address and tells me that he will show me around if I ever return to Doha. I laugh. He understands my reluctance to return.
At one point, I thought to myself; “Dave, you’ve finally done it. Stepped on that landmine. These Jihadi bastards are going to take you to some white room and saw your goddamned head off.” Thankfully, that didn’t happen. Eventually, I loosened up and realized that they were real Qatari police and merely incompetent in the “inshallah” mode of the Arab world. In the end, I made my flight by about 45 minutes and slipped out of the country without causing an international incident. It had taken the Qatari police 8 hours to figure out that I was guilty of no crime and release me. Typical of the Arab World and their “inshallah” philosophy.
I should have gone to the Gulf Air office in Doha City and worked out my ticket problem. I probably would have avoided all of the excitement. In the end it all worked out. Just another story to tell around the campfire.