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Big, Black, And Nappy in The Persian Gulf Part I: Addressing Some Myths

8 July 2008 15 Comments

Just like the post about my trip through Asia last summer, I’ve been putting off this post because I’ve had no idea how to explain all that I learned and saw while spending three weeks in Doha, Qatar. Therefore, I’ll be doing three separate posts, each about a different aspect of The Persian Gulf. I’ll start by addressing a few misconceptions that we Americans have about this part of the world.

Misconception #1: The Middle East is a hostile, war-torn environment.
Conclusion: False

Doha, which is about the size of Miami, is 700 miles from Baghdad, 250 miles from Dubai, and over 1000 miles from Beirut. As a person who refused to party north of Union Square while living in New York, and certainly gets suspicious north of Girard Avenue in my hometown of Philadelphia, the hundreds of miles between my hotel and any warzone were more than comfortable. We often forget how vast and diverse this part of the world really is. One of the more interesting aspects of travelling to the Middle East were the crazy racist things that other Americans felt entitled to say about Arabs and the region in general once I told them that I’d be spending time in The Gulf. It made me realize that while we hesitate or modify comments about most groups, racial slurs against Arabs don’t seem to “count.”


Doha was practically crime-free, and I felt safe everywhere I went. Since most of Doha is under construction, the occasional bang would make me jump and panic that some bomb had gone off and then I’d feel like a silly American. The only truly nerve-wracking moments came from dealing with the crazy driving of the Qataris – most people drive SUVs and gas is only $0.40 per gallon, so I can’t really blame them, I guess. Everyone just seemed to be going about their business and there was a normal police presence like any other city. In fact, Friday night at a black nightclub is more of a police state than Doha.

Misconception #2: The Middle East is an oppressive environment for women.
Conclusion: False.


I’m not a religious person so being in a country that values Islam over all else was quite an experience. Although native Qataris are in the minority in Doha because there are so many Southeast Asian immigrants in service positions and professional expats from all over the world, most Qataris wear traditional garb that covers their bodies from wrist to ankle. For men, this means the a white robe (thobe) and head covering; for women this means the all-black abaya, head covering, and sometimes covering the face and wearing gloves. Somewhere between being mistaken for a prostitute and having a shopkeeper mutter “haram” (forbidden) at my tight t-shirt and short skirt, I realized early on that modesty was key for both men and women.

The women I spoke to in Doha, all of which had their own careers and full lives, laughed at the notion that a husband or father would force them to cover, and considered modesty a way of life from birth. Since I lack religious and cultural legitimacy here I wont try to explain why. As a female visitor, however, I noticed that there was no sexuality in the atmosphere – most of us ladies have been grabbed, groped, or leered at in the US or Europe, but very little of that was happening in Doha, which I found refreshing. The absence of subtle sexism in the air was a form of relief that I can only compare to leaving the United States and its subtler forms of the American brand of racism behind, something many black Americans have experienced when travelling abroad.

Misconception #3: The Middle East is a backward society and is mostly desert.
Conclusion: True and False.

Doha is Qatar’s largest city but most of the country is empty desert, so city-dwellers in SUVs and dune buggies use the dunes as their playground. The standard tour involves a driver (mine is pictured above) who taunts you through a four hour safari ride that’s closer to a roller coaster than a Bedouin caravan. Surrounded by 30 miles of sand in each direction and dunes that were 1-2 stories in height, our driver (pictured above) sadistically laughed at our screams on the sharp turns and huge drops and smoked a Davidoff Light at each of the scheduled stops. Photos really don’t do it justice, so here are some video links:

The driver playing games with me (with audio commentary).
Desert everywhere as recorded during the ride.
Desert Drag Racing

Yes, the desert does have camels, and in my dopest Black Girl Adventure yet I rode one. Sorry for the distant photo but I look pretty rough in 110 degree heat so y’all aren’t getting a zoom-in.


The camels fascinated me. Not only did their toes not look at all like crowded up cooch, they made a grunting noise that I can’t really explain, so take a look and listen at my camel Habiba who was smelly but a sweet enough animal as long as that muzzle stayed on.

I hope you enjoyed Part I of Big, Black, and Nappy in The Persian Gulf. Part II, dealing with the culture of The Gulf, will be coming shortly.

15 Comments »

  • sdg1844 said:

    I enjoyed this post. Travel is a real eye opener and I encourage everyone who can, please travel and see the world.

  • Reginald Dorsey said:

    Tight. So what’s the correct pronunciation. When the war started and the US forces were stationed there before the actual assault alot of newscasters were pronouncing it “gutter.”

  • Thembi said:

    The correct pronounciation is a mix between “Gutter” and “Cutter” that my weak arabic skills can’t do justice.

  • Reginald Dorsey said:

    And for the record, I too feel like I’m in a foreign country if I’m anywhere above the Flatiron district. The wide avenues and super-upscale shops of midtown scare me like Balky Bartokomus’s first time strolling around the Loop with Cousin Larry.

  • Qucifer said:

    YOu preach to the choir babe, My brother had the same impressions, in fact he told me Brunei was the most advanced and fascinating place he’d ever had the pleasure of being at!, he wasn’t all jazzed about The Kingdom but nonetheless he appreciated it for what it was

    I tell you Americans at large (and this I can say as a foreigner that has heard every dumb/nasty/uninformed comment under the rainbow: Do we have Elephants in Venezuela?, you speak a different kind of Spanish than Mexicans, Mexicans speak Mexican and so on) can be both very closed minded and xenophobic about anything outside of the USA and Canada… regards my 2 years in Germany I’m still getting asked… re they racists over there???

    Um yeah they still hunting Jews and shit …ughh!

  • Jazzy said:

    Crowded up cooch! LOL Now that I think about it my husband uses camel hoof all the time and I’m pretty certain that he has never seen a real camel. Anyway saw you over at UBM, will try to stop over more often.

  • Ehav Ever said:

    Nice account, and this is definitely a part of the world more Americans need to visit to see that the media often biases people. I like your account, in that wonderful Thembi way. I am telling you, you need an Ipod or video show. I am looking forward to reading more on the Chronicles of Thembi in the Middle East.

    BTW: Thanks for your comment. I am taking your words into consideration. You definitely something to consider. Thanks.

  • blackwomenblowthetrumpet.blogspot.com said:

    @ Qucifer

    *LOL*

    I know exactly what you mean…

    I have heard all sorts of crazy remarks from people who wanted to know what it was like in Africa… they could not believe that there were so many Benzes on the streets…it’s a very common vehicle in the city where I was… people were looking at my photos from the countries I visited and were acting SURPRISED that everyone in the photo was fully clothed… they thought that women walked around half naked in the major cities of African countries…

    In one photo, I am getting my nails and feet done….people were SHOCKED! They didn’t know that there were manicurists and pedicurists over there…

    The things that people WHO DO NOT TRAVEL the world assume about other countries….
    Lord help us all…

    {chuckles}
    Lisa

  • Lola Gets said:

    When I used to work at AJE, I met several folks from the Doha office. One fellow who is Black, liked the place but said there was a severe lack of places to find sexual partners. I guess thats one downfall of not having “sexuality in the atmosphere.”

    L

  • Dulce said:

    I truly enjoyed this post. I definitely plan to travel the world more and expand my horizons. You are going ot have to tell me (us) how you were able to actualize your trip. Did you do it with school, a medical mission, group, alone….

    Once again it was hilarious. Like Paul Mooney said “everybody wants to be nigger but no body wants to be a nigger”

    I recently went to a B-boy break dance competition here in DC and the best dancers were Asian and White. In fact a white guy own, a jewish guy was the DC and the runner up was Asian. Not that I have anything against them because I love diversity. Sometimes it seems thought that everybody loves and appreciates our culture in its rawest forms except us.

  • Gette said:

    Wow Thembi.. what a refreshing take on travel. I especially enjoyed your quips about the differences in dress [and how modesty is in super short supply here in the states]. Okay so you didn’t exactly say all of that, but I thought I’d throw that in since it’s the norm. This just confirms my decision to finally start traveling abroad beginning in the fall.

    Hopefully with my pay raise and p-p-p-p-ppppaid Man Friend, we can definitely make this happen..

  • Kellybelle said:

    I’m all into the Middle East! Did you buy an abaya? They look kinda hot, but I agree with you, it’s not about oppression, it’s about modesty. Post more on this trip please.

  • bklyn6 said:

    But, what I really wanna know is…. Do they wear socks with their sandals?

    Seriously, very nice travelogue!

  • Thembi said:

    @KelleBelle
    I didnt get an abaya – they were like $200 for the hot ones!

    @bklyn6
    When its 80-115 degrees year round, socks are just straight up torture. I saw mad ashy feet out there…

  • bklyn6 said:

    ^LOL. Ashy isn’t a good look anywhere.

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