But what really makes Doha seem so otherworldly is that its outlandish growth isn’t the result of natural expansion so much as mandated development. The people may not be here yet, but, the hope is, they’re coming. What it lacks in organic process, Doha makes up for in earnest hospitality. I feel welcome and safe wherever I go. People go out of their way to see that all my desires are attended to (but given that everything is so new, they often have no idea how to help me find whatever I’m looking for). There’s an innocence here that’s easy to fall into.
The sun quits for the day through a hazy sky, and I walk through the park that lines the Corniche, Doha’s busiest street, along the crescent-shaped bay. Sitting on the terrace at Al Mourjan restaurant on the edge of the Persian Gulf, I feel a slight breeze moving the hot night air. I lean back, puffing on a water pipe filled with rose-scented tobacco, and watch a dhow drift by, its white sail reflecting the light of the waning moon. The neon of the crazy-quilt skyline is over my shoulder. I sip my mango juice and watch a henna tattoo artist beside me draw an intricate pattern across the fingers of a young Lebanese girl. The singer on the nearby stage launches into an Arabic translation of “My Way.” The limestone walls of I. M. Pei’s museum are glowing a radiant orange across the bay. I take the small tongs and gently rotate the charcoal atop my shisha and puff away; a smile spreads across my face. It might all be an arbitrary invention out here in the middle of a barren desert, but there’s something about this place that has gotten under my skin—I’m glad I was here near the start.