Sweat was pouring down my brow, stinging my eyes when I tried to wipe it with an equally wet palm. Squinting into the bright midday sun I searched the tops of the numerous skyscrapers for a sign. Clearly this was only to remain a figurative gesture, as the buildings were mostly unmarked. I was pretty sure I was lost the moment I stepped out of the hotel. I was also the only mortal to dare the streets during the heat of the day, so I couldn’t even ask anyone for directions.
Just as I decided to give up, he came strolling along, perplexedly grinning at the sopping wet westerner spinning on her own heels. He offered to walk me to the huge (and very un-signposted)) Central Mall. “Are you local?” I asked. “Yes”. “So you are used to this heat?”. He smiled. “Are you American?” “No. I am from Namibia”. “Aaah! You’ve been walking for a long time” He looked amused.“It shows?!”
He guided me to a shortcut and pointed at the current temperature on his phone: 44°C (with probably 200% humidity). As he accompanied me into the mall I kept looking back, taking mental notes of landmarks to get me home. In my left hand I was clutching my wallet (an African custom) and the brochure of my hotel. For navigational purposes. Or a clue for the police to use to find my next of kin should I succumb to the heat.
When he was sure I was where I wanted to be, he casually waved goodbye and turned away without pause. I offered a ‘thank you!’ to his back, but he was clearly not expecting anything in return for his selfless kindness. Not even a farewell greeting.
We were flying with Qatar between Geneva and Namibia. The Airline has put us up in complementary city accommodation for the duration of our 22 hours layover in Doha. In the short while that we spent at the hotel I have noticed this same kind of open, gentleness from all the hotel staff. However intrigued I was I suppose I didn’t make too much of it, as hotel staff are generally trained to be nice. Clearly I was wrong in this case. Nico confirmed this to be true of the Arabic people he met in western Africa as well. Kind, gentle, open and selfless.
In our home we try to use positive affirmations in parenting but also in general communication. We would reprimand the boys when they are quarrelling with ‘please be more loving!’ instead of ‘stop fighting’ or ‘don’t be naughty’. The most descriptive word that springs to my mind of the soft-eyed people of Doha is Loving. They just are. You are a friend before they even meet you.
Later, as I relaxed in the cool hotel swimming pool, the sounding of the Call to Prayer reaffirmed my relief to have survived an hour’s outing in the worst heat imaginable in search of a western-type bathing suite in a Muslim country. I glanced down at my huge multifunctional GPS running watch. I wear it day and night, wet or dry. Ironically I use it only for checking the time when not on a run.