06: Pathfinding [25 February 2013]

Road maps are almost useless here, and getting written directions from someone else is a great laugh. Once, someone sent me an email with 'driving instructions attached', and it was nothing more than a satellite view of the entire country with two pixelated lines doodled on it. It seemed like complete trash at first, and then I looked at a more detailed satellite view from Google Maps and realized there just weren't all that many roads out there anyway. In fact, the entire country is under 4500 square miles (Connecticut, for comparison, is 5500; all of the Bahamian islands added together are 4800). My students who grew up in this country think I'm nuts for driving around all the time without a GPS and are worried that I'll get lost. I tried to explain to them that I learned how to drive in New Jersey, a state with twice the land mass as Qatar, and that my primary method of learning my way around was to pile some friends into my car every weekend and go driving until we got lost, and then spend the rest of the day finding our way back. They were rather impressed that I drove an entire hour to get to the faculty/student retreat last weekend.

The landscape out here is drastically different from anything I've seen before; past the main urban sprawl that is Doha, the world opens up into a giant sky and flat desert. A small fence runs along the entire length of the highway as wildlife control to keep camels off the road. Near the western coast, chunks of rock jut straight out of the sand, tiny bits of tableland that are quite modest compared to the mountains in the US that I'm used to, but present such a dramatic change out here that they might as well be mountains.

I can drive from one side of the country to the other in an hour, and scrambling up and down the higher rock formations takes me a few minutes. The land itself seems comically small when put into perspective of the rest of the planet, but with my feet on the ground and my thoughts in the moment, it seems like the world could go on forever.

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