Friday, 7 October 2011


Doha Airport. A stark, shiny-floored, strip-lit hell. The air-conned air is dry and stings my nose, already parched from artificial plane atmosphere. Thousands and thousands of watts pumping to battle and oppose the muggy hotness outside.

The terminal is inhospitable. But sterile like a hospital. Music filtres out from stereos in open plan shops, there to make damn well sure you're going to spend that left-over home currency hogging space in your wallet.

The sound leaks, becomes thin and tinny and hisses jarringly, mixed in with all the other noise pollution. Thousands of shuffling shoes upon floor. Shoes belonging to people from a motley crew of nations. People trapped in mandatory limbo hover and drift and hover and drift like fruit flies, looking just as futile and brainless.

Smug and protected the first class lounges nestle evenly spread around the garish sprawl of the transfer terminal. They have their own teams of be-hatted concierges, dripping foundation and ready to administer polite scorn or factory-made salutations depending on your gold card status. Just the right amount of glass is left un-frosted to afford a view onto what we could be experiencing… but are not.

Queues at Costa clash disgustingly with the mess of Duty Free (disappointingly alcohol-free) making my eye balls throb. No sign of any suitable watering hole that might make my nervous system tingle, blood warm and flow more soundly. Bloody Marys on the next flight shall be my consolation prize.

I am at the epicentre of a people-quake. Souls who would never have set eyes on each other do so here. Tea-towelled Arabs and African queens and Vietnamese tourists. I want to stare at everyone and imagine what their home town looks like. I don't. I'm a frightened, sleep and alcohol deprived rabbit caught in Doha departure hall's head lights. The brightness offers nothing to hide behind. I scamper and scuttle away.

Amid the putrid jungle I find the Quiet Room. The most unexpected and unimagined oasis. No freshwater pools or palm trees casting welcome shade. Instead an almost lightless room: only glow the departures screen, thoughtfully placed at the back and out of eye-shot.

The silence is respected and maintained. So bizarre and blissful to share this space with a few dozen other strangers - from and headed for stranger lands - sleeping, slipping into dreams or sailing the seas of their inner weather.

Reclining chairs face the glass facade that looks out onto the hideous nomads of the hall, coughing and spluttering their way in a procession to and from the smoking chamber. The blindness dealt to them by my haven's dark interior has them peering in and pausing, making me despise them more. But in my cool, calm cocoon I feel like they are the exhibit. 

The cupboard of a smoking area oozes its compacted odours, pervading my sacred space. Through the glass doors it looks like a Turkish bath. The trapped creatures within are sweating tar and plastic meals.

No longer subjected to the glaring and invasive light of outside, I enjoy the time before plugging back in to the crackle and roar of air travel once more.

Up in the air, Bloody Mary safely in the bloodstream, I wonder about why such places were made as they were. Is it to reduce flight delays? Is it a genuine mistake? Or maybe the capricious sadism of an anonymous civil engineer?

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