For the first time in many years, I will be traveling to Tanzania with our group rather than my normal protocol of arriving several days in advance of everyone else to prepare things. As many of your know, we have been traveling on Qatar Airways (a wonderful airline for any of you who haven’t flown it) since they came to Philadelphia as it saves us from having to schlep our way up to NYC , never a fun proposition. In addition to flying directly out of Philly, we have a long overnight layover in Doha, Qatar, that enables us to spend the night in town using their Discover Qatar program that provides five-star hotels for a fraction of the normal cost (like the ridiculous rate of $23!). The residents for this trip, Amisha (yes, her second time to FAME), Molly and Alice, all decided to spend two nights in Doha, with our medical student, Carrie, following a day behind them to meet up and all travel down to Kilimanjaro. Dan and Marin, our pediatric neurologist and pediatric neurology nurse practitioner, respectively, left Doha with me this morning while the others stayed behind, and will be traveling to Tarangire for a two night adventure before arriving to FAME the same time as the rest of us on Tuesday. It sounds a bit confusing, but trust me, everything worked smoothly in the planning phase and, so far, it has worked in reality.
We all left Philadelphia, save Carrie, on a cold and blustery winter day from Philadelphia and had an uneventful, albeit 12 hour, flight to Doha, Qatar, arriving at about 4:00 in the afternoon. Amazingly, the six of us were able to fit into a single small SUV taxi to shuttle to our hotel at the Souq Waqif, or the marketplace. Amisha, Molly and Alice did have to get their checked luggage since they were staying an extra night, but the rest of us did not have to which was quite fortunate since I have two large duffels checked and they never would have fit. The ride to the hotel was cramp though quick and we all looked forward to settling in our rooms, showering, and getting ready for a nice dinner at a restaurant we’ve frequented before. There was only one hitch to that plan. In booking their rooms, Amisha, Alice and Molly had mistakenly booked at a different Tivoli hotel that was actually on the other side of the airport from where we were. As they had been booked through Discover Qatar, there was no way for the hotel to cancel and rebook without incurring a significant loss. Thankfully, the hotel had facilities for them to get showered and cleaned up so it was decided that we would all go to dinner and walk around the marketplace after which they would take a taxi to their hotel and get checked in.
I had discovered this simply wonderful restaurant (Shujaa Restaurant in case anyone happens to be passing through the Doha Souq Waqif in the future) that serves skewers of the most delicious lamb and chicken that are simply to die for and it seems to have become a staple of our overnight stays in Doha since that time. The six of us ate very generous helpings of meat along with humus, tahini, eggplant, and yogurt with mint and lots of bread for a grand total of 97 Riyals, or just under $27 USD, total. We continued to stroll the market picking up lots of dried fruits for our stay at FAME along with some bags of candy that you really can’t find anywhere else but here. Dan and Marin decided to head back to their hotel early, but not until we had a hoot watching Alice order some ice cream from one of the street vendors. They are incredibly comical, scooping with a long spatula that really sticks to the ice cream as they proceed to spin and twirl it all the while teasing your outstretched hand waiting for the cone. It’s finally delivered, but not until after several minutes of outright laughter from everyone watching and a few smudges of ice cream on Alice’s nose, all without a single dropped scoop or other unfortunate mishap. Though the ice cream probably wasn’t worth the nearly $5 that she paid for it, but the show certainly was.
Amisha, Alice and Molly wanted to see the falcon shops on the outskirts of the market, so I took them over to the falcon market and we walked into a few of the shops. They are beautiful birds that are bred for falconry which is a hobby of the rich here and elsewhere in the Middle East. They are certainly pampered and not mistreated to the best of my knowledge, but they weren’t meant to remain captive for the entire lives so it is also difficult to see them tethered on their perches, many wearing their leather hoods to reduce the amount of stimulation and stress that they experience. It’s not much different than having a dog or a cat, I guess, but those animals are domesticated and were never meant to live in the wild, having been bred simply for our pleasure and companionship which is much different than these birds or any other exotic pet for that matter. After the falcons, we walked over to the Royal Stables where their Arabian horses are kept. The stables are open to walk around while you pet the various horses, mostly housed by themselves in the stables unless they are out in the sandy corral where they can visit with each other. Amisha had a particular love affair with one of the horses, a grey mare who seemed to be as intrigued by Amisha as she was with them. Amisha would cock her head to the side and the horse would promptly follow suit with its huge head and neck extending out the window in its stable. They were absolute speaking the same language for some time and had totally bonded by the time we decided to head home.
I had to show them my room at one of the boutique hotels, which was the same one as Dan and Marin were staying in. My room, though, was on the third and top floor and was really fit for a king. There was a couch and desk and many chairs on which to sit along with a lovely upholstered bench or chaise at the foot of my bed. I had views of both the distant city skyscrapers and their lights as well as to the west with the setting moon and the tall tower of a distant mosque. It seemed a waste that I was staying for only one night and perhaps I’ll do in the future as the residents were doing this trip by staying for two nights or even more. Qatar is definitely a country worth exploring more than I have so far.
Our flight was leaving early in the morning so that Dan, Marin and I had decided to meet at 5:30 am to catch a cab to the airport. I slept horribly this night, waking up repeatedly and then finally getting up at 4:30, only to discover that neither Dan or Marin had discovered restful sleep and had gone out at 4 am for breakfast in an all-night diner not wanting to wake me. The trip to the airport was quick and after a few cappuccinos and a stop at the duty-free shop for some much needed libation during our stay at FAME, we were at the gate and ready to board. I will have to confess here that I had taken Qatar Airways up on their discount offer to upgrade to business class on this leg of the flight, so I boarded first and made myself cozy in my little cubby while the flight attendant brought me fresh squeezed orange juice and my menu for the ala cart dining during the flight. I will have to say that I have never booked business class as the cost is many multiples of the economy fare, but if you ever have the chance to take them up on an upgrade for a fraction of the regular price, it’s well worth the splurge as being pampered from takeoff to landing can be quite an experience and is almost a vacation in itself. I typed for the entire flight, other than my meals, of course, which is when I took advantage of the extra-large monitor to watch a movie while eating several meals.
I should make some mention about the corona virus as there were many walking around the airport in Doha with masks on, even though we have been made well aware that the normal surgical masks do little to protect anyone from getting the disease and I saw only a handful of the more tight-fitting N95 masks that may be more protective (I can’t wear one due to my beard), though are probably still not worth the effort in these situations. Amisha texted us today from Doha to tell us that Qatar had it’s very first case confirmed, but I think that is going to be standard fare for our trip and other than staying vigilant to avoid those individuals visibly coughing and hacking, we will have to trust our common sense and the authorities to managing the situation. Of course, having listened to recent interviews by a certain individual back at home has done nothing to instill my confidence that the latter part of that statement will, in fact, take place. On arrival to Kilimanjaro, other than being led single file by a disinfectant dispenser where we were told to wash our hands and a quick one-over glance by an airport worker to see if we looked like death warmed over, there was little in the way of containment going on here for the moment.
Unlike past trips, we made it through immigration and customs quite quickly, and Vitalis was waiting outside for us to drive us into Arusha. I have known Vitalis for several years now and he is one of the best safari guides and would be taking Dan and Marin to Tarangire for two nights after dropping me off at the Mt. Meru Hotel where Pendo was waiting for me. I’m sure as I type this that Dan and Marin are settling into their safari lodge just outside the park and preparing for a wonderful day of game viewing tomorrow. Vitalis is an amazing birder, which is really Dan’s favorite focus, so I can imagine the two of them together for the day. Marin will learn more about birds tomorrow than she had ever dreamed of. They will meet up with us at FAME on Tuesday after lunch.
I received word that Carrie arrived safely in Doha and, more importantly, connected up with Alice, Molly and Amisha and that they were heading back to the market to spend the evening. I was also told that the three of them had gone to the National Museum earlier in the day and had spent two hours for a tasting lunch that they said was spectacular. I’ll include a few of their photos, but it sounded amazing and I can’t wait to hear more. From what I am told they spent for their lunch, though, I suspect they may be going to back to Shujaa for dinner tonight or perhaps they’ll even fast given how much it sounds like they ate. I was told that the bread cart itself was worth the price of lunch, so I have a suspicion that they ate their fill. Hopefully they’ll be nice to Carrie and make sure she gets something to eat.
They will be flying out of Doha on the same flight we took today so that I will be picking up the four of them along with another member of our team, Angela Osei-Bonsu. Angela is a pediatrician from Ghana who had spent a month at Penn over the summer as a global health scholar and given her interest ultimately in pursuing child neurology, she had spent a great deal of time with our department. She had asked me about joining us for some of our time here and, thankfully, we were able to work things out with FAME and Penn to coordinate a visit and the opportunity to spend several weeks with our team. Given that we will have three pediatric neurologists with us, it was perfect timing for Angela to come so not only could she get a taste of working with us, but our peds folks could also have the opportunity to work with her. You never know where these situations may lead and it is only through networking such as this that you can take full advantage and make things happen. Abdulhamid spending the month at Penn last October (please read my previous post on that) was a similar life-affirming opportunity that had been born out of a simple meeting with little in the way of expectations other than the desire to do your best and the graciousness and forward thinking of those in a position to make these things happen.