We land in Doha on Sunday evening as the sun sets in a dusty orange glow. Transfer to the hotel complex is seamless, and Ansar (Sri Lanka) helps us navigate the Souq Waqif to our room at Al Jasra. Our first football match is the next morning at Al Janoub stadium, south of Doha. Cameroon and Serbia battle it out in an elegantly designed structure by the late Zaha Hadid, world-renowned architect from Iraq. We follow the game with a long walk along the Corniche — the pulsating promenade of lights and music set up to welcome World Cup fans, featuring a fireworks show every night. We dive into the nearby Fan Zone and watch the last match of the night, invited to sit with an Iranian family who offer to share their picnic blanket. We return home well after midnight, strolling in awe at both the city skyline and our luck in being here. It is by far the MOST international event I’ve ever experienced. Within the first 24 hours in Doha, we’ve met people from Japan, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Algeria, Iran, Zanzibar, Philippines and Nepal, and we’ve seen people of countless other nationalities as indicated by their jerseys and flags.
Tuesday arrives and we meander east to the National Museum of Qatar — a marvel of creative architecture, designed to resemble a “desert rose” which forms from gypsum salt and sand grains. The museum interior and permanent exhibit are equally stunning, diving deep into Qatari history and culture with highlights ranging from nomadic ingenuity to whale sharks to pearl diving to the discovery of oil. We end our journey with a stop to see the view from the terrace of the Alain Ducasse restaurant, and we leave agreeing that the NMQ is one of the best museum experiences we’ve ever enjoyed.
Back at the hotel, it’s just a few hours until the USA vs. Iran match at Al Thumama stadium. We dress up in our red, white and blue, hop on the metro and go five stops in the wrong direction because we’re so excited we forget to transfer to the other metro line. Thanks to a kind man from Kerala who helps us get back on track, we finally connect from the metro to the bus to the mile-long walk to the stadium. Along the way, we meet more people — Canada, Poland, Mexico and Iran. Iranians have brought their drums, their noisemakers and their collective gusto which rings out in coordinated songs and chants as we all walk together. Americans and Iranians, draped in flags with faces painted, stop for photos together and wish each other good luck. The stadium is electric with fan energy and kickoff brings more drums, more noise, more chants from both sides. The US eventually wins 1-0 in a well-played match with few penalties and — more importantly — in a big win for humanity, 42,000 fans have come together peacefully in the name of sport. It gives me hope for the world.
I look forward to writing way more about all of this when time permits. For now, it’s football every day, with Australia vs. Denmark tomorrow and a short souq tour on the side. See you back here soon! Go, Team USA! Inshallah.