Well, it happened – I have arrived in Doha, Qatar. I’ve been here for a couple days now and still trying to figure out how I feel about it. This is my first country transition on the Watson, and it’s as though I’ve started a new trip altogether. I’m looking for the thread that connects Sweden and Qatar, and I know that thread is me and my project, but I still don’t think I’ve found it yet.
I had a lot of strange, existential thoughts like that as I traveled to Doha via Dubai a few days ago. I traveled through the night, with a layover in the Dubai International Airport from 11pm to 2am. When I got off the plane in Dubai, I walked through the night heat to the airport bus to get to the nearest terminal. The bus took a little more than 20 minutes, and a banking ad covering the outside of the bus made it impossible to see outside.
As I stood in the bus, which might as well have been rambling in circles for hours, I was struck with the weirdness of it all. Here I was, totally by myself at midnight in Dubai, my first time in the Middle East and surrounded by families and couples and a high ratio of men to women. That Fight Club quote popped into my head: “If you wake up at a different time, in a different place, could you wake up as a different person?” In a foreign place at a strange time, you lose a sense of who you are and how you got there. Especially if you’re tired and you’re at an airport, you just put one foot ahead of the other and go, and that’s all you know in that moment.
It’s hard not to think about identity on the Watson. I feel like I’m scattering bits of myself all over the world, like making a drip castle in the sand – except the bits are much further apart, left in separate countries and with different people I meet.
This is tied to a sense of reinvention that comes with the Watson. It’s as though this grant is breaking me down into simple building blocks to be pieced back together in new ways over the course of the year. I get remade with each leg of the journey, and (hopefully) I’m building towards something better. It feels like, after all the work I did to graduate college, the Watson grant looked at me and said, “Nope. You’re not done yet. Go further, learn more, and keep building.” And so now I’m on this crazy tabula rasa journey.
Well, the good news is that my mini existential crisis has ebbed now that I’m in Qatar. Once I finally got through an hour of passport control at 2:30am in the Doha airport, I traveled to the home of a lovely family who is hosting me for the whole month that I’m here. Watson part 2, here we go!