Camel-killing temperatures bake the asphalt as my shirt cakes in salty sweat, soaking in the kind of humidity that you don’t think exists in desert climates but let me tell you, it does. Surrounding me, a mob of migrant workers, queued (in the loosest possible interpretation of that word) to enter a tent marked WORKER ENTRANCE. An ant-line of laborers files out of the exit a few meters away, bandage on each arm, official-looking government document in each hand.
The men around me look puzzled, talking at me simultaneously in Nepalese. Gutra-clad Qatari men break into the crowd, shouting orders in Arabic. The men immediately push into the tent, leaving me in a now-vacant parking lot. A bus pulls up and what appear to be hundreds more migrants disembark, filling the musky vacuum in which I stand. I’m confused; this is confusing.
That’s when I see him. He approaches like a phantasm, his flowing dishdasha swishing in the air despite the lack of breeze. He seems not to walk but rather to drift, drift like Saudi teenagers in Mercedes Benzes.
He gently grasps my elbow, removes his too-damn-cool-for-a-name-brand sunglasses, and says with the gentle authority of the universe itself, “Mister Sam. Come with me now.”
His name is Nidhal and he is my fixer. He is going to fix all of this for me.
I have no business by the WORKERS ENTRANCE, he tells me. I must instead use the EMPLOYEES ENTRANCE, which apparently is for foreign professionals such as myself. He seems to crack a smile, perhaps amused at my naivety, but I cannot be sure.
We walk into a building that, while not resembling a tent in any way, is at least halfway as topsy-turvy inside. Lines, arrows, and ropes form a labyrinth, reminiscent of my bygone hours spent in DMV’s. Nidhal gestures for me to follow him right past the crowds of puzzled businessmen, engineers, and other foreigners who were told this process would only take an hour.
He pauses outside a door marked only by a number, deep in thought, conspiratorial, like George Clooney right before he does anything. Now that I think about it, with that close trimmed beard and square jaw, Nidhal looks an awful lot like George Clooney. Except taller.
Nidhal quietly pushes the door open and motions me inside. A clearly overwhelmed doctor sits at a desk, piles of files scattered about him. Speaking in a voice like the wind whirling the desert across the dunes, Nidhal says a few words in Arabic that, like so many words in Arabic, speak volumes more than English.
The doctor responds immediately by taking out an ink pad and stamping insignias across a document with my name on it. Nidhal thanks him. We leave.
Nidhal leads me to another door. Inside, a Filipino orderly takes my document and passport, studying both carefully.
“A TB shot? Really man? You’re a white guy from America. You don’t have TB.”
I reply that he is of course correct, that this whole process is an unfortunate consequence of having irregular chest x-rays due to my Beijing-airborne-toxin-tattooed lung. He rolls his eyes sympathetically and takes out a needle.
“So,” he asks, “what’s the latest on the airstrikes in Syria?” I tell him that sadly my citizenship does not make me privy to insider information. He jabs the needle into my arm. “Come back in two days. If it looks infected, I guess you have TB after all.”
Nidhal is not impressed. He would prefer to see everything wrapped up sooner. If he could coerce my cellular biology to play by his rules, I know he would. But a fixer can only fix so much in one day.
This is my first week in Qatar, and my first week back in the Middle East after leaving so frantically in 2008. I must say, everything is going much better this time and I cannot wait to see what comes in the years ahead.