As I once mentioned in one of my previous posts about how It’s the unexpected that makes travel special, this is a bizarre story of how me and two of my friends ended up spending the whole day drinking with an eccentric Lebanese millionaire artist in a 5 star hotel called Sharq Village and Spa in Doha, Qatar. The story involves millions, billions, Emirati princesses, US Government officials, connections to the highest levels of Qatar’s ruling family and all sorts of strange.
While my wife Priya, is writing about hard hitting topics on social aspects such as her recent post “Have Qataris always been a minority in their own country?“, I’m taking a bit of a lighter tone with my writings :).
How does this make it travel related? Well since my friend from Slovenia was visiting me at the time and I was showing him around town, it counts as a travel story!
Since it was May and the weather already too hot to do anything much outdoors, I’ve decided to take my visiting friend for a relaxing day at the pool and beach in one of Doha’s numerous 5 star hotels. I chose the Sharq Village and Spa in order to get some of that quintessential Doha’s architecture into the mix.
As another long time friend in Doha had nothing to do that day, he decided to join us for some splashing about and a beer or two. That was our plan at least.
Anyway, as we reached the place we decided to have a coffee before jumping into the water, which soon turned to beer instead. As we were drinking our second bottle of Corona, the waiter suddenly brought another round of beer, without us placing the order. So I told the guy that he made a mistake and that we didn’t ask for anything extra. He went on to explain that it was courtesy of “that gentleman sitting in the corner over there”. Completely confused I said well OK then and we accepted out drinks.
I was of course curious as to what this was all about, so I called out to the suited, black shades wearing man and asked him to join us.
Our mysterious patron
So our freshly minted friend responded to my inquiry on how come he decided to treat us to a round of beer by simply saying: “You guys seem cool”. Well, we couldn’t argue with that, since we in fact are quite cool people.
As the beers kept coming, our friend started talking a lot about everything imaginable. I’m pretty sure he was high on something that was diluted in his drink. So he told us how he doesn’t need to really work as he owns a few commercial buildings in the Democratic Republic of Congo and besides, his father is a big shot back in Lebanon. In addition to that we soon learned he is a personal artist to Sheikha Mozah – the current Emir’s mother and one of the most powerful people in Qatar.
To say that the things he was telling us were far fetched, would be a gross understatement. For example he said he was commissioned to create the largest painting in the world by the above mentioned Sheikha Mozah with his fee being almost 1 billion dollars. I honestly forgot the size of it, but there was talk of using airplanes as the art piece would be at least hundreds of meters in size if not kilometers and done on the desert floor. This was to be ready by the time Qatar hosts the 2022 World Cup in football. While I still think that he was exaggerating as far a the sum goes, I wouldn’t be surprised if the project was in fact commissioned, as there was a similar attempt by one of the American Universities in Qatar, back in 2013.
Our conversations were all over the place, but what was the most telling from all of this was just how far removed from a regular person’s reality this guy was. It was basically observing a member of the super rich being being completely unable to relate to anything an average person would perceive as normal. In his mind, we, the average people were more or less ants, to whom you don’t pay a moment’s notice as they don’t even begin to show up on your radar as something you should pay attention to in any shape or form.
These conversations were interrupted every now and then by him placing a phone call, telling us that he just needs some extra cash and that he called one of his people to bring him some. Usually in a span of about 10 minutes, a large man would show up and give him some 1000QR (275USD). I don’t know why a rich person wouldn’t just have more money on him or use his credit card, but hey there was nothing that could be described as normal with the guy.
We tried arguing with the guy to let us pay for something, but he wasn’t having any of it, so we just went with the flow. The alcohol infused afternoon started moving into evening hours and we moved to another open air bar in the hotel. He informed us how the place stores a brand of Polish vodka just for him and as it was yet another boast we said yeah, sure. We were all kind of switching between believing what he was telling us in general and thinking he’s full of hot air. Well soon the bartender came with a bottle with the guy’s name written on it. Things like that kept happening and we really couldn’t decide what to make of all these stories.
At one point we made another move to the Cigar Lounge, had some incredibly expensive whiskey, cigars and kept talking about all sorts of stuff. Apparently our friend ran out of money again as he asked me if he could borrow 500QR and promised to pay me back 1,000QR, some ten minutes later. He went on a long explanation about how if I’m a man enough to trust him as somebody I barely met, then he needs to be man enough to repay me double for that trust.
I just thought to myself who cares, we haven’t paid for anything at all yet and by that time the guy already spent about 4,000 QR on all of us. So I gave him the money, not caring about what he was on about giving me a double amount back. Hell, at least we might be able to pay for something.
Well true enough, in 10 minutes the money was there and he was actually trying to get me to take 1,000QR instead of 500QR. He was so persistent that I said OK sure, put the money on the table and when the next bill came (I’m not sure why we kept paying for each round individually…) I just used one of the 500 bills he gave me to pay. When he noticed that, he got extremely upset at why I’m paying and it took me almost 10 minutes to calm him down by explaining I didn’t pay for anything, since he gave me back double the amount I lent him. He kind of accepted my argument that while we can somehow accept him paying for everything, we really cant have him outright giving us money on top of that. Strange stuff, I know.
Another strange little moment followed when an older white man walked pass our table. The artist told us he’s from the US Government and that he once arranged a meeting between him and the leader of Lebanon’s famous Hezbollah party, Hassan Nasrallah. A while later the same man walked past us again and the artist quipped something in his direction. The American stopped for a bit, measured him up and only responded by saying: “You’re from Lebanon” and walked away.
It’s not proof of anything the artist said, but moments like this made it harder to completely dismiss his stories.
The Emirati princess
What followed next was yet another twist into more strangeness. As we were continuing our drinking in the Cigar Lounge, we saw a group of three young Qataris sitting at one table and a girl sitting alone in another spot. Some time later our artist friend saw that the girl joined that group and he said to us something in the manner of: “what the hell is she doing with those losers, I’ll get her here”. At that point I excused myself and went to the bathroom.
When I came back the girl was already sitting with my group and was as drunk as we were, if not more. Soon enough, she started hitting on my Slovenian friend, who obviously didn’t mind as she was very attractive. This wasn’t anything subtle, she was all over him.
As this was going on we were also talking and I asked her where she was from, to which she just replied: “I’m a princess”. Yeah, that’s quite obvious I thought to myself. In any case, I inquired some more and the artist did confirm she was in fact a princess from UAE. Holy shit, in what kind of a crowd did we end up?!
Anybody that really knows anything about Qatar and the region in general would tell you to stay away from these people. Thing is, it can be lucrative to have contacts high up, but when something goes wrong, you are fucked. So already at that point I started getting slightly uneasy with the situation, but since I was quite wasted it gave way to – Hey, this is one interesting day.
The artist seemed to be getting somewhat worried about what was happening between my friend and the princess and he told me to get him away from her, as it will spell trouble for him. I thought he was joking, but due to him insisting and looking genuinely distressed, I eventually told my friend to go to the bathroom, so she’d perhaps chill out a bit.
Soon after we were joined by another man who seemed to know the Emirati girl. Our Lebanese artist quickly told him to take a hike and they had a short argument which resulted in the man pulling out his ID to show our artist friend he is in law enforcement. Well, our friend took out an ID of his own and our new guest just stood up and walked away. I of course asked him what in the world says on his ID, that made that guy back off so fast, but he did not want to tell me. My wife later on told me that people who are under direct sponsorship of Sheikha Mozah, have a special kind of ID. It might also have been written under the sponsor details in the regular ID, not sure. Whatever that ID is, it obviously sways power.
So as my friend was still hanging around the hotel grounds, heeding the warning of better staying away from the Emirati girl, she and the artist occasionally spoke Arabic to each other and the girl seemed annoyed at times. So at one point she starts yelling in English: “Fuck Sheikha Mozah, what is she? She is nothing. I will always be a princess, she just became one by chance. Fuck her, fuck Sheikha Mozah!”.
Now that is a major cause for alarm! Who in their right mind would say something like that out really loud about the ruler’s mother in an autocratic country?!
As I mentioned before, it’s not the high ups that get in trouble, it’s everybody that happens to be around them when something like this happens. At that point, our super relaxed artist friend got seriously nervous and all that air of I’m TOP DOG in Qatar quickly went away. He just told us: “You guys need to get away from here, I’m serious. This will not end well for you if you stay, go now!”. Well my friend, you don’t need to tell me twice to get lost when a completely drunk supposedly Emirati princess starts yelling her lungs off about how Sheikha Mozah can go fuck herself.
We quickly decided we should call it a night and get the hell out of there, before any CID or the like shows up.
That was by far the most bizarre experience I’ve ever had in Qatar and one hell of an introduction to the country for my visiting friend. I was later told by my wife Priya, who knows the country much more than I do, that Sharq Village and Spa has always been a very popular place for big shots in Qatar. She didn’t find what we told her about the artist’s or the princess’s claims to be far fetched at all.
If all or just parts of what the artist or the ‘princess’ told us that day is true or not, I don’t know. What I do know was that it was one bizarre day and that a random stranger ended up paying for all the food, alcohol and cigars for all three of us. I didnt really keep track, but it must have been somewhere around 4,000 riyals. God knows where all of this would have led if we decided to stick around after the Emirati girl started screaming obscenities about Sheikha Mozah.
And no, I didn’t take even one picture that day…