Friday, January 30, 2015

Ma'a Salaama, Doha: No Regrets

Dashboard entertainment:

yes, this really happened
at 80km/hr
But first, this happened:

Landcruiser idled in traffic
driver's door open
errant youth chastised;
traffic waited
without honking horns
even though the light was green
Sure, driving in Doha is hazardous. Living in Qatar is like residing on a construction site surrounded by a construction site within a construction site bordered by a yacht-and-dhow-sprinkled moat overrun with princes.
Abandoned buildings disintegrate in the wind and sun. Roads are rerouted to accommodate construction needs. Appointments, schedules, contract dates and terms-set-in-stone are fluid. No mail service. Empty grocery shelves, the metric system. Familiar, brand name products - made for an international market - taste or work differently. Services are discontinued without notice. Wet summer air puddles under thresholds, teases body moisture into clothes. Salty water stings eyes, dries skin. Rules about alcohol, behavior, attire. A mysterious, minority host culture. Prejudice, bias, wasta. 
And, yeah, traffic.
a different kind of traffic picture:
bare road plus
parked, red lakhiwiyya police SUV...
black sedan, tinted window
headed your way
But life in Doha is not all teenage boys, plugged intersections, rebar and concrete. For example, there is year round sunshine. Seasonal pink flamingos, the souk. Gucci, Hermes, Giorgio Armani. Porsche and Lamborghini. Tennis, handball, camel racing, the Call to Prayer, cute baby giraffes.
the Doha Zoo remains closed
this is what it looks like when you drive in unannounced
while the guard is on break
(then charm your way out in pigeon Arabic)
Less than 100 years ago, Qatar was a vast expanse of sand. Today there are flowers and malls. Date palms hem a brick Corniche around a glittering Bay. An eccentric high rise skyline ponies up nighttime bling. The country's National Museum (under construction) is uniquely shaped like a Desert Rose. Three short years ago stereo speakers fixed in The Pearl's trees broadcast bird calls. Today real birds flutter in the fronds.
behind the walls
a community park
Growing pains feature in Qatar's dunes-to-mansions story. But rapid growth is the tale's hero - and villain. Now, as we leave the desert behind, we choose to focus on the experiences that made our time here memorable.
racing camels and trainer
camel jockey
once upon a time small children filled this role
today's jockeys are politically correct
monkey shaped robots
The People
Coworkers, desert strangers, locals, teachers, friends. Qatari women who invited me into their homes, shared cultural secrets and personal stories. Bob's golf buddies and the international team at Weill Cornell Medical College's Standardized Patient Program. More profiles than time to write.
Niqab and glasses
Read about it:
Deserts, beaches, resorts, churches, castles, pubs, B&Bs, spas. Ten countries, many cities. Exploring sand and rock from one end of the peninsula to the next.
Chris meets Corniche pearl
Read about it:
Time Together
A three year Qatari honeymoon. Opportunity to show our kids the world. Friday walks, trips to the desert, touring the Irish countryside in a Beemer.
ma sha allah!
Katie and Kimber at Film City
Read about it:
Culture and Language
Six day work weeks and unrelenting traffic didn't leave much room for sightseeing. Still we managed to learn some Arabic and gain understanding of a sometimes mysterious culture.
Bob and Cindi meet Qatar's Peace and Love Guy
Read about it:
We leave Qatar now with quivers full and no regrets. Ready to love on our kids, grandkids, family and friends. Paint our kitchen, seed our lawn, plant a garden. And prepare for life's next great adventure.
yallah habibkum!
This is the end.
Journey over;
new tale begins.
The essays in this blog reflect our experiences while living in Doha, Qatar during a particular 39-month period. Qatar is a new and evolving country; today, street names, shops and restaurant locations change overnight, tomorrow the landscape may be different. We hope you'll gain a positive appreciation for Qatar's people, religion, culture and history through our experiences.
ma'a salaama
auf wiedersehen
illa liqah
'bye now!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Birds, Mud and Poo

muddy promontory between ponds
Qatar is more than desert vistas and high rise skylines. More than traffic, sand, rock, humidity, racing camels, robot jockeys, ladies in black, men in white.
It's a place where emerald waters circle promontories strewn with reeds and wild, buoyant, floral flotsam. With furry tailed mammals, swollen hedges, congealed beaches. Teeming flocks of flying, floating, feeding birds that soar amid acres of composting earth. Where muddy fields constricted by power lines are squeezed by fences of throwaway brown-clumped tires.
birds over poo
That's right: I'm talking about the sewage ponds. Putrescent depressions, cavities of refuse, swollen receptacles of pungent effluvium bespattered with sometimes firm, sometimes sludgy, slimy, clotted emissions.
Each winter migrating birds from all over the world surge toward the Arabian peninsula's spattered reefs. These flocks of feathered folk fling themselves upon odious shores in search of nutrient rich streams and ripe rivulets. Travelling birds loll under splattering showers, bathe in the texturous atolls before continuing long journeys hither and yon.
flamingos! pretty flamingos! pretty pink flamingos!
If you want to see the birds, you gotta visit the "poo-poo ponds."*
slurpy muck, bare legs
Stick to the rear of the streaming trucks. Plop off the highway at the third exit from a roundabout that has no third exit. Slide between the fence posts and slip under the four footed electrical transmission towers. Push between the shimmering legs of one groaning structure and circle another. Head up a steep incline until you find the pebble strewn path where braided tires spot the earth in steamy heaps.
trucks and tires
If you trail into the country's bowels after two rare days of spitting rain, like we did, the earth may be aromatic, thick, slushy, loose as wind charges over the hollows. White caps will discharge swells of odorous repugnance.
odorous repugnance
Torrents of pungent, red tinted stuff may glop to your tires, streak windows, splatter explosive particles as you maneuver across just-wide-enough roadway mounds. Unremitting stripes of multi colored trucks will rumble over the headlands, raise back ends, pause. From some, liquid gushes out of circular orifices. Others use long hoses to dump waste from full bellies directly into the wetlands.
circular orifice, belly gush
In natural wastewater treatment systems, excretions are flushed through earthen barriers via a series of elevated waterways. Sediment is constrained by rock and earth so fluid becomes more potable as it trickles downwards. In modern facilities, water is treated using pipes. (Yeah, that's all I know.)
Until recently the most popular place to see Qatar's migrating birds was a modern sewage treatment facility called Abu Nakhla. Inexplicably/one day/in the way things happen here, Abu Nakhla was drained. Rumor is it was done to prevent flooding in "sensitive" (military) "locations" nearby in the event of (the "t" word) "incident."
Abu Nakhla today
When you visit the ponds, be sure to bring a knowledgeable guide to share fun bird facts while zooming close up images with her monster camera through gob spattered windows.
beautiful (ma sha allah!), knowledgeable guide Samantha Vidal
Through your guide's eyes you'll see tiny stick leg birds and cute little swimmers who immerse themselves in the nutrient rich waters. You'll learn about the cormorant's funky wing drying dance and how the red breasted grebe's feet are set behind his body which makes him a clumsy face planter on land.
stick leg bird
You'll tell bad poo jokes and laugh until maybe you pee a little.
pretty pink flamingo flies!
Migrating birds don't care about oil, gas or sports. They're not interested in sponsorship, construction dates, contracts, how much money you make, what color you are or where you're from. Their only concern is nutrients in the water and getting a little R&R. To the birds, a pause at Qatar's sewage ponds is a sort of - potty break - in the middle of a long trip across the world.
bird R&R
Wear disposable shoes. Keep windows up. Breathe lightly and don't forget your camera. But (given the opportunity) definitely, absolutely, visit the ponds.
beautiful (ma sha allah!) guide takes pics
The birds are waiting.
*credit to Samantha Vidal for use of the technical term "poo-poo ponds"