Thursday, February 28, 2013

Making Music in the Desert

There are only 40 known singing sand dunes in the entire world and one is right here in Doha.
 
Katie scales the dunes, January 2013
 
Soul-replenishing, mind-refreshing, a wonder of the natural world.
 
But not necessarily pretty.  The way to the dunes is a vehicle locked highway that funnels into an under-construction, single lane road teeming with concrete and steel laden 6, 9 and18 wheelers.  Every day, all day, these trucks caravan purposefully into the nothing-out-there…and back again.  Electrical towers, wires and pipe march across the sand and rock as far as the eye can see.   Disintegrating (not-ancient-since-Bedouins-lived-in-tents) mud like structures dot the landscape along with facility compounds and an ocean sized field of totaled cars.
 
whatever did you think they did with all those crashed-out vehicles anyway?
 
And the dunes themselves?
 
dear foreigner - clean up after yourself!
 
I avoid the traffic heavy highway by diverting through Al Wakra with its beautiful new hospital, strip malls and oyster sculpture:
 
Oysters, pearl divers, the sea - cornerstones of Qatar's history
 
I drive through Al Wakeer, with its salt-resistant eucalyptus trees, mosques, and grocery after grocery named Al Wakeer Grocery.
 
 
 
English spelling varies but it's the same name in Arabic
 
At the last roundabout, I tuck my SUV between a rumbling concrete truck and a flatbed and stay there.  (Passing is dangerous!) The exit to the dunes is unmarked and hidden behind heavy red and yellow barriers.  There's no buffer between the thundering highway's "here" and the quiet behind the fence "there."
 
But with the turn, as long as I ignore the traffic behind me, look past the discarded tires, band of power lines and horizon-to-horizon stretch of pipe…
 
I am alone.
 
 
The dunes look out of place in the rocky desert…like the sky rained a giant cat box in an area without cats to scatter it.  Still, there's something special about the composition of these particular mountains of crescent shaped, golden, curving, rolling, circling, soft, silky grains.
 
Under the right conditions, the sand sings.
 
at the crest - listening
 
Climbing the dunes is strenuous.  Wind whips the sand into a frenzy around me, pricks my skin, burns my eyes.  Sand is in my hair, teeth, ears, nose, underwear.  Grit chafes my middle. Flies buzz my head.   I try to remember not to lick my lips (ick).
 
A stray Cheetos bag tumble-flips across the dune's face.  A Coca-Cola bottle and scattered charcoal give away the landmark's popularity.  Mounds of rock and wind-swept pockets of deep untouched sand seem to indicate no one's camped out here for a while.   A helicopter circles twice and I wonder if there's a reason for that.
 
Just below the crest, I sink into the warm grains to hide from the punishing wind.  Granules patter over the dune's lip and collect at its foot in a frothy, tan-hued foam.  I dig my fingers deep to where the sand is cold.  It smells wet.
 
With the wind's help, the dune is constantly in motion - moving slowly across the desert one grain at a time.   When conditions are right, the skittering flecks hum, like an airplane preparing for takeoff. The sand can be manipulated into song too.
 
I dig my heels into the warm and pull my body forward.  The mountain moans.  I scoot across the face of the dune, faster and faster.  Sand pours over my hips, rushes across my legs.
 
Slow and low, a cello's swelling D-note…the sand sings. Thrumming, humming, moaning, roaring, groaning, growling, engine soaring.
 
Magic.
 
 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Now Pretend You're a Horse

Imagine Field Day, the office picnic and a hundred corporate team-building events rolled into one giant activity.  Now implement this activity across the entire country...and you have Sport Day in Qatar.
 
On Sport Day, normally closed stadiums, arenas, athletic facilities are open.  Activities abound for participant families, kids or just-the-ladies.  Opportunities abound, too, for gate crashing, sight seeing, picture taking non-participants (like us).
 
What we saw: rock climbing, ball playing, beach combing, a rousing session of "now pretend you're a horse."
 
kids line up for the opportunity to jump like a horse (with assistance) in the Al Shaqab arena
 
Sport Day is the brainchild of HH Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the Deputy Emir and Heir Apparent of Qatar who, in Emiri Decree No. 80, set aside Tuesday the second week of February each year for sport. Government and private offices are closed. Gyms across the country are legislated open and free to the public "…to allow them practicing sport and gain further knowledge on sport culture." (http://www.olympic.qa/en/NewsCenter/Pages/Qatar-Celebrates-National-Sports-Day-.aspx)
 
Employees of private companies (like Bob and his coworkers) receive letters encouraging participation in the athletic pursuit of their choice.

Employees of public companies receive a list of events in which participation is expected.

In order to celebrate Sport Day with activity I run 6 miles; Bob plays golf and watches the KSU (versus somebody) basketball game via slingbox at 4am at Therese's.
 
Yes: 4am.
 
(After Bob's nap) we discover a new (to us) beach where UDC employees play cricket and do sumo wrestling in the sand.
 
just…awesome
 
We walk the length of Katara Beach where a mix of companies sponsor picnics, rides in swan-shaped paddle boats, sailboat races.
 
 
We tour Education City where Qatar Foundation employees and their families bowl, play table tennis and chess and ride ponies in the architecturally amazing Al Shaqab Equestrian Center.
 
curving roofs, sloping handrails, electronic doors that open at angles
 
There is running, walking, soccer, baseball, volleyball, dodge ball, Badminton, Yoga, Zumba and Frisbee.  Basketball, football, ping pong, bicycling, tennis, handball, karate, tug of war, carriage rides, free flights up a water spout. 
 
 
A few events are open to the public (advance registration required), but most are exclusively for the sponsoring company's employees.

So, no, we didn't get to play pony.

Still, since it's a national holiday, everyone gets the day off.

Except, of course, for this guy:
 
And this guy:
 
rag used to dust handrails
 
Ahhh, but that's a different blog.
 
camera on a timer outside Al Shaqab
 

Friday, February 8, 2013

Ya Haraam! Qatari Law

He kissed his wife.*
 
 
A quick "hello, I'm home" - "see you after work" - "meet you in 30 minutes over there" peck.  A pucker, pop, over-before-the-spit dries kind of kiss.
 
No big deal.
 
Except…he did it at the mall.  On a crowded Friday.  In front of the wrong someone.
 
Offended, this someone reported the misdeed.
 
The kisser was arrested.  Taken in for questioning:  "Did you…?"  "Who… ?"  Why…?"  "Where…?"
 
Hours later, the man signed a confession:  Yes, I kissed my wife at the mall.
 
The officer reviewed the man's admission, held it up and…tore the page in half.
 
From now on, the officer said: "You make happy at home!"
 
Ummmm…
 
There are three levels of rule-breaking in Qatar:
 
Ill-advised
Illegal
Haraam
 
Ill-advised - is anything that might possibly, could, maybe land one in trouble if executed before the wrong person.  Like, for example, all forms of PDA, displaying any part of woman's uncovered body from shoulders to knees, a man's bare navel.  Publicly uttering unsupportive somethings about those in power.
 
Anything at all can fall into this category if it offends the right (ie, wrong) person.
 
Illegal - includes actions like "wrong overtaking" (passing on the right), running a red light (fine up to 6000QR - about $1,650USD), stealing (exceedingly superbly truly bad bad idea).  Taking a part time job, quitting your job, leaving the country or sneezing (just kidding) without permission from your employer/sponsor.  Or say, murder, which is illegal as well as…
 
Haraam - a special level of you-done-bad as it encompasses legal and (elsewhere subjective) moral misdeeds as well as violations of Islamic Code.  Here you'll find don't-even-think-about-it somethings like proselytizing, homosexuality, pregnancy (without benefit of marriage), living together (without benefit of marriage), fornication, adultery, intoxication, charging interest on a debt, acquiring debt without intention to repay - and benefitting financially from ill-advised, illegal, haraam or otherwise considered sinful activity.
 
If it's Haraam, it's also Illegal and as such especially Ill-advised.  But everything Illegal and Ill-advised is not necessarily Haraam
 
It's true that with so many foreigners afoot, Qatar's rules are routinely broken.  It's also true that most people are not detained for bad behavior.
 
Mother/Daughter PDA at Heritage Village Park
 
Most officers look the other way when it comes to foreigners in short shorts or spaghetti straps.  Ignore hand-holding men and women enjoying a cuppa at Coffee Beanery.  After all, there is a government run liquor store, Catholic (and other denominations) Church in town and Modern Family DVDs for sale at Virgin.  Mall windows feature all manner of scanty clothing for sale.  Unrelated men and/or women live together and (undocumented) babies are born.
 
Doha likker store
 
Officially, Qatar enjoys free speech:  newspaper articles/online forums/television stories about worker's living conditions, sponsorship issues, women's rights.  On youtube Ellen kisses Portia (in the US) in Qatar.
 
It may not be particularly advised/legal/halal (acceptable)…but it's (usually) okay.  As long as you're not at the mall.
 
 
*TRUE STORY (as told to me/names purposefully withheld)

Friday, February 1, 2013

I Have a Dream...

through the rear window of the car in front of me - where's the light?
 
…where I die while parked at a red light.  Cars stream past in long lines, honking horns, flashing brights, cutting in, out and around my stalled vehicle for years and years until the SUV disintegrates into a rusted heap, mixes with my dry bones and rides a sandstorm to far, far away.
 
Traffic is ever worse in Doha. (Click here to see what driving in Doha looks like.)
 
"Cindi, you must ask your husband, WHEN will Mshiereb project finish?" say the Ladies at Fanar, only half joking.
 
An important stretch of road sealed for the project means increased traffic around the Cultural Center, tie-ups on the Corniche, waiting through three (or more) green-back-to-red lights.  Long, slow rides to work, students late for class, fender-benders -- and worse.
 
Mshiereb at dusk - cranes over giant hole
 
While it's true this one massive project slows movement around town…it's not the only monster on the block.
 
All over the city, there is construction.  Streets dotted with cones, lined with concrete dividers, interrupted by big-bodied cranes, loaders, lifters, scrapers, shovelers. Trucks brimming with concrete and steel rumble alongside buses full of workers.  Slow moving Toyotas stuffed with impossibly-awkward, intently worrisome trundles of "rebar" and heavy flatbeds crammed with pyramids of brick and stone compete for road space with moms in minivans, businessmen in BMWs and Suburbans full of bouncing children (seatbelts not required), while ladies in niqab (ie, only eyes visible) wearing sunglasses drive Explorers and McDonalds deliverymen dart about on motorcycles.
 
In Doha, traffic surges just one way with a green light. This means only one quadrant of an intersection moves at a time.  A light may remain green up to 5-10 minutes - a lifetime if you drank a bottle of water half an hour ago but nowhere near long enough if you're 200 cars from the front of a blocked intersection.
 
Entering and exiting a roundabout is like dancing into a game of double dutch - maneuvering into the space between two moving ropes without breaking rhythm and crashing (a street game when I was a kid, now a bonafide sport):
 
 
There are no shortcuts either - traffic blocks alleyways and back roads just as it clogs the city's major arteries.  Most of the time you're better off putting the car into park, chain-chewin'-you-some-gum and waiting for the dance to begin:
 
Jump Rope Rhyme for a Doha Roundabout
 
Roundabout Roundabout let me in
Goin' to The Pearl to drink some gin
If I should die before the light:
passing is prohibited on the right.
 
Got a frustrated-in-traffic rhyme? Share, please.