Wednesday, March 26, 2008

And the beat goes on

10 Reasons why I'm feeling old today, or, at the very least, my age:

(1) It's easier for me to get up at 5:30 than it is for me to stay up until 10:00. Of course, I know this might be a case of which came first, the chicken or the egg. Speaking of which, I feel pretty confident that it was the chicken, because someone had to take care of that egg, the one that wakes up at 5:30, calling to you for orange juice, cereal, and cartoons. Now, if it's which woke up first, the chicken or the egg, I'm going with the egg. And here we are, come full circle, to the reason the chicken needs to go to bed before 10:00. Thus I have contradicted myself. The chicken wouldn't need to go to bed so early if it weren't for the existence of the early-rising egg. Not that I would ever exchange said egg for all the lazy mornings in the world.

(2) Phrases such as "which came first, the chicken or the egg" actually go through my mind, and, even worse, cause me some bit of thought.

(3) The most amount of brain effort I put in during a day is worrying about the answer to such age-old questions. Not sure whether that's age or the fact that I'm so sleep deprived. Either way, I can legitimately trace it back to not being 22 anymore.

(4) I realized the other day that I've been driving for 22 years now, which is more years than most of the drivers here in Doha have been alive.

(5) Qatar didn't even become an independent nation until I was 2 years old. I'm older than independence itself.

(6) The thought of being older than independence itself makes me think about one of my favorite movies, "1776," which isn't just a movie. It's a musical that has nothing to do with high school or Disney or anything resembling teen idols. And I find that knowledge oddly comforting.

(7) I use phrases such as "teen idol." And when I do, I think of "Tiger Beat" magazine . . . and Ralph Macchio and Scott Baio and other names I'm too embarrassed to repeat.

(8) Okay, I'm not too embarrassed. After all, if I can say those two, how much more embarrassing can it get? The fact is I can't remember any other names from that far back. And I was an avid "Tiger Beat" fan. I even had posters on my wall, for crying out loud.

(9) Just remembered one: Duran Duran. I know it's a group, but does it count? John Taylor, Nick Rhodes, Roger Taylor, and Simon Le Bon. That was my first concert. Two women--friends of my family--volunteered to take me when they saw how badly I wanted to go. I was 14, and thought those women were so old. I've since done the math. They were the same age I am now.

(10) It's almost 9 p.m. and bleary eyes are taking over. And there it is, that segue I thought wouldn't show up. My 5-year-old daughter told me the other day that I had too much eyeshadow on. I don't know what's worse: the fact that my 5-year-old has an opinion on makeup (and thinks there's such a thing as too much). Or the fact that I listened to her and wiped some of it off without even looking in the mirror.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Inland Sea trip

Figuring we'd better get some tourist-type activities in before we leave, we took a trip to the Inland Sea this weekend. Since getting there on your own is a risky venture (no maps, some serious sand dunes, and no car insurance to pull you out of those sand dunes or, even worse, to tow your car after you flip it), the group we went with hired Arabian Adventures to drive us.

The sea, which amounts to an inlet naturally formed within rolling sand dunes, is only accessible through off-roading. Part of the trip's description was "dune bashing," which is just what it sounds like: Land Cruisers and their adrenaline-junkie drivers (uh, I mean that in the nicest possible way) took us over one steep dune after another, generally straight on, but often at an angle, which was borderline terrifying. Ron asked our driver at one point if he had ever flipped. When the guy said no, Ron said, "Would you tell us if you had?" The driver just laughed. He said he had been driving these dunes since he was 11, and since he was probably about 25, I was somewhat mollified. Somewhat.

The part of me that wasn't mollified was the part that knows how invincible 25-year-olds think they are, especially those with so much money that this is just something they do for fun. After we returned from the outing, someone told us about 2 men who did the dunes themselves--no professional drivers--and flipped their car. One was temporarily paralyzed but recovered. The other is a quadriplegic. Had I heard that story before going, I might not have paid all that money to have young men put our lives at risk--years of driving experience or not. I felt like we were in those SUV commercials where you read in fine print at the bottom of the screen, Professional drivers on a closed course. Don't try this yourself.

Once we got to the Inland Sea, we took about a half hour break to get out and look across to Saudi Arabia. Then we loaded up the cars again and the drivers took us to a camp on the Gulf about 15 minutes away where a barbecue was being prepared for us. The water was icy cold but crystal clear and beautiful. The kids had more fun sliding down the dunes than swimming, but at least Ivan was content to sit at the edge of the water and play with his bucket and shovel. The food was nothing remarkable, though not having to pack a lunch for the beach was pretty delicious in and of itself.

As we were packing up to leave, the guys running the camp had pop and rap music blaring from stereo speakers set up in a couple of the tents. A friend commented, "Hm. Kinda takes away from the authenticity of the moment." Which it did. That and the volleyball net.

This is where I admit a picture is worth a thousand words.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Cultural festival

Once a year, Doha has a cultural festival. And if it weren't for the fact that we have friends here who speak Arabic, I wouldn't have known a thing about it. All of the fliers about the festival, including the list of events, were in Arabic. Ron said perhaps that was a not-too-subtle hint about who was welcome at these events, but I'm a little slow on the uptake. (No comments, please.)

We met these friends of ours at an old village that is open only during this festival. They had to leave about 15 minutes into our visit because their son got sick. So we spent the next two hours leisurely strolling around the square. I don't know how authentic the place was, but it was fun to imagine we really had stepped back a whopping 70 years or so into Doha history. As I've mentioned before, the show of wealth you see here is a relatively new thing.

My favorite stop was the basket maker, primarily because the man was so friendly. He's from Bahrain and was only here for the week. He made the kids miniature camels and horses, rings and bracelets, and we bought several baskets from him.

The food was, for the most part, unexceptional. There's a dish the Qataris eat to break their fasts during Ramadan, and it was basically a creamy oatmeal with lots of olive oil on top. I could see how if you hadn't eaten all day it would be appealing, but the kids were just grossed out by it. They liked the plain chickpeas with hot sauce much better. We also had these little sandwich-pizza-like things that I'm not really sure how to describe: two pieces of flat bread with a meat filling, the whole of which is pressed up against the inside of a large clay oven. Okay, so I guess I do know how to describe it. Those were actually pretty tasty and cost less than $1 a piece.

Ron was a tad bored by the stage entertainment (I'm not talking about the girls dancing in this picture--they were unarguably adorable), although I enjoyed it. He took a picture, but since it was dark by then, the lighting wasn't great. So imagine this: two rows of about 12 men each lined up facing each other in thobes, curved knives in their hands. They danced for at least an hour like this, choreographed steps that kept them in one spot. Now and then a dancer would leave the line and dance in the middle, waving a sword around instead of the knife. Lots of smiling going on, so this wasn't an aggressive dance. And they sang the whole time, the same 6 or 8 stanzas over and over again, which is what led to Ron's boredom.

I'm not posting the last picture Ron took that night: Me carrying Ivan out screaming under my arm. He didn't want to leave the sand where he had been playing for the last hour or so. "Sand" is a generous word for the grit pit that was at the center of this village. And only my kids were the ones who were deluded enough to think this was a place to play. The Arab children knew better. If you couldn't spot us with our fair hair and eyes, you can certainly spot Westerners by the way their kids think any dirt is worthy of a sandcastle. I should be grateful for their creativity, but you haven't seen the grit . . . er, sand . . . piles throughout our villa.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

I love the Netherlands!

I was backing out of the "parking lot" at my kids' school last week and brilliantly ran into someone's car. I broke the left taillight of our rental and the right headlight of her little, red Jeep. No excuse, just an explanation: I was distracted trying to listen to 4 children at once and wasn't used to anyone parking behind me there. I hung my head in shame while someone went to find the car's owner. A few minutes later, out came a smiling woman. "You hit my car?" she asked, with the same sort of tone you'd ask, "Would you like to meet for lunch sometime?" I kept apologizing and she kept saying, "No, no, no. This could have happened to me. It's okay. I'm sorry for you." (She's from the Netherlands, so you have to imagine our exchange with a Dutch accent.)

Here in Qatar, you have to call the police for any accident and file a report. Otherwise you won't be able to get your car fixed. No body shop will touch your car without that report. Even if you, say, scrape your car on the wall pulling into your garage (which I have not done), you need to go to the traffic department and file a report. So, needless to say but I'm saying it anyway (notice how people always do say what's needless to say?), the traffic office is a busy, busy place to be. Think the DMV in a foreign language and without lines.

That's where we ended up Monday morning. Thank heavens we didn't have to go it alone though. An Arabic man in Ron's department (whose sole job is to do things like this) went with us. We were in and out in half an hour. Had we gone without him, I would still be there now. The woman whose car I hit went with us so the officer could see her car, nod, and then charge me 100 QR for causing the accident and then 35 QR for stamps to go on some piece of paper that verified we had been to see him.

Today the poor woman had to go to our insurance office so someone there could assess the damage and decide which body shop she needs to go to. And in a few days, she has to take the car in for repair. We, on the other hand, don't have to fix our car. The rental company will after we leave (and bill our insurance, of course).

And all the while, she has just smiled and said, "No. It's fine. Everything is good." So I'm wondering now how to show my appreciation. My instinct is always to bake cookies because it's something I know how to do and because cookies make me happy, but I think that's probably an inadequate response to her graciousness. Flowers? Not quite right either. Gift certificate? May as well be cash. More profuse apologies? I'm already approaching groveling, embarrassing the both of us.

So I've decided on something else entirely: I'm going to learn, once and for all, where the heck the Netherlands are. I'm going to figure out the difference between the Dutch, Danish, and Finnish and what they all have to do with each other. And then, in the future, when people wonder aloud about these very things, I will be able to enlighten them.

My next step? World peace...