Sunday, September 4, 2011

Ramadan comes and Ramadan goes

Every place has its own Ramadan traditions and customs. In Egypt, there was the lighting of the fanoos and here in Doha, there was the firing of the canon. Just before sunset, Landcruisers and SUVs of all shapes and sizes gathered in parks and squares in their respective neighbourhoods. We live near the corniche, right in front of the Tennis center and decided one night to go watch the signalling of iftaar in our 'hood. We pulled up to an empty lot in front of the commercial bank building where huge cars and SUVs were all circled around a centerpoint. Little kids were sitting on the hoods of cars and others standing, waist high from the sunroofs. Friendly soldiers lifted little boys and girls to take their turn to sit and have a photo taken on the tank. A few minutes before the sunset, each child was returned to their parents and by standers were asked to move away, the soldier loaded up the canon and fired it. Everyone cheered and then rushed to their cars to tear away in a frenzy back home to break their fast properly and enjoy the evening meal together.

We live in a tall apt tower by the sea, far from this little square. How would I know for sure what time to break my fast when every clock in our house tells a different time and our 25th floor windows do not open to recieve the evening call to prayer? I found myself turning on Qatar TV and sure enough, at magrib time there was a short clip of a soldier loading up a tank and firing the canon to signal the end of the daily fast.

Doha has been a great place to spend Ramadan. Days were short, working hours were reduced and the whole country was focused on getting the most out of this holy month. A British counterpart who was chasing up a contract asked me quite exasperatedly how I felt that the whole country ground to a halt for a month. In that moment, I didnt know what to say but upon reflection, I wish I had told him that I felt happy to be living and working in a place where they made it easy for those who want to practice to do so. I love that the rat race was meaningless for a month. I'm not that religious but I respected those who were and loved the gentle pace of just about everything. I miss it now and think how fast it all went!

Hope all of you had a wonderful Ramadan and a happy Eid -- we celebrated in Sri Lanka -- photos to follow.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Misr: Anna Maa'ek

As events unfold in Egypt, I find it difficult to concentrate on anything else.

The country that was my home for over 3 years is erupting into a peoples' revolution. I watch with disbelief as tanks roll down streets we used to walk along and watch as buildings I know very well burn. The bridges into the city that were meeting places for lovers and friends are now flooded with people headed to Tahrir square to voice their discontent with the state of their country.

My heart is with you, Egypt. I feel helpless sitting here so far away, unable to do much more than watch the coverage and call when the lines open. I am proud of my friends who have been leading protests and who have been in the streets through the night protecting their families. I am proud of those who have been providing food and water and cleaning up the square.

I am so emotional and find myself on the brink of tears often as I watch. I am torn between my intense pride at their ferocious bravery and my selfish concern for their safety. Here is a link to a video of my dear friend, caught on YouTube. Of almost two million people in Tahrir, they found her:

Now the President has come on TV saying he will die on Egyptian soil before he leaves. I fear for what might happen next.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

What colour is your pee?

Every time I walk into the bathroom at my work, I glance at a poster on the wall. It looks a bit like a giant paint chip: dark yellow rectangle at the top, slightly lighter, lighter, lighter til the last rectangle at the bottom is just a transparent box with the slightest hint of colour. At first, I didn't even register it as more than art. Something to brighten up the walls of the bathroom. How thoughtful of someone to think of it.

Today, as I was washing my hands, I looked over to see who the artist was. Oh. It's not art, actually. The health and safety department has developed a poster to show what colour your pee should be. Not as in: "it's company policy that your pee should be...(insert colour)" The poster demonstrates what colour your pee is when you are well hydrated, need to drink more water, critically dehydrated. Which, if you consider that temperatures go up to 50C in the summer and we're located in the desert, is fairly forward thinking of them. Pre-emptive urine analysis. How many organizations can count that as an employee benefit?

So now, in addition to making sure that my hair looks good, my make-up is on straight, I take a peek at the toilet bowl before I flush and match up the results with the handy guide on the wall. Yeah yeah, none of you wanted to hear what I do in the loo at work. But since I don't get a company car or an expense account, I'm taking advantage of all the perks I can get.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Disco 82 la la la

It's a rainy night in chennai and we've just returned from a fabulous day trip south of the city. We got completely drenched, ate fish curry and fried rice, bought handicrafts. Got home late and decided to stay in and enjoy our hotel. We're staying at the Park, which used to be the site of a famous film studio and our favorite hotel chain in India. We just ordered room service and what's this on tv? "Amar, Akbar, Anthony" classic Amitab Bachan! What a perfect way to cap off a perfect day.

Friday, October 29, 2010


From October 26 to 30 the Doha Tribeca Film Festival lights up the city. I've been to a number of films so far but last night was my favorite. Not only because the film was compelling and well made: "The Two Escobars" but because the venue was spectacular. The festival erected a gigantic screen on the beach of the Four Seasons Hotel. We kicked our shoes off, sunk our toes in the sand and our butts in canvas sling chairs. The stars and the moon above were like twinkly lights and there was a gentle breeze coming in from off the water.

The opening gala took place on the main stage, Katara, which is a 2000-seat open air auditorium overlooking the water. The Festival opened with a film about the Algerian fight for Independence, "Hors du loi". We took a DTFF shuttle from the Grand Hyatt hotel (and ended up walking home afterwards...) Traffic was murder. Well, for Doha anyway. Once we arrived, getting in was a bit of a circus. "The perfomance is free but you need a ticket. And there are no more tickets." So much for an open-community-event. We eventually scammed our way in (and there were plenty of empty seats) but it was a hassle. As a result, I've resisted the main stage -- despite the fact that is is a beautiful setting -- and opted for movies in more accessible venues.

In one of the main city cinemas I saw "Bhutto" which was more a tribute film produced by one of Benazir Bhutto's best friends in the world than an objective documentary. Their access, research and archival footage was extensive, I'll give them that. And while it was a fairly comprehensive (if at points clearly re-written) precis of Pakistani history, the film makers had no business saying it was a balanced film. And they were quite miffed during the Q&A following the film when several people in the audience called them on it. Um, hello, when the Producer of the film is one of the main narrators and is crying in the movie, your credibility as an objective documentarian diminishes.

I've lived in other cities with film festivals but not since my university days have I been able to see so much so easily. Someone left an anonymous comment (anonymous? how lame are you. If you have a comment, state who you are and own it)on my last post suggesting that I don't write more because I live in Doha. I disagree. Doha gives me a quality of life I could never dream of in the crazy, fast paced, rat race cities of my past. I have space, I have time. I have access to so many international events. Small is beautiful, baby. Now lets see if I write.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Everyday I don't write the book

I started this blog as a place to record my reflections on our life in the middle east. But I also wanted to use it as a vehicle to work my writing muscle. I wonder then, why -- when daily I am bombarded with new and notable experiences -- I don't write everyday. Is it laziness, lack of discipline, self censorship? I'm interested in finding out how people out there are keeping their momentum.

Talk to me.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Get your motor running

What is there to do in Doha on the weekends, you might ask? This weekend was the Second Annual Qatar Bike Show.

I must admit that I was fairly disappointed when the bikers rolled up in leather chaps, boots and vests adorned with pins. Traditional Gulf headgear was replaced by Harley bandanas and helmuts decorated with skulls and demons. Half the reason I went was to see a few hiked up dishdashas and boots underneath.

Bikers rode in from a number of neighbouring GCC countries. The crowd was a sea of t-shirts and vests emblazened with "Desert Warriors", "Exile MC" and "Iron Camel Biker" replete with red and yellow flames licking the letters.

It turns out the biker scene is big here. But it is definitely its own hybrid. For all the global borders biker culture may transcend, there's no denying the stregnth of local influences.

In the outside exhibition area, Harley engines roared and bikes kept pouring in to take their place in the line up. The Costa Coffee shop was doing a booming business, overflowing with leather-clad bikers checking out the competition while sipping lattes and cappuccinos. Inside the hall, owners were proudly displaying their shiny bikes, some with glow in the dark paint, others with Louis Vuitton seats and mudflaps. Biker chicks were fully covered and standing respectfully beside the bikes, keeping a comfortable distance from the numerous young men coming up and asking if they could have a picture with them. Instead of lamb-chop side-burns many of the bikers had neatly trimmed beards. And even though the exhibition hall had a constant stream of loud house music, we saw one group of leather-clad bikers doing a traditional Saudi dance.

My favorite was the guy in a bright yellow linen suit, black shirt and dress shoes who seemed to be everywhere we were throughout the show. He made my evening when he let out a loud yelp as one of the bikers gave him a speedy lift to the end of the parking lot. Now that's a badass.