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February 2013 – Doha, Qatar

Camel crossing

The Desert Safari: On the first weekend of the month, a group of us from work went on a desert safari to the southeastern portion of Qatar. It was organized by a friend that I had made whilst being fingerprinted for my Residency Permit (as you do). Danny is from Wexford and took a temporary posting here in Doha a few months ago but is considering an extension. His wife, Claudia, a German woman, was traveling over to Qatar for the first time for a short stay and to see if she would be willing to join him permanently. So he was doing everything in his power to coax a yes out of her. You know the drill. We’ve all done it. The Desert Safari was just part of his masterplan to make Doha look infinitely more appealing than Dublin (which shouldn't be terribly difficult one would think). Other than Danny, I only knew a grand total of two people on the Safari: James, an engineer from London in his late twenties who sits across from me at work and Anthony, an engineer/lawyer from Sydney who lives near me on The Pearl. Anthony and I cabbed it into the city centre together and met up with the rest of the crowd at a serviced apartment building that my company uses to house people who are here on short contracts or enscondment. The rest of the Qatari Safaris turned out to be mostly Australian along with a few English and one American fellow from Florida. There were twelve of us in total and it was an absolute cracking group for the most part.

The Qatari Safaris

Before I go on, I have to make the observation that a big advantage to living in an ex-patriot situation is there is usually none of that cliquey 'whose the new guy?' shenanigans. Everyone is sort of thrust into the same boat and everyone can empathize with someone stepping aboard for the first time. This makes forging friendships easier and a lot more comfortable for everyone involved. And it should be that way, shouldn't it, because what a truly great thing it is to make a new friend, isn’t it? However, I think a large part of this is also due to the relative temporary nature of ex-pat environments. In the real world and especially as you get older, forming new friendships becomes more awkward and, as awful as this sounds, there is a time investment involved that you're not always sure you’re willing to pay. If a person turns out to be a dud, he/she may not be so easily exorcised from poker night or whatever and you have to find ways to dodge christenings and communions that always somehow coincide with your team's big games. But when you're freewheeling in a place where you know neither of you are going to be permanent fixtures, the risk isn't so great. So, like I was saying, it was a cracking group and the group mainly consisted of English and Australians which made it comfortable for me both on a language and familiarity basis. Ironically the only member that I didn't really get on with was the other American. He was cordial and friendly enough but unfortunately he had spent a year living in Libya and then the last year and a half in Australia. I say unfortunate because that's all he wanted to talk about. Particularly Australia. It was like he had just discovered it or something. He simply could not stop going on about it and he did that annoying use-ofcolloquial-terms-slightly-out-of-context thing, offering up phrases like 'a bit gutted' (which translates sort of as 'a little bit completely distraught') or, curiously enough, 'S.F.A.' (instead of 'sweet F.A.' or just 'sweet fuck all') and the use of the word 'bloody' to characterize every word under the sun. I kept waiting for him to break out a slab of VBs or maybe spread a thick coat of vegemite on his burger or something but he even out-Aussied my imagination when he broke out the Akubra hat. After that, I wouldn't have been at all surprised if he had started playing Khe Sanh on a didgeridoo whilst exclaiming that a dingo stole his baby and intermittently swatting flies.

Thankfully the tyres didn't take too long to deflate and we sped off into the desert sands. At this point. we reached the end of the road and the start of the desert. The drivers of these monstrosities wore pilot-style headsets to communicate with each other as the noise was absolutely deafening. During this drive. sometimes seemingly a bit deliberately. large Monster-Truck-type buggies that flew pirate. land rover and Road Warrior type of vehicle imaginable were being unloaded from trailers in the general vicinity. we passed through the towns of Al Wakrah and Umm Sa'id which were really just compound type neighbourhoods located next to natural gas refineries and oil fields. It didn't take long to get out of Doha and we were soon on a desert road with miles and miles of expansive barren earth on either side. Some of the Road Warrior vehicles were genuinely scary. we pulled over and the drivers proceeded to deflate each of the tyres to the point that it felt like we were riding in a motorized waterbed. We weren't the only ones either as there were not only other off-road SUV type vehicles deflating but every type of dune buggy. The absolutely nothingness of it all made it really bleak. After about almost an hour's drive through the nothing. rebel and even Nazi (!) flags would rear up on two wheels when accelerating and roar right past you. Deflation in a Qatari pit crew stylee .We all piled into two white Landrovers that were piloted by genuine article local Qataris dressed in their white robes (which are actually called 'thwabs') and picnic-tablecloth-coloured bandanas (which are actually called 'keffiyehs' and are held in place by an 'agal') for the drive south.

. was really enjoyable. you could just point the jeep into any old direction and motor away like you were on jet propelled snow skis. To our right was the flattened top of the dune which kind of looked like a mesa. Although pointing in one direction and traveling in another. sloping dune when we crested the top to see that it formed a sort of ridge extending out in front of us. Surfing the sand We had been gradually making our way up one particularly long. stamped on the accelerator and pointed the vehicle right at the edge of the ridge line. there was a slight slope down to the ridge line with a relatively sheer drop of about 30m down to whatever you call sea level in the desert on the other side. As if this wasn't heart attack inducing enough. Free from the constraints of the road. the maniac driver began doing that crazy side-to-side wheel wrenching at the same time and then actually turned around (with big grin on his face I might add) to make sure we were scared to a sufficiently shitless degree. Shooting out towards the drop. It was even sort of relaxing and I was just thinking to myself that 'dune bashing' was way too testosterone of a term to apply to this sort of serene sand swishing we were doing when the mood soundtrack in the jeep suddenly skipped from 'Desert Rose' to 'Enter Sandman' and everyone started screaming. The tracks made from other vehicles rendered the ground very similar to that of resort ski slopes and the driver kept jerking the wheel from side to side to sort of slide the jeep through this 'powder'. as they call it here. this allowed the jeep to sort of 'surf the slope' and kept us from tipping out over the edge and rolling down to what surely would have been spectacular deaths. he accelerated out into the sloped area whilst keeping the front end of the car turned about 30 degrees from the horizontal in our direction of travel.Initially 'dune bashing'. The final part of the ascent was slow and we rolled out onto the mesa top where I was expecting we'd drift to a stop and maybe take some photos or something when our driver (who hadn't even really spoken since picking us up) suddenly cranked up the radio. to the left.

Up dunes. whilst unquestionably exhilarating. down and around dunes we went according to the whims of the lunatic terrorist drivers.Pushing 45 Degrees Although that ridge was probably about a quarter of a mile long. was thankfully far less death defying than that first ridge. there was very little time for the second jeep to make compensation maneuvers. It understandibly took a little while but I finally managed to get sufficiently desensitized to the stage that the remainder of the dune bashing. that's all I can really tell you about this little episode because my eyes were secured tighter than a Ziploc bag that had been sealed and then tack welded shut praying that our inertia plus the 30 degrees would be enough to prevent the sandy pull of gravity on our tyres. Up down & around (mostly down in these actually) . The worst part was the proximity with which the drivers played follow-the-leader. Thankfully it was but whether it was the driver's skill or blind luck that contributed to this result was a matter of some deliberation later that evening. If the jeep in front happened to turn and stop or hit something and slow down. especially so during the descents.

we reached the inland sea. The insides of the tents were also lined with vividly-coloured cushions and pillows and looked like they had been kitted out by the same interior decorator that did Barbara Eden's bottle. There were also camels tethered to the ground at both ends of the camp and flags flying in the breeze which lent a sort of carnival feel to the whole thing. And since we arrived at low tide. the inland sea wasn't even a sea. One of the Australians won but I had unquestionably the most spectacular 'landing' and consequently the longest scramble back up (mining sand out of all sorts of body crevices for days afterwards). After dusting ourselves off as much as possible. The Inland Sea The pitfalls of long jumping sand dunes The camp site was in an isolated desert area sprawled out directly on the sea. However. Unfortunately. The phrase 'inland sea' kind of has an air of mystique about it (note: I think I'm getting that from Star Wars where 'old Ben lives out beyond the dune sea") so I was expecting something pretty fantastic. sand volleyball court and a long line of chairs and tables lining the beach. we made the best of the situation by holding a long jump competition off the top of the sand dune. . Qatar actually has no surface water at all so I guess they're not too picky about what they call a 'sea'. we set off again and reached our camp site just before dusk. it was more of a tidal basin that the Gulf water spills into during high tides.After an hour or so of our relentless assaults on piles of sand. all we really saw of the 'inland sea' was just a large patch of wet sand with Saudi Arabia in the distance on the other side. A series of tents were arrayed in a sort of C-shape that fronted onto the beach and created a central area consisting of a big fire pit.

in for a pound and purchased some crackers and a few different cheeses along with a crafty new Igloo to pack everything into. The water was a little cold but comfortable which I have to rate as pretty good going for the first of February. my director had thankfully purchased and split a case of red wine with me a few weeks prior and I still had all 6 bottles. The only thing was that I hadn't been too sure on was how busting out bottles of wine would be perceived by others (beer drinkers can sometimes be soooooooo snobby) so I figured in for a penny. I might as well shoot for both cheeks rather than be half assed about it. We splashed around for awhile until the sun finally went down and then joined the others on the beach chairs for some evening drinks. Although the idea of sipping ice cold beer on a beach was undeniably attractive.About half of us immediately changed into swimsuits and charged into the sea. Random campsite photos Danny had sent an email round earlier in the week saying that he was going to take a trip to Qatar's equivalent of an off license to pick up some beer and to let him know if anyone else wanted any. So I figured it would make more sense to bring some of these along since the effects of both temperature and transport would be less of an issue. The intended strategy here was that if I was going to worry about looking like an ass. However. I simply couldn't reconcile that image with drink that would have to spend a day traveling in the hot trunk of an SUV and being jostled and battered to death for hours ahead of time. The high saline content was also brilliant for floating and it was a really strange feeling to be able to 'float' in an upright position without treading water and still comfortably hold your head above the water. . Normal. Tent air conditioner.

Hookah piping .It turned out to be a hit but admittedly this was mostly due to the wine. The next morning we had breakfast. It was honestly one of the loveliest Saturday nights I’ve had in awhile. We capped it off with a drunken beach volleyball series and then fell into the tents exhausted where I think everyone was fast asleep inside of five minutes (apart from Danny & Claudia who politely relocated to an empty tent on the other side of the camp so that their thrashing wouldn't keep us up). The remote desert aspect of it along with the residual buzz from the near death experience earlier in the day just enhanced the feeling. There is simply nothing like a campfire on a beach under a starry sky on a cool night with the waves breaking on the sand nearby. A lot of the Aussies were only up here temporarily and didn't get Danny's email in time so nobody turned up their noses when the Shiraz bottles made an appearance. took a morning swim and then headed back to Doha in the Landrovers. Then the hookah pipes were broken out and we all took turns puffing away on apple and mint flavoured shisha. After a BBQ dinner on the beach. we lit a fire in the fire pit and sat around swapping stories. They even complimented the cheese but I suspect this was just a thinly veiled attempt to get their Dixie cups refilled with vino.

they walk over and have a chat with the guy at the next desk. The Reds typically play their afternoon games on Thursday (which is our 'Friday') and they will start around 8pm here so the idea of setting off into the desert after work to find an isolated beach for the night where I can throw out a sleeping bag. Easy Feeling' by The Eagles that I like that goes something like 'I want to sleep with you in the desert tonight with a million stars all around'. then there’s the wait for the exit visa. During these breaks. build a campfire. This time I was third in line but it still took me about 40 minutes to get through. I always really liked that line due to the unusual figurative sentiment but always figured it was more about finding a discreet place for a shag. The day before he had waited for someone for four hours to get through immigration. the Saudi working the desk at the front of the line I was in took 3 breaks. There is a lyric in the song 'Peaceful. No booze. Anyone who worked there for any length of time will more than likely tell you the same thing. It's kind of like going to jail in Monopoly in that the only thing you can do to occupy your time is to count your money and the time you have left until you can leave. you need to get someone to 'invite' or sponsor you and then you have to wait out the application process. It is hugely frustrating because there's nothing you can do about it.I really do have to say that this was a particularly fun trip and planning for the next one (which is going to involve individual dune buggies this time) is already in the works. I find undeniably appealing. Thankfully I have some experience with this and knew going in what to expect so I barreled through the terminal like OJ Simpson fleeing a murder scene in order to get to the front of the queue. Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia sucks. In order to enter the country. The driver who picked me up said that it makes his normally fairly straightforward job infinitely more difficult as he never knows what time to arrive at the airport. . open a bottle of wine and listen to the game. I consoled myself during the agonizing wait by fantasizing / hoping that this will be what Irish civil servants will be greeted with when they reach the gates of hell. If the visa is approved. The first is that actually getting here is akin to swimming upstream to spawn in a river that is mostly frozen over. This is due to the Saudis manning the immigration desks who are ambivalent to everything except their break taking which occur every few minutes. which only further slows down the process because it distracts the ones that actually ARE working. no sense of humour and absolutely nothing to do as a foreigner. no women. I have also reached the point where I need to think about purchasing a car and am now heavily considering the idea of a Landrover or a similar type of sand-friendly vehicle. I don't even know why I'm bothering to write about it as I'm not going to want to reminisce about this hole of a place years later but I suppose there are a few things about Saudi that are worth observing. I now understand and appreciate it in its literal sense. During my 40min wait. Finally. you can travel there but you have to wait in immigration queues which are mind-boggingly brutal in length.

he will treat it like he is simply turning right on a red light in the US and fire away. They not only display all the attributes of Qatari drivers. This. is true. in my opinion (so far). which gives the streets of Dammam and Khobar a sort of Vegas feel by continually strobing away like an Ibiza nightclub. they also add one very significant and additional string to their bow: they tend to ignore red lights. So if a Saudi driver is stuck at a red light and spots a small break in traffic. Both Qatar and Saudi Arabia have traffic cameras at their red lights to prevent this irritating little infraction.A Saudi immigration queue from the ‘80’s Driving is another item of note. The funny thing about it is that even though the cameras don't work. Although I covered most of this territory last month. But whilst the cameras in Qatar occasionally work and therefore serve their purpose in preventing the running of red lights from occurring. everyone knows the ones in Saudi Arabia don't. Seriously. View from the hotel in Al Khobar . they still flash. Doha is definitely a worse driving experience. due to the roads being more crowded and the abundance of treacherous roundabouts. it is worth pointing out that Saudi Arabian drivers are widely considered the worst drivers in the Middle East. but the Saudi drivers actually manage to outlunatic their Qatari counterparts.

They were from the adjacent site which was under construction and we were monitoring close to the boundary line sometime around midnight when they drove up and asked us what we were doing. Because you completely removed them from the can before you started drinking. pop can tabs were sort of tadpole-like in shape and you had to pull them completely off the can before you could drink out of it. Pronto. these tabs were typically just cast aside like cigarette butts and therefore became the bane of small boys who anxiously followed around their metal-detecting Grandmothers. kiss the ground. a bit later we noticed that they had actually just stopped at a distance and were watching us. We really didn't have permission to be on the site so we sort of had to be discreet whilst we were there. pick a bail of cotton and turn yourself around thing. Muhanned is actually Iraqi but he had grown up in Canada which one would think might create a terrifyingly bizarre combination of anti-Americanism but he was as cool as a cucumber. We weren't too comfortable with that so we moved off site completely and started monitoring again along the road which bordered the north boundary. I had to survey the site during both the daytime and nighttime periods and was assigned a driver/engineer that worked for my company in Dammam. I freaking hated these things. We were standing next to our monitoring equipment when the truck roared up and three of the four men got out of the truck. This became sort of farcical during his periodic prayer episodes. However. kneel down. I have to say that praying sure is pretty fucking prominent. One not so funny thing that happened was that we had a tense encounter with four Saudis in a pickup truck. Before the thankful invention of the current rectangular-shaped tabs that you pull up and then sort of press back down in order to open. Every time a beep went off from Grandma's metal detector and a chance to discover a rare coin or buried treasure was encountered. it was typically followed instead by a laborious dig through dense soil only to culminate in the discovery of a discarded pull tab from a Shasta or a Mellow Yellow can. I got in the truck. I couldn't understand what was being said (my Arabic is admittedly a bit off the boil these days) but when the fourth member of the psycho truck brigade climbed out with a blanket wrapped round him and clearly concealing something beneath it. So the fact that all the pop/soda/juice cans I purchased had these things was a bit annoying. The only upside was getting to carelessly toss them aside after opening the cans thereby creating a type of minefield which would inflict a little pain on Saudi metal detectorists.Another thing I have to mention is the pop/soda can tabs. The reason for my travel to Saudi was to survey a site for a hospital that they’re proposing to locate immediately adjacent to one of their Air Force bases out in the desert. Muhanned quickly said ‘get in the truck' which was I received crystal flipping clear. For a relative passive activity. I was standing there glancing furtively around and trying to blend in with the sand whilst Muhanned is doing the stand up. We explained and that seemed to satisfy them so they drove off. Muhanned started talking to them in Arabic whilst I moved behind the equipment and tried to put on a nonchalant look similar to the ones that I wore when I was a 19-year-old buying beer at Kroger. .

As it turned out. Is it…. You're probably thinking to yourself that there has to be SOMETHING good about Saudi Arabia and you would be right about that. In the distance. laughing long and hard at things that weren’t really all that funny. Not. although printed in Arabic. The exercise felt good and I got lost in the music when I looked up and saw what had to be a trick of either the heat or the light screwing with my brain. I could see a huge sign that. Eyes. It was on my last day and I had decided to go for a walk and to listen to some new music I had downloaded. We dismantled our gear. packed up and drove straight back to Khobar. Whether it was the font or the way the script was slanted or it……? . My. Could. I walked closer but rather than becoming elusive and fading away. I saved it for last though because it was exactly the way I experienced it and it made it that much it…. the thing the robed fourth member was concealing was only a mobile phone with someone on the other end who thankfully bought our explanation for being there and whom gave them the ok to let us leave without incident. Expecting it to disappear like a mirage. I couldn't decide. Believe. had a distinctly familiar look to it. the meaning slowly came into focus and I simply.

nervously surveying military installations in the desert and being terrorized by a pick-up truck full of dodgy looking Arabs. Considering that is kind of like remembering that I also didn’t have my current set of teeth at one stage either…. I can only ever remember having a passing interest in football and basketball growing up. .I know it to be true but it sure is odd to think about.……It IS!!! (spot the large shopping trolley. I was usually doing something else. probably for wheeling your ass home after consuming a dozen hot glazed) After enduring a long three days spent in frustrating immigration queues. I had either died at some point and arrived at heaven's gates or I had managed to discover the most incredible desert oasis in the history of mankind instead! Needless to say I'm already anxiously making plans to go back. But apart from baseball (which I’ve always loved and followed religiously since I first developed awareness). dodging lunatic Saudi drivers.The Soccer: I can’t believe there was a time in my life when I didn’t love watching sport. I enjoyed playing them of course (recreationally not organized) but whilst other kids were glued to their TVs watching Georgetown play Villanova or Notre Dame play whoever. Not so much for the donuts but because they’ve given me hope that there might be a Skyline in there somewhere…… Boring Sports Part I .

When I moved to Australia. cricket. I’ve watched games. In order to further emphasize the point. I started watching college basketball and football games and pretty soon weekends revolved around game times and road trips were taken to far flung places like Minneapolis and Morgantown (although these were admittedly just as much for an excuse to drink beer in a slightly different setting as it was to cheer on the team). . I can therefore honestly and completely admit to the following truth: I do not like soccer. In order to emphasize the point I am trying to make here. I’ve gone to games. Why this is. I’ve watched and gone to games with friends who love soccer. Whatever the reason. I cannot turn away from it and that I actually wasted two whole days watching curling one time when I was in Canada. I don’t encounter many moments where I see a sport and just look at it dumbly and I appreciate cricket for crying out loud which is more than most of them can say. I’m just going to restate it: I love watching sport. becoming fans of these sports involved the exact same sort of romance that I experienced when I fell in love with college basketball and football. basketball and ice hockey which are really only of significant popularity in a handful of countries. I’ve tried real hard. I just don’t like it.Happily. College gave way to the real world and football Saturdays in New York City began at Barfly at 11am to watch Gameday over breakfast and mimosas and were quickly followed by a swift train up to Boomers on the Upper West Side (the Big Ten’s stronghold NYC in the mid-1990’s) to catch the noon kick-offs and to while away the rest of the day watching the action. how many you’re betting me for being able to do it) so I don’t think it’s a matter of knowledge or appreciation. although rugby has sort of passed it up over the years (probably due more to the relative popularity of the sport in the countries I’ve lived in as opposed to personal preference). English and Irish friends are quick to point out that it’s probably that I don’t appreciate it or know much about it being American and all. football. I was introduced to cricket and rugby which I immediately took to as well. but I think I get everything else ok. soccer is popular in almost every single one. Cricket in particular at the time. Each time. more to the point. Because I’ve tried. I would even go so far as to suggest that it’s not a matter of ‘me not getting it’ but ‘them getting it wrong’ if I wasn’t so soundly and completely contradicted by the overwhelming world wide popularity of the sport. I even tried picking a team to support and going to the pub with the specific intention of cheering on my team like everybody else who likes soccer does. I am even going to embarrassingly admit that when lawn bowls or snooker is on TV. not only tell you who won the last 5 or 6 World Cups but also tell you where they were played and I can even describe the 2005 Champions League final goal for goal (depending on how many pints I’ve had or. Because of this and because I am fully secure self-declaring myself a sport-watcher. They could be right. I could probably name Manchester United’s starting eleven. In thinking about it now though. I fully embraced the experience and pretty soon I was taking international trips to support my rugby teams and even going to the extreme of sitting up in trees with the Indians and Pakistanis to get a bird’s eye view of cricket matches. Unlike baseball. I just don’t like it. is beyond me. rugby. that all changed in college.

. is basically equivalent to one of those pre-season college basketball games that teams occasionally play against teams from other countries.. Or maybe it doesn't if the price is high enough because for Sepp Blatter to get up there and say 'Qatar' with a straight face must have taken a pretty fat envelope indeed.. I was driven by the general absence of alternative live sporting events in this country into purchasing a ticket for the Spain v Uruguay soccer friendly. The match was played in the Khalifa Stadium which reminded me of a mini-Wembley due to the arch (that arch always makes me think of my grandparents old Pontiac convertible during the first step of 'putting up the top' by the way). But good games and World Cups are few and far between and it’s pretty easy to like a game of anything if it’s a good one so it doesn’t really change my mind on the matter..THAT sounds good" absolutely boggles your mind. you can also clearly understand the degree of corruption in soccer's governing body... My eyes just glazed over like a hot Krispee Kreme because listening to her explain it was like actually watching a nil-nil draw. well. The match was billed as ‘’The Clash of The Champions” because Uruguay are the reigning champions of South America and Spain are the reigning champions of Europe and. They do have a point here. Calling an international competition a ‘friendly’ is just a way of making it appear even more boring.One thing soccer fans typically tend to do is point out a historically exciting or tense game as proof that I should like it.. A soccer friendly. There was also a time when an ex-girlfriend tried to explain to me the beauty of a nil-nil draw. Especially when you have to endure boredom. How FIFA looked at Australia and Japan and the United States and then went to Qatar and thought "well there are no stadiums and there's no transportation infrastructure of any kind and the ambient temperatures are too high to remain in for a short period of time never mind 90 minutes of grueling sport. But despite my personal opinion of the game. Occasionally you see a good game and I admit to loving the World Cup whenever it comes round. It is essentially just a practice session where the purpose is to provide a tune up for the upcoming season / tournament qualifying stage and the only thing that really matters is pride. Spain was heavily favoured in the match but Uruguay is generally perceived as having the better looking girls so we got tickets in the Uruguay section. If you consider this little factoid along with the appalling road network and lack of public transport and summer temperatures in excess of 45C/120F. the whole world I suppose.. Note: when you can find a team with the winning ticket of being heavily favoured AND having the good looking girls then you're doing well because the only thing better than good looking girls is JUBILANT good looking girls. for those of you who aren’t familiar with the term. The capacity of the stadium is about 40.000 and it is really the only one in the country that is even remotely close to an international standard.

The rest of the stadium was relatively full (on the order of 85% from looking around) but the white robes were few and far between in the VIP section. We had scored tickets to the match for about $8 per ticket (which is absolutely mad for an international match between teams of this caliber even for a friendly) and were therefore sat up in the Bob Uecker seats near the top behind one of the corners. purple fabric. We had a good laugh when someone noticed through binoculars that some of the men had brought along their wives but their black ninja robes rendered them invisible from long distances against the dark purple. The presentation was nice enough but it must have been really bad for Qatar because this section was mostly empty. partly because they had separate seats further down our row and therefore don't really figure into this night too much but mostly because for the purpose of this writing. It actually wasn't as bad as it appeared at first glance though. Danny (Wexford) and his girlfriend Claudia (ex-Munich. now Dublin) who were all on the desert safari weekend along with 3 Australians who will remain nameless. it will be more fun to just refer to them as 'the Australians' (the fact that they came along was surprising to me as soccer is in the same category in Australia as it is in America in terms of 'not getting it' and I actually think they even consider it more boring than Americans do). .The Khalifa Stadium I went to the match with Alan (Newcastle). We were also located across the stadium from what appeared to be a section reserved elusively for Qataris. Located at prime position at mid-field. these seats looked like thrones that had been draped with a plush.

why some of the countries that are currently saddled with crap national anthems don't hire Jim Steinman to pen them an emotioncharged. Suarez was in for Uruguay and David Villa. Soccer…..even more boring from a distance and/or an oblique angle . Suarez even loudly and proudly sung the national anthem which I always love to see athletes do. Maybe Purdue's defense should adopt a strategy of dressing in black and regularly keeping away from the opposition. So it was commendable on the part of both countries that most of the star players for both teams not only played but started. Fabregas. I don’t understand that at all. David Silva. Sergio Ramas and Pepe Reina started for Spain. Oh wait. it is typical for teams to not play all their star players in order to rest them and to prevent risking injuries. fist-pumping epic is beyond me. Given the high exposure moments of these songs.) When friendlies are played in developing countries like this.(They might actually be on to something with this dark camouflage in plain sight thing. It was particularly commendable on his part as the Uruguayan national anthem is absolutely shit boring. It would make the Olympics so much more popular (although quite a bit longer).

Spain absolutely dominated the match. Since the teams are not really playing for anything.The other thing about friendlies is that they're usually just that: friendly. Despite the advantage Spain had in possession. This was exciting stuff. that wasn't the case here. At times they looked like they were playing an effortless version of keep away and just kicked the ball around mid-field until an opening presented itself. What actually happened was that it appeared that Uruguay had scored but the goal was disallowed due to a very questionable off sides call (questionable even from where we were sitting which was probably the worst view in the house) and then Spain took the ball right down the field and scored a breakaway goal. Maybe there was a little bit of incentive for Uruguay to knock off the World Cup holders or maybe Spain wanted to knock Suarez down a peg or two (because he's so easy to hate) but whatever the reason. Surprisingly. Not so much. I looked at the Australians to see if they were impressed by the sudden turn of events but the two texters had moved on to Sudoku or something and the other one was just staring pensively at his shoes. the score was level at 1-1 coming up to half time when there was a real advantage teaser that seemingly tipped towards Uruguay before swinging radically back in Spain's favour. the two teams went at each other quite aggressively during the first half and it was entertaining from that standpoint at least. Uruguay shot on goal with Suarez clearly getting ready to cherry pick . I glanced over at the Australians to see if they were enjoying it. it had therefore gone virtually from 2-1 to Uruguay to 2-1 one to Spain. the players usually aren't overly aggressive and typically play with a lot less passion. two of them were texting on their mobiles and the other was trying to take photos of the arch. In the space of about 40 seconds.

tennis isn't boring. women grunt like baseball players spit. I can vaguely remember it being a big deal at the time and recall that it didn't exactly endear her to the public.. Boring Sports Part II: The Tennis: Thankfully. as it was sort of the tennis equivalent of chewing with your mouth open. Self assured that I'd manage to squeeze every drop of non-boredom out of the game. This is of particular pertinence because. Flash forward 17 years later and my. I left in the 80th minute to beat the traffic. I have to admit that the only other professional women's tennis match I've attended was a Monica Seles match at the US Open in 1996. Men's soccer could actually learn a lot from women's tennis.The second half kicked off in much the same manner. Even if it’s just fielding teams consisting of Florida women with Russian accents. Especially women's tennis. Qatar really seems hell bent on proving what other countries can only suppose at the moment: money makes everything better. which seems to be less reliant on those overpowering John Daly style serves than men's tennis and therefore typically offers more rallying that is a lot more fun to watch. I wasn't actually sure who most of these top players were apart from the Top 3 (Victoria Azarenka. I always get her mixed up with Nancy Kerrigan). And especially so when the participants are the ridiculously good looking blonde Amazon chicks that always emerge from Florida but nonetheless usually play for Russia. The Qatar Women's Tennis Open is held every February and although it is not a major event on professional tennis's radar. I suspect. it still manages to attract most of the top players. So I just bought a ticket to the quarterfinals and the final (Danny took the semi-final ticket as I also figured that three days of tennis in a row would be a bit much for anyone). Thankfully. They had gotten the start time wrong though and we showed up an hour before the first match. Before I go on here. The 'umphs' are bandied about more than the ball and sustained rallies sound a lot like porn films. The coffin nail finally came in the 65th minute in the form of a beautiful header from Pedro Rodriquez. I looked down the bench to wave goodbye to the Australians but they had already left. These days (or at this tournament at least). This year. When did this happen? And why? . I met up with the Australian contingent that had been bored out of their minds at the soccer game. isn't due so much to the good weather as the absolute ridiculous appearance fees that entrants are paid. 7 of the 8 top players in women's tennis participated in the tournament. This.. Uruguay appeared to be giving everything they had but Spain casually ran circles around them. the remainder of the women’s tennis population was more respectfully subdued in those days.for some reason. it actually looks/sounds like serves are unleashed from rackets that groan. We sat in the later afternoon sunshine and watched Azarinka's practice session while the stadium filled up. To the untrained eye/ear. if I am remembering this right. there is not only guaranteed to be scoring in tennis. Everyone in the stadium stood up and applauded this display of skill except for the Australians.. she was the one that was famous for being the grunter (at least I think that's what she was famous for. In addition. oh my how things have changed. Martina Sharapova and Serena Williams) and I figured that going to watch tournament matches played between girls I'd never heard of would be like going to see a band I'd never heard of play songs I didn't like. This actually turned out to be a good thing as we were able to score front row seats in our section. there's lots of it and nobody falls down unless they absolutely have to. two of which had fallen asleep (seriously).

drawn-out incoming missile noise (minus the explosion at the end). short and stout with a pair of assault weapons for biceps. she would make a grunt that would sound like someone was banging on a tension wire. an absolute giraffe of a girl. which is fair enough. fair play. I fully admit to the odd grunt when playing tennis myself or lifting weights or.I understand the little ones. hell. Rocky & the Russian . on the other hand. Sharapova. It would start when she made contact with the ball. But these grunts are different. and rock on Obi Wan). but it would last until well after the ball had bounced past the baseline on the other side of the court a few seconds later. During Azarenka's practice. The first match was Martina Sharapova (Russian-Floridian) vs. was long and lean. Samantha Stosur (Australia) which was a lot like Rocky IV if Drago and Rocky would have swapped the boxing ring for a tennis court. Normally grunts are associated with short bursts of effort but hers just kept going. The Aussie was built like Sly. That puzzled the hell out of me. These are like designer grunts or something that go on for seconds and last well into groan territory. Moisture must condense on top of her head when she wears heals. We weren't sure it was fair. sometimes even when just standing up. It reminded me distinctly of when you would throw something into the air as a kid and make that long. Maybe that's what she was doing? I've heard all kinds of theories from breathing to rhythm keeping to intimidation to masking the sound of the ball against the racket but maybe she's just doing the women's tennis equivalent of the light saber noise (if so. I've probably only seen her on TV a few times but I didn't realize she was so tall.

it would be understandable but he would use the 'action' time in the match to review the photos he had taken in the interim. Speaking of that. Azarenka was tall and Russian-Floridian looking (even though she plays for Belarus and maybe emerged from Georgia) whilst the Italian girl looked like a body building midget in comparison. When she was walking around prior to serving or crouching down waiting for the ball. they DID seem to get much louder as time went on which really only made the porno effect more pronounced. This man took over a thousand photos of Sharapova doing that. yes. I was aware of the fact that it Sharapova was that was famous for it and even read where her grunts were measured as being over 100dB(A) at Wimbledon. staccato sounding bursts. my experience of this match was overshadowed by an Indian fellow with an exceptionally rank case of halitosis sitting to my left who was borderline-stalking Sharapova with his zoom lens Nikon. Weird and annoying. However. he snapped photo after photo after photo of her. I wanted to ask him if he had ever mailed her a letter made from cutout magazine words glued onto a bit of A4 but I was afraid of the possibility of being right. he would fire away but when the action started he would stop. . Either they measured that standing right next to her or she's toned it down since then because they weren't nearly that loud. The odd thing though was that none of the shots he took were in-action photos. But 100dB(A) plus. Sharapova made short work (cringe) of the Aussie and won in two sets. From the time she took the court for warm-ups until the second she disappeared from site. So then it was on to Match #2 which featured Azarenka and an Italian girl named Sara Errani and it was if the two players in Match #1 had just sent in their stunt doubles. Funnily enough. their grunts seemed to oddly resemble their physical appearances. Long. If it was so he could watch the match.Sharapova won the toss and then the grunting started. absolutely. The Aussie girl's grunts were short and thick and Sharapova's were thinner sounding and lasted just as long as Azarenka's. no way. The grunting was even similar when it started up with Azarenka banging on her tension wire and the Italian yinging her yang with quick-fire. The Perv What made this all the more bizarre is that Sharapova's between-point routine was exactly the same every time: walk a few steps back with a sort of deliberate stutter step then turn back towards the baseline whilst spacing out the racquet strings and then ball the left hand into a fist so it looks like you’re freezing and then grip the racket with both hands and crouch.

What a spectacle to behold. Azarenka easily won the match so it wasn't all that entertaining but there was one long protracted bitch session. Azarenka in mid-service . Oh no. Extremely lengthy rallies tend to incite pitch invasions by men that simply can't handle all that long-haired loveliness doing its thing in such a prominent setting. The lovely Eva decided this appeal had merit (even watching her make a decision was breathtaking) and ordered that the point be replayed. she is the Greek goddess of women's tennis chair umpiring. She sat up in that chair like Aphrodite herself gowned in creased pants and boat shoes. The helpless masses were mesmerized by the power of the ponytail which carelessly bounced to and fro like Pantene personified. Azarenka appealed to the video umpire and the Hawk-Eye replay showed the ball as actually being in. This cheesed Errani off to no end and she started spouting off to the lovely Eva. Sure they put the best women’s tennis players on centre court but Eva is the only one they put on a pedestal.The tennis was secondary in this match due to it being presided over by the lovely Eva Asderaki. issuing judgment at will whilst radiating an air of optimum health. Not many people know this but the elevated umpire chair was actually invented for the lovely Eva's safety. If you have the misfortune to not being acquainted with the lovely Eva. this woman. Azarenka had served a ball that hit really close to the line and it was called out by the line judge. so Azarenka was awarded the point. Her argument was that she gave up on the return when it was called out. This just set off Azarenka again and both of them continued arguing with Eva for awhile whilst doing their best to avoid eye contact with each other. Back and forth went the heads of the male spectators but not to the beat of the bouncing ball.

Kvitova appeared the more solid player whilst Serena was really streaky. I've never competed in tennis at a level higher than sneaking-onto-a-court-after-school so maybe there's a competitive advantage that can be gained by blanking the other player that I'm not aware of? I just found it really childish and stupid. It felt like she was treating the entire stadium like her opponent and made her really hard to like to be honest. I would bet my house that I weigh closer to 155lbs than she does. Particularly when the two players walk right by each other every time there's a break like they’re a former couple at a wedding pretending not to notice each other. She put just enough effort in to win the rubber match though 7-5.’ The third match was Serena Williams vs Petra Kvitova in the battle of the boobies.. I am fairly sure I could squeeze my waist into one of the legs of her jeans.. Particularly her legs.Christ they were tree trunks. I think that might actually just be her mass and they forgot to factor in the force of gravity. the tournament program listed Serena's weight as 155lbs (70g). If that were me. . She would play brilliantly for awhile and then occasionally just fall off a cliff and lose games without scoring a point. I would rock right up to the other guy and whisper something like 'Look.. More crappy tennis photos taken from a distance with a mobile phone This match was by far the most competitive.. She is clearly what blind date fixing optimists refer to as 'big boned' but with quite a substantial amount of muscle packed on them. As quite possibly one of the grossest understatements in sports history. Ot least the odd wink or fist bump or something. don't you? I personally think that calls for a little congeniality. Most of the time though she walked around like she was indifferent to everything that was going on. both of us are walking out of here with at least a hundred grand. You can ignore me if you want but you do realize that no matter who wins this match.The eye contact thing I thought was odd as well. Kvitova actually took the first set 6-3 before Serena battled back and won the second one by the same margin.

Azarenka had her down 5-2 and it looked like it was time for one fat lady to sing and another to lose but Serena battled back and actually went up 6-5 before losing 6-8 a few points later. If you throw in the fact that I'm new at the job and my new colleagues will also be attending. As in a raising-his-voice-and-directing-itstraight-at-you screamer which isn't exactly the most ideal audience type for someone not exactly brimming with self-confidence at doing something he's terrified of doing. At one stage. 2) Catching one of those oversized tennis balls they launch into the air with those 3-person sling shots. Yeah baby. So I only stayed for the first set which went to tie breaks. 3) Getting to see the heir apparent to the Qatari throne. Other highlights from the tennis: 1) Getting a regular roast beef sandwich from an Arbys stand in the tennis village. There is nothing I dread more than giving presentations or public speaking in general so it was bad enough to have to do it but it was further worsened by the fact that the client in this instance was known for being a screamer.The final was on a Sunday night which I think was to align itself with the way tournaments are run in the rest of the world (Sunday is the first day of the work week here so it wasn’t a weekend). The pajama party in the VIP area . you've basically just simulated hell. This match was sort of ruined for me as I had to give a technical presentation the following day at work to a client and it was at the forefront of my mind.

Oh no. I'm also saving the ones I get on flights. say for example that you were doing your weekly shop and bought a bag of groceries that totaled QAR16. I plan on issuing them as tips to see if they will brighten people's day as much as they do mine. 2.25 when he deftly pulls his other hand out from under the counter and plunks a packet of Planters unsalted on top of the notes. I said the same thing…. You hand the attendant two 10 Riyal notes which. QAR4.e.25. Two things I want to say about this: 1. Instead of handing out change. I am starting to collect these peanut packets.4. The phrase 'it costs less than 27 cents' is a bit dull. The idea here is that hopefully the price of your total shop will add up to a round number and. This doesn't faze the shop clerk though. Talk about pulling victory out of the jaws of defeat! Who cares about the equivalent of 7 cents in lost funds when you are suddenly issued a spontaneous treat! I normally would have had to wait until I got in the car to unwrap a breakfast bar or something for a little energy boost but not now. these shops will give you a small bag of peanuts instead. If it won't.The Peanuts: The Qatari Riyal is pegged to the US dollar and is worth about 27 cents or so. Is this where the phrase 'it costs peanuts' comes from? I bet it is. .25 (i. they are relatively uncommon in use. let’s face it. He lays 3 Riyals into your outstretched hand and you just have time think to yourself that you're about to be screwed out of QAR 0. I know.75 when you were checking out. Although there are coins in circulation (called 'dirhams').75 from when there's no coins in the till.75. The only exception seems to be the grocery stores where some lower priced goods have digits on the other side of the decimal point that are typically only in increments of 0.WTF? To illustrate this.. The term ‘useless’ would therefore naturally apply to coin denominations less than 1 Riyal. is a tough amount to change QAR16. The vast majority of goods in this country are rounded to the nearest Riyal for convenience. QAR4. etc). Given that there's not much you can buy for a quarter these days that pretty much makes having 1 Riyal in your pocket next to useless in the way of purchasing power.50. if it doesn't. most shops will just round up or down accordingly. thanks to you Mr. the locals are sensible about this situation and they don't bother themselves with the dead weight of pocket change that would likely only add up to a dollar if one was lucky. Thankfully. My plan is to see if I can save enough of them to pay for an entire shopping trip. I say ‘most’ because some shops employ a slightly different and more bizarre method of compensating you for change due that is less than 1 Riyal. Crafty Shop Clerk. QAR.

I would sit and gaze around for awhile and then usually wander next door to Jim’s for another coffee and to listen to his stories of the 40 years he spent sailing the world as an engineer on cargo ships. I didn't even remember hearing the ring or picking up the Ipad and answering it. I actually choked up. Due to the sun's reflection off the water (when it’s out of course). I thought my morning-person morphing was simply due to wanting to be conscious during this period of the day but I've since found out that it’s actually more about NOT wanting to be conscious at night. I have slowly developed into a morning person. Thankfully it is rare these days that I get late night calls (apart from Burkie ringing me pissed during one of his Sunday sessions) but. I had naturally attributed this acquired trait to my house which has an eastward facing orientation over water. I’m currently in a coffee shop and having to breathe through my eyes to dissolve the tears so no one will see. Wow. Especially when you can't get back to sleep afterwards. On a good day you might see dolphins jumping out of the water or a cruise ship steaming by on her way into Cobh. The mornings in general are always a magical time of the day there. My house was only a ten minute drive or a twenty five minute bicycle ride away from work so I really didn't even have to leave home until around 9am which meant I usually had a good two hours of quality morning time like this. So when I came out of a dream one weeknight this month at around 11:30pm or so to see the Poodus's face in front of me on my Ipad. I sort of came to and realized what was going on but only a brief second before the Facetime connection was lost for whatever reason. I was just suddenly really confused as to why he was on the screen there in front of me. you can understand how I feel about late night phone calls on school nights. This makes the sunrises special events and occasionally achingly beautiful. On most mornings. So taking this into account. it is usually from one of my brothers. I was not impressed at all. Let's just say I dislike them more than soccer. Wasn’t expecting that. it is usually warm enough to sit outside without a jacket even in February. I really wonder sometimes if I even cross his mind at all before midnight in wherever I happen to be at the time. My youngest brother (the Poodus) is also chronic for texting me in the middle of the night for some reason. getting to bed on time is therefore a high priority in the world of Brian. (I've just read that last paragraph back because I didn’t mean to go flying off on that tangent like I did and it has made me so suddenly and unexpectedly home sick. if I do. Given my early 6am start here. It is usually so quiet and still and you can wander out on the deck with a coffee or a bagel and watch the fishing boats heading out for the day or the lobster guys emptying the pots that are submerged in the water in front of the house. .The Pregnancy: Over the course of my 30's.) At any rate. I simply start running out of fuel at around 10pm and my eyelids start to feel like they're elevator doors I'm constantly trying to prevent from shutting. Because this sort of coincided with my move to Cork. I quickly put my Ipad on mute and went back to sleep before he could call back and wake me up any more than I was but I tossed and turned for awhile regardless.

this sort of rubbed me the wrong way so I rang him back over Facetime because it was now about 11:30pm HIS time. During one of those drizzly gray days. Yes. Not having my full seven hour compliment of beauty sleep. The real surprise subsequently turned out to be mine though…. Except that on one side of the phone we have a 32-year-old in a stable marriage and a corporate job calling to say he's having a baby and on the other end we have an idiot with his pajama bottoms round his angles and an Ipad camera pointed at his ass. I feel like Goldilocks slipping into bed in a climate that is ‘just right’. his face contorted into a cringe when he answered. Not being content with just waking him up. Mark will always be affectionately forever young in my mind. its lashing’ during the heavier stuff.after the ass shock wore off enough for him to talk. If you let Ireland sort of burrow its way into your soul like I did the last eight years. I may be 40 but I get a certain solace from fooling myself that he's still 10. I also dropped my PJ bottoms and held the Ipad behind me so that when he answered the call. You see. during the drive in to work and after spending exactly two full months in Qatar. This actually turned out to be a really good move because. I was pretty revved up.The next morning I saw I had four missed calls from him and a couple of texts telling me that my 'internet sucks'. The downside to this is that because it’s ‘just right’. I’m actually convinced there isn’t a better climate in the world than Doha in February.. he told me that the reason he was ringing was to tell me that Jess is pregnant (their first) and that I'm going to have a new niece or nephew. Comfortably warmish-hot during the day but still cool enough at night to put on a sweatshirt and for it to be refreshingly chilly in the morning. High temperatures hovered around 27°C / 80°F and lows around 20°C / 60°F. I encountered rain. That's just the way things are.. less mature one.. I hope when his son or daughter is old enough they will manage to distinguish the older brother because I’m not sure I can anymore.I'm the older. Needless to say. although I didn't wake him up. On February 20th. Lying out in the sun is just warm enough that you don’t quite break a sweat and the sea is cool enough that it only takes a few seconds getting used to and is nice once you do. Apart from the obvious milestone for my family. responsible brother and he's the younger. he would be greeted with my bare ass. .. He's the Poodus you see.. Humidity is still comfortable at around 50% and there is very little cloud cover. the reason I am sharing this is that it occurred to me afterward the irony of the situation. you develop a strange sort of affinity for rain. it suddenly becomes absolutely imperative to be able to say to someone ‘bit of a soft day isn’t it?’ and definitely a ‘Christ. I fully expect to arrive at his place in the middle of the night after a few too many gin and tonics and wake him up to play Nintendo (if it isn't a school night for him). And when I am in my eighties. I did encounter a bit of a weather milestone this month though. it will mean we’ve probably reached the downhill slide into hot weather hell so I fully expect that the weather will jump the shark at some point in March. Unfortunately I was in my car and didn’t have anyone to discuss it with so I put ‘Here Comes The Rain Again’ on the pod and reveled in the atmosphere. The Weather: Absolutely fab-tastic.

Summer rain It was quite a little cloud burst as well….it lasted about 10 or 15 seconds and I counted exactly 17 drops on my windscreen.. .