Posts in Doha affairs

The ‘camel jockey’ saga continues

Two jockeysQatar Camel Jockeys left disabled

The risk of serious injury, disability and death is shockingly high among child jockeys in camel races in Gulf countries, a report shows. Researchers in Qatar looked at 275 boys, many younger than nine and some as young as five, treated for camel racing injuries at a local hospital. Seventeen of the boys treated between 1992-’03 were left with permanent disabilities and 3 died.

Source: [BBC]

This disturbing report struck a chord in me, as last year I got a chance to meet the young jockeys in Doha and converse with them. I’m glad a number of Gulf countries made the decision to ban the use of camel jockeys for good, replacing them with robots. The question now is: Will camel racing still attract as many enthusiasts when child jockey are no longer a part of it? [All images from that trip enlarge on click]

They are off
Nearing the finish

Meeting Nour Al Sharif

Nour al Sharif and IBecause of our tight time table, we were only able to sit for one documentary in the Alajzeeara documentary festival. The one we saw was a Radio Canada production entitled: Maher Arar, detailing the story of a Canadian/Syrian citizen who was arrested and deported to Syira on suspicion of belonging to al-Qaeda. Unfortunatley the film was absolutely crap. Technically, it was very poor and the content was sensationalist, unbalanced and lacked any real deep research. I hated it!

Nevertheless, the outing itself had a wonderful upside, as we were sitting one row in front of famous Egyptian actor Nour Al Sharif. I got really excited when I saw him sitting right behind us so I jumped up from my seat and asked if I could take a picture with him. He was very sweet and extremely down-to-earth. We even shared the same popcorn while waiting for the movie to start. I think I should write this down: I munched on popcorn with Nour al-Sharif. Here is a picture taken via Amal and her Nokia mobile.

Aljazeera documentary film festival

Aljazeera’s documentary film festival might be one of the most exciting things that happens in Doha. Documentaries from across the world are being shown here and it is all gratis. Instead of making sure to watch every single one of them, I’m home blogging about the event from far way.

Life has been very hectic lately for us, for reasons that I will explain in a future post. Time is not on our side. We are struggling to finish a very long list of things to do before the end of this month, which will mark the end of our Doha stint here. I will reveal more details in an upcoming post, I promise.

Child jockey violators risk penalty

I found this in the Gulf Times today:

Child jockey
Heavy penalties are expected to be imposed on the violators of the new law prohibiting the use of child jockeys in camel races, said Dr Ghalia bint Mohamed bin Hamad al-Thani, member of UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

The warning is intended to deter any possible offences at "private" races. Dr Ghalia told reporters yesterday that the new regulation banning child jockeys had stemmed out of Qatar’s respect to the children’s basic rights, saying that she played a role in drafting the law, putting an end to the use of child jockeys in Qatar.

I guess this explains why the officials at the camel race freaked out when we took pictures of the jockeys last week.

Farewell my friend …

Gulf Silhouettes

Our good friend Amal is leaving Doha for good next week and relocating home to Beirut, Lebanon. We are very happy for her as it is a great career move. Not only will she be in her own country
surrounded by family and friends, but she will get to report from Lebanon during very interesting times. We will miss her dearly. Doha will never be the same without her. We wish her all the luck in the world. She really deserves the best.

Here is a picture that the husband took last week of Amal and myself enjoying the sea along a beach in Dukhhan, Qatar.

Qatar camel race: What an experience!

A camel noseYesterday was a unique day. We, along with Amal, our partner-in-crime, and friend Ranjit headed to a Qatar camel race in al-Shahnniya, some 40 km outside Doha. What we saw and experienced there was quite memorable.

When we first arrived at the racing complex, we were a bit early so we wandered about and ran into some of the camel jockeys. I was shocked to see how young and tiny they were. Mostly they were Sudanese and between maybe 7-10 years old. We talked with them and took some pictures. But then things started getting tense. Some organizers or security for the facility approached us and asked us — quite angrily — not to talk with the jockeys or take pictures of them. They were very tense and kept following us around to make sure we didn’t come near the jockeys.

My analysis is that since Qatar recently banned camel jockeys and is now working on robots to replace the young kids (now being copied in the UAE), officials are feeling uneasy about giving the kids any extensive exposure, especially this being their last season. It might reflect badly on the Gulf state of Qatar since it has now been established that the use of child camel jockeys is really a form of child abuse.

Some jockeys and an outfitterAfter the encounter with the officials, we drove around and found ourselves in a huge camel market. I have to confess, I had never seen so many camels in one place in my life. Jeff and Ranjit, the two shutterbugs of the group, immediately embarked on taking pictures while Amal and myself busied ourselves talking with the vendors and asking them about the camels and how much they cost. Man, camels are expensive!

Neck and neckAmal also rode a camel for the first time in her life! I was shocked to know that she had never done it before. Apparently, there are no camels in Lebanon! Anyway, we headed back to the racetrack and caught the fourth round of the race. It was so surreal. People here follow the race by driving their SUV’s around the outside of the 2-km long track beeping and hollering. We did the same. All packed into Rajnit’s SUV, we chased those racing camels. We did that for the following rounds as well and believe me when I tell you, it was exhilarating. I have never seen anything like it in my life.

There were many young men -– mostly from neighboring gulf countries — following the race that were so passionate about what was going on. I even saw a Qatari guy, who I assumed was an owner of one of the racing camels, talking to his jockey via walkie-talky, coaching him I guess.

I’m so glad we got to see this while we are still here. It was a fascinating experience. I wonder if the passion among the young men that own and watch the races will still be there when the camel jockeys are replaced by robots, which will supposedly be implemented next year. [More pictures coming in a photo album]

A trip north

Zubara FortWe had a very nice day today with Amal on a half-day trip to the north of Qatar. The excursion began at 9:00 am when we were picked up by a driver from Qatar International Tours who took us to our first stop of the day: Al Khor, Qatar’s second largest city. There was nothing much in this sleepy city besides a beach and a museum. We were amazed to see how little development had occurred in the second largest city when compared to Doha. Somehow it made us feel grateful to live in the Qatari capital.

We continued our trip north and stopped by Zubara fort [seen here], which was built in 1938 for military purposes and used against the Brits and Bahrainis. This was followed by a stopover at some excavations nearby. We then made our way further north to the last point in Qatar before the sea: al-Rowais, where we stopped for lunch at a traditional Qatari house. We also got to visit a high-end tent Majlis (complete with pool table and A/C), which is where Qatari men hang out.

The falconerThere we had a nice chat with a young Qatari man by the name of Ali about traditional marriages here. Amal and I asked him about the Qatari marriage tradition of not seeing one’s spouse until the wedding night. Ali had no problem with it and fully respected it, saying his parents have been happily married for thirty years now following the same tradition. After our brief chit-chat, Ali took us inside an adjacent house where he raised falcons. He insisted on us holding the birds and taking pictures with them. This was loads of fun. Those falcons are just fascinating creatures.

All in all we had a great time. It is a trip I would highly recommend to anyone visiting or currently residing in Doha. It is always refreshing to see Qatari landmarks besides air-conditioned malls and five-star hotels.

Doha snapshots

Al Kut interior
Corniche pot fountain
Al Kut gate
This month we are going to be doing some exploring in Qatar primarily for a writing project we are working on and secondly to make sure we’ve seen most everything this country has to offer before we leave for good. Here are a few of the things we saw on today’s outing.

The first is the interior of the Moorish-style Doha fort, dubbed Al Koot fort, which is currently closed for refurbishing. We managed to sneak in anyway. The second here is of a famous monument along the Corniche: The one and only water jars. The third is of the gate of the fort, which was established in 1925. Qatar is famous for these beautiful medieval-looking wooden doors. All images enlarge on click.

Majida, the Lebanese diva

MajidaLast night, we once again conquered fear of another Doha terrorist attack and made our way to the city’s iconic Sheraton Hotel to see Lebanese singer Majida al-Roumi in concert as part of the Doha Cultural Festival. It was exhilarating. We had a blast! Majida gave a top-notch performance that I will personally remember for years to come. She kicked off her concert by praying for the safety of Qatar, something I found very considerate and unexpected.

Majida performs amid the stunning lightsHer first song was Beirut ma bitmout, or ‘Beirut won’t die.’ She performed it so passionately. It was very touching in light of the political tensions occurring there these last months. The audience — a good portion of whom were Lebanese — clapped and cheered as she sang the lyric calling for the "removal of the foreign hand," which I assumed was a reference to Syrian interference in Lebanon. This is the Middle East, you can never escape politics!

During the two-hour concert, Majida performed a number of masterpieces like Kon Sadeeqi, or ‘Be my friend,’ Kalimat, or ‘Words’ and 3am biesalouni 3aleik el nas, or ‘People are asking me about you.’ [links pull Real Audio feed] I surprised myself by knowing a number of her songs by heart. I guess they were buried there deep down in my subconscious.

Kon Sadeeqi in shaky closeupMajida looked absolutely stunning and performed so elegantly. I can’t believe she is almost fifty. She just looked amazing.

One interesting thing happened during the concert when a group of people that appeared to be Lebanese left the hall running with mobile phone to ear. I figured something must have happened like an explosion. I was right. As we were enjoying our time listening to Majida’s tantalizing voice, a bomb exploded in yet another Christian area in Lebanon. It is very sad indeed. But I quote Majida: Beirut Ma bitmout or Beirut won’t die.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I had become over-saturated by the continual playing of the songs of Fairuz, another Lebanese diva. Last night I couldn’t help but wonder why Majida had yet to reach the pinnacle that Fairuz occupies in the hearts and minds of her Arab audience. Majida belongs at the same or even a more elevated position than Fairuz.

All in all, we had a great time! I’m still humming the tunes from the concert. I will definitely make sure to add some of Majida’s albums to our humble music collection very soon.

Doha blast update; responsibility claimed

Today, Doha residents gathered in the late afternoon to show support for victims and to condemn the attack. It has also been determined that the deceased, Briton Jonathan Adams, 40, was the director of the play taking place at the time of the attack. Additionally, the attacker, Umar Ahmad Abd Allah Ali, was apparently an Egyptian national that had lived in the Gulf state of Qatar for the last 15 years, working as an information technology engineer for state-run Qatar Petroleum.

The attack has been claimed by an as yet unheard of group calling themselves "Jund al-Sham Organization," or the Organization of Soldiers of the Levant, an area comprised of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine. The organization issued a statement claiming responsibility, although that statement cannot be confirmed. They also indicated another statement would be released forthwith detailing "the martyrdom-seeking operation carried out by a lion from Jund al-Sham in Qatar."

Egyptian religious scholar Shaikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi denounced the attack, telling "Islam strongly forbids the shedding of blood without a reason." Additional details on the story are available here.