05: Perambulation [10 February 2013]

Complaining about driving here is a common pastime of Western expats. It's chaotic, nerve-wracking, and unpredictable. All the cars are bigger than you. You often have to drive past where you are trying to go, then double-back through a roundabout before you can turn off the road. You can never turn left. Sometimes, the road will disappear into a pile of rubble, or the main highway will be closed for five miles due to construction. I've had very little problems with driving; it's like someone took New Jersey and replaced all the soccer moms with drag racers in their commuter Land Cruisers. After seeing someone powersliding essentially the same car as my rental at the Qatar Motorshow, I've had a renewed inspiration to drive like a glorious asshole. The most annoying part has been the warning indicator that activates when I exceed 120 kmh (that's about 75 mph), a common feature of rental cars. It doesn't limit my speed, it just beeps and blinks at me to remind me that I am driving faster than the fastest speed limit in the country.

Camels here were once ridden by small children in races; since that has been deemed a human rights violation, they are now driven by radio-controlled whipping devices directed by men riding in SUVs along the side of the track. Because the camels were at first freaked out by this transition, the robots were dressed up with sunglasses and hats. I'm not sure that's fooling anybody, but the camels seem pretty resigned to their fates as animals being used purely for the entertainment of rich Arabs. In any event, years of training as a buggy chair and my short stint as Tartan Racing's photographer finally came in handy as I got to hang out the top of a moving vehicle jockeying amongst other moving vehicles while trying to take nice photographs of a bizarre race that involved robots.

Beach soccer apparently exists. I did not know that until I saw the Fifa Beach Soccer World Cup playoffs. The game is played on a pitch the size of a basketball course, and the aim seems to be to kick as much sand into your opponents' eyes as possible, as it's impossible to dribble a soccer ball in those conditions.

Actual soccer is a thing, though; I saw Spain trounce Uruguay in a friendly match at Khalifa Stadium. The most surreal part of that match was Sting's Desert Rose being played over the speakers at halftime, and everyone in the stadium bursting into a singalong. Considering that album was part of my soundtrack on my flight over here last month, I found this rather amusing, as it didn't occur to me that the locals would be so into that song here. Since the original Qatari nationals are all proud descendants of Bedouin, I guess I shouldn't be too surprised.

Speaking of music, I've been alternating between listening to the webstream of WYEP when I'm feeling a bit homesick for Pittsburgh, and QBS, the local English-language station here. It's rather hard to describe what it is about QBS that charms me so much, so I'll just leave you a link to their stream if you're curious: http://www.qassimy.com/channel-tv-live/game/578/Listen_to_QBS_Radio_live_from_Qatar.html

I've been learning a little bit of Arabic by making my students teach me how to write their names. This is working in strange ways; since I know the sounds of their names, I'm beginning to learn the sounds of the letter shapes, which results in the sudden realization I can read some signage or other text but not know what any of the words mean. Since I was not quite a cognizant human when I last achieved literacy, it's fascinating to notice this happening. Much to the amusement of the females and the chagrin of the males, my Arabic hand is apparently significantly neater and more beautiful than most of the boys and on par with most of the girls.

The weeks are flying by and spring break is coming up; I originally thought I'd get to leave the country and spend a week somewhere that doesn't forbid beer and bacon, but the government wranglers still have my passport and it's impossible to know whether or not they'll finish processing my residency in time for me to get an exit visa. The laws regarding foreign workers allow sponsors to prevent their employees from leaving the country by refusing to grant exit visas, and also allow them to prevent transferring of sponsorship. Generally, that only happens to unskilled migrant laborers. Meanwhile, it looks like I might be spending spring break wandering around and exploring parts of the country outside of the Doha sprawl. In a country smaller than Connecticut that is mostly uninhabitable desert, I don't expect it'll take that long to drive on every road segment.

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