Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Asian Games - and so it begins . . .

The 15th Asian Games is being held in Doha. Preseumably this is the second largest games after the Olympics and the Government is hoping that a successful event here will be a springboard for getting the 2016 Summer Olympics. The venues are finished and the athletes are starting to come in. The official opening ceremony is this Friday but some of the events have started already. The other night I went to the new Basketball hall to watch the game. Tickets are only QR5 ($1.35 US) so really, who cares who's playing at that price. The game turned out to be Kuwait vs Kazakhstan. For the record none of the Kazakhstanis looked like Borat ;)

Sadly if you don't count the official Games people there were maybe 30-40 spectators, and the venue holds around 800+ so needless to say the stands were empty. I hope the TV crews weren't showing too many crowd shots but if they were I was probably in them - I went with 4 other guys so the five of us made up the most densely-packed area of seating. Maybe I was on TV all over Kazakhstan!

It was a good game up until the 4th quarter, Kuwait even led by 3pts at one stage but in the end Kazakhs but it in overdrive and won 100-76.

I've already got tickets lined up for events over the next two weeks so it should be fun. With tickets going for QR5 to QR10 I'm trying to see as much as I can. Stop back here for updates.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

It rained!

I have been here over 6 months and had yet to see rain. None. Not a drop. In fact it was rare to even have a cloudy day, in the summer sandstorms were more common than boring-old clouds. But now the weather is getting cooler (ie under 30C) and for the first time since I arrived it rained.

Not a fierce downpour or anything, more like a 2-hour Vancouver drizzle, but as soon as someone noticed everyone in the office went up to the windows to see it.

I'll wait and see what happens in a few days, maybe the desert will start blooming like you see in National Geographic photos. We'll see.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

So what do you say to someone when . . .

A while back work arranged for some of us to have Arabic lessons, provided by the Qatar Centre for the Presentation of Islam. I've always wanted to learn Arabic so I attended the classes, which were taught by a nice Iraqi gentlemen. Now, when you get free lessons from a place called the Qatar Centre for the Presentation of Islam, needless to say you shouldn't be too surprised if you get some discussion about Islam mixed into the class. In the end it turned out to be about 50% arabic and 50% Islam discussions. Now after a while I found the Islam part more interesting, after all how often does one get the opportunity to pitch questions on Islam to a Muslim without him getting upset? We discussed all sorts of things: why two women's testimonies = one man's testimony in court (and for witnessing contracts), vegetarianism, styles of dress, why everyone in Qatar has massive homes and new cars when the Qur'an says to live modestly, first-cousin marriages, etc. Our teacher was always pleasant and tried to answer everything as best he could. The lessons ended right before Ramadan, and we hoped that we could get another class organized after the Eid holidays.

Recently we contacted him to see if he could give another lesson. He couldn't right now, here was the key part of the response:

"I am so sorry for not contacting you for a long time due to the hard conditions I am passing in both on the personal and family levels. I lost two of my family members and two of my relatives in one month. Most of my family members and relatives have fled their residences to other safer places, inside and outside Iraq . . ."

Um. Wow. What can I say in response to that? Seriously, four relatives dead within a month! He didn't provide details as to what exactly happened but did insinuate later on that it involved US troops. His relatives lived in Ramadi, an almost purely Sunni city, and doesn't experience much Shiite vs Sunni violence like in Baghdad. Ramadi is also one of the most conflict-torn cities, with daily attacks and gun battles by insurgents against US soldiers. Maybe they got caught in a cross-fire or hit by a stray shell/grenade, who knows?

Responding to that email was hard, really hard. They don't make Hallmark cards that sympathise with having relatives killed during a war y'know. I won't post my response, but after many hours of wracking my brains I just replied about how hard it was to respond and why, and to offer support.

By the way this post isn't about my feelings on the Iraq War, it's about a personal tragedy. I couldn't imagine what it would be like if members of my family were killed in some kind of conflict. It would tear me apart.

A similar experience happened a few months ago when the Lebanese manager at my compound and I watched Beirut getting bombed a few months ago. His wife and kids were still there and there was nothing he could do but watch his city being destroyed, and hoping that the bombs didn't hit his home. Every day he just sat at the TV and watched. For me it was just surreal. I tried to picture what it would be like if Vancouver was being bombed while I could do nothing but sit there and watch it on TV but I couldn't - I just couldn't imagine what that would be like for me to go through that. (BTW in the end his family was fine and as soon as the bombing stopped they moved to Doha).

So last night I went out with some friends to a dessert buffet at the Ritz. I originally declined because I'm trying to shed a few pounds but you know what - you only live once and for all you know it could go to hell the next day. So I went and had a great time, and will hit the treadmill more over the next few days to work it off instead. Life's too short to count calories.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Aljazeera english broadcast started today

Today a new global TV news station debuted - Aljazeera (in English). It started at 3:00pm Doha time and most of the office was by a TV to watch the debut. The husband of one of my coworkers (and my neighbour) is an anchorman for Aljazeera so I think the office was caught up in the excitement of the launch.

Up until this point I was watching BBC World but it does get tiresome, 15 minutes of news at the top of the hour and then that's it for news - the same headlines will repeat, at the top of the hour, for the next 10-12 hours. I'm hopeful Aljazeera can do better than that. With four broadcast centers - Doha, London, Washington and Kuala Lumpur they should be able to shake things up. Already I saw a brief clip about life in Harare (Zimbabwe). I don't think BBC can get a story like that because Mugabe banned them from the country. More importantly I'm hoping to see different news than the cut-and-paste job from the American stations. Is it just me, or does ABC/NBC/CBS/CNN all show the exact same news stories?

Anyway if it's available in your area try to tune in and see if Aljazeera is a different kind of news channel.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The nature of jihad

A buddy and I attended a recent lecture hosted by Georgetown University on jihad by Dr. Shah-Kazemi (an Ismaili Muslim living in the UK). I have to confess a lot of it went over my head, it was definately an in-depth talk suited towards Islamic scholars and other acedemics but it was interesting enough. From what I could glean from it the Qur'an and other fundamental Islamic works outline codes of conduct for war and fighting enemies. He then discussed historical examples from Damascus and Algeria to show how it should be properly applied - these examples outlined that non-Muslims should be shown mercy, be treated with respect when captured, and how to fight those who are actually attacking you and not others unrelated to the conflict. Unfortunately it ran overtime so there wasn't enough time to discuss the obvious question - why then do many fundamentalists/extremists not apply it this way. There was a question by someone in the audience that pointed out that much of his talk was based on his interpretation of key passages and asked how he knows that his interpretation is the correct one, but his answer went over my head (e.g. "words resaonating on both a spititual and metaphysical plane" kind of lost me).

Anyway, fairly interesting lecture and I might try to look up his historical examples to see if I can find out more about them. It definately painted a picture that jihad should not be some mob form of extremist violence.