Saturday, December 31, 2011

Reflections On 2011

And so ends another year. Time to go through my albums and see how the year went.

At a café in Bergamo, Italy

A great collection of murals, Copenhagen, Denmark.

Hanging out with the family in the living room, Calgary. (Just kidding - this is an area of a large hunting/outdoorsman department store)

Venice, from the top of St Mark's Campanile.

Removing an infestation of cats (you know how it is, if you don't keep things tidy the next thing you know there are cats everywhere) :) Doha

A mural of the Heavens, Rila Monestary, Bulgaria

At a piazza in Verona, Italy

The view from my hotel balcony, Split, Croatia

Christmas carols, Muscat, Oman

Armed robbery! Calgary.

Catch of the day. Persian Gulf.

After the climb to the top of Monte Isola, Italy

A doorway in the freetown of Christiania (Motto: Have fun, Don't run, No Pictures!) Denmark

The Church of Saint-Nicholas the Miracle Maker, Sofia, Bulgaria

At the Basilica of San Domenico, Bologna, Italy

Watching the football at a café, Skopye, Macedonia

Cutting my birthday cake, Doha.

Looking out over the old city of Dubrovnik, Croatia

The best fettuccine Alfredo I've ever had, Piazza Navona, Rome.

Enjoying the view from a sky bar in Ljubljana, Slovenia. (At the time this photo was taken “What a Wonderful World” was playing).

The Church of St. John at Kaneo, Ohrid, Macedonia

No, I have no idea either. Calgary

Happy new year everyone!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

More Qatari Weddings

It is apparently "Wedding Season" here in Qatar as I just got back from another wedding. A friend of mine told me about the wedding today and asked if I wanted to come along. Seeing as it was the brother of an acquaintance of mine, and I may have met him once, in Qatar that's close enough familiarity to attend their wedding! (like I said before, Qatari men's weddings are open to pretty much any man) It's all about congratulating the groom and his family after all.

So we got there about 8:00 pm. This time instead of a tent it was held in a local sports hall. The floor was covered with carpeting and when we arrived there were already many guests milling about.

We saw the acquaintance of ours so we approached him first so he could introduce us to his father and his brother (the groom) at the receiving line. The groom and his father were easy to identify as they were wearing white thobes with traditional black bishts. My friend and I then found a place to sit down and chatted for a few minutes then dinner was announced.

Roast lamb on a platter of rice, the traditional meal for Qatari men's weddings. No cutlery, as usual. At least this time I was able to take a picture of the meal. In the foil containers was harris (difficult to explain, kind of like a wheat porridge with finely ground chicken in it). So everyone sat down to eat. Eventually other men such as employees from the sports club and labourers who happened to be nearby also came in for a meal, some joined my friend and I at the platter we were sitting at.

After we finished eating my friend and I washed our hands, said our goodbyes, and left. We were there less than an hour, which is perfectly acceptable in Qatari culture. As an example I also found out from my friend that he attended another wedding that evening before coming to this one, so he attended two weddings in three hours.

One thing that was different about this wedding was that there were no singers or musicians. My friend said that not all weddings will have them, especially indoor ones as they can be quite loud (go to my previous blog post and click on the videos for an example)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Another Qatari Wedding

A few days before Christmas I received an invitation to the wedding of a business associate. While I can read Arabic I had a tough time deciphering the invitation because of the fancy calligraphy, I was trying to figure out where the wedding was but couldn't do it (yes, I'm still taking Arabic lessons and probably will for a long time). A Qatari colleague of mine helped me out and gave me directions to where the wedding tent would be.

So on the appointed evening I went to the wedding tent.

As you can see these tents are huge (side note: there doesn't appear to be many people in the tent because I took this picture when dinner was being served so everyone was in the dining tent, in truth hundreds of men attended the wedding)

So when I arrived I followed standard procedure: I followed the carpet to the far side of the tent (the carpet is in the above photo, the long red one that crosses the tent) where the groom and his father were greeting guests. They were easy to spot as they were the only men wearing black bishts. After shaking hands with the groom's father I shook hands with the groom and gave my congratulations, stopped for a few pictures with the groom, then moved on to mingle with the guests and enjoy tea and other drinks being handed out by waiters.

This time the singers and musicians were stationed in the large carpeted area outside the tent. I hung out there to watch them for a while. Occasionally a few guests would do some sword dancing. The groom and his father spent all their time greeting the guests who were arriving, or chatting with relatives.

I arrived what I thought was fairly late, 8:15 pm, as I had been at a friend’s dinner party earlier. In Qatar this is not a big deal, the point of attending a man's wedding is to congratulate him and his family and give your regards. No gifts, no ceremony, and if you are not close to the groom (close friends, relatives) you can even leave after giving your regards. Close friends and relatives should stick around for most of the wedding as a matter of politeness but others are under no obligation to stay for the whole event.

I figured I had missed the dinner, which didn't bother me as I was full. Well imagine my surprise when around 8:45 pm they announced dinner. There was a buffet of appetizers and desserts but the main course was already on the guest’s tables -- whole roast lamb on a platter of rice and lentils, one for each table. In traditional fashion, there was no cutlery, you roll up your right sleeve and eat with your hand (ONLY your right hand, never touch food with your left hand). I'm not great at tearing off chunks of meat and rolling it with rice using just one hand but the Qatari gentlemen who were sitting at the table would sometimes tear off pieces of meat and give it to me, which made things easier. I didn't eat a lot because I was still full from the dinner party earlier but I felt that it would be rude if I didn't eat some food -- a lot of effort must go into preparing whole roast lambs for hundreds of guests. I chatted a bit with the other gentleman at the table, practicing my still-limited Arabic, but I still struggled a lot to follow the conversation.

After eating you go to a small room at the side of the tent were about a dozen portable sinks were set up so that guests could wash their hands after the meal.

As I left the dining tent I saw a couple of dozen men, mostly South and Central Asian, waiting patiently by the door. These men were not guests, I assume they happened to be nearby and saw the wedding tent so entered in the hopes of getting a meal. Unlike a Western wedding reception there is nothing wrong with this at all, as far as I know a Qatari man's wedding is open to all men. The etiquette seems to be that once the guests have finished eating these men can enter and partake of the remaining food -- and believe me there was plenty of food left. I've attended two weddings that were held in wedding tents and this occurred both times (the other weddings I attended were in hotels where this doesn’t occur).

I hung around for a while after dinner to watch the singers and eventually the groom and his father did some sword dancing. I did not have a chance to ask the groom whether posting photos of him would be okay so I’m only going to post photos that keeps his identity hidden. Keep an eye out for a Qatari in a white thobe wearing a black bisht, as opposed to Qataris who are wearing black thobes.

I've also posted some video of the festivities, including sword dancing.

Singers at the wedding

The groom sword dancing with guests

By 10:00 most of the guests had left so I left as well. The groom and his father will continue on to the bride’s wedding reception to pick up the bride.

If you would like to know what happens at a Qatari woman’s wedding a fellow Qatari blogger, Just Kooki, has a four-part post about her experience at a lady's wedding. It's definitely worth a read.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Hunting with Falcons!

Yesterday I received a call from my Qatari friend Ali who asked if I wanted to go to the desert with him and his friends to do some falconry. My answer was something along the lines of, "Heck yeah!”. I've never been hunting with falcons before.

Falconry is a very popular sport in Qatar, and many Qataris own falcons that they use for hunting either here or abroad (apparently North Africa and Iraq are popular destinations for hunting). There are a number of stores that sell falcons and falconry equipment, and I even know of two different veterinary clinics in Doha dedicated to falcons. Falcons are very expensive to purchase and maintain, so owners take great care of them. It was great that I was going to see some falconry in action.

First, we drove out of the city. Ali let me drive his Land Cruiser.

We laughed that this may have confused people -- seeing a Westerner driving a Land Cruiser with a Qatari as a passenger. (Inside joke, if you lived in Qatar you would understand).

Then we went to the desert up north to meet Ali’s friends (and their falcons).

Transporting a falcon is pretty straightforward, just put it in the car.

Training a falcon

Falcons need to be trained. A technique they were using was to tie both the falcon and a pigeon on a long string, that way the falcon could practice attacking pigeons without the pigeon being able to fly too far away.


Once trained you no longer need the string, but you still need to provide a falcon with lots of practice so it can become a good hunter, which is what we were mostly doing today.

First, you need a trained falcon (duh).

Then you hook the falcon up with a transmitter so you can find it in case it flies too far away

Then you need some prey.

You take the pigeon at least 50m away from the falcon, release it, then release the falcon to go after it. Then jump in the Land Cruiser and drive after them because depending on how long it takes the falcon to catch the pigeon they might fly for kilometers.

Et voila!

Once the falcon catches the pigeon, its owner immediately assists, using his hands or a knife to remove some of the feathers and bones (many captive-raised falcons don't realize they shouldn't be eating the feathers, which are a choking hazard).

Once the falcon starts eating it's easy for the owner to pick it back up onto his hand (as long as he's holding some meat)

Now for another falcon to practice. This time I got to handle the dinner.

The pigeon was really giving the falcon or run for its money, constantly weaving around and staying low to the ground. Suddenly a second falcon appeared out of nowhere and attacked the pigeon! It belonged to another group of Qataris who were training falcons further down the desert. Both falcons pounced on the pigeon as it went to the ground. The owners of the falcons immediately rushed in to separate them before the falcons hurt each other.

One of the Qataris took a couple of nasty scratches to his hand separating the falcons but he was more concerned about his falcon getting hurt. The falcon appeared to be okay and happily ate its pigeon. Even so, its owner planned to take it to the clinic tomorrow to make sure.

Not much left of that pigeon!

After a couple more hunts it got dark so people got out some cushions from their trucks and we lit a fire, sitting around chatting while drinking coffee and karak.

All in all a really cool day. I hope to go again sometime.