Washington Welder Tackles Stryker Repair in Qatar

“I tried to join the military – every branch,” said Tad Wendler, from Olympia, Wash., while striking a gas metal arc torch inside the Stryker battle damage repair facility at Camp As Sayliyah, Qatar. “But now I’m serving in another way.”

“I’m protecting soldier’s lives,” said Wendler, a welder responsible for ensuring the integrity of armored combat vehicles for troops on the battlefield. “I cannot be out there with them, but I’m doing my best to ensure they return home safely.”

Wendler, 27, was raised on a 50-acre farm in Rainier, Wash., a 40-minute drive south of Olympia. He helped care for 20 head of cattle, three horses and endless crops. His grandfather started to teach him arc welding at around eight years old. While fixing farm equipment, discussions often led to stories of Army service in the Pacific during World War II. Continue reading

Qatar Sand Dunes

Qatar sand bashing

The Qatar peninsula combines soft and hard terrain, surrounded by the Persian Gulf. The land north of Doha, the capital city, is mostly dust blowing over compact bedrock, where ground excavation requires huge hydraulic jack hammers. The southern region east of Salwa road, the only authorized expressway into Saudi Arabia, is an expedition through enormous slopes of sand.

When driving between continuous sand dunes, the monochromatic landscape looks nearly the same in every direction. Color consistencies camouflage steep cliffs – from a few feet to several hundred meters high – which easily tip unprepared motorists. At times, the only way to penetrate a patch of sand is to build up momentum. Inexperienced drivers who blindly hit the gas are likely to spin out of control and crash. Continue reading

Olympians Share Medals With Troops Overseas

Olympic medalists meet servicemembers overseas

Olympians traveled to Qa­t­ar on April 8 to show servicemembers the first medals earned by the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team after 86 years of Winter Olympic competitions.

Four skiers are placing seven Olympic medals, one gold and six silvers, around the necks of U.S. servicemembers in the Middle East as part of the first Armed Forces Entertainment Heavy Medal Tour. The athletes won the medals at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games in February.

The Heavy Medal Tour included gold and silver medalist Billy Demong, of Vermontville, N.Y.; and silver medalists Todd Lodwick and Johnny Spillane, of Steamboat Springs, and Brett Camerota, of Park City, Utah. Continue reading

Qatari Merchant

Qatari merchant explains life before the oil

Mohammad Saleh Nishwar, 79, has sold merchandise at Souq Waqif in Doha, Qatar, for more than 60 years. His family-owned store, about the size of a parking space, hasn’t budged in almost 100 years. Reconstruction projects have protected its cultural merit, as part of the oldest trading area in Qatar. Across the street, soaring temples of trade, banking, hospitality and governance are rising from the desert sands, fertilized by seemingly endless fossil fuels. Aside from considerable oil reserves, Qatar has proved 900 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, the largest single gas field under the earth’s crust.

Qatar is a contrast of elements: dull, beige land meets sparkling, blue water. The country protrudes into the Persian Gulf from the Arabian Peninsula. Sand and compact bedrock cover 4,416 square miles. Occasional patches of trees and grass endure the dusty surroundings, which soak up only a few inches of rainfall each year. There are no rivers or lakes, only saline swamps from changing oceanic tides. Continue reading

Moroccan Gnawa

Moroccan cultural exhibition in Doha

Moroccan Gnawa

Moroccan Gnawa

Laila and I watched performers demonstrate traditional dance during a Moroccan Cultural Week at the Qatar National Theater in Doha, March 11-12. The two days were a part of a week-long commemoration of Doha, Capital of Arab Culture 2010. The festivities featured Moroccan jewelry, embroidery and henna tattooing exhibitions as well as events related to cinema, plastic art, traditional music and dance.

Inside a gallery, a Moroccan man was cutting clay tiles with perfect precision using something that resembled an iron anvil. We watched him chip away hexagons and every shape fit perfectly together. Mosaic tiles are a native artistic handiwork of Morocco, which had a lingering affect on art in Spain and Italy, their northern European neighbors. Continue reading

Qatar racing

Qatar Drag Racing

Qatar Drag Racing

Khalid bin Hamad Al Thani, Al Anabi Racing owner, revs up his engine during an Arabian Drag Racing League championship, near Doha, Qatar, Feb. 26, 2010. The Pro Extreme vehicle, from Qatar, uses a 1968 Chevy Camaro SS body, equipped with a McAmis chassis. A Brad Anderson 526-cubic inch Supercharged Hemi motor rests under the hood, capable of unleashing almost 4,000 horsepower.

Everyone watch the mechanical power unleash on the race track, which was nestled within the outskirts Doha. Shiekh Khalid, son of the Qatar emir, set a new standard in speed while driving a full-body door car on a 660-foot drag strip January 22, 2010. During that same race, Qatar hosted the first ever side-by-side finish in under 3.7 seconds. Continue reading

Kerala Craftsmen

Kerala craftsmen

Shajilal Pallikuniyil of Kerala, India, is known as “Jalal” in a loft located above a gold shop in Doha, Qatar. Below the thick concrete floor is a glitzy storefront stocked with over $7 million in gold jewelry, peddled by a half dozen Arab salesmen. Customers never know Jalal is upstairs in a secluded area, but requests for handcrafted jewelry depend on it.

The most productive and top performing goldsmiths working in the Middle East are from Kerala, said Mohammad Al Salahi, deputy general manager of Al Salahi Jewelry. The Yemeni chemist lives near his family-owned gold factory in Saudi Arabia, where out of more than 300 goldsmiths, nearly everyone is from India. Salahi frequently travels to Doha to check on his five Qatar showrooms, which exclusively employ Kerala men to complete custom gold requests. Continue reading

Qatar's Old Pearl Diver

Qatar’s old pearl diver

Saad Ismail Al Jassim, 73, is widely recognized as “the old pearl diver” in Qatar. His store attracts a steady stream of intrigued patrons at Souq Waqif, a newly renovated shopping establishment that models ancient Islamic architecture. Surrounding structures resemble a fort constructed of sharp geometric shapes covered in creamy gypsum. Mazes of merchants stockpile handicrafts, fabrics, perfumes, spices and fresh foods. Known for its art and culture, the mall complex is appropriately anchored by Jassim’s shop.

The aging merchant reveals remnants from a lifetime spent conquering the salty waters of the Arabian Gulf. An old stone and rope rest near his doorway. Many years ago, they helped submerge him into the depths of the sea. A crudely created nose clip always sits in his pocket, where its significance in early diving adventures is ready to share. A note of appreciation for his pearl diving stories is hung from a far wall, signed by students at the American School of Doha, Qatar. Continue reading

Oryx Cup

Troops invited to Qatar’s first hydroplane race

DOHA, Qatar — “This invitation represented a huge ‘thank you’ to our service members,” said Larry Oberto, Oberto Sausage Company sports marketing technical director, prior to the final race at the Oryx Cup Union Internationale Motonautique World Championship in Doha, Qatar, Nov. 21.

Oryx Cup

Oryx Cup

As a gesture of gratitude by the U-1 Oh Boy! Oberto racing team, U.S. troops in the Middle East obtained two days of unrestricted access to the world’s fastest powerboats during the American Boat Racing Association’s first competition outside North America.

Qatar Marine Sports Federation brought the 2009 ABRA unlimited hydroplane season finals to the eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula. Immediately after officials announced the newest racing venue, Oberto searched for U.S. military bases in Qatar. His team hoped to host service members at the inaugural boat race in the warm, Gulf waters. Continue reading

Doha Tribeca

Troops attend opening of Doha Tribeca Film Festival

Doha Tribeca

Doha Tribeca

DOHA, Qatar — U.S. service members experienced the first annual Doha Tribeca Film Festival at the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar, Oct. 29. Qatar Museums Authority, in conjunction with the Tribeca Film Festival, is showcasing the most innovative Arabic and international films during a four-day celebration of community, education and culture.

“I’m beside myself right now — I love it that I came here,” said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Priscilla Sanchez, from Paterson, N.J. “I’ve been to the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. It’s a big event and they’re not always easy to get in to.” Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal and Craig Hatkoff founded the Tribeca Film Festival in 2001 to spur economic and cultural revitalization of lower Manhattan after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Part of the festival’s mission statement focuses on reaching out to the international film community. On behalf of the founders, Rosenthal and Hatkoff greeted the Qatar audience to share their appreciation for the newfound partnership.

“Qatar picked the perfect setting,” said Sanchez. “The lighting around the museum is so beautiful.” The Qatar Museum of Islamic Art is a structural masterpiece designed by acclaimed architect I. M. Pei. Situated along the Gulf waters, the museum’s massive and elegant geometric shapes glistened with bright blue lights during the twilight grand opening of the Doha Tribeca Film Festival.

Movie makers and celebrities from around the world walked down a digital red carpet as the evening events began. The Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra performed 100 years of cinema classics from the museum’s spacious waterfront property, as thousands of beach chairs filled with festival supporters. Qatari actors and actresses performed short theatrical episodes based on Arabic traditions.

After video presentations explaining the inception of the Doha Tribeca Film Festival and remarks by officials, a cinematic screen, 24 meters wide and 10 meters tall, advanced for an open-air screening of “Amelia,” by director Mira Nair. The movie illustrates the life of aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart, staring Hilary Swank and Richard Gere. Nair introduced her movie and told the audience: “In cinema, we annihilate distances in culture.”

“Qatar captured the same spirit and atmosphere as New York City,” said Sanchez, while watching fireworks launch from behind the museum after the film ended. “Everyone was watching an American movie, about our history, and they were really into it. Just like the Tribeca Film Festival back home, where we watch foreign movies with great interest.”

“That was amazing — the museum, the palm trees, the lighting,” said Private David Varnum, from Bath, Maine, who was enjoying a brief pass from Iraq by participating in the U.S. Central Command rest and recuperation pass program at Camp As Sayliyah, Qatar. “Everyone was laid back and having a good time. It was history in the making and it’s cool to be a part of that.”