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.”

Tan Stryker

Stryker gets a tan

Jagadish Hajam, an auto body repairman and painter from Nepal, applies a coat of Tan 686A on the wheels of a Stryker armored combat vehicle Oct. 3, 2009, inside a booth at Camp As Sayliyah, Qatar. The infantry carrier vehicle was the first vehicle to adopt the new desert tan color in Southwest Asia, in preparation for a planned phase out of the Stryker’s current deep green color.

The vehicle that had been restored after deterioration during enemy engagement in Iraq. Produced by General Dynamics Land Systems, the eight-wheeled armored combat vehicles have been painted a foliage green color since their combat debut in 2003, supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom. Talks about changing the color had been ongoing since 2004. Tan 686A is a paint meant for desert camouflage. It’s the same solid color covering most military equipment throughout Southwest Asia, where encountering dust storms and sand dunes are common. On Strykers, dust collects on the the hull’s abrasive texture and helps lighten its color. The Army later rescinded on the idea of transitioning the vehicle to desert tan. Continue reading

Lebanese Dancer

Troops attend Ramadan suhur celebration in Qatar

DOHA, Qatar — The W Doha hotel “Great Room” was illuminated by splashes of blue lighting along the exterior walls, creating a cool outdoor evening ambience. Comfortable booth seating areas were decorated with traditional Arabic lanterns. Waiters routinely offered fresh teas and shisha pipes. Nine different food corners supply various French, Italian, Japanese, Iranian and Arabic delicacies. A Lebanese band provides live entertainment by singing classic Arabic songs.

U.S. troops experienced an evening submerged in Arabic music, singing and dancing during a Ramadan banquet at the W Doha hotel, Qatar, Aug. 25. Fifteen service members attended the event, seven are enjoying a four-day respite from military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, by participating in the U.S. Central Command rest and recuperation pass program at Camp As Sayliyah. Continue reading

400 Muslims

Qatar general invites troops to fast-breaking meal

DOHA, Qatar — Maj. Gen. Hamad bin Ali Al Attiyah, Qatar military chief of staff, invited 25 U.S. military officers stationed in Qatar to an evening fast-breaking meal during Ramadan, Aug. 25. Over 400 Muslims were in attendance; mainly members of the Qatari military. Abdulla Bin Nasser Bin Khalifa Al Thani, Qatar minister of state for internal affairs, was the most senior Qatari official in attendance.

“We are honored to share in this special religious occasion,” said Col. Maxine C. Girard, U.S. Army Central Area Support Group Qatar commander, upon arriving at the general’s falcon sanctuary, where a large, warmly lit tent contained 50 tables with a dozen food servers standing by.

Throughout the month of Ramadan, Muslims send special invitations to share prayers and meals with others, in an attempt to receive extra blessings from God. Sharing wealth and respecting others are two time-honored practices during Islam’s holiest month.

Soon after hundreds of brief introductions, sunset was announced over a loud speaker system. Without delay, each Muslim was offered dates, milk, water and tea — a leisurely end to a day-long fast. “Iftar,” is in Arabic word referring to the light meal Muslims eat after sunset.

After terminating their fast, the worshippers lined up in a massive formation. Shoes removed, each Muslim stooped down in submission to God while facing Mecca. Three cycles of worship were carried out as a devoted community. “Salat el maghreb” is the fourth of five daily prayers in Islam; it’s observed right after sunset.

After prayer, everyone migrated inside the tent. Along the way, they resumed embracing each other while bestowing hopes for peace and happiness. Inside, food consistent with Gulf-Arab traditions filled each table top: lamb, hummus, bread, rice and salad. Chefs cut and served baby camel meat as requested.

“The hospitality here is fantastic,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Peter Butts, from Dallas, Texas, who had previously deployed once to Kuwait and twice to Iraq. “This was a special event that gave us a unique opportunity to interact with our host nation military.”

Caribou Coffee in Qatar

Qatar got a taste of Minnesota recently. Caribou Coffee opened earlier this year. The atmosphere is consistent with the warm cabin-like Midwest atmosphere and it even affords free wireless Internet. Sitting in the dining room almost makes me feel like I’m in Minnesota… well, save for the Filipino girl taking orders and the Sri Lankan gentleman brewing up “the best cup of coffee in the world”… oh, and the Arabic translations for names and Qatari Riyal prices on the large overhead menu. Close enough! Two locations just opened and the employees are quick to tell people that it’s a Minnesota-based company. The Midwest scores in the Middle East!

This is the translated menu, as it appeared soon after the coffee shop opened in Qatar:

Caribou Coffee in Qatar

Caribou Coffee in Qatar