Old and New

Well, I finally made it to Qatar three nights ago. The base is pretty nice. Every day at 1300 Hrs (1:00 PM) they have the sign-ups for the following days excursions. They give people who are close to returning back into theater first crack at them. They even have a sponsor program where people who work on base will take a few people into town but that program is spotty at best.

My first night I had two glasses of wine and one beer with my dinner. I really enjoyed that. On my first full day I got a manicure and a pedicure (my feet really needed it) and I went swimming in the pool. I signed up for the stand by list for the next days restaurant visit. Night before last I ate at the Chilis. They don't serve alcohol there (that is so un-American!!!) so I went back to the club and had my three glasses of wine.

Yesterday I signed up for the sponsor program hoping someone will take me to town. Sunday is supposedly the best day for sponsors to pick people up. Only two sponsors showed! I was twenty seven on the list so by the 1300 Hrs brief I was bumming. I did get a definite seat for tonight’s restaurant visit. I stuck around hoping that I would be able to get on last nights restaurant visit. Seven people didn't bother to show up so I was able to go. Two restaurant visits in a row plus today my group has first dibs on excursion sign-ups! Sweet!!

Last night I had grilled minced mutton, pickled cabbage, yoghurt with cucumber, and tea with mint. Afterwards we all retired to the veranda overlooking the docks (we were right by the water) and ordered houkas. I figure if you are in the Middle East you oughta smoke a houka at least once. This was unlike any tobacco experience I ever had.

The tobacco comes in different fruit flavors like apple, cherry, grape, and strawberry. I ordered a double apple. The attendant brings it out and it is a little over three feet tall. The base is transparent glass and you can see the water and the air pocket. From the base it is a metal pipe with two fittings to attach the tubes and mouthpieces. The metal pipe is topped with the bowl of tobacco. The bowl is covered in foil and the coals are on top of the foil. The bowl is covered with a metal canister.

I took my first draw and I expected to feel a burning sensation but I didn't. It was so smooth! I could only taste the apple; there was no hint of tobacco at all. Pretty soon I started to feel really good. I got a little light headed. After awhile the attendant came by with a ladle full of hot coals. He took off the canister, dumped the old coals into his ladle and gave me fresh ones. I could tell the houka needed more heat because the taste of the smoke got a little rough. Once I got new coals the smoke smoothed out.

Here I am in Qatar, full from a pretty good meal, smoking a houka by the water, looking at the skyline of the city, and right on the nose at 2000 Hrs (8:00 PM) I hear the call to prayers.

I can't even begin to explain how weird that felt. When I was in Tarin Kowt I sometimes performed officer of the watch duties. I would make my initial rounds and if I was in the right tower at the right time I could hear the call to prayer coming from Tarin Kowt. Pretty much most activity would stop during prayer time. When I heard the call to prayers in Qatar the traffic didn't stop and the attendants kept working. I half expected to see the traffic to stop and everyone jump out with their prayer rugs and start praying. That did not happen.

I guess the people of Qatar are trying to make the best of living in the twenty first century and still maintaining some semblance of their traditions. I was smoking a houka, an old tradition in the Middle East but the houka itself was of a new and modern design. The city I was observing is taking the time and effort to maintain the old tradition of calling to prayer but on the surface looked like any vibrant coastal city in the United States with a new and modern skyline. Last night I saw and felt just a little of how many people in the Middle East are trying to blend the old and new. I just hope they can make sense of it all.

CPT NightHawk


Post a Comment

<< Home