Saturday, February 27, 2016

Mid-East Blog # 2

February 26, 2016
Doha, Qatar

A Tauck agent greeted us at the airport "Arrival" door and escorted us to a very special  looking hotel - Sharq Village Ritz Carlton. Out of no where, we came to what looked like an Arabian or even a crusader era-looking fort that we might have discovered years ago while riding camels across a desert.  

A hotel host greeted us with dates and traditional coffee (more like a tea) with spices tasting like cardamom and star anise.  The exotic scent and flavor was quite refreshing - especially after a 16-hour flight.  

The early evening breeze was refreshing. Palm tree fronds swayed, large fountains gurgled and ethnic music in the background quickly reinforced the fact that we were in a totally different country.

After checking in, we were escorted to our villa by a butler - a young girl from Macedonia, who later gave us a walking tour of the grounds. The hotel property has a beach front looking out at a bay, a harbor in the distance and the Doha cityscape. At nighttime, the dramatically lit buildings was an extraordinary sight.

Being friendly with reception often helps in getting a nice room and a good location. Our "home" for almost a week was quite large.

The shiny marble floors, ornate furniture and a great patio/garden area would be very inviting to have our morning coffee and to listen to, as we would soon find out,  the morning cacophony of bird calls - screeching, hooting, squawking, chirping, peeping as well as calling out melodic melodies.

Jerry Is Enjoying Fresh Brewed Coffee

Atrium Outside Our Villa's Front Door

The hotel, with all of the floral and cactus vegetation, seems like it is situated in an oasis and is a safe haven for bird life.

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The bed is actually over sized. We figured out why...

Supposedly, Moslem men can have up to four wives unless, of course, the man is a king or prince. Then, perhaps, there might be a harem situated somewhere in a palace.  In any event, our bed can easily handle a husband and three wives side by side and possibly, a smaller wife at the foot of the bed. We guess this works if the hotel guest is a Moslem man.

We turned the TV on to check out examples of local programming:

Prince Reviewing Troops

Religious Holiday - Men Praying At Mecca
We Later Found Out That Showing Mecca On TV Brings Moslem Viewers Emotionally And Spiritually Closer To Islam

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Sleeping the first night was a little difficult. Our bio-rhythms were off. Rather than push, we decided to relax. Besides, the Tauck tour would not start for a few days.

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Breakfast was expansive and representative of what the locals might eat on a regular basis. Rich, thick yogurts with honey, a variety of salads, humus, different types of olives and pickles, assorted meats (such as chopped lamb liver), eggplant concoctions and many fruits and vegetables complemented the western style food such as omelets, french toast and pancakes.

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The hotel property has a variety of large pools and plenty of (very) attentive staff to help us should we need anything. 

A "Royal" (there are many) is staying in one of the compounds that comes with its own large pool, many rooms and support staff. At this point, he and his family have been residing at the hotel for four months as his palace is being renovated.

Most of the music played throughout the property is "ethnic" and quite simple: There is usually some sort of wooden flute playing along with a drum and, perhaps, some sort of string instrument. There isn't so much of a melody; but, rather repeating beats. Perhaps, years ago, local people may have danced to these simple, repetitive beats.

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There are two airports - the Hamad International and a military base. For most of the early mornings, fighter jets are either practicing maneuvers or they were on - a mission. The local newspaper mentioned that the Qatar government is quietly supporting USA, UK and France campaigns against ISIS while also secretly financing some of the extremist groups.

Perhaps, playing both sides is a good thing. Apparently, what the Qatar government is doing works as it is trying to maintain a peaceful existence in this hotbed area. FYI - We read that the locals are enthusiastic about Qatar being just been recognized as the 70th out of 100 safest cities in the area. (Is being # 70 a good thing? Wouldn't be better if it was ranked within the top 10?)

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 After a day of relaxing and getting our batteries recharged, we decided to venture out to the city center and check out the country's largest mall.

 We were going to search for an abaya store.

 City Center's Huge, Multi-Level Mall

Some of our readers may think we're "a little nuts." Having seen many different styles of abayas during our many stays in Malaysia, we were curious about how a woman selects her abaya wardrobe.

Success! We found such a store in the mall.

Fancy Cuffs - Very Expensive!

Fancy (Expensive) Party Gowns Worn Under Abaya

The Unveiling! - Abayas Removed After Party Arrival

Want To Buy A Scarf For Everyday?

Guess Who?

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Throughout the day, we hear loud speakers blaring away - calling people to prayer. The prayer announcement actually starts out as if there is a beginning of an air raid siren. There is that drown sound that builds up into a crescendo and continues for about five to ten minutes. This "sound" has that same sort of audible feeling.

Hurry Up! Stop Eating! It's Time To Pray!

Start Them At A Young Age!

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The cityscape from our hotel looked amazing.  

We had no idea how fantastic it was until we got closer to the buildings. 

Some of these edifices are architectural wonders. At this point, Singapore and Shanghai are neck and neck with Qatar as to which city has the # 1 "WOW" factor.

Great Looking Buildings!

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Many boats - sort of looking like Chinese junks, are all lit up at night with pretty neon lights. Quite a sight!

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From our lounging location at one of the hotel's pool, we have a great vantage point to see all of the planes taking off from Qatar's airport. Planes do frequently take off. However, the quantity of planes taking off from Qatar is no where near what flies in and out of Dubai. Jerry has an "App" that looks at all of the planes in the skies. It's amazing to see(on his cell phone) the steady stream of planes taking off from Dubai as well as over the entire European/Mid-East skies.

Helicopters regularly fly over the hotel and head to the city center. We thought that tourists were getting a "birds-eye tour" of the area. This is not the case. Businessmen actually fly into Qatar on private jets and then take a helicopter to a meeting in town. Why drive for 30 minutes when you can fly in five? Not too shabby!

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We noticed that some Moslem women tend to put on too much perfume.

 Moslem men smoke.

Many Moslem families come to this hotel for some R&R - many of which come with nannies. If there is more than one child, each child could have its own nanny. Often, we will see quite a procession of people: the parents and then there are the  caretakers following behind holding a child's hand or pushing a stroller.

Moslem mothers (and nannies) seem to be less attentive to their children as compared to American mothers. The nannies do not engage with the children; rather, the parents just ensure that the nannies gets their charge to the right place on time. In fact, we have seen small children get too close to a pool's edge. Why are we freaking out? It's not our responsibility! 

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We have two butlers - one that supports our villa complex which has about 15 rooms. Then, there is our Macedonia "Vicke" who has befriended us. She wrapped some towels into sort of a sharpie dog-looking thing and also brought in some roses to help decorate the place.

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On our way back to our room one evening, we noticed that room service was delivering fruit plates and some other amenities to some of the guests. We learned that this food was ordered for a "romantic evening." Jerry quickly proclaimed to the room service person:

"We're romantic!"

Thirty minutes later our doorbell rang and an entourage of men brought into our room a bouquet of roses, a large bag of rose pestles to sprinkle on the bed and...

two glasses of watermelon juice and two highly choleric deserts that were - Yummy!

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We are quickly learning that there are very few real Qatari (or whatever they are called) and of those, many actually have passports from other countries. The total Qatari population may be about 270,000 people. However, there are "millions" of immigrants who are here to work.

For instance, there are 500,000 Nepalese. We discovered that most Qatari do not work. Their paid a stipend by the government. They play at night - they sleep during the day. What a life!  Also, this is supposed to be the most expensive city in the world to live.

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 As ambassadors of "goodwill," we had a lengthy and  insightful conversation with the hotel's concierge (A young woman) who happened to be Iranian.  We were able to encourage her to tell us her life's (very) interesting story.

Her name is Yeganeh Seifi. She started out in Iran's hotel management program. There was an opportunity to expand her training in Malaysia. At the last moment, an opportunity surfaced with the opening of an Iranian restaurant in this hotel. Since it was close to her home country, and there was an opportunity for upward mobility, she thought that this would be a better choice.

There was a nasty break-up with her boy friend. At 38, she's  probably lonely. She feels that there is hope for the Iranian people with the lifting of the embargos. However, there has been a significant deterioration of  Iran's infrastructure over the last four years. Iranian people are primarily Zoroastrian. She finds it depressing to see the Moslem leadership show a distain for Persian culture and historical edifices which are being torn apart.

She didn't want to talk too openly about the Qatar government. Immigrants are paid lowly wages ($200-$300/month) and most do not have medical insurance. Still, there are jobs here where there would be no jobs in their home country. The "worker-bees" are "stuck" with two-year contracts.

Yeganeh Modeling at The Hotel

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