I am staring up a massive sand dune in Qatar, the driver in the Land Cruiser in front of me charges up the dune as if it is not even there. He stops at the top, turns around and frantically waves his arms at me signaling me to give it stick and tackle this dune.
I back the Jeep up a bit, take a deep breath, put it in gear, drop the clutch and floor it! The Jeep bucks and weaves a bit in the steep soft sand, but the sheer power and ability of the Jeep makes it easy to reach the top. I am very relieved! The Qatari Land Cruiser driver walks over to me with a massive smile, grabs my shoulder through the open window and says: “My friend, you drive very nice!” I laugh back and say: “Nasser, after you went up, I had no choice but to follow”. I was talking to Olympic Shooting medalist and two-time Dakar Rally winner, Nasser Al-Attiyah! I had just spent a wonderful day with him at his winter camp in the Qatari desert. What a cool dude! 12 months earlier I landed in Qatar, so let us back track a bit.
Sitting at the departure gate at OR Tambo, looking out over the Emirates Airbus A380, I was not sure if I am doing the right thing. I had just said good-bye to the people I love and I was not sure when I would see them again. I had no idea what awaited for me in Doha. I was nervous, but also pretty excited! This would only be my 2nd international flight after London in 2010. But of course we generally faff and worry over stupid things, and the flight to Dubai went smooth, where I connected for the short flight to Doha. I arrived in my hotel room at 05:00 in the morning and at 08:00 I was at work. It was a rough start to my life in the Middle East!
Warning! This post has A LOT of photographs! I had over 3,000 photos that I took during my time in the Middle East, and selecting the few to share with you guys on this blog post was a very difficult task! So rather enjoy the pics as the story is a bit crappy! Covering a 15 month stay in one blog post is harder than I thought! Eventually I decided that my little point and shoot camera is not really up to the task and that if I want to improve my photography skills I need some better kit. So I splurged on a Nikon DSLR. So the pics in this blog post is a mix between my little Canon point and shoot and the Nikon and even some cell phone snaps!
For those of you that is not sure where Qatar is……………..well here it is!
After my first week in Doha, it took me some adjusting to get to grips with a Sunday to Thursday work-week. But when Friday arrived we took a boat cruise into the Doha Bay. It was a perfect winter’s day and we could not have asked for better weather. I was a very happy camper! Little did I know that this would be the first of many such boat trips and that every one would be great fun out in the bay!
Doha is truly a beautiful city, that is, when you stay close to the main “Corniche” area of Doha. From here you can see the skyline over the bay and at night it is truly spectacular. I spent many evening hours walking here after work. The rest of the city is a bit of a shit hole with crazy drivers, very heavy traffic, and endless road works. Qatar is on a massive infrastructure drive to catch up to Dubai and Abu Dhabi and to get ready for the 2020 Soccer World Cup.
Speaking of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, I was fortunate to visit these two cities in the UAE quite a few times during my stay in Qatar. I really loved the time spent in Dubai. It is such a westernized city and I think it would be a really good place to live. It is so much more developed than Doha.
Back in Qatar one of the highlights that kept us sane in this crazy country was a place called “The Inland Sea”. This huge lagoon type thing sits at the southern end of Qatar. Qatar borders only one other country, Saudi Arabia, and you can pretty much swim across to Saudi from Qatar at some places! Not that we ever did this of course……..
Here in the high sand dunes anything goes, and it is as if you are a world away. We had a lot of fun swimming, drinking, camping, fishing and just having fun on weekends. Qatar is a pretty strict Muslim country and respect is always shown to the local Qatari’s. That is why we head out deep into the desert, away from anyone else.
It is here in the Inland Sea that I had the privilege of spending an entire day in the company of Nasser Al-Attiyah. I had met him at the Qatar International Rally where we had a good chat. He then invited me to visit him in his desert camp. I was blown away by his friendliness and his great hospitality. We spent the day with him and his family, drinking sweet Arab tea, eating the fish we caught, and chatting about the Dakar Rally. It was so much fun listening to a Dakar winner and to hear his views on the race, the other competitors and what it takes to compete (and win) the most EPIC Motorsport race in the world. I rate this day as my best day in all my time in Qatar!
Staying in Qatar gives you access to some great sporting events. I was blown away at how cheap it was and at the things you can have access to! I saw the following sporting events live!
- Moto GP
- Saw all the races and riders in all classes for all practice days and sessions, qualifying and all three races on race day
- ATP Tennis World Tour (Mens)
- Saw Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal
- ATP Tennis World Tour (Womans)
- Saw Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams
- FIM Qatar International Rally
- I met Nasser Al Attiya
- Scuderia Ferrarri Street Racing in Doha
- Watched Fernando Alonso race his F1 car through the streets
- IAAF Golden League Athletics
- Saw David Rudisha run a magical 800m race and saw my first sub 10sec 100m race in real life with Asafa Powel winning
- UCI Tour of Qatar Cycling
- Watched Mark Cavendish, Peter Sagan, Chris Froome etc battle it out!
- Qatar International Motor Show
- Never seen so many Aston Martins, Lambo’s, Ferrarris, Bugatti Veirons, Maclarens in one place, ever!
- Qatar Masters Golf on the European Tour
- Saw Sergio Garcia, Colin Montgomerie, Lee Westwood, Henrik Stenson and a bunch of others play golf
One of the things I got asked most is how you adapt to a culture so radically different from your own. Well it is doable if you abide by one word…. RESPECT. I admit is not always easy as life and work can be incredibly frustrating at times (most times), but at the end of the day you need to adapt and try to fit in. You are never going to change the way they do things, you need to change your views and expectations. I did not find this all that hard to do in the Middle East. You will learn from a later blog that I eventually moved to Zambia, and found the adjustment to Zambia much harder (more frustrating I guess) than Qatar!
As Qatar is such a melting pot of different cultures and nationalities living and working together (out of 1,800,000 odd people, only 300,000 odd are Qatari) you interact with people from all over the world. This is a great thing to teach tolerance, but you can also very clearly see “general trends” for every nationality / culture.
Another great thing about living in the Middle East is that you are in a hub that makes travelling so much easier than trying to travel from South Africa (or Australia / New Zealand for that matter) at the arse end of the world! In the blogs that will follow I am going to cover some of the trips I managed to do from Qatar. I have seen some great things, and it planted the seeds to travel and explore more!
I hope you enjoyed reading a bit of my life in the Middle East. This was just a short overview as it will be impossible to cover every aspect of life in the Middle East. Please leave a comment if you would like any more information or if you have any questions.