Sunday, December 21, 2008

Camping and Such

I really have to start posting more than once a week. Here are some of the things that have been floating around in the old noggin as of late.

This week has been fairly eventful. I have become somewhat of an item with the girl, Inna, I have been interested in here. We started hanging out pretty consistently a week or two ago and I like her. She is smart, cute, independent and outspoken.


This weekend was another camping trip, and it was organized by one of our Finnish friends. She, Eeva, had two of her Finnish friends coming into town so she wanted to show them a good time. Camping in the Inland Sea is arguably the coolest thing to do while in Qatar because getting there is an adventure, the scenery is gorgeous, and alcohol is usually plentiful on such a trip. The problem with this time was that it’s now cold in Qatar. Yes it can get cold here. I was inclined not to go, but having one of the few vehicles capable of making the trip, I was persuaded to come along. Besides last time it was a good time, up until the end (see Proper Smashed post).

So Friday comes along and we load up the cars and head out into the desert. Before all of this we had made it very clear that we wanted to take the easy way to the inland sea. Because last time the hard way added a couple of hours and gray hairs to the trip, quite unnecessarily. Despite this, we ended up taking the hard way. Why? Because the guy with the GPS system led us that way, and no one new any better to know he was leading us astray. So the trip became quite the adventure. Complete with ravine crossings, near head on collisions, sand traps, and one instance of a car almost flipping over into the sea. But we eventually got there, more or less in one piece. The visiting Finns in my car handled the ride impressively well; they were even polite enough to ask “Is it OK if we scream?” It was OK and they did. I give 60% of our relative ease in the journey to my awesome 4x4 ‘Jerry the Jeep’ (credit Inna for the name), and 40% to my awesome driving abilities.

After searching for a campsite, we settle down and get unpacked. The second the tents were unpacked the drinks were flowing. To be honest, I suspect most were drinking to stay warm just as much as they were intending to get drink. By sunset (which was beautiful) the crew was feeling good and a fire was started. Let me vent my anger at some of the stupidity that was part of this trip: you don’t burn half your wood before the sun goes down; you don’t cook all your food in tin foil bags when you have no way to know if its done; and you don’t put the group in unnecessary danger because you want to have fun. Ok, now that I am done with that, I can get back to the story.

We cook, rather unsuccessfully, and not long afterwards it starts to get cold. To me, it was cold when the sun was up, but with the sun good and set, it was downright frigid. From a combination of Inna drinking a little too much and me being cold, we decided to call it a night long before anyone else. We had set up a tent, but Inna insisted on sleeping in the Jeep. That was the smartest idea ever. Compared to the tents, the Jeep was a sauna. With the blankets, it was actually warm. We were fairly well rested when we got up in the morning, and that’s when we were told all about the madness of the other night.

Before I went to sleep the group had met some Qatari’s who were also out camping and had invited them for a few drinks and food. Despite the law and culture, in the desert, anything seems to go. So around the time I retired, two or three of them were just getting comfortable. Evidently after Inna and I left, another group of Qatari’s showed up and joined the party. They drank, they smoked (evidently they somehow had pot), and they proceeded to hit on all the women, particularly the Finnish girls. It turns out they thought all the women with in group were prostitutes, and that all the guys had rented them for the camping trip. You would think this is an easily clarified point but it turned into a two hour ordeal. The Qatari’s told one of our girls that ‘here in Qatar, we F*** for free’, which of course was doubly insulting having not even offered to pay her imaginary prostitute fee. Soon the guys decided to put an end to this, half intent on beating ass while the other half for peace talks, and the girls went to the tents to sleep/hide. Supposedly for the next 30 to 60 minutes the guys protected the tents while the Qataris tried to force their way into them. There was some shoving, some words, and much confusion. Meanwhile I am nicely sleep in my Jeep. Eventually they went home, but not before asking some of the guys ‘did they want to kiss’.

Not a very good showing for the Qatari’s, but they did have one good Samaritan. Someone managed to get enough phone signal to call a Qatari friend, and he drove all the way to our campsite to help us deal with the situation. It was late and it was not an easy drive, so that was very nice of him.

We insisted on taking the easy way home this time, and that worked out nicely. I got back to my place in the afternoon and pretty much slept the rest of the day.


In other news… I leave for Ethiopia on Monday. I am looking forward to that. I am meeting up with my mom and we are going to travel all around the country. I will surely have a lot to write about on my return.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Big Idea

I have a great idea. So in my ideologue, I keep a number of ideas (obviously). One of which has been titled “Jon and his new world”. Now I have batted this idea around for a long time, whether in the form of a book, a blog, or a thought exercise between friends. But it all centers around the formation of a society. Jon, or in some other versions, Ender, is given the ability to shape the world to his liking. Almost like a science experiment. He can try new ideas, see what works, rewind when things fail, create fictional characters etc. etc. This thought exercise would stretch the mind into thinking of things a different way, or into asking the question ‘how can we best govern the world?’ To all you people who think this is playing God, or being egotistical, I argue that it is no more playing God than going to the polls or running for your PTA board. We all have a right to voice our opinion of how society should be run, and I constantly look for an outlet to voice my opinion. Today I have reached a new evolution of this idea.

What I imagine is a tree. Like a tree, it will have a starting point and it will branch. Except instead of wood splitting, an idea will split. Instead of leaves, a microcosm of likeminded individuals would form. How would this work. Let me explain.

We start with a premise, for example: Jon is a thoughtful fellow who is discontent with the world. God, feeling merciful, decides to ease Jon’s maladies by giving him the power to change things. Jon is given a ‘blank template’ of a small town and is asked to rule them as he sees fit.

Now the premise is important, and will have to be given much thought, because all further choices are based on the conditions and rules of the premise.

Well from time zero (T0), Jon can make a decision. Should the people have a government or should they be allowed to reign free. A branch in the tree is born. One branch is government, the other is free reign. Because Jon likes government he continues down that branch. Should the government be centralized, localized, a hybrid, capitalism, socialism, communism, a mix. Branches, branches, branches.

This is about the time where I give up on this idea because the branches are infinite and the level of detail is inexhaustible, and well I have better things to do with my time than just write out the extrapolations and consequences of each decision.

That is until today when I have had my new idea. Why not use the web as a tool to spread this task amongst humanity, guaranteeing exposure to all variations of humanity and bias. So beginning with the premise, people will submit their ideas creating branches. To keep the branches from fragmenting too quickly the ideas will be pruned, just like a live tree or bush. Ideas that have been exhausted or proven unsustainable will be dropped to the background. Likewise, similar ideas will be bound together to ensure that the ideas are focused.

What is needed to make this idea work? Logistically you need a domain, a programmer, and an administrator. The logistics would be the easy part, creating the fertile ground for this tree is the tough part. How do you create the conditions for the tree to prosper? As stated before, the premise must be carefully chosen. If you start off with a small population how do you simulate population growth? How do you replicate competition amongst communities? Largely the answer to these questions will be self-regulation (like wikipedia) and popular-by-logic tactics. What I mean by the latter term: if someone comes up with an idea like ‘there should be no such things as guns’, someone would create a branch saying ‘then whoever makes/finds a gun will dominate’. The latter idea making more sense (my opinion) would be voted for most often and would become less likely to be pruned.

The fun part about this would be the versatility of the application. One could go as deep into their own viewpoints as they want. Lets say I want to go through the tree trunk of tribalism, to the branch of elder-rule, to the twig of male-female equality, to the leaf which could be a story telling of every day life in the tribal-elder ruled-sex equal world of Makmanuland.

The strong branches will most likely mimic examples of the real world, but maybe that will only last at first. The wild-branches will be where the fun is. Thinking of new ways that people can live. If you can think it, you can do it. That’s the spirit.


As I wrote my To Do List for the day, I noticed yet again something interesting about my handwriting. The older I get, the more my handwriting resembles that of my fathers. I find this to be most fascinating. As a kid, my handwriting did not resemble much of anything, let alone letters or numbers, but the years have improved my scripts appearance. But why does it mimic my father’s? I can see how mannerisms are copied from parents to children. The child is constantly exposed to the personality and character traits of the parent, and is bound to be influenced by that. Also, physiologically, we might be predisposed to certain behaviors (aka It’s in the blood). But handwriting, what can account for that. Unlike the conscious exposure to personality, my father’s handwriting was neither important nor frequently exposed to me as a child. My mother’s handwriting was far more prevalent in the household but still in the background.

I have concluded that this phenomena is caused by some subconscious will or, more exciting, that my body is tuned to produce handwriting of a certain type. Maybe no one else finds this cool, but it is my thought for the day.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

First Vacation

Sorry folks for not updating my blog as often as I should, but I will try and fix that in the New Year. As a matter of fact, you fellow bloggers are being awfully silent these days as well, what’s your excuse? Maybe we can all stand to push out a little more content.

I have been sick lately. The cold that has been going around Qatar with the change in weather landed in my lap, and I decided it could stay for a while. I think it is going through its death throes though, because my nose is leaking like a faucet (and sneezing makes it more like a water gun). My logic says a runny nose means the germs are leaving your body. Other than that, I went on a boring vacation to Oman. The place was beautiful and has potential, we just did not maximize it. Oman is best experienced when the weather is warm and you can head into the desert and mountains, and live off the land for a few days. It has amazing geology, mountains, gorges, underground caves and springs, all of which could keep a group occupied for many days. If your not the adventurous type, try checking into the Shan-gri La Hotel and Resort and enjoy your own private cove. The resort has services from scuba diving to dolphin watching to private tennis lessons. With the right group or with a special someone, it could make for a wonderful vacation. How not to spend a vacation in Muscat is as follows:

- Do NOT allow three days to tour a city that takes at most one day to see.
- Do NOT only stay in that one city when you can explore the surrounding area fairly easily.
- Do NOT visit a Muslim country during Eid. It is like their Christmas, so shops, museums, restaurants are all going to be closed.
- Do NOT go with your friend and his parents, because although they are wonderful people, parents and kids are usually just into different things,

Now don’t get me wrong, I am glad I went on the trip. After all, I was able to get out of Doha, meet some new people, and learned some things about a new culture. But that does not change the fact that the trip was boring and that it could have been done better. It was the place though that sunk the trip, not the people.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Hacedray Cmon pt. 2

I don't know if any of you remember the blog I wrote about the stalker lady codenamed Hacedray. But I just received another email from her...

Hello Anthony, how are you and how is living in Texas. I always pray that
you're doing great and successful.

Anthony could you please give me a call? My best friend company relocated
her to Texas approximately 2 weeks ago, as you can imagine I'm sick about
it. She's more like my little sister and she's much to far away from her
family. She's in a beautiful neighborhood with a beautiful home. I was
hoping you can let her know there's a fellow Michiganian near.

Hey did you get engaged yet or even married :-)? Please call I would love
to hear from you. My cell is 313.207.6997.

Keith an I are doing well. He's no longer with the State but is
president/ceo of Detroit based company Next Energy in the Wayne State
University area. I will be joining him as his energy liaison in a couple of

Take care, my friend.

I plan on writing her back telling her I am in Doha. Maybe that will end this very odd string of correspondence.

Weekend Update

Another day another dollar. Back at work and not quite sure why. Christmas season is approaching and this is a holy holiday week on the Muslim calendar (Eid El Adha: The celebration after the Mecca journey I think) so it is like me and two other guys in the office. I thought I was unproductive at times before, well this is twice as bad.

More time to write I guess. This weekend was another good one. I went to a Chingy concert which was, as you would expect, pretty terrible. I did have a good time, but I recognize that the only reason I would ever pay to see Chingy is if I am stuck in a place where a hip-hop concert comes along once in blue moon. It WAS advertised in the monthly Qatar Happenings magazine that Sean Paul was coming to town, so I was getting super excited about that. So I called the number the magazine listed in order to get more details, and the guy who picked up told me that he was throwing a Sean Paul party, but that Sean Paul was not going to be there. He went on to explain that he was bringing Sean Paul’s DJ to town, not Sean Paul himself. After asking why it was advertised in the magazine (and this is the official “whats going on in Qatar this month” magazine) as a Sean Paul performance, he claimed that they made that up on their own without consulting with him. Just because its in writing, does not mean its true. So Chingy was the winner by default. While I was not that excited for Chingy, they did have a pretty good DJ at the party, and some of the supporting acts were entertaining. Plus the whole event took place outside on a beach, so that was cool. Not so cool for the people not out partying, evidently the concert was so loud that it kept up everyone with a house close to the water.

The rest of the weekend was pretty relaxing. I was treated to dinner by a nice lady, and celebrated the closing of one of the favorite bars in Doha, Rydges. The hotel that the bar is in is being destroyed, despite being only five years old. The reason? From the top of the hotel, you can see into the Emir’s palace compound. So it’s both an invasion of his privacy and a security threat. Now the palace is not new, so I am not entirely sure why they did not think about this before letting the owners build the hotel. Well lets hope the owners were compensated for this loss of property.

Well I am out of here, since I just got an email saying we can leave at noon today. Don’t have to tell me twice. I will be heading to Muscat, Oman for the next three days, so I am looking forward to that. Will post pics on the Facebook when I return. Later.

Almost forgot, I am now the proud owner of a new car! My 2008 Jeep Wrangler (4-door) is in my possession and I am ready to tackle the desert.

Monday, December 01, 2008

A Tale of Two Anthony’s

Qatar is a study of contrasts. This was brought to my attention most recently by an acquaintance I work with.

Not too long ago, all of ExxonMobil in Qatar consolidated their satellite offices into one location. This new building is a marked improvement from most everyone’s previous location, but moving is never without its hiccups and irritations. In this case, we were plagued by constant construction, maze-like entrances, haphazard parking, and long elevator waits, but the thing that seemed to rattle people the most were the security checks. These were not turnstiles or card readers, but actual people whose sole responsibility was to ensure that you had the right kind of badge.

One such badge reader would have been sufficient, but not for ExxonMobil. We decided it necessary to have card readers hiding behind doorways, waiting for you when you come out of elevators, cutting you off before you even enter the building. It almost seemed that there were more card readers than employees. This constant harassment for badge verification caused migraines to all, but it did produce some good in my case.

After a long day of dealing with these badgers, I found myself standing in the elevator lobby waiting to go home. “Can I see your badge,” I hear almost as background noise, and I turn my badge in that direction. To my surprise, the badger was not asking for reasons of security, but because of curiosity. His name was Anthony as well. The badgers are 99% from India, Nepal, or Sri Lanka, and typically do not have Western names, so to have a common name was a commonality enough to break the ice that had unknowingly formed between us. I discovered that Anthony was from Sri Lanka, that he worked in Saudi Arabia, then at a US base in Bahrain, before settling here in Qatar. We talked about my life in the States, and how, despite appearances I have never called Africa my home. Over the next couple of weeks we would catch up whenever his rotation caused us to cross paths.

Last night was a bit different than usual however. As I was leaving the building, I caught his eye and he seemed a little more excited than usual to see me. After our small talk, he asked me what time I was coming to work tomorrow morning. A little suspect of the question, I asked him why he wanted to know. He said that he wanted me to talk with his sister, in person or on the phone I could not tell, but strange nonetheless. When I asked him why he wanted me to talk with his family, his faced turned very solemn and he proceeded to tell me a story. He told me about his mom who has turned very ill and who is in intensive care, and how his sisters are so busy looking after her and the children that things have gotten pretty bad at home. I listened, but with an increasing sense of dread. As the story went on, I could take the suspense no longer, and I interrupted him with the question that danced unsaid between his lips “how much?” After explaining his situation one or two more times without answering my question, I asked him again. This time he paused and said 1000 Riyals.

Seeing my hesitancy, he went on to explain that he does not want me to give him the money, he wants me to loan him the money. It would take him two months time to pay me back he went on, but the money now would allow him to pay his mothers hospital bills. He assured me this would be a one time thing, because sadly, his mother was ill to the point that she will not be able to stay alive much longer even with the hospital’s help. I told him that I would think about it overnight, and that 1000 Riyals was no small sum. He made me promise that we keep this secret, and we parted.

As I walked away, I thought that he knows that fact more than I do. I make more than what he requested in a day, whereas it would take him a month to do the same. More than sympathy I felt irritation, because he had just taken our pseudo friendship and turned it on its head. As much as I would like to compare it to the Seinfeld where Jerry is asked by a recent acquaintance to help him move… the move is territory of good friends and families, an acquaintance can’t break protocol; this was clearly different. This was more than just an outsized request from someone I barely know, it was an exposure of the lines that separated my world from his. I, and westerners like me, have the power to drastically affect the lives of people like him. Whether he used that money to help his mother or spent it on booze and prostitutes, what is ‘small change’ to me can change his lifestyle.

In the few seconds it took for my irritation to come and go, I had come to my answer. I would not give him the 1000 Riyals, or even a 100 Riyals for that matter. Giving money would set precedence… I could use the cash myself… I did not particularly believe his story… nor did I believe I would ever see that money again… all these were reasons, but none were the deciding factor. I simply did not feel it was my responsibility. For every emotional pull saying “its not that much money” or “you could possibly bring a family happiness” there was a rational cynicism saying “he thinks he’s got you hustled” or “this is going to happen once a week so you better get used to it”. But like I said, I did not feel it was my responsibility to change this man’s life.

The next morning I nervously approached the building, fearing the awkward encounter. But he was nowhere to be seen. I thought I was clear, but not long after getting settled in my office, Anthony showed up at my doorway. It was surprisingly easy for me to tell him no, not nearly the anxiety or guilt I expected. I simply shook my head while telling him I was not going to be able to help. He smiled and nodded, and backed out of the office as silently as he had come. I am not even sure that he got to hear my closing argument of “we could both get in a lot of trouble if someone found out.” Which, although true, was an irrelevant factor in my decision. Once alone again, I thought of the words that he did hear, and pained slightly from their inaccuracy. “I am not going to be able to help.” Making it sound like it was beyond my control, when it was my decision and I could have helped if I wanted. But in my moment of discontent, I thought of the absurd but accurate statement that could have taken its place, “I do not want to help you.” Sometimes there is no place for the truth.


The funny thing is that I DO want to change the world (more than anything else in life), but never by that one person at a time method. I am sure you have heard this story of the girl and the starfish. A girl and her father walk along a beach not long after a big storm. Much to the child’s anguish, the storm had washed up countless starfish upon the beach. Her father expressed his sympathy and kept walking, but soon he noticed the girl had not followed. Turning back he sees her carrying starfish back to the ocean, one at a time. The father tries to dissuade her by telling her, “there is no way you can save all of these starfish, there is just not enough light in the day”. The girl agrees, but continues her effort saying, “I might not be able to save them all, but I can save THIS one and THAT one and the next one after that.”

I commend the girl with the starfish, I think she is sweet, but I am more like the father. Where I differ is in what I would do next. If I wanted to help the starfish, I would tell the girl that we can better use our time organizing the other people along the boardwalk. With her cute face and my knack for persuasion, we can get a hundred people out here scooping up starfish in no time at all. Then random passerbyers will see our efforts and want to join in as well. Before we know it, we will have them all cleaned up. That’s what I would do… if I cared about the starfish.

So I tell myself that I am a big picture world saver, and that I cannot get caught up in the individual. The problem with this viewpoint is that the world is made up of individuals, and to get the world moving you have to begin with somebody or someone. There must be a balance in all things. I hope my decision to reject Anthony’s request was not a rejection of my own wants in life as well.