‘Funny’ Heroes

Heroic feats are no mean feats. I wrote recently on how knighthoods are given out too easily by the government, making populist decisions on a short-term basis. Chris Hoy and Bradley Wiggins are idolised far too quickly. If they were touted for promoting healthy lifestyles through cycling showing determination and success, I’d be happier with the awards. Winning the Tour De France in such a tainted sport and with a whole team working for you or Olympic gold medals in a variety of non-events is not enough. However they, at least, strove to achieve.

Political heroes must stand up to much higher levels of criticism and evaluation. They must face the media over their present and pasts and later face revisionist historical analysis in which they have no say. Churchill was a great British hero but also made tactical judgement calls that would be severely criticised now. Clinton’s sexual affairs overrode his legacy. Mandela was, somewhat legitimately, called a terrorist by the South African government of the time. We dismissed this at the time but now the state is happy to use the terrorist label for any violent opponent.

When you ask a question at work (and across the ME) to name a hero, the same names come up and they will surprise. I’ll give you the top 3 I heard.

saddam-hussein-fresco-at-basra-depicting-him-in-heroic-style1. Saddam Hussain is considered a hero and great leader in much of the Middle East. He was known as the Sword, heralded for holding together a country and fighting Iran. The evidence cited of his greatness is the present situation in Iraq. He built infrastructure and even sent a rocket into space. I heard congratulates for invading and defeating the great State of Kuwait in a matter of hours! Nasser was the Arab previous hero.

What seems to be ignored is the war in Iran was a disaster. He also lost it. He also sent rockets other places including Iran, Kuwait, Israel and the Kurdish area of his own country replete with poison gas while enriching himself and allowing his sons to kidnap and rape women. What is also not mentioned is the support for Saddam is mostly based on his Sunni religion. If he was Shia, he would be vilified. Just ask Assad in Syria. This grand divide is the fundamental in the region.

2. ‘I like Hitler because he killed a lot of Jews’ said a Middle East diplomat to me. He said it directly and with a slight smile. This wasn’t the first time I’d heard his Hitler’s name mentioned. We were talking about political heroes and what makes a good leader as part of the diplomacy course. Others  roll their eyes at these comments, but I am not sure if they disagree or are just aware of the consequences of such opinion. The only positive coming from that statement was the lack of Holocaust denial though David Irvine does get quoted sometimes.

The Israeli-Arab divide is another long running sore leading to suspicion, anger and Palestinian poverty, The Israel Government is doing everything to protect its state, constantly using the mantra of survival to maintain its destructive policies. The Arab states use the Palestinian disaster as a nationalist rallying call within their own state, a tactic to deflect attention away from the dsyfunctionality and illegitimacy of their own governments. Heroes are therefore defined by victimisaton rather than heroic actions.

3. The above leads onto the third category of heroes in the Middle East; national leaders. Idolatry is banished in Islam. Images of the prophets or God are absent from any mosque. The uproar over the Danish cartoons was as much about the image of the prophet as much as the satire. Yet through the Middle East, imagery of leaders and heroes is rife. Every building in Qatar has two pictures: of the former Emir Hamed and the present Emir, his son Tamin. They adorn office walls and whole buildings and are thanked on the news every night. Qatar doesn’t go as far as Kuwait and the UAE which run hourly adverts between programs highlighting the sincerity and benevolence of the leaders.

The cult of personality is not unique to the region. Thailand salutes the king before every movie with the national anthem. The Stans are run by various despots. The US salutes the flag regularly and salutes its heroes, including some eyebrow-raising ones. Even in the UK, a few decades ago it was common to see a picture of the Queen in a pub though more in affection rather than adulation.

This form of nationalism is of course mandatory in a lot of the world. The media in the ME is controlled, pulling inconvenient stories from foreign papers, blocking internet access and running sycophantic stories in the press. The Middle East doesn’t go as far as North Korea where people are forced to wear badges with the image of the leader, cry on command and prostrate themselves to his wishes. But nationalism and religious fervency are not so far apart. They lead to the same end; a desire to submit to a greater power and ironically Islam does mean submission.

While I am not arguing for greater openness in the Middle East, the lack of non-political heroes indicates either political strife hence a nationalistic form of education or a lack of development outside the traditions of war and religion. Many are new states. Stability and order prevail.

Time At the Bar

Photo0290

Yup that is a toilet!

Someone told me yesterday I looked younger than when I was in Doha. I believe that to be true. While work there was easy, life itself I found was depressing bringing me back to MattP’s very first words in Doha….‘it’s not a place for a single person.’ I aged mentally.

I’ve been away from this blog for a while. Somehow my mind and body have been fulfilled but now I’ve got too much time again and I need to start making decisions  about what’s going on next. I got into Leiden if you didn’t know to study from February 2015. I’m working 9 weeks at Oxford University, generally keeping my head above water and out of the bar. I’ve had visitors in the forms of Pedro and Olivia. I caught up with Jorden, Tomek and Catherine and Andy Carlin yesterday. This month promises more friends. You could say I am satisfied.

Being satisfied was never enough for me. I’ve always strived to push on and see and do more. I’m ungrateful, almost mistrustful of what I have. Patience is never a virtue I have or sought. But I get the feeling that driving impulse is fading within me. There are now things that I want that require time, thought planning and sacrifice. University or another career are such examples. There are people I want to spend more time with. This requires the kind of patience I’ll search out for. There is a network of not rarely-seen but greatly appreciated others but a new community to be created, a grouping to give me what I’ve always forcibly removed myself from.

I am thinking about a place to be. A person to be with. A legacy to set. This is not to all garnered at once. I am not trying to get married here. But I do wish for  some stability and to develop some project with someone. I want to invest in them and myself and find a worthy reason beyond hedonism and mirth to be grateful for all I’ve seen and felt. Doha might not be at an end. I’d just have to do it right next time.

Qatar Is Paying For FIFA’s Corruption

So you’ll have seen the news over the last few days reporting emails and documents showing payments from Qatar to various FIFA representatives. They later voted for Qatar’s ridiculous bid to host a month-long outdoor event with 32 teams of fit men and thousands of overweight men in the peak of summer. If that FIFA decision wasn’t bad enough, Qatar is now paying for doing what is necessary to get such a tournament: bribery.

Qatar is getting a hammering in the international news right now. It is wholly unprepared for this kind of scrutiny. Public scrutiny of the state and particularly the officials is amost non-existent within the country. Sure there are complaints but they are dealt with by knowing an individual who will fix it. The same nepotism runs through the whole country. Favours are traded, credit is secured and public criticism is rare. The local newspaper is merely a self-congratulatory, promotional tool. The TV states only good news inside the country. Crime is non-existent. The murder of the an English teacher last autumn is unmentioned in the media because it was perpetrated by a Qatar. However the mugging of three Emirati in London is big news.

International media doesn’t kowtow like this and the European media encouraged by UEFA are keen on an FIFA expose. Qatar’s been caught in the middle. It did what wa expected. It undoubtedly paid bribes. Russia did the same. Brazil also. The corruption in the game in Brazil is well-known and led to the downfall of Teixeira and the disgrace of Havelange, the former FIFA president. Blatter is not ready to accept his responsibility for any corruption. He may be innocent himself (in this case) but the whole vote-buying is rampant and shambolic in his organisation. Yet he sees himself as a broom rather than a tool.

Qatar is also taking a beating on his workforce rights. Passports are surrendered. Wages are often unpaid. Workers do sleep 8 to a room on the outside of the city. They are customarily barred from parts of the social scene. The economic system is completely biased to the local Qatari for obvious reasons. But the legal system suffers the same issues. Within a secretive and stubborn state like Saudi Arabia that is understandable, if not forgivable. But Qatar wants to be seen as a model of Islamic values and has put its head above the parapet. It’s getting shot at and doesn’t know how to deflect the bullets.

The FIFA inquiry will be a shambles. Qatar has already spent billions building infrastructure. FIFA and Qatar stand to lose big time. Qatar will be humiliated. Its neighbours will snigger. Qatar won’t sue. It did the deed and won’t want to face up to public scrutiny. The real issue is FIFA. To get such a tournament, vote-buying is the way, whether it be a football pitch, a 7-star hotel, hookers (ask Korean Air how Seoul got the 1988 Olympics) or just wads of cash.

Football is a game I grew up playing. The so-called beautiful game, played on streets, parks and against terrace walls. You really don’t need much. Qatar is paying the financial and public price for FIFA’s practices. FIFA will survive, blame a few bad eggs and then move on to continue furnishing the financial juggernaut that was our beautiful game.

Miss n’ Not

I will miss: The Turkish barbers
I won’t miss: the Filipinos’ customer service being so robot-like.

I will miss: the range of authentic, first-generation restaurants
I won’t miss: the sedentary lifestyle

I will miss: the cheap taxis
I won’t miss: the traffic

I will miss: the weather for 7 months
I won’t miss: the weather for 5 months

I will miss: the work-life balance
I won’t miss: the feeling you haven’t done an honest day’s work

I will miss: getting to the airport from the centre of the city in 15mins max
I won’t miss: waiting at the crap airport

I will miss: the billions or so coffee shops
I won’t miss: the lack of bars

I will miss: the lack of crime
I won’t miss: the lack of action

I will miss: the geunineness of most people
I won’t miss: the hierarchy in society

I will miss: the generosity of Qataris
I won’t miss: the sight of maids following their mistresses round

I will miss: the Corniche and occasional trips to the desert
I won’t miss: the lack of green

You know when I tally it up it isn’t such a bad place. The negatives do loom large depending on what your aim in life is right now but for a few months of the year and a short period, it is a decent place spot.

Khalas

April is the final month. It seems to have taken a long time but it’s finally here. I am flying out tonight after final drinks and meet with friends. The apartment is empty. The windows are now sealed shut. The air-con is on and would stay on for the next 5 months should I stay. But I’m not going to. The fridge is empty. The bag is packed. I even swept the floor of the ever-accumulating dust. It’s halas time.

While its slowed in pace as rapidly as the weather heats up in April (32C to 42C), my mind moved from confusion to clarity. Confusion reigns over whether I was doing the right thing here and there but when I sent my belonging through the post and said goodbye to the staff yesterday and the diplomats today I felt sad but clear. The mind is as clear as the city is covered in haze. From May onwards Qataris start taking holidays and the country becomes much quieter heading into Ramadan. Only the lesser off remain. The city (and therefore the country) is left to survive the summer heat usually heading towards 50C every day.

image

But April itself has been interesting.  We kayaked in the mango groves watching the sun set. I drove a powerboat and tried some Arabic (Lebanese and Egyptian) dancing after a fair bit of tequila. The museum held an exhibit documenting the history of chess and other board games which was surprisingly interesting. They all date back to India but the rules were drafted in Persia. Some of the pieces and boards dated back to the 9th century. I walked and ran a lot. Friends exchanged meals and we said fond farewells. The souq held some celebrations. My happiest memory was going out with the Sri Lankan houseboys to eat their food. I wanted Sri Lankan food I never saw when I visited and they came through. Hopas, egg, plain or string will stay with me. Thank you.

image

The summer promises to be fun. I’ve much to decide regarding where the next job will be. I could come back but leaving right now is the right action. What happens next is the next confusion but a few simple decisions I’ve put off for months and all will be fine. First it’s to Moscow and St Petersburg to meet Polina and Ekaterina. Then onto the wedding in Serbia, a trip into Montenegro and finally back to the UK for interviews, awaiting university decisions and a general refocus. 18 months might not seem like a lot but it is here in the desert. Time for some greenery. I’ll see if I miss the place.

March Muchness

March was a fast month beautifully-dissected by a long-awaited return to my second home Japan. It also heralded the true beginning of my countdown to leaving Qatar. As the temperatures rise, bringing with them sand and electric storms, it’s time to get out of here. It’s fulfilled its role.

image

Leaving aside Japan for a moment, work contracts are coming to an end. I’ve enjoyed them all this time round and should I not get into the university I want, I’d consider coming back for a few months in the autumn. But I know in my heart, I am done here and need an environment where I don’t need to search out things to do. We did however make a great little boat trip a few weeks ago for the afternoon into West Bay, sailing past the towers and onto an island out in the bay. The water was too salty due to desalination and the jetskiers were annoying but we had good company, a boat, sun and a barbecue. It served its purpose.

image

Japan was every bit as excited, warm and rewarding as I hoped. It truly is a different world out there, inaccessible but liveable. I saw no shrines, no temples, no Mt Fuji but I did see the lights and energy of Tokyo, sang karaoke, drank sake, ate takoyaki and okonomiyaki, wndered at Kyoto Eki Ko, marvelled at the cleanineess and orderedness of the place and saw snow over Kyoto. Seoul remained its rougher edged brother, bleaker in many ways but has a vitality missing a few years ago. It’s progressing and interacting with the world unlike before. Wine, coffees, teas, food, music and beers were now international in flavour. The trade has gone both ways.

image

Next month is going to be fairly-chaotic or at least looks that way right now. I’m planning a trip to Moscow follwed by Jan’s wedding in Belgrade. I’ll do a week or 10 days of travelling after that (Croatia, Amsterdam) with Olivia and then return to London. Nancy is coming to visit for a few days to look around summer schools. She’s hoping to stay for a few months later. She’s never been to England or London so it should be fun.

I also regained contact with a few friends I’ve not spoken to for a while. These people remind me of summer, travelling, freedom. Despite Oli being away, I’m looking forward to catching up with Weronica, Si, Tom, Viola, Mary, Alex, Luke, Helen. Jorden and the Devon guys. Even the lovely Ash (who was with me in my David Lynch dream) is talking about coming to Europe to live awhile. And Marsha and Jeroen….I promise I’ll be over in Holland to see you.

Uni applications are finished and I await the answers. My summer work looks set. June is a free-ish month. I suspect I’ll be watching a bit of the World Cup and travelling! I’ll be in Devon, Cardiff or Oxford and yes, I’ll be making sidetrips to see you. And you. And you.

Gucci Education

I’ve been helping a woman here with her diploma course at a UK university here in Qatar. She is studying to get on an MA course. Most of the readings come from critical theory, ideas of Anderson, Hobsbawn, collective memory and the occasional Foucault…sigh! She is studying hard but these texts are complex. English isn’t her first language and so naturally she is finding it difficult to comprehend. So we both read the texts and then I clarify her understanding. I enjoy the reading. She does all the writing. I don’t see any of it but hear she is getting good marks at times.

To get on the MA course with a scholarship, she needs to be recommended by the tutors. There are 3 scholarships and 5 students. You would think her odds are good. But the odds are in fact stacked against her. I’ve just heard two of the students haven’t written a word of they are handing in. Someone else does the reading, gives the student their seminar notes and writes the essays including the mini-dissertation for them. This is a common occurrence here. This is Gucci Education.

About a year ago, I was speaking to an employee of a gas company here. She informed me how university was very hard here. She had a lot of work to do she told me. I looked at her quizzically. After all I heard plenty of stories informing me of the corruption within the university sector. I’ve also met employees of the big, prestigious companies in Qatar and have come to the conclusion with the help of numerous examples, they are not up to task. Similar to the white foreigners in the Gulf, they are fairly substandard.

But this woman insisted it was far more difficult to pass here than friends who studied at international universities abroad. I enquired why. She told me her friend was studying at Virginia Tech in the US, a well-known university but found it very easy. Here she had to study and write in Arabic and found it difficult. Whereas in the US, her friend simply got someone else to write the essays. Her morality was perverse. The fact was she couldn’t cheat and so her friend was fortunate. If she could, she would. After all it’s Gucci education.

My old boss here was a professor at a non-accredited university in London. A quick search for his name on ratemyprofessor.com reveals the students only believed he was interested in money and female students. ‘Give him some money and you’ll pass’ is one comment. His sponsor here, a Qatari, has a Masters from the UK curiously the same non-accredited university as my old boss. A Masters involves a 15,000 to 20,000 word essay. Having met him, his English was exhausted after saying ‘you like Qatar?’ He never wrote a word of it. Yet he has a Master certificate accredited through Open University.

This is not unique to Qatar, the Gulf or anywhere else. Chinese students in the UK are known to do the same thing. But education here is very much about the destination rather than the journey. The pursuit of knowledge and understanding seems to be tiresome and time-consuming. I’ve seen the same approach in the work place and IELTS. Students simply take the test again and again instead of spending the time to improve. The number of times I’ve heard from people they need to prepare and pass an IELTS exam in the very near future (weeks, days or in one case 4 hours!) substantiate these conclusions.

It’s a conciliatory effort (or uneffort) in many cultures. When a mistake is made, sometimes costing considerable sums, there are few consequences. We just continue as if nothing happened. This depends where you are on the hierarchy. Those not in favour mostly for race but linked to status are more disposable.

The term Gucci Education comes from the status acquired by this accomplishment. A PhD or Masters should be acclaimed. They take work, considered thought and hopefully lead to connsilence. However here its too often all about the certificates, the status accrued from a certificate rather than the education gained. The certificate gets you the  prestigious job. Once you have it, it’s job done and now really time to sit back. That certificate can sit alongside the Bentley, gold watch and Chanel handbags. ‘We can all be justifiably proud of ourselves now.’

The real tragedy is for the people who do spend months and years working hard to read for and write their thesis. They still make up the majority here amongst Qataris but not as much as they should. If you are given the money and know a short-cut, it’s very tempting. It is at least credible of the government that they require an education of sorts to get prestigious jobs even if it might be achieved by fraudulent means. I have as well met some very capable Qataris in good positions who never went to university.

As anyone who’s started out on a project, academic or not, will testify your research and work often end up somewhere completely different to where you envisage at the start. The journey of discovery to that final destination is complex and frustrating (and very occasionally soul-destroying!) but it serves a purpose in ameliorating your critical skills, an appreciation of hard-work and a sense of justifiable pride.

February

Photo1784February is always a short month , usually packed with atrocious weather and broken new year promises. However this February was especially quick. I’m not sure exactly why but being busy with work and outside projects brings a feeling of contentment or possibly just distraction. And all this is times of no drinking. Drinking here is a distraction. As you get older the hangovers get worse for most. For me it’s more the case that a hangover creates a vacuum in your head, an inability to formulate or think inventively to smooth the path through it all. Alongside being in Qatar this is truly problematic.

IMG_20140208_144906But I’ve been distracted. The big event was the British Council Away Day last week. I was on the organising committee with three others and together we organised a day at a desert museum, some team building, get to know you activities, sports and an information treasure hunt. We held it at Sheikh Faisal’s Museum in the middle of the country, a country so small it was still only 30 minutes from the office.

Sheikh Faisal is one of the richest men in the country and spends his money buying artifact, old and new, from around the world. These include old Korans and Bibles, cars older than 100 years, weapons and clothes. It’s a very random hodge-potch of things housed in his every expanding museum. It’s presently building an extension to house some more of his 600 cars!

12763_10152251115935170_68950059_nThe next night we finally headed out to the desert for a desert safari. A group of 9 dune-bashed, bbq’d swam in the ocean and played silly games before sleeping in large tents. The dunes are unique here. They sit next to the Persian Gulf right on the sea front. As the sun set over them, it was all very pretty.

The final contract with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has begun again. I’m happy with it. The group is much more motivated and capable than the last lot. I can actually aspire to recommending most of them to go work abroad. I hope I’m not speaking too soon but they are a nice, hard-working bunch. I’m also working with a luxury company and a private school training staff.

Outside of work, we’ve been busy watching rugby, running and exercising and eat some more sushi. The England v Ireland game was immense for it’s levels of commitment, positive play and tension. Two good team without any poor performances.

The lady I am helping with her academic research is making some real progress and will hopefully be accepted for a scholarship. The reading has merged into my thinking. Ideas over collective memory are becoming increasingly interesting and the state’s use of public memory in the building and maintenance of nationalism. I’ve incorporated it into my personal statement for university.

Japanese lessons continue unabated and now have a practical purpose. For the first time in over 11 years, I’m going back to Japan and Korea after over 8 years. I’ll be seeing Liz, Scotto, Mayu, Yumi, Dan, Nev and a few others.

Time is Marching on. (ba-da-dum)

Love in the Middle East aka I Went to Qatar and My Penis Died

3829_10152178475240602_108634564_n (1)Curiously when living abroad, it is the local mothers who most often say ‘you should find yourself a (insert local nationality) girl.’ Most of the time that’s fair suggestion. But it’s not a line you’re likely hear here. ‘It’s not the place for a single guy mate’ is a more common refrain and one of the first comments I actually heard when I arrived from a married mate Matt. I had previously cracked a joke to another member of staff. It was a Wednesday in November and she said ‘just try and get to Christmas.’ I replied ‘I’m just trying to get to the weekend right now.‘ That previous comment from Matt stayed with me throughout my time in Qatar and accounts for some of my behaviour inside and a hell of a lot of it outside the country.

I’ve been meaning to writing this for a long time, a kind of accompaniment to the Weddings in Qatar blog from a few months back. Time’s been against me. However here I am now. I had a great time writing this. I’m constantly on the verge of laughing, constantly close to slapping myself before the big smile invades my chops. With that I am about to say, how have I managed to stay it out so long? I’ll be asking that very question sat in a pub or on a beach for years to come. The surrealism can only rival my stories from North Korea, the mental asylum in Kiev or that night AC and I realised we were in a Kenyan whorehouse. What happened to those nights?

I’m a fairly balanced individual in many ways but this country has frustrated me in many. Travelling and working abroad look similar and sometimes feel it but they have very different outcomes. Travelling allows you to skip in and out, taking the best, raising a quizzical eye at the odd and avoiding the worse elements. Hey Georgia might be full of bad drivers and some of the most banged up cars in the world but hey, that’s fun. When it becomes part of your everyday existence, it’s more of a ‘ahhh shit, really?’ Most expats moan at some point. But you adapt according the the laws of culture shock, learning to accept what isn’t available or different as a trade-off for the benefits. However trading your social life is frankly too much.

There are simple reasons for it here. The fundamentals in Qatar are the culture and the numbers game. The country is 80% men usually from the sub-continent working in low-paying jobs. The largest minority of women here are the Filipinos who mostly working in the service sector. Chatting a girl up in KFC is not really going to work! The Filipinos also all live together in mass houses. Going to a party there is an odd experience. When you ask who lives here, it’s a deafening, yet harmonious chorus. Filipinos like to sing. Of the rest of the population, they tend to be Arabs or Westerners and Westerners tend to be married. Take a look at the place, the desolation and you understand why.

Most possible relationships here are tricky because they stumble and fail on religious lines. The local population of Qataris is out-of-bounds. Despite the occasional Qatari seen in a nightclub, women are forbidden. There is actually a sign on the door. Meeting Qataris women in any genuine social context is impossible. But then why would you want to? I bumped into a woman the other day and the look of shock on the Qatari men’s face was telling. They were stunned. The other Arab women are closeted in their social grouping or amazingly virgins! I’ll never get that one. Let’s just say this is far from working in Japan.

Then there are the social meeting points like the office, sport, hobbies and nightclubs. I look around the office and the story tells itself. Most of the expat staff are married. Together they can bond and get through it. No sane, individual would hang out in such a restrictive culture for long unless for money. Yet there are plenty of single people here. But then you should look at some of them too! We have one guy in the office who gets nicknamed Warren after the brother in There’s Something About Mary. Others display cat collecting fetishes and forms of autism. The rest simply turn to drink.

Sport and hobbies invite similar people. The couchsurfing group and a lot of the meetups have notices saying this is not for dating. The frequency of couples even make the smallest plans difficult to pull off. Dinner involves a negotiation. Free time is allocated. A lot of people are here to save money and somewhat reluctant to go out. Others have study to do. And then here are the weirdos.

We’ve frequented the nice bars and nightclubs here a few times of late. I am trying to tick off places before I leave. When the 5-star hotels are your greatest landmarks, that’s what I will be ask when people ask me to explain the country. There are some flash, discerning places. They tend to be full of the more out-going of the Middle East, the Lebanese and the Westerners. Lebanese men have a difficult reputation. Despite being far more cosmopolitan than their neighbours, their charm with the ladies is only on display when they are winning. They display the same lack of charm when you talk to fellow Arab women. It becomes an ownership thing.

The nightclubs here also have their fair share of Filipino women, a smaller black African population and a smattering of hookers. Then the Indian men tend to surround anyone on the dance floor despite the best attempts of the bouncers. The clubs themselves are well-set up but differing shades of grey. They come across as high school discos. Inexperienced clubbers acting like school children or that wedding guest no one knows slowly inch towards a dancefloor drowning in bass until boom, Billie Jean comes on and everyone breathes a sense of relief.

One of the biggest social restrictions here is alcohol. You can buy it fine in bars and clubs and at the ONE liqour store conveniently located a billion miles into the desert but outside of a glass of wine or a cold beer on a ridiculous day, I’ve never actually enjoyed drinking in itself. I know. Get that round your head! Now I am not saying it’s a necessity (and I speak as someone who has barely had a drink all year. Yes Mary, that is true) but with the accompanying restrictions on meeting and interacting, it all becomes rather difficult.

All of this produces a kind of social limbo, a malaise, like a tightening round the balls until there is no strength left to hoist a salute. I say this here but the sense of relief, literal and metaphorical once outside the context is unbelievable. I mean truly bunker busting. I look back with great nostalgia at the times in Belgrade with Jan and Levi. God I was happy drinking a beer next to the river, visiting the mountains of Romania and other spots. I am an impatient guy. I like to see sunrises and sunsets. I want it all. But how many nights can I honestly I’ve enjoyed? Those that remain memorable. I count it on one hand. When in Europe over the last summer, I couldn’t help smiling and this continued into the spring. The difference is found in others too. Nancy was far relaxed once abroad. She is bored here but she doesn’t have the same options as I and sees opportunity to make a living while I simply see more strife.

It becomes a struggle to think of something to do outside of the gym. I’ve never been a TV watcher but with 1000+ channels, it’s clearly a mainstay of the Middle East and especially for couples. I’ve never wasted so much time on the internet and all because it is a struggle to find something to do and people to do it with. I enjoy coming into the office, dressed up and using it as an excuse to say ridiculous comments, overstate or overreact. It’s my opportunity to blow off some steam, try out new ideas and parody everything and everyone. Yet outside of the staff, I can’t genuinely say I’ve enjoyed the projects I’ve worked on. They are allegedly prestigious. Look at that gold watch! But what does that matter if you don’t care about who you do it all with. The means and end must be justifiable.

I mentioned Nancy in a previous blog. Without here I’d have died a little faster here. She’s been a little life-saver, going out for dinner, to Sealine, with me going round during Ramadan (the worst time of the year for weather and nothing being open) for the first dinner at dusk. We made the trip over to Malaysia and Cambodia where she proved excellent fun. But it’s not enough when it’s not what you thrive on.

1093975_10153210001390602_911423898_oUltimately life and relationships aren’t about just sex but about synergetic bonding, the feeling of mutual engagement and reciprocity. 2+2=5 and 5 is a lot of fun. The strength that comes with togetherness is a life-long necessity. There is plenty of research that shows touch is the most vital of the five senses. We can survive and live without sight, hearing and taste but without the sense of touch, human and chimpanzee babies (shamefully they’ve done these experiments with chimps) cannot survive. We remain the same.

That closeness and affection is what I am used to from my social network, a close-knit but disparate group where I feel at ease. That ease transposes into all facets of my psychology affecting me more than I knew. A friend here told me if you stay doing something you can’t stand or don’t respect, a part of your heart will die. Well they joke about that part of a men but maybe it’s true. It’s similar to Jan’s ‘rot away’ comment. And yet once I made the step to leave and make myself happier, the tsunami took the roof off.

I’ve been (and I will be) busy over the last few months but it still is what it is. Not the kind of place for a restless soul and especially a single one at that. I like faces and people. I like to have the choice to interact or retreat to my books, gym and study. But like travel, I go to places to see people rather than the sights, the dynamic sociology that built the towers made of mirrors. I can’t say I have never had a good time here. There have been experiences I’ll ever forget. This area of the world is culturally very different and if this was Morocco, Lebanon or Oman and a holiday, you would all love it. And you know what…it’s also not Saudi!

I completed this on Valentine’s Day. Everyone is away and I am barely speaking to someone else. Everyone including myself is somewhere else. I don’t belong here. Few of us do. I am going out for a run and then to play some pool. In a country with such social dysfunction, living a functional, strictly monetary life really strips you of what matters. Take it if you can. The Gulf is always the last resort. Few can and while I’m a hardy traveller, I am not an economic masochist. I miss the genuine warmth that invades my pores and brings us together over and above money, status and a possible house in the country. You know those places get very cold without someone else to warm to. Ironically in a blazing hot country, it can feel pretty cold here.

28978_10150204120975602_7381006_nI’ll be back and reckless for life by May. The Balkans will be my first stop. I’ll be in some Eastern European towns full of squares, tavernas or cafe with you, my facial muscles relaxed appropriately and a smile imbued with optimism and adventure. Some say make hay when the sun shines. Mark Kozelek would sing ‘life is short young man. Get out there and make the best of it while you can.’ I’ll value my bushels in a life lived in joy.

2013

PANO_20130201_172821It was some year, different to others in its intensity and focus but still a worthy entrant. I feel I say this every year but it’s certainly true. Apart from living and experiencing the Middle East while in Qatar, a memorable experience in itself, I travelled to Dubai, Oman, Malaysia, Cambodia, Singapore, Lebanon, Poland twice, Romania three times, Nepal, Czech Republic, Armenia, Georgia, England three times, Scotland, Italy, Barcelona and Turkey seeing the capitals and plenty of other places in all. I’ve seen the mountains and the beaches, the sun and the snow. Friends have been made, re-met and re-made. I’m going to say with confidence it was a good year.

Newcomer of the Year Nancy in Doha. Great fun, funny sense of humour and wicked to boot.

Gary O’Connor deserves an honourable mention too. Great boss, Good drinker. Newcastle United supporter. Mildly crazy.

My Christ Its Been a Long Time

Meeting Jim in Dubai after 5 years Seeing Andy Carlin after a few years for a few hours opposite Reading Station

20130831_155848Meal of the Year

Eating Hungarian food in the middle of Romania Seafood in Cambodia

What the hell happened Last Night

Happy shakes in Cambodia

Vodka in Tbilisi

Sights of the Year

IMG_20130329_202733

Edinburgh in summer

Inside the Sagrada Familia

The Tyne Bridge in glorious sunshine

The mountains of Nepal

Random Moment Award

Being in an Indian dance bar in Muscat. Truly surreal.

Cultural Event of the Year

The political protest in Armenia over the bus price hike. A direct and effective protest that puts our consumerism to shame. Want to get something done, dont subsidise the enemy!

Red Bull Flugtag event in November????

Sports event of the Year

Spain vs Uruguay

Meeting Seb Coe and Sergei Bubka001

Films of the Year Cloud Atlas – grand, pretentious, over-ambiitous, stirring, thought-provoking and visual stunning.

Musical moment of the Year Queens of the Stone Age in Gdansk

Book of the Year – I really didn’t read last year which tells its own story. Maybe Thinking Fast and Slow by Kahneman or the History of the Middle East to garner some background. Ahh no, The Life and Times of the Penis! Interesting read. But sadly I might only have read 3 books that year 😦

Bar of the Year Beach bars in Cambodia

Scariest moment of the Year The landing through the storm just before Christmas. Scariest of my life.

Big Balls Moment Mosh pitting in Gdansk with Olivia at the Heineken Opener in Gdansk.

Photo0189

Person of the Year Olivia. It was a fun time from the music to the mountains to the cities.

Would I do it all again? Hell yeah. I’d like to thank everyone for helping me along the way 🙂

Roll on 2014. This is gonna be good 🙂 Hope to see you soon