Had the first taste of the Big Brother shared apartment experience last night - regular Thursday night drinks down at the pool lorded over by two blonde Australian girls and a South African (who has secured one of the local drivers for 'private lessons'). I felt embarrassed for some of the older women there when these girls went on about pash parties, lezo Thursdays and passed around a Tshirt with Certified Muff Diver emblazoned on it (an accompanying image). Other than that it was all fun - 20+ people by the pool, drinking it up and talking and such. Everyone you meet does something crazy and unexpected: transport manager, 3D animated storyboards, casting couch, broadcast liaison and any other specialised position you never knew existed. Retired semi-early but pretty drunk - I'm so out of form.
Worked off the hangover with back to back episodes of Arrested Development in bed until it was time to go downstairs and meet for the desert safari.
About 20 people, from oldies, to families with kids, to workshop rough nuts, over 4 4WDs headed south out of Doha for 30 minutes, then stopped at the edge of the sand to let down the tyres. Then it was just all out dune bashing for about 3 hours.
But you've never seen sand dunes like these; they're the same light grey/pink colour of the earth everywhere, and spread over a vast expanse. And enormous, some must be at least as high as our apartment (5 stories) and much steeper than the steepest ski slope. In convoy, we thrashed about, weaving up and down dips and slides and burms. For the really dramatic stuff one vehicle would lead out while the rest hung back to watch and squeal. Taking a long run-up our (very cool Palestinian) driver would crank up to 100 on the flat then hurl us up and around an enormous dune to the point where you thought we'd either fly off the top or roll the vehicle with the steep angle. He'd crank it around and we'd slide back down, staring straight down to the floor below. Of course, the car is full of screaming and cheering as we're all thrown around and our guts are in our throats.
Other crowd pleasers we gunning it around a massive bowl or burm type situation, the vehicle you'd swear about to tip over at and moment, and then popping over the crest at top speed, the vehicle flipping 45 degrees in a moment. And the freakiest: getting to a particularly high and steep dune and throwing the front of the vehicle over the edge and stopping. So you're sitting there, staring straight down, pulling at your seatbelt and wondering how the fuck you can get to the bottom with your lunch not sprayed onto the inside of the windscreen. Then they drop the clutch and down you go, maybe throwing in a few ski-like traversing for effect.
It was all good fun, and the scenery was also worth going for - at one stop, atop a massive set of dunes, we looked south, the sand dropping straight into the Persian Gulf, the land on the other side being Saudi Arabia. There was also an enormous inland sea, which far from being the big puddle it appeared to be, is more than 300m deep (or at least that's as far as divers have been able to go down).
At sunset we reached our dinner destination - a clearing between the dunes, and right on the water. A swim in the very warm and salty Gulf was followed by BYO beers and dinner under a half moon, with tents and lanterns set up, cushions and rugs on the ground, and top service from an army of Indian wait staff. The couple I ate with brought along a bottle of champagne which accompanied some Arabic sweets perfectly.
We had a different driver coming back, with a particularly pumping sound system. With the headlights on, he cranked some crunking hiphop up to 11 and fishtailed it back to the road. He was our third driver for the day, and the third to play a mix of contemporary Arabic and mainstream US hiphop/RnB. I don't usually like this kind of hiphop, but when played side by side with local music you can see why they like it. Often tablas, sitar type sounds and Eastern rhythms are sampled, and between the rap there's the RnB singing which is not too far from the Arabic sound at all. They weren't playing bog standard Eminem or Snoop; they had found other artists whose parallels you could clearly hear.
This guy was also Palestinian and we all had a pretty good chat to him about his family, growing up in Qatar (born here to Palestinian parents, but will never be able to have a true residency status), music, and what going back to Palestine was like. I think we all got the impression that your regular young guy, who likes music, cars and hanging out, hates fighting, hates war and just wants to get on. I think when he went back to Palestine he was resented as a silver spooner; 'a different way of thinking' he said. He hated what the fighting had done to the country and probably how their poorness had made them suspicious of those who had money and opportunity. He could never live there because he wants to 'move forward, not backward'. No fermenting violent jihad rising in him, he just wants a good life.