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Wednesday, 21 March 2012

The One Where We Got Our Car Stuck!

One of the first questions people ask when moving to a new country is how to meet new people. Meeting other expats is relatively easy. Most countries have forum sites, meeting groups or bars that expats frequently occupy. But what if you want to meet other people? Locals, or residents from other countries? One tried and tested way by us..............get your car stuck in the sand near someones camp! Oh yes, that's what we did. And yes we got to meet some new people.

I must stress at this point that it was far from intentional and I am pretty sure there are in fact more practical ways to meet people.

Two weeks ago we went off for a wreckie to find a beach that we could all camp on the following week with some friends. We headed to the north of Qatar, Al Ruwais. Once there we drove around and down the coast slightly on the east side. We saw a turning off the road and figured...'why not?!' Finally we reached a beach with the waves of the ocean in full view. Heaven! At first glance, it looked like the beach was occupied by Bedouin communities, on further investigation we found out that people can have a camp there for 6 months of the year. They pay the government 10,000 QAR deposit and as long as the camp is left clean and tidy then they get it back at the end of the 6 months. It is a fantastic way of allowing people to enjoy the beauty of the beach whilst preserving the natural beauty.

So after a little walk, back to the car to have a little lunch and carry on driving. This part of the journey didn't last long. We drove straight into a soggy salt flat. A few attempts later and we were stuck in a salt and oil covered car! This is when we met the happy campers! Jason trampled through the soggy mess over to the nearest camp. Someone was watching over us and this was the best camp he could have approached - the best people! Next thing, about 15 men came over to help get us out of our little situation. Much to all our amusement! The young boys took me and the kids for a ride around in the beach buggy to keep us occupied whilst the others rescued the car and once free they invited us in for tea.

This is where the cultural differences were highlighted for me.

Now, back in the UK we would certainly help the stranded driver outside our house and most probably invite them in for a cup of tea afterward. But that would be it. Not because we are rude or uncaring but because that is the way we do things. That is our hospitality. In the middles east things are very different. Help you with your car - yes, offer you tea - yes, offer you an amazing banquet of food - yes!!!! I was so overwhelmed by the level of hospitality. These boys invited us into their space to use as our own. It was such a foreign concept. Nobody stood on ceremony, everybody chatted with us, each other and carried about their business. Very surreal. Almost six hours later we left to go home and promised to return the following week.

The following weekend, packed and ready to go. We picked up Shiraz and Alwin and off we set. In true 'Ellie' style I had meticulously packed for every eventuality!! We arrived just before lunch time, which of course I had packed! We went to see the boys before we unpacked and introduced Alwin and Shiraz to the group. We sat in their tent and had tea. This type of lifestyle really suits these guys. So calm and relaxed. Certainly a life I could get used to.

When it came to setting up camp everyone joined in. It was no hassle, no question, just automatic. Again something I am not used to. In the west we are generally so private, even in public. But I prefer their way. Helping your neighbour, joining in and getting involved. It is an art they have mastered without a worry.

All set up, tents pitched, wind breaks up and swimwear on!!

We had obviously brought meat for a BBQ dinner but the guys had planned to cook a lamb. And when I say cook a lamb, I mean pretty much a whole lamb in a hole in the ground. Now for the life of me I can't remember the proper name for this, but it is basically pit cooking. They dig a hole in the sand, fill it with burning charcoal and then lay the meat, wrapped in foil and then bury it. A few hours later THE best food you have ever tasted! We added our small offerings of chicken and salad to the table, although rather small in comparison! And when I say table, I actually mean floor! The best way in the world to eat. On the floor using your hands. You feel the food with more senses allowing you to taste the food so much more. Cooking and eating is such a communal affair over here. It really is a beautiful moment to be part of. And they make it seem so effortless! Reluctantly, we finished eating, and when I say reluctant I mean because if I had any more room I am sure I would have eaten the whole thing it was THAT good!

Of course then what else to do but play volleyball! Well the boys did. The children went off and played whilst Shiraz and I sat and chatted. This in itself was a beautiful moment. The kids, ours speaking a little Arabic and the others speaking a little English, it was no boundary. Children are wonderful in this respect. The world is theirs, nothing holds them back. Not even words, or the lack of. They have the ability to find common ground in any situation with anyone. Our two worlds came together in perfect harmony. I got to learn so much about Shiraz. Her history, her upbringing, what makes her who she is. The conversation flowed without pressure. We were on the same page, both interested to learn more, about each other, ourselves and everything around us.

And then came the shisha - for the adults!!! Marshmallows and oreos for the kids! What was great about this was that some of the guys came to us and the kids too. Jason and I made the hot chocolate and Shiraz made the marshmallows. Once again everyone effortlessly assumed a role, working together. By the end of the night the children were sleeping peacefully and Shiraz and me were looking like refugees next to the campfire. We all sat and talked and laughed and I know, for me at least, I felt at peace. So comfortable. So happy. So relaxed. This is what life is for. Moments like this.

The next morning the heat got us out of our tents. What a wonderful feeling to swim in the ocean before breakfast. The water was crystal clear and not too cold - once you got in! Khalil took is out for a little boat ride and Shiraz and me gave the beach buggy a bit of a bashing!

Unfortunately all good things must come to end. We packed up all of our things and the young lads drove our stuff to the car in the buggy. Again another act of kindness, that once again was so automatic and effortless.

Gracie slept most of the way home whilst we sang loudly to Queen songs on the stereo.


I loved this weekend. I wish everyday was like this. Although, I am sure if it was, it would take away the magic. What made it so wonderful was, of course, the people but also that it was different. The combination of cultures and people. The fact that the guys were endeared by my constant photo taking and the uncle invited us to sit with him and eat. The fact that on different soil our two worlds wouldn't mix so easily and harmoniously. That we were all blessed to share this experience.

Needless to say we are planning to go again. This time I will take them a carrot cake, partly to say thank you but mostly to avoid the mocking for not taking one this time! We intend to stay in touch with these wonderful people.

New friendships have begun.

True friendships.

A meeting of separate worlds.

An example to the rest of the world.

And all of this from getting our car stuck in the sand!