From Borneo and Around

This blog is all about Borneo (and sometimes elswere) as I experience it. It's about places, people, fauna, food ... and anything I find pleasantly worth sharing in words and pictures.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Qatar Marine Festival

When T.P comes home I haven’t really slept. I had locked the door from inside and feared I would be too deep into sleep to hear her knock.  I am so happy to see her. It’s been more than two years since she came to my house.  “How do you like the view from the thirteenth floor?” she asks, sitting on the convenient inner edge along the bay window.               
 “You remember how you hypnotized me to rid me of my fear of heights?” I’m impressed, with T.P, with my hypnotherapeutic skills and mostly with the view.                   

T.P has made plans for us to spend the evening but we are too excited to meet again and too busy questioning each other on places and acquaintances. She’s still a workaholic, she laments. Every morning, she starts work like everybody else employed in Qatar at seven o’clock, but when everyone close their files and switch of their computer at two pm, she stays on for at least another two or three hours and she goes to her office on Fridays when the whole Gulf is at rest or worshiping. By the time we stop talking and get dressed to go out, the evening is well advanced.                                 “We are going to have to walk in the sand.” She says.  “So let’s wear rubber sandals. We’re going to the Marine Festival. But first we’ll have dinner at City Center.”
On our way down, we stop on the fourth floor to investigate: the Olympic size swimming pool, a gym, a couple of restaurants, one hair salon for the gentlemen and one for the ladies (the windows leave no chance for anyone to peep). Right now, it’s Kmart we’re interested in and when we briefly return to the apartment, my face must be beaming now that I have found milk and croissants.  We must hurry; our transport is waiting in front of the main entrance. It’s a limo and T.P introduces me to the driver who gives me his card which I’ll probably need to call on his services when Karwa taxis are too busy.

City Center is a shopping mall, not any different from the ones in Kuala Lumpur except that in this one they sell clothes in decent sizes. Malaysian fashion retailers seem to believe that the whole female population of the country was born and bred to fit into size S or even XS. I recently found out that there is even a size 0! There is one size though that gets me most frustrated for the false hope it gives me when I pick it up: the FREE size (!!??), which seems to be even smaller than the rest; so where’s the freedom in that?            More often than not when I enter a boutique in Malaysia, I am served with a flat “We don’t have big size.” Are Malaysian ladies fashion retailers burying their head in the lumpur (mud)? I believe they are; and hopefully some of the contestants of the new hit TV show “Biggest Looser Asia” will include ass kicking any retailer not selling clothes above size 10 in their list of physical exercises; or do I live on hope?

T.P just asked me to decide what to have for dinner: Italian, Mexican… I am quick to choose Arab, a mixed grill with finger lick good hummus which by the way comes with Turkish or is it Iraqi bread. At the next table I can’t help noticing a group of four women who are making their food disappear under the black veil that covers their face from underneath their eyes. I am sure they too lick their fingers. 

We catch a Karwa taxi but the driver doesn’t quite seem to know where in Doha the Marine Festival is. I personally make a silent and educated guess that it must be somewhere along the shore. Thankfully T.P knows her way around and her landmarks too.   
The "landmark"
We’re on the beach and quite satisfied with our choice of footwear. The night simply feels good as we stare at the cloudless sky dotted with stars and planets and satellites and sadly no UFO to write about. Is it the refreshing breeze, the splendid lights on the facade and gardens of a distinguished hotel ahead of us or is it the lull of the dancing fountain behind us? Here I am with a good friend, far, far away from home and in wonderful spirits. Doha feels beautiful.
The Dancing Fountain With a Crowd

Traditional Fishing Boat

We’ve just passed a traditional fishing boat resting on the beach; there’s a group of men sitting on the sand on one side of the embarkation; they are wearing the thobe, the traditional robe, and look like a regular crew. We are not sure if the whole scene is only here as an exhibit as we can see, a short distance ahead, a number of powerboats displayed on their trailers. As we visit some of the tourism booths, a chatty sales man recommends us to spend the rest of the evening at the beach cinema under the stars.  “Tonight they are playing “Titanic” he enthuses.  With this in mind, we can’t help a furtive second look at the Navy’s display.                                                               
What we’d really like to see is the Sand Art and Sculptures show, so we return to the beach where we find ourselves unwelcome in the middle of a bossaball match. If, like me, you have never heard of “bossaball” before, it’s because it is a newly invented sport. If you thought that all that could be done with a ball, big or small, had already been done, you are in for a surprise: you were wrong! Yes indeed, as it is, the ball happens to be a very versatile object for the creative sporting mind: combine football, volleyball and gymnastic with spectacular acrobatic moves and you will be playing bossaball. Voila!                                                        
We are told that tonight, players, of both genders, are from Brasil and Europe and that the game is played on an especially invented inflatable court with trampoline in the middle, which helps players make spectacular jumps and movements. As I comment on the attractive blond, tanned and amazingly flexible young girls in tiny shorts, TP explains with a few words: “When it’s sports, it’s allowed”. 

We have reached the Sea Food Cooking Contest compound. Eighteen local chefs are competing with around the world and local dishes. As competitors remain fully focused on the job, spectators are entertained by a live singer while the event is being filmed and reported by a western-styled and very attractive Arab woman. The first prize, we learn, will be a return ticket to his country and one week paid leave for the winner. So much for the eighteen local chefs!       

The Seafood Cooking Competition

The cultural village, which was built on the same beach, is of course in full activity. It recreates a traditional Qatari village, with white walls and a tower shaped like a sugar bread;the type of dwelling that existed when the livelihood of the people came from fish and pearls, until that is, Petrol and Gas started earning the little peninsula the big money. 

Here, children can try their hands at pottery making and basketry and find out what spices look like inside jute bags rather than in tiny jars. A cultural shock to generation PS (Play Station)!  

Inside the building there is a marine exhibition going on with large aquariums; and did I mention that everything tonight is entirely free? The place is packed with families with young children. The purpose of the event is to promote the love and care of the natural environment of the Arabian Gulf.    
I play with my camera, catching T.P on the other side of one  of the aquariums and getting a very strange result. We notice a gathering around a man who scoops water beings out of their element to let people touch them. I guess it must be based on the idea of a touch-pool where one can experience tactile contact with aquatic creatures such as star fishes, sea urchins etc., except that here, whoops! Someone just dropped a starfish to the floor.                                                            


Once outside again, we’re on a public square. A group of twelve male musicians have formed a circle, seated on a set of matching red carpets. Their robes are dark grey and the cloth on their heads, the Ghattra, is white and held by a black cord called Agal. They are playing of kinds of rather large drums and one is even using a hollow earthen jar

The rhythm is fast and enthralling and seems to have called one of the men to dance and perform high jumps in the center of the circle. I’m having a splendid time and a fully sensual experience with the sea breeze on my face and in my hair, the scent of iodine, the music, and the whole visual scene in front of me. Moments like this one are epiphanies that give the ultimate sense to traveling to far away countries.   
I can’t help wanting to catch and immortalize something as impalpable as the spirit of a spectacle in time; I keep on clicking while through my lens I can see family groups who have come for the show. Qatari men can have four wives and they often have that many. I can see that quite a few of such families are here tonight and the women seem to be enjoying a great time together. They are all dressed the same though, covered in black cloth from head to toes, literally. I wonder out loud how husbands can recognize their wives in a crowd.                                                                               T.P who has been working in Qatar for two years now tells me that until today she has never seen the face of some of her colleagues. Only a few of them have removed their face veil in front of her, in the privacy of her office room. The others, she has learned to recognize by the perfume they wear or by their eyes when they can be seen. “A good challenge to develop lazy senses.” She concludes and I can’t help to comment “Rather confusing with those who enjoy changing eau de toilette every day.”                                    As for foreign women who, like TP, are employed by government agencies the drill is to cover the shoulders (which really means all the way down to the wrists) and cover the knees (which really means all the way down to the ankles).

A man sits on the sand, leaning against the flank of his resting camel. The scene is a show of loving partnership between the man and his mount and it is made of sand! I suddenly remember that only last night while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Dubai, I was half dreaming over an in-flight magazine announcement for the Cap d’Agdes sand show. Now I feel I am getting two holidays for the distance and price of one. France will have to wait.    
                                                                                                                         The show is also a contest which attracts international artists. Walter McDonald is here from Texas, Craig Mutch from Canada, Paul Hoggard from Yorkshire, Remi Geerts from the Netherlands, Ruslan Korokov from Russia, Calixto Molina Navarete from Mexico, Benjamin Probanza from Spain.        In their work, the artists have been asked showcase Qatar’s traditions and marine heritage. TP and I are in awe. As we move from one display to another, we find ourselves standing right in between a breath-taking sand reproduction of a medieval tower and a messy sand pit where a supervisor is doing his best to encourage the artistic talents of a dozen over-excited children. I can’t stop a sudden memory flash back to my childhood days building sand castles with French Riviera or Corsican beach sand, except that my towers were mere block shaped in small plastic buckets and that all my efforts always crumbled down within minutes. Despite my age, I know I’d still belong in the messy sand pit. The whole festival is a real family friendly event and the vision of Her Highness Sheika Mozah Bint Nasser who’s goal is to encourage children to develop a sense of self-confidence in their abilities, pride in their accomplishments and a chance to cultivate a positive view of the world around them; a laudable effort in this region.   
Most artists are not around tonight; only Walter McDonald is here, probably because he is only half way through building a Qatari citadel.                                                           There’s quite a crowd observing the master and T.P recognizes someone: “The woman in red” she says.              “I have seen her somewhere.”                                                I have been in the Gulf for just a day, yet and since Dubai airport terminal 2, I have only seen women dressed in long black robes, often with their whole face hidden behind a black veil. So a woman in red here, at a no nonsense family event, I am surprised. I look in the direction T.P is now staring while rewinding her inner memory tape. She is thinking.                                                                                “I remember! It was In today’s news paper. She is Che Guevarra’s daughter, now in Doha to attend a documentary festival organized by Al Jaezeera.”  I quickly recall that Doha is the head-quarters of Al Jaezeera.                                      It must me my Nikhon D60 that makes me grow an attitude, that of a foreign reporter. I don’t wear the shoes, but I carry the camera.                                                                     “Let’s take a picture of her shall we? Let’s have an adventure!”                                                                      T.P’s first reaction is to giggle and follow me; her second one is to back off into the crowd as soon as she sees a Man in Black with a wired ear make a bee line in my direction.                                                                                                “Do you know who this is?” He asks me, pointing towards the woman in red.                                                                        I remain straight-faced and without lowering my camera I answer him politely and lie:  “No, I don’t know. Who is she?”                                                                               “She is Aleida Guevarra, Che Guevarra’s daughter.” His pride is obvious. “Would you like to take a picture?”                        I feel lucky with my reporter’s attitude. “Sure, that would be great.”                                                                                  “I’ll take your picture with her.” He says. “Give me your camera.”                                                                                I venture a quick look behind me to get a glimpse at T.P who sure looks concerned. I’d bet she thinks that the man in black is actually confiscating my camera and that I am going to have something to write about Qatari jails, perhaps en route to a Cuban jail. I did tell her that I had come to live an adventure, didn’t I?                                                                                               

 Aleida Guevarra and I are now standing close to each other, smiling at the camera. She is obviously used to doing this sort of thing with total strangers like me, she is very sweet and yet I can read the obvious question all over her face: “Who are the heck are you???”                                              I am beginning to feel guilty of intruding her evening with my silly prank,  and I suddenly feel obliged to say something out of courtesy, possibly not too cliché, to give her face:  “Hi! Welcome to Qatar!”                                                       Where are the appropriate intelligent words when I need them?                                                                                               I can only hope that outside Cuba, she’s met a lot of goofies like me.                                                                                  I am quick to sneak away, reclaim my camera from my Man in Black and catch up with T.P. As we walk away from the confusion caused my Aleida Guevarra’s suite, we make sure to take enough distance to allow ourselves to burst into laughter.                                                                             T.P who knows everything that happens in Doha tells me that Tony Blair is arriving tomorrow. Is she throwing me a bait?  “Shall we try this again?” I say this as a joke, but TP does not seem quite sure whether I am serious or just kidding.        "I don’t think his security guards would let you go near him.”  She says.                                                                               “Look, Tsung Ping, if we want adventure, we must dare our fifty percent chances of receiving a Yes for answer.”           She must think I have completely lost it and I love it.  

If Aleida ever happens to read this, I want her to know that I meant no disrespect and that she now belongs with my good memories of nice people. Our encounter came in a long, very long line of what I like to call  “trends of awareness”, like, for instance, reading about the Capt d’Agdes sand competition and finding myself, without any planning, at a similar event in Doha. It’s the same thing with Aleida Guevarra; just before I left Kuching, I finished reading a travel book written by Ann Mustoe and titled “Che Guevarra and the Silver Mountainwhich help me, this evening, to meet the Che’s daughter as a total stranger yet not as an ignorant or as one of the millions folks in the world who think that Che Guevarra is just a good T-shirt face.                                                                        Aleida and her three siblings has lived all her life in her mum’s country, Cuba; however, her famous dad, Ernesto “Che” Guevarra who helped Fidel Castro come to power during the Cuban revolution, was Argentinean. Ernesto was the son of a wealthy family and was a doctor in medicine. In the book I read recently, Ann Mustoe (the author) was following the road he and a friend had travelled on a big bike during a holiday break from medical school. Ernesto’s encounter with Cuban revolutionary Aleida March, among the guerilla in the bush, somehow reminded me of Causette and Marius‘s love story on the barricades in “Les Miserables”. Revolutions, somehow, have always inspired romantic stories and it may have something to do with a theory in psychology that in time of war, nature has made sure that once the conflict and therefore the fear, have passed, the appropriate action to ensure self-preservation and pro-creation, will be taken: an upsurge in sexual activity to replenish the losses. That’s right; revolutions are made of these too…                 For Ernesto though, it wasn’t just about libido; the Che who lives eternally in history as an idealistic hero also left private memories with his family of a loving husband and dotting father; when together, they were happy. The Che died in 1967, gunned down by Bolivian troops; daughter Aleida was only seven years old. Now a pediatrician, she still lives her father’s ideological legacy as a militant communist. The island of Cuba is quite high on my list of places to visit before I die; who knows, I may dare to call on Aleida when I get there? I’d love to catch up, sincerely.  
Meeting with Aleida Guevarra


No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.