Finding Out What to Do On Pass, Day 0
Waking to a booming sound, I forgot I was in Qatar. My heart raced, pumping adrenaline, as I anticipated hearing the sirens that signal mortar attacks. There were voices in the hallway, then another boom. After about 40 seconds I remembered I where I was, figuring out that more people had arrived for pass and had moved into the room next to mine. The boom was just their door slamming. I dozed off until my alarm sounded at about 08:30.
I got ready for the day, not knowing how I would spend it. I stopped in at the chow hall and caught the news on the BBC while I ate breakfast. I recalled hearing British accents on the radio on the bus the previous day, shortly after landing in Qatar. Signs of colonization are still evident.
After breakfast, I caught the bus to the USO. As at every USO I've visited, it was a place for troops to relax. There was a rule that shoes be removed before entering, and the contemporarily decorated interior boasted multiple video-gaming systems, an area for reading periodicals, and a home theater where soldiers could lounge on bean bags and overstuffed pillows. It was comfortable and a good place to decompress, but designed for the younger members of the military.
Next to the USO was a cafe, Green Beans, where I purchased a coffee before finding my way to the computer lab, where there was unrestricted free Internet access. Next to the computer lab were rooms filled with DSN phones, on the military network. They allow you to make free calls home. I phoned my parents and brother.
After my call home, it was time to check the venue sign-up sheets. People on the R&R Pass program could sign up for small inexpensive activities, called venues, ranging from a tour of downtown Doha to a trip to a local mall. Every day, people on pass got to sign up for venues, even though the program only guaranteed participation in one. I decided to go on as many as I could since it might be my only time in Qatar. (I encourage anyone going on the Qatar pass to do the same. Participation in the venues really made a difference; it was better than sitting around the installation for four days.)
I waited in line for almost an hour, and to my surprise when I got to the front there was still space on the day-long cultural trip to Doha. It cost $20, including lunch at a local restaurant. I had a plan for the following day, but what to do next?
I decided to venture to the post pool. I went to my room to change, picked up a towel and went to the bus stop. While waiting, I realized the weather in Qatar was as hot as it was in Iraq, but the humidity was markedly higher. A thick haze hung in the air as I sweated on the bench.
I found the pool and a Chili's restaurant, too. Though a chain, it was a little bit of the U.S. in a not-so-American place. I put returning for dinner later in the week, on my to-do list. I enjoyed the pool until sunset, swimming, reading and people-watching for about three hours. I felt really far from Iraq by this point.
Time came to meet up with a fellow soldier from the 224th at the bar. We purchased our three beers over the course of several games of darts and exchanged stories about home. Before long, the last-call horn blew and we headed home. I had to be up for my trip into Doha the following morning.
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