A Day at the Beach, Qatari-Style

I slept in again, then got ready for my trip to the beach and headed to the pickup point. Those of us on the day-trip had our names called from a list, were given a safety brief, and got inspected for dress-code adherence, the same routine as preceded the tour of Doha. We piled into four SUVs and set out for the dunes.

Thirty minutes later we arrived, and stopped to deflate the tires before dune-bashing. Some smoked, others snapped photos as the squeals of air rushing from the tires silenced any attempt at conversation.

Vehicles ready, we began our trip across the desert, traveled at 80 to 90 mph and swerving between each other. Our driver played Arabic pop music as we drove over dunes as tall as three stories. With two vehicles already on the other side of the dune ahead, we sped up and crested, just hoping we wouldn't crash. Several times the same chain fo events occurred, but the driver, accustomed to the routine, remained calm, slouched back in his seat and occasionally slammed into a lower gear to beat another truck over a dune.

We rounded a bend and came down to the beach where several tents and awnings shaded lounge chairs on the beach. The water was crystal-clear blue, highlighted the shallows over the white sand. Where the water was deeper than three feet, about 50 meters from shore, it turned a dark navy.

The lead driver gathered us together to tell us what was available and when to expect to leave the beach. We all began to attempt to enjoy ourselves. I say "attempt" because the heat and humidity were stifling. Sweat poured down our bodies even as we sat in the shade. Plus, most of us were on our last hours of pass. Our flights back to Iraq could be scheduled for as early as midnight, a distraction to the placid beach scene.

Trying to beat the heat, most of us jumped into the water only to find the water, too, had succumbed to the heat of the sun. Despite the cool-blue color, the water was hot. The only cooling element was its evaporation from our skin in the sea breeze when we got out.

Lunch was provided, but many of us were too hot to eat. After poking at my food for about an hour I decided to jump back in the water.

I met a British man, swimming with his family. They had temporarily traded Doha city life for the beach. I struck up a conversation with him to learn a bit about Qatar. In a thick British accent, he told me how he ended up there, as a Shell employee. He said there are only about 400,000 Qatari, and that the rest of the population consists of Pakistani, Indian, and Filipino laborers, all working for the Qatari.

I asked him about Doha's incredible development. He said profits from high oil prices were fueling city's elaborate buildings and roads. He likened the growth to that felt during Internet boom, but made the point that the Qatari economy is not hedging, but using actual profits to build the infrastructure. He mentioned that the buildings I described on my trip to Doha were not financed as they would be in the West, rather they were paid for in full and wholly owned by individuals and companies.

Soon after giving the explanation his son wanted to play, so I thanked him for his insight and returned to a swim in the warm waters.

Soon enough, we needed to pack up. We left as we arrived, careening through the sand at 80 mph until we reached apaved road. We again stopped, this time to reinflate the tires. During the ride, I began planning my trip back to Al Asad, Iraq. I needed to check the flight board for my departure, pack my bag, call Mom and Dad one last time and try to get some sleep. I had prepared myself mentally for departure that night, but when we arrived back at Camp As Sayliyah, Isaw my flight was the following afternoon.

--Written 6/18/2006

By Bert Stover |  July 5, 2006; 7:24 PM ET  | Category:  4 Day R&R Pass, Qatar
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"Call to Service!" In 1960, future President John F. Kennedy shared a new idea with students at the University of Michigan. That idea later created the Peace Corps, a government volunteer organization for young Americans to serve overseas in poor countries. "One person can make a difference, and every person must try," said the President. Today, almost 50 years later, we need that national spirit more than ever.

Within our own country, we have had unprecedented catastrophes over the past 5 years. The attack on the World Trade Center in 2001 has left thousands of families mentally, physically, and financially scarred. Although many charity organizations have been formed to assist these victims, there are still countless children and future generations who will grow up without having the benefit of a father or mother to help them learn and deal with life. Volunteers are desperately needed for such organizations as the Big Brother or Big Sister Programs to assist these victims. The same is true for the children of parents who have been killed or maimed in Iraq or Afghanistan. Their lives will forever be changed.

Along the Gulf Coast in Louisiana and Mississippi, tens of thousands of families are homeless, penniless, and possibly separated from other family members as the result of hurricanes. Like President Kennedy before him, President George W. Bush has issued a "Call to Service" for volunteers to help repair and provide housing, restock grocery shelves and re-pack food items to be given to individuals and families in need, help distribute patient prescriptions to the sick and elderly, serve as teachers, policemen, firemen, and provide other necessary skills. At the same time, we continue to fight the global war on Terrorism. This too has placed huge demands for young people to enter the All Volunteer Military. The same is true for the National Guard, needed to defend America from its enemies.

Since the idea of "Call to Service" first took roots back in the early 1960's, thousands have answered the call and serve today in over 70 countries with the majority of volunteers working in education and health, especially HIV/AIDS services, and the military. Is it any wonder then why when you see today's youth involved in drugs, gangs, crime, and other forms of wasted activity that the words of John F. Kennedy come to mind, "For those to whom much is given, much is required." We all must recognize and realize that we live on a small planet, we all breathe the same air, we are all fragile creatures with limited time in this life, and we all have an opportunity to help make the world a better place to live in.
" Call to Service?" Will you and your children answer the call?!

Posted by: CAPT Jerry | July 12, 2006 04:26 PM

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