Saturday, January 2, 2010

National Day and other celebrations 2009-10.

Celebrations of Different Kinds

It has been some time since our last entry. Since our trip to Abu Dhabi and Oman Joy and I have celebrated Qatar’s National Day - both at school and in town, been hosted to a tribal gathering, celebrated Christmas and New Year and been to the Doha Book Fair.

The Qatar National Day celebrations were enthusiastically celebrated at school, on the Wednesday, with an open day at which the boys, staff and visitors danced,sang, recited poetry, listened to speeches and paraded around the streets surrounding the school carrying a huge banner praising the country and the Emir and the Heir Apparent amid decorated cars, much hooting of horns and dancing, sword waving boys as you can see in the video I posted soon after the event.

In 40 years in the classroom I’ve never before handled swords, a falcon and a Baretta shot gun, shared in a traditional dance waving a sword over my head or driven around the streets in a highly decorated SUV with the driver deliberately dropping it out of gear in order to make the gear box scream and the vehicle back-fire or witnessed the staff, just as enthusiastically as the students, dance with their swords and canes in a ever growing circle of chanting men, in the course of a teaching day.

The Emir declared a State holiday on the Thursday so that the public could share in the events that celebrate the foundation of the State of Qatar under the Al Thani dynasty. We, along with several thousand others, headed to the Corniche to watch the National Day parade.

This was a two hour long parade of Qatar’s armed forces and civil defence groups combined with a sail past of dhows with the sailors singing traditional sea shanties as they hauled the lateen sails into the breeze to keep themselves in the long line along the waterfront.

The parade was led off, amid great cheers from the crowd, with groups of young school children, waving flags, in traditional dress as symbols of the future of Qatar. Behind them came troops of armed horsemen and camel-riders also in traditional dress. Each of the horse troops were mounted on pure-bred Arabian horses with each troop on identically coloured horses while the camel force were also in troops of similarly coloured animals.

The crowd greeted these displays with admiring applause and cheers especially as the displays provided the sense of tradition and history that the National Day emphasises in all the publicity.

Behind the horses and camels came the machinery of Qatar’s armed forces from being a British Protectorate to the present. The display of armaments and supporting materiels would have made equivalent the Australian and New Zealand displays look considerably under-equipped. The parade culminated in a fly past of the Qatari Air Force and a demonstration by the helicopter squadron as they bowed their machines to the Emir.

In the Friday evening Joy and I were invited, by Mohammed Al-Shawi and his brother, Dr.Ali, to a tribal gathering held to celebrate the National Day. This was held in a huge tent on one of the large sites around Doha that are reserved for weddings and other celebrations. Here there were 2000 men who claimed a common family connection to the 60,000 strong Al-Shawi tribal group gathered,as were many other tribal groups around the city, to talk, dance and celebrate being Qatari.

As invited western guests Joy was able to attend so that for sometime she was the only woman present until a woman professor from the University of Qatar arrived as part of a group from the Sociology Department along with representatives from the American Embassy.
We sat in ornate seats along the walls of the tent with different members of the tribe who all made us welcome and quizzed us about New Zealand and its geographic location in the world. Our use of English confuses many who immediately assume that we are part of the E.U. or a part of the U.K. because they associate English as a European language.

The evening could have been easily translated to a Maori marae situation as when a visiting group from Saudi came onto the area the immediate reaction was to welcome the new comers with a challenge, in this context a sword dance, followed by a song of welcome and a mass embrace of the newcomers who were then ushered into the tent to mix and mingle with those who had been there for sometime.

Inside the tent the dancing went on to be interrupted by the entry of two young men on horseback who rode their mounts through the crowd to the centre space where they urged them to rear and paw the air with their hooves in a display of horsemanship and daring.

From these displays the evening merged into a contest of passionate poetry recitations as the tribal poets challenged each other to recitations of poetry in praise of the tribe, of Qatar and of the Emir. We were told that this part of the evening could easily go till much, much later in the night before either a winner was declared or the guest poet provided a suitably rousing finale so decided to take our leave at the same time as those from the American Embassy and the University left.

Our Cognition celebrations for Christmas were on the Thursday evening where the “Doha Darlings”, accompanied by their newly recruited “Dudes” launched the night with a song and dance routine based on the ABBA musical -”Mamma Mia”. The high lights of this light relief are in the video posted the day after. As you can see and hear the arrival of the “Dudes” in all our finery was greeted with much laughter by our colleagues. Unfortunately, one of the “Darlings” managed to tear a muscle in her hip in her enthusiasm and ended up in hospital that evening for treatment and then was off work for five days to recuperate.

On the 22nd Joy came along to school to see what we do as consultants in the school. She arrived and, on being introduced to the Art teacher, was ushered into the art room where she was shown some of his sculptures and then given a large coffee table sized canvas and a box of oil paints and asked if she could paint a picture.

Nonplussed, she said OK and began work. Over the next three to four hours she became the centre of attention as both boys and staff dropped by to watch her paint. By the end of the day the Academic Vice Principal had become the proud possessor of a New Zealand coastal scene which is now the centre piece on his office wall.

On Christmas day we did manage to share along telephone conversation with the family who had all gathered in Wanganui to celebrate both the day and as a last farewell to Dad and the memories that we all share of similar celebrations at number 67. The distance between us made the day and the conversations even more poignant than that which had felt on our first Christmas in the Middle East.

Christmas Day was celebrated, noisily and happily, with 17 of our friends a pot-luck lunch in the Graffha apartments. We ate well, drank moderately and talked loudly till late in the afternoon before Joy and I headed home. The Graffha and Khalifa residents ended up at a barbeque on the roof of the apartment block which, apparently, didn’t finish till well into the early hours of the morning.

We celebrated two New Year’s Eves with the Islamic New Year falling on Boxing Day and the Gregorian New Year on the 31st of December. If last year is anything to go by we have a couple more New Years to celebrate before July which will make for some great entertainment. I doubt that we will get to another Kurdish New Year picnic and celebration as we did last year as we don’t have such a large number of Kurds on our staff.

In the meantime Joy and I are planning our Semester end travels - at the moment it looks like an eight day trip to Turkey and a weekend in Dubai in late February.

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