Eastern Dunes

evil_bunnyMy dearest friends, and all those pretending to be..

– To those with winning eggs: Happy Easter!
– To those with cracked eggs: Ace Hardware has a discounted “Arab EasterEggs”, guaranteed to smash the enemy eggs.
– To the rest: If you’ve recently converted to Christianity, contact me for your Easter Wishes!

Here is your greeting card:
http://view.greetings.yahoo.com/greet/view?XE3MQHEIVQVYF

Customarily (that’s for you, Helen!), this is Episode 2 of “Firo’s  Life in the Desert”. I have learned a whole lot more about Sand Dunes, Land Cruisers, Nissan Patrol (aha! new name! new competitor for the  Land Cruiser) and Mitsubishi Pajero (you’ll actually learn why this  is here soon).

I’ll get to the point, so here are the highlights of my best daily epiphanies of life in the Gulf:

– We start with the Gulf police. If you are a Gulf Citizen (Qatari, Kuwaiti, UAEi (try pronouncing that!), Omani, Bahraini, Saudi or Tabbouli.. uhm.. nope, that last one is a dish), the cops never stop  you or give you a ticket for anything. The law doesn’t apply to you. This means that if you’re not a Gulf Citizen, you’re always guilty. My conclusion is that, if you get hit by a Gulf Resident in your car, and it’s his fault, simply tow your own car to the desert, cover it with sand, and fly to Singapore. SARS is safer.

– Dubai is a very modern city, somewhat like a Las Vegas in the Gulf. They have special machines at the airport that poke holes in your  pockets without you noticing. From the time you leave the airport till you reach your hotel, you have spent all of your savings, those of your parents and neighbours, sold your grandma’s gold, robbed 2 banks and lost the money in a horse race, traded your car for a mule and spent the cash on popcorn, and managed to put 3 million dollars on credit cards you don’t yet have. God only knows how Dubai makes your money disappear!

– If you want to fly Qatar Airways, be ready to fight for a seat with 6000 other warriors. They were even discussing the lost space above your head, where they could install extra hanging chairs to accomodate more customers, since they’ve used all the isles, bathrooms, luggage compartments, cockpit, engine rooms and fuel tanks, and filled them all with seats. They shrunk the size of the seats to 2 inches each, and they distribute the “Qatar Airways Diet” brochure at the door.

– There is always that one guy in Business Class that wants to make sure you know that he was upgraded for free. 37 times in a 1 hour flight.

– You need permission to exit a Gulf country. Most countries make it hard for you to enter their borders, but Gulf countries punish you for entering by not letting you leave. Once you’re in, YOU’RE IN! And you need an Exit Permit signed by your boss, his boss, the CEO, the minister of External Affairs, the Prince, the Pope and John Lennon.

– Wasta: a big word. Means so much to Arabs. Wasta is the foundation of the Universe. It transcends all reality and virtuality. Wasta is when you walk into a Bank, find a 1 hour long waiting line, and decide to call your buddy who can close the Bank branch for 1 hour, kick everyone out, process your request, then re-open and let everyone back in. Wasta is when the cop writes you a ticket for $5,000,000 for running over a crowd of pedestrians and causing anarchy, then you make a phone call to your buddy who speaks to the cop for a minute, then the cop apologizes and escorts you to your house to make sure you arrive safely. He then goes back to clean up the mess. Long Live WASTA!

– Land Cruisers.. you gotta love them! If you didn’t get my first email about them, then I’ll tell you: Land Cruisers are to cars what Elephants are to Ants. They drive over them without saying “oops”, and they never notice their existence. Now there are competitors: the Mitsubishi Pajero and the Nissan Patrol. To make it simple, let’s just say that there are 700k people living in Qatar, then there are 3 billion Land Cruisers, 200 million Nissan Patrols and 100 million Mitsubishi Pajero. That’s it.

– Finally, license plates. There are no “custom” plates, but there are “special number” car license plates. For example, if your car has the plate 123, the plate is worth $200k or sometimes more. If it is 111, we’re talking close to $500k. The license plates are seldom more expensive than the cars, but rarely bigger than the egos.

– And to sum it all up, the irony of it all. Yep, you guessed it, I DID succomb to the dynasty of Four Wheel Drives! I exchanged my Mercedes for a …. nope … not a Land Cruiser, that would be IMMORAL! Well, a  2003 Mitsubishi Pajero.. which I actually love! So there! 😉 Here it is: http://www.australiasbestcars.com.au/2001/fourwheel.htm

– Here are some meaningless things I have gathered:

Lebanese Recipes:
http://www.lebaneserecipes.f9.co.uk/Lebanese.htm

Names in Chinese:
http://stage.cwasia.net.sg/~oriweb/

Wrecked Exotic Cars:
http://www.wreckedexotics.com/

And of course, my latest website, still under construction (so please don’t play around too much yet until I am done):
http://www.moustaamal.com

“Habby Eastern” to all, as they would say it here in the Gulf. I know you don’t miss me, but now that I forced myself into your day, email me back and say hello!

Firo (The Artist Formerly Known As Firas)
Mobile (or cellular, in US terms): XXXXXXXXXXXXXX
Email: duh

Holiday Thoughts

evil_bunnyHey all,

It’s me again.. this time from the deep deserts of Qatar in the Arabian Gulf. No, I am not plotting an attack over any country (yet), I am on a peace mission to rescue the Qatari Land Cruisers from quicksands. In case you don’t know who this is, keep reading or buy some Ginseng for your memory. Firo is the american slang term for Firas, the IBM voodoo doll of the Sahara.

It’s been over a month that I left beautiful San Francisco to move with IBM to Doha City in Qatar. I’ll just say that it is quite an interesting endeavor! I miss California though..

For those who are celebrating the holidays, Merry Christmas and a Prosperous New Year! This is for you:

http://www.perfectgreeting.com/index.cfm?action=viewcard&scid=10506078&type=1

For those who aren’t, fat luck! But hey, you probably just had a long vacation for the Eid. I sure enjoyed cruising the sand dunes at 140 KM/h in a Land Cruiser (remember this name, it will come in handy)!

For those who know what a GSM mobile is (and what an SMS message is), my GSM mobile number is XXXXXXXXXXX. Send me an SMS so I can add you to my addressbook.

For those who have no clue what GSM is, and are still wondering which is better, Verizon, AT&T, Voicestream, T-Mobile, GTE, Sprint, Nextel or Cingular (Can you hear me now?), my cellphone number is XXXXXXXXXXXXX

My personal email is still firo@firosoft.com, but I can also be reached at my IBM Qatar email XXXXXXXXXXXXXX and my Qatar Government email XXXXXXXXXXXXX

Random facts about the area:

– No one rides camels here, but they drive their 2003 Land Cruiser as if it was a camel

– People don’t live in tents between desert sand dunes. It’s quite modern here, in fact, something like a mini-Los-Angeles surrounded by the Sahara. I keep wondering why the desert doesn’t decide to move in one day and burry the whole thing..

– Everyone owns a Toyota Land Cruiser, even the camels. There are more Land Cruisers than people in Qatar. A Land Cruiser can drive over any obstacle, whether it’s a sand dune, a road divider, a sidewalk, another car, a person, a building, a city, a group of  people sitting peacefully in their living room, water, clouds and even laws, rules and limits. A Land Cruiser cannot drive over another Land Cruiser unless the first Land Cruiser is driven by a Qatari Citizen/National and the other one isn’t.

– You can’t get alchohol except in hotels and their clubs, bars and restaurants. You can get alchohol anywhere if you are connected or have a lot of money and know how to flash it. You can get even more alchohol if you offer some to the policeman coming to arrest you.

– If you ask for anything and the person says the word “Inshalla” (translates to “If God’s Will Allows It”), they actually mean “I will never do this for you. You can wait for days and weeks, you will then call my GSM mobile 674 times, I will never answer your calls. You will then complain to your manager and mine. I will be on vacation in my Land Cruiser. When I come back in 3 weeks, my manager would’ve forgotten. You will then call me again. I will finally answer you and say “Inshalla”. You will break something and  decide to do the thing yourself without my help. I will get a raise and I will go on another vacation to the same exact desert spot in my Land Cruiser”

– Qatari nationals don’t pay gas, electricity or water. They also treat any restaurant as a drive-thru, by parking their Land
Cruiser outside and honking until all the employees go out and service their needs

– You can speed in front of a police car, that’s OK. There are no actual enforced speed limits. It’s even better if you’re a Qatari national, in which case there are no actual enforced driving laws at all, except basic survival necessities.

– There is one company that provides telephone, electricity, water, GSM cellular phones, internet, oxygen, life, and headaches. It’s called Qtel, but it has been baptised Qhell. Their working hours are from 8am till 8:05am, enough time to punch in their timecards. The minimum amount of time for any service is 1 month from the time your boss’ boss’ boss calls the general manager and offers him a favor in return of this favor, or a Land Cruiser EFI 4500 VX-R Safari with “nabikeyshun”

– The official word for Yes is “Atcha-Atcha”, which stems from the fact that 150% of the population is Eastern Indian. If you can do the affirmative infinity-sign headshake, you get a 10% dizgawnt.

– You can bargain ANYTHING. I mean ANYTHING. The rule of thumb is, if he asks for X, start by offering X divided by 10. You’ll eventually get it for X divided by 2 or 3 (refer to the headshake above)

– Nothing is illegal unless you are caught.

– Leaving anything in your car in the summer sun means that this object will become a permanent part of its surrounding area, whether it is the dashboard, seat or trunk lining. This applies to cassettes, CDs, clothes, drugs, machine guns, car engines and transmission. People left in the car will melt and disintegrate through spontaneous combustion. Cooling time for a car sitting in the summer sun for 1 hour is 1 day with the air conditioner on.

– Finally, please don’t get the wrong impression. Life is really awesome here, tons of friends, tons of things to do, and really nice and genuine people. Everyone is truly helpful and generous. You’d love it!

– Buy a Land Cruiser..

I’ll be in Lebanon from the 25th of December till the 3rd of January (for those who care). Email me your numbers in Lebanon and we’ll get together. My Lebanon GSM mobile number will be XXXXXXXXXX. I’ll be in the States sometimes in March or April.

Happy Holidays, and sorry for the long venting message
Firo