Saturday, January 26, 2008

A Sporting Weekend-Part 1

In case you didn't know- Doha hosted the 2006 Asian Games back in December 2006. It was a big to-do here and prompted a large amount of new construction and general enthusiasm for sports. It was also the city's test to show had the potential to host the 2016 Summer Olympics. (Much like Chicago's hosting of the 2006 Gay Games to prove its worthiness as a 2016 applicant city. ....pause... Ok, may be a little different...) So you see brand new stadiums, the large 'Aspire Tower' which was the centerpiece of the Asian Games, banners showcasing the 'sportiness' of the city and so on.

However, if you want to see real Qatari sporting enthusiasm- head to the camel, I mean, Land Cruiser, I mean, camel race track. About 45 km outside the city are the oval race tracks and the facilities that house the camels, their handlers and trainers. The camels use to be raced by exploited and often orphaned child jockeys (sometimes as young as age four) but the law changed only a few years ago outlawing the use of child jockeys. Today they use remote controlled robots with robotic whips on top of the camels. The owners then drive alongside the 5, 8, or 10 km long track in their SUVs (mainly Land Cruisers), pressing the remote to whip and urge their camel along.

Friday I joined up with a group of Carnegie Mellon faculty and staff to go on a guided trip to the camel races (100 QR, ~$27.5US), where our bus would have permission to drive along side the race track. We arrive at the course and we're told our bus could not enter, because the Prince (well, one of them) was going to arrive and perhaps after he arrived we could enter. We milled about for a while- annoyed that we had paid for what we could have done for free. Thankfully we had some Arabic speakers in the group and they convinced the officials to let us in. We drove in and piled out amongst the Land Cruisers and camel owners and found ourselves a few meters away from the Prince himself!

We crowded along the track, snapping pictures, and watching the handler's struggle to push the camels into place. Then we were told we better move as 1) the camels could bolt over the fence and 2) we were about to be run over by frantic Land Cruisers. No horn, no siren-- the large gate went up- the camels bolted, the handlers all scrabbled out of the way and the SUVs screeched after them. We didn't see much except for the start and anti-climatic endings of 2 races but then another official said our bus had permission to follow behind the SUVs along the track (I think the Prince had left). Next race began and we sped off after the vehicles. A well-trained camel runs at about 35 km/h and many of them eventually slowed to be more evenly spread out along the track. The SUVS were another story- they were the real pack and proved more entertaining than the camels with colorful robotic whipping humps. We drove right with them, jostling and honking and bumping along the road next to the course, dust flying in through our open windows. The races were all 8 km female camel races that took about ~7 minutes for the fastest camel. We drove around the track 2 times and watched another race from the ground before we headed back to town.

The environmental standards in me say I shouldn't have liked camel racing- it manages to combine tedious animal racing with emissions spewing vehicle racing. And yes, I'll admit I'm not crazy about the need to drive cars/vans around the track. But- it was thrilling- and yes, it is certainly a bit of culture you won't find in the States. It also proved to be valuable bonding time with fellow-CMU-Q employees. And for that, I enjoyed it.
مع السلام

1 comment:

  1. Hey, we hosted the Gay Games and the World Boxing Championships... cut us some slack back stateside. :) Plus, Accenture accounted for 25% of the volunteer workforce- which would mean opportunities if the games were held in Chicago.

    ... but would also mean I'm there another 8 years. Yar.

    Otherwise, though:

    Camel Racing- sounds cool.
    You starting to like NASCAR- we'll need to talk. :D