Monday, July 9, 2007

R&R (pics)

9 Jul 07
Back from R&R...what a great time! I went to the Army's Camp As Sayliyah outside Doha, Qatar. It was a great time.

I took a red eye C-130 down to the USAF base Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar and arrived in the early morning hours. It was a British C-130 and of course those guys were great when I got there. To save me time running around to all the USAF agencies, the Brits offered to store all my equipment, my weapons, and ammo. They took me to billeting and when the billeting manager asked if the wanted to put me with them they said, "sure, we're much closer to the office and it will be easier for him." I love the British!...very accommodating and everything is easy with them.

I slept for a few hours then got up to go take my final test for the class I'm in but the test center was closed so I called for a ride to the R&R camp.

I arrived at As Sayliyah around 1400 and after inprocessing, headed straight for the gym. I heard they do massages there and I figured I wanted to start my R&R off right. Funny enough, there were several rough looking soldiers there getting manicures and pedicures. I signed up for the massage then joined the dudes for a manicure and pedicure (not that there's anything wrong with that). Money well spent on all three accounts!

For dinner I hit Chilis there on base...the military has been inviting bigger and bigger chains onto their overseas bases to give us a little bit of home overseas. We had Chilis in Japan and they've obviously expanded to Qatar. Some of you know I'm a Mexican food freak. I killed some fajitas and chips and salsa. Later that night I went to the pub and cashed in on my 3 beer/day ration.

I was assigned quarters in a 10 man room...5 bunk beds. Because I was the newest guy in, there were no bottom bunks left so I had to take a top bunk. The next day I met the guy in the bottom bunk. He was with another guy with a University of South Carolina shirt on. I asked the guy if he was from SC. He said he was from Eastover (30 min from Sumter?). I told him I was from Sumter and stationed at Shaw. Then my bunk mate chimed in that he was from Sumter. Capt Mike McLeod is a '94 graduate of Sumter High and is currently deployed to Kuwait. There was several 100 (maybe a 1000?) people at As Sayliyah on R&R so I had to laugh...what are the odds of two Sumter boys ending up as bunk mates in Qatar? What a small world!

Doha is the "new Dubai" of the Middle East. Qatar is a small, wealthy oil nation that has begun to secure itself a spot as a banking and trading center for the Middle East. They recently hosted the Asian Games (like our Pan American Games or a mini-Olympics) which spurred a ton of construction. There were some 30+ sky scrapers that were either newly completed or almost complete but had not even been thought of until they got the Asian Games. They are also building an island community like the ones Dubai built in the shape of a palm tree and the globe. The Doha island is called "The Pearl."

I signed up for a sponsor so I could go off base. At about 2 p.m. three USAF guys came thru the USO on As Sayliyah and picked up me and another guy for dinner on the town. We went to a gold market then a mall before a great dinner at the new Four Seasons, Doha. It was pricey but I was okay with that.

After dinner we headed back to the camp and the guys dropped me off at the USO. That night they were hosting a concert by the Atlanta band Five Star Iris (http://www.fivestariris.com/) for one of several shows planned for troops deployed all around the Middle East including some really austere camps. Any band that signs up to come out to the field and entertain the troops especially in some of the really remote locations we are nowadays is outstanding in my book and Five Star Iris put on a great show for us. The only thing missing was more beer!



The next day was the 4th of July...I took the day easy and celebrated with, well, three beers at the USO. I met up with a few guys I knew that are in the same command advising Iraqis at Kirkuk AB. We all signed up for the cultural tour the following day.

The cultural tour was a great experience. We started at the camel market where there were rows and rows of camel stalls. You won't see these camels racing around the desert though. These are eating camels and all are purchased for slaughter/consumption. Several of us commented that it reminded us of the state fair livestock show. After the camel market we went to the farmer's market. Again, it looked and smelled just like a farmer's market in the US. Next we started to press into the city and made our way to the Old Iranian Souq ("sook"...market). It was very cool and looked like a village out of New Mexico. The highlight was a shop where they sell hawks and hawking supplies...Arabs are often very big into hawking. They work to train hawks for some 10 months to hunt other birds and return them to their masters.

We hit the Gold Souq next followed by lunch at an Iranian restaurant on the waterfront. Lunch also included stopping at a "hooka" shop to smoke hooka pipes. There a waiter took our orders and an attendant came by periodically to feed our pipes and ensure we had plenty of hooka(?) to smoke. I had apple flavor which came in a solid coal/ember but wasn't harsh at all like tobacco when you smoke it. We smoked our hookas then back onto the bus.



Our last two stops were malls. What surprised me was the contrast of styles amongst the women. Most of the women dressed in the black abbaya but some were in stylish jeans and tank tops or some top showing off their midriff. As I studied the "ninjas" (as our Jordanian guide called them) in their abbayas I noticed that many of them had on jeans or some colorful outfit underneath. I had heard the women would often wear western outfits under their abbayas but hadn't seen it first hand until now. We headed back to the base in the early evening.



The next couple of days I just flopped around the camp taking in some of the shopping on base and hanging out in the USO. The USO is exceptionally well done there and it was a really comfortable place to hang out and to be honest, I didn't want to do much more than that.

On the last day I headed back to Al Udeid to look for a flight back to Basrah with the British again. I took my final test for ACSC and put that beast behind me then headed back to Basrah in the early evening arriving in time to make dinner...chicken curry...how original.

27 comments:

emitch1 said...

Bill - with all due respect, I'm thinking a pedicure and manicure is a bit over-the-top for a rough and tumble guy! PUH - LEASE! I know, I know, Seinfeld doesn't think "there's anything wrong with that" but holy cow, man, it ain't a guy thing to do! Please tell us you didn't buy a "man-purse" "leather attache" too! Sheesh!

Eric

Glad you had fun, brother! You're still in our daily prayers!

USAF Guy said...

I wouldn't have dreamt of it until I saw all those soldiers doing it (so to speak). Figured if the could, I would! But much like any other average American guys, the guys here weren't hearing any part of it. They were sure I went for the bikini wax too...not that there's EVERYTHING wrong with that!

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