Monday, March 23, 2009

Camel Races and a Spa - Sunday, March 22nd

Last night Gennette and Eyad picked us up from the airport in Doha.  When I lived in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia I was Gennette's visiting teacher.  She lived at Monopoly Village, a compound across the street from the Souks supermarket.  John and Joella Brown lived there also.  Lucy has known Gennette for over 40 years.  I will let Lucy tell that story of how they met.  Gennette is originally from Costa Rica, while her husband Eyad is from Baghdad, Iraq.  Gennette is very active LDS, and Eyad is Muslim.  They have 2 sons who have served LDS missions, one to England and one to Russia.  They have spent many years working in the Middle East, but they also have a home in Mesa, AZ.  We are loving staying with them.  For me, I am getting to know them both so much better than I did when I lived in Arabia.  Today is British Mother's Day.  First I want to say that as I had mentioned before, in Saudi Arabia the weekend is Thursday and Friday, and Friday is the Sabbath Day.  In Qatar, the weekend is Friday and Saturday, but Friday is still the Sabbath Day, so as Gennette says, "We go to church on Friday and celebrate on Saturday!"  So it should come as no surprise that on a daily basis I am asking people what day of the week it is.  I have never felt so confused as I have the past 2 weeks with our hectic schedule and not getting a "feel" for the day of the week.  Gennette and Eyad picked us up from the airport last night and brought us to their home, which is in a compound consisting of 10 homes.  These are the very large Arab type homes.  The ceilings are all 10-12 feet tall, and the rooms are spacious.  I will have to post photos of this to do it justice.  Lucy and I each have our own private bedroom.  Behind the main house is a small guest house where Conchita, the Filipina housemaid lives.  Each family who lives in this compound works for Bechtel Corp.  Gennette's husband, Eyad, works on the new airport here.  Last night we visited and ate Gennette's homemade carrot and corn soup.  Gennette is a microbiology major and so she loves making up potions, or rather experimenting with recipes.  I told her that I would never think of that combination for a soup, but honestly, I loved it and proved it by having 2 bowls of it.  Then this morning Janet Merkley, Sue Ashcroft came over and we had our visiting teaching meeting.  It doesn't matter what country you are in, there are members of the church all over the world which makes finding friends much easier than if I wasn't LDS.  After we met, Janet took Gennette, Lucy, Tessie (Gennette's Filipina neighbor) and I to the camel races.  The camel racetrack is in Al Sheehaniya, a 30 minute drive west of Doha.  Lucy and I loved this experience.  On the way to the racetrack we passed by ostrich crossing signs and camel crossing signs.  Those seem much more exciting than the deer crossing signs in Utah and Montana.  We also passed by the Emir's palace and learned he had recently taken his 4th wife.  That is the maximum number of wives a Muslim is allowed to have.  One of his wives is Sheikha Mozah who is very intelligent and progressive.  She has established a lot of universities and educational facilities in Qatar. As we were driving along, we passed camels on the side of the road and off in the distance were the Arab tents.  Janet was the perfect tour guide who stopped when we asked (which was often), saying, "Stop!  I've got to get a picture of that!"  Janet told us that if we waved a water bottle or a piece of fruit the camels would come to us.  She said that if you wave a water bottle at a camel they will come to you, take the water bottle in their mouth, tilt their head back and drink, and then return the water bottle.  I thought that was quite fascinating.  As we approached the racetrack we saw a camel crossing sign and a herd of camels wearing brightly colored blankets carrying Arabs wearing gutras and turbans were crossing the road.  Janet pulled over, we got out, and ran to take pictures.  Occasionally Toyota trucks and SUV's would drive by and have to stop at the camel crossing sign while the camels crossed the road.  Since camels were crossing the road from each direction, we decided that must be what "double crossing" meant.  While we were shooting photos I sat on a concrete wall taking pictures when a black SUV police officer drove up.  Having been in Arabia the past two weeks, my heart stopped, and I assumed we were in trouble.  Not so!  He pulled up, rolled down the window, leaned out and said, "You can drive on in the racetrack and get some better photos!"  Wow, this was not the type of police officer we were used to!!  He then stopped his truck, got out, and posed for pictures with us!  You can tell we are definitely NOT in Saudi!!  Then we drove through the gate, all the while taking pictures of the colorfully decorated camels with their drivers.  We noticed how some of the Arabs were not wearing sandals at all, but were barefoot.  Some of the camels were wearing brightly colored pink or yellow crocheted face masks covering their mouth and noses.  Maybe it was to keep the sand out.  I got some good shots of that also.  We were driving along looking at the camels when we came to a group of Arabs sitting on the ground with brightly colored robots in front of them.  Actually, these were battery operated camel whips which had a remote that looked like a remote door opener for a car.  We stopped, got out, took pictures, and they were thrilled for our visit.  They let us hold these "camel whips" and push the button, and I screamed and jumped when the whip started spinning around.  I have an old fashioned camel whip at home and figured that was the only camel whip there was.  I had no idea that modern technology had even entered the world of camel racing!  The reason for these remote controlled camel whips was because using children as jockeys was outlawed in recent years.  Sometimes the children jockeys would fall off the camels and be trampled.  We spent quite some time watching the Arabs practice racing their camels.  Then we left the camel racetrack and headed back to town, deciding NOT to go to "Cholesterol Corner" (the corner where all the fast food restaurants are!), but instead we ate lunch at a very classy Iranian restaurant.  I had never eaten Iranian food before, but of course, I loved it.  I think I love all Middle Eastern food.  Just give me hummus, Arab bread, and tabbouli, and that's a meal for me!  In the restaurant there were Iranian carpets covering the floor and hanging on the walls. They made their fresh bread at a nearby open oven.  We had a wonderful meal, and then Janet took us back to Gennette's home.  Our next surprise came an hour later when Gennette's friend, Minika came and picked us up to take us to The Diplomatic Club.  She has a membership there which costs $3000 a year but is paid for by her company. Minika is originally from Nigeria.  She is about 6 feet tall, has an extremely open, fun, bubbly personality, is very generous and giving, and fills a room with excitement when she enters.   She is living in Doha working for a construction company.  She has a strong personality, which definitely showed as she was driving us around, and when we came to an intersection and an Arab was in the car to the right of us, she put up her hand and said, "Stay!"  Lucy and I laughed at her strong driving approach towards Arab men.  Minika spent most of her life in England and so she has a British accent.  She wanted to take us to spend an afternoon at this health spa.  I told her later that I have never spent a day at a spa in my life.  I've heard of women who have been pampered with such treatment, but never experienced it myself.  After that experience I think I should treat myself to that at least once a year.  We took photos, of course, because no one would believe a spa like this.  The building looked like a palace.  We were scheduled for massages which we badly needed, but we learned that they had 2 massage therapists, however, one of them had been called to go to the palace of the Emir.  Minika was upset when she learned that and said to the staff at the spa, "What do you mean you sent your masseuse to the palace?  Didn't I tell you that we needed both of them?  My money is as good as his!" (Picture a tall, black woman with a British accent and a STRONG personality chastising the staff of The Diplomatic Club!!)   I don't know if the palace of the Emir got the best masseuse, but our masseuse was the best any of us have ever had!!  This little Filipina woman, Cynthia, gave a massage that was a combination of Swedish, Thai, and Shiatsu.   Since there were four of us, she gave 4 massages back to back.  I was first.   I entered a dimly lit room with rose petals scattered across the sheets of the massage table.  With soft background music,  she worked the muscles, stretched the muscles, and bent me every which way possible.   With me laying on my stomach, a towel covering me, she climbed on top and sat on my back and worked her magic.  (I know if my kids are reading this, they are saying, "Mom, that is too kinky.  Much more info than I needed!!")  I was thinking to myself, "Dang!  Why aren't the massage therapists at Massage Envy in St. George, Utah like this?"  I need to find someone like Cynthia in the States!  It was unlike any massage any of us had ever experienced, and we each staggered out of the room like drunken women.  While I was getting this massage, Minika came and knocked on the door, and when Cynthia opened the door, she took a picture!  My first photo during a massage!!  We had the whole day to use the facilities there...the exercise room, the sauna, the steam room, the swimming pool, the lounge with frest fruit juices and dates, and the hot tubs.  After my massage, I went in the room with the hot tubs and soaked in the hot water while visiting with Minika.  I stayed talking with her for hours, especially when I learned that she had walked across hot coals at a Anthony Robbins seminar.  I love Anthony Robbins and have always wanted to attend one of his seminars.  She told me about how it changed her life.  She was very modest about her life, but I learned that she had been a professional athlete in discus throwing in Nigeria and her scholarship due to her skills is what brought her to England.   I told her I love writing, and she said I should write a book about her.  I said I would definitely love that!!
No words can really describe Minika!  Anyway, we went from the hot tub to the sauna to the steam room and back, all the while discussing life, health, motivation and inspirational topics, and since she is LDS and a very strong LDS, I found it fascinating discussing topics with her that I couldn't discuss with just anyone.  She is single right now but has 3 boys.  Minika has been a delight to meet on this journey!  We spent the entire afternoon into the evening at this spa.  Then Gennette's husband met us there after work and we all went to dinner.  Once again, an Arab feast.  I feel as though I have been on a 3 week Arabian cruise!  
This is Lucy:  Karen is so detailed there is nothing much to add but I do remember Minika told us the key to good health is "Water and Greens, Water and Greens, Water and Greens!!!!!!"  BTW Gennette told us that Minika is true royalty.  Her father and grandfather were the leaders of their people in Nigeria.  She is a fascinating person.  She was playing Primary songs on her CD player the first time she picked us up, the next time it was Salsa!  It was British 
Mother's Day and she was delighted when she received a text message from one of her sons in England:  "Mother I love you, Mother I do, Heavenly Father has sent me to you!" (It's a Primary Children's song).
I have known Gennette and her family about 45 years, first met Manuel Thomas, her father, when we lived in the Alma Ward in Mesa.  His family was still in Costa Rica and we sort of "adopted"  him.  It was a great day when he was finally able to bring his wife Adriana, Gennette, Olga, Adrianita and Mayela to the States.  We were one of the first to welcome them and we have been close friends ever since.  Gennette and I were in Saudi Arabia at the same time, but I was never able to visit her in Riyadh and  by the time she moved to Al Khobar we had left Dhahran.  Manuel was the most wonderful man.  He loved to make us laugh and have fun.  Gennette laughs just like he did and has taken over his role of making everyone feel good.  She and Eyad are wonderful hosts.  We thought we would get to Doha and slow down, put up our feet and relax.  Believe me, the whirlwind pace has continued and we are loving it.  Doha is a fascinating place and we will tell you more later.

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