Desert Stories!

Desert sunset

Before leaving for Doha, Qatar, I had asked a few OFWs lined up in the embassy who were getting their visas what Qatar was like. The few I talked to said there were no theme parks, no cheap shopping and that it was a boring place compared to Dubai or even Bahrain. With that impression in mind, we landed in Doha.

While it was true that there was no ‘Disneyland’, everything else was underrated. Doha, though a bit laid back has everything. And it is a country in a state of frenzied construction since they will be hosting the Asiad Games next year. They are sparing no expense to spruce up the city and to build the biggest sports complex in the world. There are builders, workers, big machines everywhere working 24 hours a day to make sure this is all finished on time. Qatar is, to be sure, a country on the make.

And this is where APO’s producers had a problem. They could not find a sizeable venue to accommodate our kababayans who wanted to watch. All venues that were big enough to house thousands were in a state of repair. We ended up in a nice but tiny movie theater called the Doha Cinema and because of its small size, tickets were priced way too expensive—far beyond the reach of the regular OFWs. The ticket price was easily a quarter of their take-home pay. And even though we performed for a meager crowd, it was an extremely enthusiastic one. They wanted to make sure that they would enjoy every moment—and did.

Our producer Saeed Al Ghanim, who is one of the friendliest people I have ever met has promised that next time we come back, he will have a venue big enough so regular working Pinoys can watch. We are really looking forward to that.

As a visitor to Qatar, the most charming element I loved was its ‘Arabness’. I don’t think I have ever visited the Middle East and did NOT have a good time. The Arabs are a loud, warm, wonderful people who love good food and are quite conscientious about how they show their hospitality. And this combination of Arab and Filipino alaga which our producers showered on us was just great. We were housed in villas with a Filipino cook, Elmer, who made sure we were fed sumptuously. And almost every single wish we dared express was always granted. Thus, we were able to go to the desert and see sand dunes, ride a camel, experience an Arab feast, and dress up Arab style for pictures. We also had a chance to shop in their very modern malls and also their centuries old ‘souqs’ or markets where the no. 1 merchandise people trade is still gold. Next is precious stones.

I brought Lydia along. I thought it would be timely since she would probably never go there on her own anyway. It was her first experience in the Middle East and she sure took it all in, including the food (lamb, kebabs, humus, and other delicacies I can’t remember the names), the sweets (chocolates with almonds, pistachios, and Baclava pastries etc.). Then there was the shopping. She went crazy at the souq where she bought ‘old world’ stuff which included antique bells and bangles to wear and some pieces of gold jewelry which had me sweating for awhile–what with the Ilocano that I am. Ha ha! But what we enjoyed most together were the uniquely Arab experiences which were the excursions to the desert, the food and meeting Qataris who are very friendly.

‘I’ve been to the desert on a camel with no name..’ ha ha!

‘Lydia, queen of the dunes!’

One of these days, I will take the rest of my family to visit the Gulf so they can experince another type of culture that may seem alien especuially to us who have been way too westernized. I relish looking forward to enjoying another desert sojourn but this time, I want to meet Bedouins (desert tribes) who still live in tents and drink camel’s milk. I would like to stay overnight and watch the wind and sand reconfigure the dunes into ever new landscapes.

Bedouin heaven!

I don’t know how many readers of this blog can relate to the wonderfully foreign experience of driving though streets lined with date trees, and the sound of the call to prayers from minarets everywhere at different times of the day. Throw in the awe of looking at a centuries old people who are making the big leap into the 21st century with their satellite dishes, modern buildings, new cars, computers, and modern hospitals while still wearing their traditional clothes and adhering close to their traditional mores. I find all of it wondrous and exotic. Unlike Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states are quite open and tolerant of foreigners. In fact, they are often quick to embrace foreign ways but without losing their own culture. It’s the charm of the old world blending in with the new in a way only Arabs can do.

Can you tell the Pinoys from the Arabs?

A beautiful Qatari woman. A stolen shot since they do not like their pictures taken. I know I should not but I could not resist!

It’s good to discover that Filipinos are generally liked and respected in Qatar. Our resourcefulness, probably honed because of years of deprivation and our ability to make do with so little, is regarded highly. With the Filipinos running their transport system, supervising their constructions, starting up their small businesses, processing their oil, etc., the Arabs as a people will become less and less alien to us. A great many Pinoys now eat shawarmma, and have become acclimatized living there for so long. Someday soon, Kahlil, Mubarak, Saeed, Mohammad will have become names as common to us as Boyet, Jon-jon, Kimberly and Arnel. Who knows, in exchange they could be singing ‘Pumapatak ang Ulan‘? Ha ha!

‘Sheik Jaime Mustafa Ibrahim Paredes!!’

27 thoughts on “Desert Stories!”

  1. wow! ang ganda. i can almost imagine myself being with you. one day, iikutin ko ‘yang middle east. insha-Allah.:)

    in the picture where you wore the arab kimon, you reminded me of my dad. he used to wear that during eids when i was little.:)

    i also want to see and meet real bedouins and ride on a camel.:)

  2. Bishop and anonymous–salamat sa bisita.

    babypink–I was also thinking of you when I was there. It’s great to learn about other ways of living. The more I go there, the more I appreciate their ways.

  3. ah. i know what you mean about going to foreign places. gaya ni misis (hi ate lydia!), mas gugustuhin ko pang pumunta sa souq kesa mall. dito sa america, mas na eenjoy kong mamasyal sa mga swapmeet kesa mag lakad sa mall. mura na nga, pwede pang makipag barter.

    ewan ko nga kung bat pag pumupunta/umuuwi mga fil-ams dyan sa pinas, una silang pinapasyal sa mall – parang walang malls dito. o kaya sa boracay, na puro mga katulad nilang turista.

    mas gugustuhin ko pang sa probinsya na kung saan talagang makikita ang mga pamumuhay ng mga tao.

    mabuhay ang mga promdi!!

  4. My four years stint in Bahrain not only gave me a broader perspective in life but it also made me gain a lot of true and gentle arabian (Bahrainis, Qataris & Saudians) friends whom I would keep for life! Bahrain is not only culturally beautiful, its’ people are very helpful, kind and have hearts as big and open as their desert land.

  5. Hi Jim,
    I’m so very glad to find your blog. I can’t believe it, I’ve been searching on the net about you and google sent me here!
    First of all I would like to tell you that I’m a new fan of Apo Hiking Society. Like every Filipino, I know your songs very well even when I was a kid, but its only now that I began to appreciate their true beauty and message (I’m already 36 years old). About two months ago, I was listening to a local radio station and heard one of your songs (Batang bata ka pa) being played. I have listened to that song many times over before. But now it had become infinitely more beautiful and touching because I can relate to the lyrics, being now a father of a young kid. Last month, I bought a collection of your songs in CD (original cd po hehe), and now and again, I’m always playing that song. I also had great pleasure listening to some of your classics Ewan, Kabilugan ng Buwan, Kaibigan, Pumapatak Ang Ulan, Lumang Tugtugin, and so many more. They brought back nostalgic memories of my younger years. Now I always play your cd before I sleep and I feel so relaxed everytime.
    I think Apo is one of the most creative songwriting groups of the late 70s and the whole 80s. Your songs are very special to me, and of course to millions of Filipinos. I consider your songs as unique compared to what other Filipino composers of your time were composing. Your songs carry a message, yet in such a way that had the power to make people smile, think, be happy about, and proud of our nationality. I think Apo Hiking Society deserves a national culture award or something…
    I am writing this not because I want people to know that I am your fan, but rather to say thank you for making classic songs that to me are some of the most beautiful ones ever composed. I hope that soon you will have a concert in Araneta Coliseum so I can finally watch you, Buboy and Danny live in performance.
    In wish you and your family Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year.
    Dennis Villegas
    Novaliches, Q.C.

    P.S. Nagpunta po pala ako dun sa exhibit nyo ng photos, grabe ang gaganda ng mga shots ninyo, perpekto ang komposisyon! Pinakagusto ko yung shot nung maliit na ferry sa gitna ng maalimbukay na mga alon! Pero lahat maganda. Galing po talaga!

  6. Jim,

    thanks for sharing this story and taking us along with the ride.

    it really inspired me to do some real traveling one of these days.


  7. ibalik–absolutely. The idea behind traveling is going ‘local’.

    venessa-Yes! It’s great to discover that there are good people everywhere, and even greater to discover friends for life in unlikely places.

    enigma, coolmel–salamat!

    Dennis–I just had to forward to the two guys your wonderful letter. Thank you for yor glowing tribute. After all these years, I continue to be inspired to go on by people who see something in what we do, Salamat!

  8. Hi Jim, nice to see that you enjoyed your little trip to Qatar.T hanks for sharing your experiences and pictures.

    Oh and let take this opportunity to greet you and your loved ones a Merry Christmas and a Happy New year. 😀

  9. WOW nice! 😀 I enjoyed looking at the pics! hehehe! Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and your loved ones! 🙂

  10. hi! please, allow me to have a “fan” moment and let me gush about how i love the APO!!!
    thanks for sharing your qatar experience. it really made me miss my childhood country, Bahrain.
    There is definitely something about the muslim prayer cried out by muezzins from atop the mosques’ minarets that always get me to whisper a Christian amen to it.
    Thanks for the wonderful blog!

  11. screwed up, vanillaskies–Thanks. Merry Christmas to you too.

    Jai-nism–What a nice visit! I am so happy to be visited by people like you. Do keep coming back! Salamalaikum! (I hope I spelled that right!).


  12. I’m pretty jealous of the Qataris, actually. We want APO in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, too!!

    It’s nice that you had a great Gulf experience. Saudi Arabia is also a Gulf country, only we have a slightly different culture. But if you want to see Bedouins, then you want to go to Saudi Arabia. Bedouins are everywhere, not just in the desert with their tents and camels. =)

    My brothers and I were gasping at your shot of the Qatari woman (it WAS a beautiful shot, MashaAllah). Taking photos in public, even of inanimate objects, is a big no-no here. But I don’t want to discourage you. Hehe.

    I’m a great fan, and I love your work. More power to you!


  13. baby rockstar–We were in saudi in 1986. I loved it. It was my first Gulf visit and it was so fascinating. I must admit being intimidated by many things–the mutawa who watched our show and threatened to cancel the tour if the nurses went up the stage again the next day for pictures.The first time I saw women covered in black was a ghastly sight (for me at least). But I loved the whole foreigness of it.

    I know bawal magphoto but I guess the photographer in me HAD to do it. I would not mind going back to Sudi again! I realize that a lot have chaned since then. I would love to perform there and see Bedouins and all that!!


  14. meron akong auntie na nurse diyan sa doha.bakit kaya halos lahat ng nurses na kakilala ko ay nasa abroad?

  15. i grew up in the middle east. my dad used to work there. when i first relocated back to the phils, everyone kept asking me what sort of society arabs have. they all had this notion that they were oppressive. i beg to differ. if only arab nations had equal treatment of men and women, i’d work there now. and yes, i love the way you describe the filipino. that’s so true. it’s not hard to hear arab men talking tagalog to OFW customers at the souk. in fact, i learned my first cebuano words from the son of a saudi sheik whose nanny was from cebu. it’s really a fascinating experience.

  16. Hi Jim,

    Just received an email about your migration here in Australia, I say welcome to Australia Kabayan! I share your sentiments in having expressed your dissappointments over the way our beloved country is being “manhandled” by few selfish minority. Its a real pity to see our country go down the line(I think the same level of
    bangladesh (not that we look down at Bangladesh) were as 20 to years ago we were side by side with Japan! Its a pity to watch so much resources (natural, people, talent etc) go into waste. True indeed, filipinos like me living in foreign country get a bit of a guilt of leaving the country for more “greener pasteurs” and use our talents for another country. But what can we do! We have to put food the the table, we have to send our children to school or save a relative treated for cancer, and the list goes on and on. Yes I agree that all that I have just mentioned all involved financial matters at a glance, but as you look deeper are they not reason for survival, the reason for living? If only our government answers the question of What it can offer for our families’ and children’s future, I would not think twice in going back home ( were my heart really belong)rather than “slaving” myself to foreign dominion.
    I am not trying to discourage your migration. I just want to express what it is to live in a foreign country. I may not share the same view with others but I am sure that a lot of our kababayans in foreign countries share the same sentiment.
    To you and your family, Goodluck and Godbless.

  17. hello
    i saw the picture of the Qatari woman you have but i would really like you to remove it from the site>>and i’m really asking you this politely since i turned out to be one of my friend’s sister>>so please remove the picture as soon as you get my message because this is very inpolite since you got it without asking.

  18. I’m with abdulla..

    It’s just not right to put it knowing the lady will mind.
    I’m a Qatari gal by the way 🙂 We don’t appreciate such gestures, buddy!

    Nice blog though 😀 I like pholipinos too…

  19. hi,
    please, take the picture off the site if we did something against your religion you will be angry from us like we are angry now ,so please take it off if you have respect to people’s privacy like apic you didn’t ask from the lady to take and it’s not right.Imagine if she was your sister and i took apicture of her without her permissionyou will be mad ,so please think if you are in her shoes wouldn’t you be mad do you maybe she will not get married because of you people talk please think that god is watching us and you and every body.

  20. Hey JERK,

    what do u mean by “even” Bahrain!!! We started it all BABY!! RESPECT :@ Who do you think used to fund all the other Gulf countries…we may be a tad down on our luck now…but who are you to judge us afterall…


  22. Hi,

    I’m a Qatari, I have come cross your site by chance, I like the photos, but I should request you to remove the Qatari girl picture as it is not appropriate for a girl picture to be published without her permission, in addition to that some conservative families might harm the girl too.
    I know you are a gentleman, and you are going to understand the nature of my request.
    Many thankx and welcome to Qatar again

    Kind Regards

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