I hope those cannons are firing blanks...
Trip Start Sep 22, 2006
14Trip End Jan 2007
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I made my way down with 3 friends arriving in time for the 5:10PM cannon kick-off. To celebrate the end of Ramadan and the final fast break my friend and I had stopped on the way to get some fresh juices - lemon mint for me and strawberry mango for her. We left the juices hiding on the floor of the car until the sun officially went down and headed towards the centre of the parking lot where the cannon had just been wheeled in on a trailer pulled by a jeep.
The parking lot was filling up with Land Rovers, Pajeros, Hummers, Suburbans and from these vehicles children poured out and ran excitedly towards the cannon. I have to admit that I was slightly shocked but not all that surprised as parents lifted their children up to sit on the cannon - and I mean on the actual cannon, the part that shoots the ammunition. Dozens of children scrambled around on top of this thing their parents happily taking photos of them smiling and laughing while the army officials unloaded steel boxes of (hopefully) blank ammunition to be shot from the cannon. This soon proved to be as exciting as the cannon itself and groups of kids (and adults including me I admit) crowded around the military fatigued men unloading the huge steel canisters of ammunition. With the light of the setting sun, the dust rising up from the SUV's pulling into the parking lot, the anticipation of the cannon shot and the impending sunset and end of Ramadan, the atmosphere was charged with energy.
As the sun set casting an orange glow over the parking lot we heard the muezzin's call to prayer from a nearby mosque and the muslim men in the crowd lined up in a row and began to pray, the last prayer of Ramadan. After they finished my friend I ran back to the car to get our juices from their hiding place behind the seats. I brought my juice back to the group around the cannon and gave one to an Australian friend as well. As I was offering it to him he looked at me horrified and said in a hushed tone "What are you doing?? You can't do this now!" I looked behind him at a Qatari friend of his who also looked horrified and said "You can't drink that yet!!". Mortified I imagined myself being hauled off to Qatari prison for drinking in public in a parking lot full of muslims with 5 minutes left until the end of Ramadan. I looked around, frantically trying to think what I could do with my juice that wouldn't end in my arrest until I looked at my friends to see them laughing. The sun had set, I was safe. Just a little post-Ramadan humour.
There were a fair few foreigners there, many of whom also worked with DAGOC and after taking our fair share of photos and posing in front of the kids on the cannon we stuffed our ears with bits of toilet paper in anticipation of the big event. A friend of mine who had been down to watch this a couple of times in the days prior had thoughtfully brought a few handfuls of toilet paper so we could preserve at least a moderate amount of hearing when the cannons went off.
One of the officers waved a pistol around and yelled at the kids in Arabic at which point they clambered off the cannon (not sure if it was because a pistol was being waved at them, or what was being said in Arabic) and many retreated back a safe distance. None of these kids had any ear protection - unless you count fingers in ears but somehow I don't think that would pass Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, even here! Suddenly one officer yelled something out and fired his pistol in the air and then off went the cannon for the first shot. Holy Hannah, I have NEVER felt or heard noise like that in my life. I physically felt a wall of noise hitting my chest and it nearly knocked my sunglasses off the top of my head, the ground shaking under my feet, dust rising up all around us and the sound of nearly deafened children crying filled the air. Wow. And there were 14 more of these to go.
I'll spare the details, but after about 8 shots I felt physically exhausted by the adrenaline and noise and intensity of the sound, although it seemed to be less intense each time. Perhaps the toilet paper hadn't preserved as much hearing as I'd thought!
At any rate, around shot 12 there seemed to be some technical difficulties and one of the officers took out some kind of large hammer and started hitting the cannon in a variety of ways. Then they took the ammunition out of the cannon and began to play around with a few other tools. After about 5 minutes of playing around it looked as though they still intended to shoot the next round, despite the obvious glitch in equipment. It was pretty much unanimously agreed that this would be a good time to head out, leaving the dust to settle behind us and some hearing still intact.
And so ended my first Ramadan in the Gulf. The next day was the beginning of the Eid al-Fitr holiday, 4 days off work and for me the start of a 5 day trip to Oman. Eid Mubarak everyone!