Well, apparently the answer is seven. Call it karma, because I have always found other people getting their cars stuck in the mud highly amusing, but today I found out the hard way what it was like to actually do such a ruddy stupid thing (quite scary actually, if you must know. And humiliating. And bloody funny, with the benefit of hindsight).
I’d gone out to the Simaisma area to take my dog for a walk and to see if we would have any luck finding a German Shepherd dog which has been reported on the Dogs in Doha Facebook page as missing in the area. It’s a nice place to walk and it makes a change from my usual dog-walking haunts around Al Wakra.
I drove up to Al Khor, and then hit the coast and headed south along beach and desert tracks, stopping occasionally to get out and have a good walk around in places which looked like likely hiding spots for a lost dog.
I am a confident driver and I know how to handle a 4WD (supposedly) and I knew the terrain in that area was firm and rocky, rather than soft sand, so there was no need to drop the tyre pressures or load up with shovels and tow ropes….or so I thought.
While the first part of the afternoon had all been over completely unfamiliar terrain, I was actually getting into the bit of the coast which I know quite well when the incident happened.
I was following a track which I know from previous experience to be quite bumpy. Quite often, smoother and leas rutted parallel tracks are forged alongside older tracks, so I dropped down onto lower ground to follow what I thought was one of these newer tracks. Before I knew it, the terrain had become rather sticky and the steering suddenly became pretty useless.
As I attempted to turn towards the track again, in trying to maintain some speed I actually ended up accelerating away from the track and I got the car completely bogged down in some thick mud.
By changing gear ratios and gently rocking between reverse and drive, I managed to get the car moving again, but the thick mud meant that it was only possible to drive it straight ahead, which took me further away from the track. I attempted a left hand turn, but turned too hard and the car bedded in again. This time, no amount of cajoling would shift it.
It was an awful feeling. I had narrowly missed a patch of mud about an hour earlier and had had a little joke with myself about missing tonight’s Arabic class, but now this was real and there was no way the car was moving. I got out and surveyed the situation. I wasn’t too badly bedded in, so using my hands, I scraped away some of the mud which had collected behind the wheels and packed them out with some dried out saltmarsh grasses which I gathered from nearby. This still didn’t give me enough traction and in a fit of panic, knowing that the car was already stuck, I broke all the rules and gave the car some hard revs. As I got out again to survey the damage, I realised that all I had succeeded in doing was bedding the car in deeper and I had no choice now but to seek help.
The mud was almost impossible to walk on, and I was a good 50-100m from the track by this point. Thankfully, nowhere in Qatar is truly quiet and within minutes a Landcruiser passed by along the track.
I tried to wave him down, but as he slowed down for a look, he shook his head and accelerated off up the track! My heart sank and I looked at the dog forlornly. She looked back at me with a look that could only mean, “You idiot”. And you thought only cats were capable of acting like smug bastards?
As the driver went off into the distance, I noticed him slow down and converse with the driver of another Landcruiser, which we shall call Landcruiser Number 2, heading in my direction.
I gave a rather cringe-worthy, half-hearted sort of British wave at the approaching Landcruiser Number 2, not knowing whether his conversation with Landcruiser Number 1 had been about me, and all the while slipping in the mud and trying to hold my skirt down from being blown skywards by the gale-force wind.
As I got closer, the window was wound down and two rather bemused Qatari men looked inquisitively at me from the front seats. Then to my horror, the rear window also dropped and the faces of another four young boys and teenagers appeared, all of them smirking at the spectacle that was a slightly inappropriately-dressed white woman on her own, without a man, in the desert with a car that was clearly stuck in the mud.
A stilted conversation then followed (and yes, I did internally acknowledge the irony that I was going to miss my Arabic class for this), during which the man helpfully pointed out that I was stupid for having driven on the wet mud. We then went through the checklist of things you should really have in your car at all times in Qatar if you are going off-road, and shamefully I had none of them. He then muttered something about tyre covers and drove off.
I was left standing there, wondering if he had a plan and if I would ever see him again. I knew from previous experience with a dead battery that however odd the locals find you and however abrupt they seem, they do tend to come back armed with the appropriate people and tools.
I struggled back to the car and attempted to lift my 15kg of mud-clad feet into the footwell, before giving up and removing my shoes entirely. The dog caught my eye in the rear view mirror. I think she missed her calling in life as a cat, because only cats can give those sorts of looks.
Using Facebook, I looked up the phone number for John, the man who had reported losing the dog. That’s an amazing thing about Qatar; no matter how far off-road you drive, and how deep into the wilderness you go, you will always have a 3G mobile signal.
I sent him an SMS asking if he happened to be in the area and explaining my situation. He called me immediately and said that he had just finished searching the area with his friend and that he could turn the car around and find me within 10 minutes. This was a great relief, as I have always found the local men to be a bit more open and communicative with other men, and if Landcruiser Number 2 came back it would certainly make things easier if I had a male ally, and if he didn’t come back at least I would have a plan B.
As I put the phone down to John, I saw a new Landcruiser, let’s call it Number 3, pull up on the track and signal to me. He was calling me over, so I had to go through the humiliation of getting both of my mud-caked shoes back on (each of which weighed at least 5kg because of the mud), and subject the poor guy to a flash of my underwear with every frequent gust of wind, for the direction of the car meant that I was subjected to a full assault from the gale-force wind every time I opened the car door, and it was impossible to force the car-door open against the wind and successfully keep my skirt in check at the same time. With the added complication of me having to put my shoes on as well, I am sure the poor guy is going to have to stay in the mosque until the next sunrise to make up for what he witnessed in those few minutes.
As I approached him, dragging my 5kg clod-hoppers through the thick mud, every so often skidding and almost falling over whilst completely losing control of my skirt, the look on his face became increasingly clear. He wasn’t amused. In another stilted conversation, he asked me if my car had 4WD. Yes it does, thanks for asking, and yes, strangely enough, I had already thought of engaging 4WD mode.
Thankfully, my Landcruiser-Number-2-driving-hero appeared at that moment, and after a great deal of Arabic gesturing between them and much obvious hilarity at my expense, the useless knight-in-shining-Landcruiser-Number-3 departed the scene. As I walked towards Landcruiser Number 2, I fell flat on my face in the mud.
To my joy and delight, Landcruiser Number 2 was still fully laden with pretty much all of the male members of his family. At first the atmosphere was slightly tense, but then there was much hilarity as one-by-one, all of the kids slipped and fell in the mud, all of them lost their shoes and their previously white thobes took on an interesting shade of ‘desert mud’.
He had also brought his house-boy out with him, who was tasked with most of the hard work of rolling out the ropes and attaching them to my car. This should have been a 5-minute job, but the comedy mud factor meant that it was more like a scene from It’s A Knockout crossed with the Krypton Factor (and that stupid bouncy balls programme which Richard Hammond presents on Saturday nights).
To add to the surrealism of the whole scene, the entire family’s thobes were also heavily blood-stained. Thankfully, being completely unobservant, I didn’t notice this until much later on, by which time I was already aware that they had been out hunting with their falcons. Otherwise I think I would have taken the dog and made a run for it across the desert at this point.
John turned up within a couple of minutes, and by sheer coincidence, it turned out that he knew Lancruiser Number 2’s driver, who was apparently called Ali. John was obviously a hardened outdoor type and he was well kitted out, both in terms of clothing and equipment in his car. John and Ali together hatched out a plan to drag my car out backwards. It would mean dragging the car through an awkward angle, but they seemed confident they could do it, and to be honest, it was the only option. I was lucky to have them both there, because it took both of their sets of ropes to make a rope long enough to pull my car free.
For most of the next hour, I had to sit in the car as if it was the naughty step, while the men and boys all worked hard around me, caking themselves in mud, losing their shoes and having a great deal of difficulty in finding a suitable way of attaching the ropes to my awkwardly-angled car.
To make matters worse, I had only had the UV window tints applied to my car the day before, so I was under strict instructions not to open any of the car windows for another 24 hours while the film dried out. As a result, every time one of them needed to speak to me or address me, I had to open the car door against the gale force winds and subject myself to the now ritual humiliation of trying to hold my skirt down to protect my modesty. This did not always work, much to Ali’s disgust, his house-boy’s delight and his children’s amusement.
The first two attempts to pull me out failed, and John began the perilous journey back to his car to get some kind of gripping mat for the tyres. As I fiddled with something on my dash, I caught a glimpse in my nearside mirror of the tow-rope running hurriedly away from the rear of the car and realised that without warning, attempt number three was already underway. I looked up to see the house-boy gesturing wildly at me from across my bonnet, and I’d barely had time to engage the car in reverse before the rope tensed up and with little warning, the tyres suddenly found some grip and I went shooting backwards towards Ali’s car. High speed off-road reversing is not exactly my forte, especially when it happens without warning, and I steered frantically as I saw a massive rock heading towards my car in the rear view mirror, and then in the offside mirror and then the nearside mirror. And then, as quickly as it had all started, suddenly I was on dry, firm ground again and the rock was the other side of my car, and we were all completely unscathed.
I said the word shukran profusely at everyone in sight, and made up some kind of international gesture of eternal gratitude. I wish I had more Arabic skills to convey just how much I appreciated Ali and his family coming out to help me, but I didn’t have the words or gestures to say it. He pointed to his broken and ruined shoes and shouted “Money” at me, to which I replied with a hearty British chuckle, but I am not entirely convinced that he wasn’t being serious.
Thankfully, his boys seemed to be happy with me letting the dog out for a play as their reward, although unfortunately she seems to have an innate fear of thobe-clad boys and men (especially blood-stained thobes apparently) and she wasn’t having any of it.
As Ali departed in a cloud of dust, I cleared up his broken rope and ruined shoes and watched as the sun dipped below the horizon. It had been a close call and I will make sure my car is better equipped in future, and pay a bit more attention to where I’m pointing my wheels.
As you may have gathered, I’d also very slightly pushed the envelope of decency in terms of my clothing and I think from now on, it would be a good idea to keep something a little more modest in the car to throw on in such situations, such as an abaya or long skirt. The skirt I was wearing was an incredibly practical knee-length North Face hiking skirt, and it was built for comfort rather than sex appeal. In normal dog-walking situations it is absolutely fine, in terms of modesty, but sometimes it helps to have the option of covering up just a little bit more if you need to interact more directly with local people and I should really try and remember that interactions could happen anywhere at any time. I could sense the boys’ and Ali’s discomfort with the amount of leg-flesh I had on display throughout the ordeal and it didn’t help the ‘stupid, white Westerner’ impression that they clearly had of me.
Anyway, after all this, the bad news is that this poor dog is still out there somewhere. I am sure he will be finding plenty of food and water to survive on, as there are plenty of winter camps in the area, but it’s quite possible that he was picked up by a weekend camper and taken back to the city, so please keep an eye out for him if you are in Doha, Simaisma or Al Khor. His name is Gonzo.