First Chapter Reveal - The Idiot of Funkyville by Ash Hoden



What is travel? Asking this question is like asking, “What is life?” or, “Who are you?” (or, as I’ve frequently been asked, “Who are you?”). The answers to such questions are as numerous as the people asking. The Idiot of Funkyville: Becoming an Everywhere Citizen takes a chronological snapshot of actual personal experiences as a young and less-than-young man living and playing abroad; exploring each of the above questions in the context of a displaced American piecing himself together on foreign turf.
Contained therein: perhaps an excess of sex, more than a healthy dose of drugs, and all the rock ‘n’ roll one can ask for. Balance is achieved as the vignettes build one on top of the next.
Pondering the course of my life from the confines of a Qatari jail cell, reminiscence begins with teenage confusion at a Mexican bar and concludes with grown confusion as an expat in the Middle East. In progression, the narrowing spiral of personal growth leaves finer grained finger prints as the tales evolve through destinations and age. In theory, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. But that’s for the experts to decide.
Having dismounted a train, plane, boat, or rickshaw in nearly forty countries (including Canada), The Idiot of Funkyville documents a life of travel as a point-blank portrayal of my life through travel. And who doesn’t love life and travel both? Whether you’ve already gone or have no intention of ever, ever going near the place, wonder is universal. We all have questions. A good majority of my questions just happened to be pondered abroad.

May 2011: Wakra, Qatar
            The phone, resting innocently on the kitchen counter, came to life in a spree of vibrational spasms. I was startled, more likely due to this being an expected call rather than it being unusual for my phone to vibrate at all. I receive few phone calls, particularly on a pre-work Saturday evening. When my phone does shimmy, the calls are almost exclusively work-related and rarely answered with a smile. I was waiting for this one, but didn't have to wait long.
            Moments earlier, I received a warning vibration from the Indian man at the car rental agency. I drove a rented car. "The police station is calling me. They are saying your vehicle is parked in the most illegal of circumstances." Grey storm clouds swirled in ever narrowing spirals toward the epicenter of my quiet apartment.
            "I don't understand. The car is parked in the basement of my building. I parked it there myself."
            "Will you kindly go and looking just to make for certain it is there? They are telling me the vehicle is in Wakra blocking all the other cars from coming and going. I am giving them your number."
            "I know the car is here. My apartment has a private parking garage. I parked it here just an hour ago. It's not on a public road."
            "But they are saying... Will you just check?"
            At the mention of Wakra the ominous grey storm rattled the doors and windows. It eliminated the possibility of this being some sort of misunderstanding. I drove through Wakra that afternoon, a continuous strip mall built upon ancient fishing village dust particles that blow through air conditioners of fast food chicken restaurants like imported labor. I even stopped in Wakra, parking on the beach for five minutes on my way back from the sand dunes in the south. It couldn't be that. Illegal parking is like a sport here, with bonus points for creativity. Parking on the beach isn't illegal anyhow. The odds of the police spending an afternoon sniffing out the owner of an illegally parked car were laughable. Bona fide crime does not exist in Qatar. Obviously the police were lying to my Indian friend. They just needed my phone number. But why? I looked at the phone, rumbling like thunder on the counter. It was time to find out.
            "Hello?" I said.
            "Hello," he said. I'm still not aware of the etiquette when receiving a call. I only know not to expect the callers to identify themselves.
            "Hello." Me again.
            "Hello." Him again. Moment of silence. "I am, ah, Officer Mohammed with Wakra police."
            "Ah, do you have rental car...Honda Civic?"
            "I do."
            "Is car, ah, number eight six double-five three one?"
            "It is."
            "Did you drive in Wakra today? 4pm?"
            "Oh-kay. We need you come to Wakra police station."
            "Is something wrong?"
            "Please come Wakra station. We, ah, ah, talk then."
            "I don't understand. Is there a problem?"
            "Just come Wakra station."
            "Right now? It's 9pm."
            "Yes, ah, my captain says for you come now."
            "Will you tell me what's wrong?"
            "You know Wakra station? You must come now."
            "No, I don't know where it is." I failed to mark that one on my map. "I don't understand why you can't tell me what's happened."
            "Just come Wakra station. Five minutes and you go."
            "Please, can you tell me if I'm in trouble?"
            "Big problem. Ah, my English no good. You know Wakra station?"
            In Qatar there are no addresses. No building numbers. Giving directions is like taking the GED, you either can or you can't. One must know the city, all the insignificant landmarks scattered haphazardly along outdated roads. My apartment was off Ahmed Bin Mohammed Bin Thani Street near Jaidah Tower. That was my address. A taxi driver at the airport shared that bit of info three months after I moved there, when he didn't understand my instructions. Mail? I refrain from commenting. And without an address Google is little help. "Do you happen to know the coordinates?"
            Driving was a task I did my best to avoid. My apartment was within walking distance of my office and Souk Waqif, the two places I frequented most. Traffic was minimal compared to most capital cities, if only because Doha was such an undesirable locale. Sitting through three red light cycles was standard during busy hours, but the city was small enough to navigate relatively easily. Most of the frustration, for me at least, came from the demeanor of the roads. It was a passive aggressive war zone drawn along class divisions, both domestic and imported. Locals in luxury automobiles commonly sped down the streets, flashing headlights at any car in the way. Never mind that all lanes were full. In contrast, nearly 80% of the population was a foreign, predominantly male labor force. Foreigners with cars habitually and excessively obeyed certain laws of the road for fear of extreme repercussions. Roadside cameras monitored speed. Red light cameras issued 10,000 riyal tickets (approximately $2740). Other common regulations were ignored by all. People frequently turned from outside lanes, cutting off one or two lanes of traffic in the process. Double parking was commonplace. So was parking on the curbs. If there was a code of conduct it remained a mystery to me.
            Officer Mohammed caught me just as I was sitting down for a late dinner. Tomorrow, Sunday, was the beginning of another work week. I wanted to handle this quickly, soon enough to get much needed rest. I left my dinner on the counter, right there next to that vibrating harbinger of doom, and took a quick shower. I dressed like an accountant, combed my hair like an accountant, and removed the rings from my ears. Whatever the trouble, I knew enough to recognize their decisions would be based less on due process and more on an emotional response to me as a person. My appearance was critical. With several degrees of reluctance, I turned the key in the ignition and made the trek to Wakra.
            On average, the summer temperatures were in the range of 43 to 50 °C (110 to 122°F). For young and old alike, the city came to life at night. Shops, restaurants, parks, and playgrounds were at their busiest after 9pm. As were the roads. My frustration with traffic and circumstances in general increased as I crept closer to the destination; a destination I still needed to find. In Wakra I made a few pointless loops through a neighborhood with an official air about it, banking on blind luck to guide me there. I then asked directions from a Filipino waitress at a fast food joint. The station was three buildings down on the opposite side of the main road, a busy six lane affair dissecting Wakra in two. Driving a couple kilometers down the road, I reversed directions in one of the countless roundabouts (the most frequent perpetuators of traffic skirmishes), drove the two kilometers back, and pulled up in front of the station. Two parking places were available, the two spots nearest the front door. One was a designated handicapped spot. The other was marked by a sign in Arabic, blatantly (even to non-Arabic speakers) reserving the space for the head honcho. Now 10pm, I parked in the reserved spot, guessing no senior level Qatari worked past 4pm. Especially not a senior level government employee. I would just be in and out anyhow. Sometimes it's easier to believe in myths.
            Inside, I was directed to a room where a team of five or six junior staff filed papers and typed at computer relics. I arrived in the midst of a heated discussion between several officers, three Arabic men, and a Nepalese laborer with a bruised face. The one mid-level officer, a Sudanese man in his mid-40's, directed me to the waiting area in front of the counter. I sat, analyzing each cop with an eye for the most sympathetic to my cause, whatever that cause may be. Without doubt it was Omar, the Sudanese man. The younger police were basically clerks, all in their mid-twenties. Not only were they unable to make judgments of value, their lack of authority among the ranks contributed to an exaggerated sense of authority towards those outside the ranks. When my time came, 30 minutes later, a younger Sudanese clerk sat in front of me at the counter, slouching in preparation for the next story to be told by the next pest. By this time I would talk with anyone who would have me.
            "I was called to come here."
            "For traffic accident?"
            "No. I don't know why. They just called and said I needed to come in."
            "Give me your ID card."
            "I don't have one."
            "No ID?"
            "Only my passport. I'm on a tourist visa."
            "Who called?"
            "Mohammed Abu al Rahman?"
            "I don't know." He turned me over to Omar, who asked the same questions. I gave the same answers. "Wait one minute, I will find out who called." He left the room. Ten minutes later he returned. "I can't find anyone who called you." Hope peeked in on my thoughts, as it often does, the instant before it's washed away by the changing tides. A pencil thin officer sitting at a desk in the back of the room overheard the discussion. He burst from his chair and pointed at me while speaking frantically to Omar in Arabic. Not good. His superior turned to me, "Did you drive through Wakra today?" I confirmed that I had. He typed my license plate number into the system. "Ah. Oh-kay. Were you in Wakra at 4pm?"
            "Ahhh, yeah. I think it was around four." I knew damn well it was four.
            "Did, ah, the middle finger to another driver?" Everything fell into place like a row of dominoes tumbling upwards in rewind.
            "Ohhhh...yeah. I did," stated with as much false shame as I could muster.
            "Why would you go and do such a thing as show the middle finger?"
            Still with utmost shame, "Because I'm stupid. I got angry."
            "What did the driver do to cause such anger?"
            "I was driving in the left lane and a car raced up behind me." Using both hands like a hula dancer, I portrayed how close he came to my rear bumper. "There were too many cars to switch lanes and I was already going 120."
            "What happened next?"
            "When I was able to get over, he raced by. That's when I...." How do you say flipped the stupid fucker off while sounding penitent?
            "That's when you showed the, ah middle finger?" He halfway performed the bird, being careful to keep his ring and index fingers close to the offensive one.
            "Yes. Am I in trouble?"
            "Please, come around the counter and take a seat. I will talk with the captain." He led me to a chair before the desk of the skinny lad who had ratted me out. At my arrival the kid sat upright, authoritarian.
            "Give me your ID card," said the youngster.
            "I don't have an ID card."
            "No ID?"
            "Here's my passport." He thumbed through the stamps like an archeologist sifting through history. "You went to Oman?!"
            "Yes. I loved it too. Oman's a beautiful country."
            "Where did you go?"
            "Only Muscat."
            "Did you see the forts?"
            "Yeah, the ones on the hilltops." Turned out he was Omani. Then we were buddies. He let down his swagger and recounted the glory of his home country. With that settled he pointed to a phone near the front counter and asked if I wanted to call someone. A revelation, perhaps a bit slow in coming, struck my brain like a bucket of water. I was now in their custody. From the moment I walked past the counter I was no longer a free man. Nobody else knew I was there. I was the only person in the country from my company. The people I worked with on a daily basis were not fellow co-workers. I would not call at 11pm to let them know I was in jail. This was a situation I would resolve on my own.
            "Can I go and move my car? It's not in a good parking spot. I'll leave my passport with you." My question served the practical dilemma of needing to find a legal parking space while testing my limits of freedom.
            "Wait. I will go with you in a few minutes." Not very free.
            I continued to sit, watching the young officers flopping around in unzipped black boots. Any degree of polish inferred by the cut of their uniforms -- dark blue trousers and light blue collared shirts with black braids at the shoulders -- was lost to the floppy boots. Particularly in the context of a junior policeman's mentality. Regardless of how hard I tried to take these guys seriously, and I'll be honest, I didn't try that hard, the floppy boots negated each attempt. It was like watching The Stooges carry the one nearly functioning stapler from desk to desk.
            A few minutes passed. All but the young Sudanese officer were called to another room. By the way they straightened their shirts and fixed their little beret-like caps, I assumed they were meeting with superiors. In the absence of police I glanced around the room at the other criminals -- a Qatari who looked to be about twenty, the battered Nepalese guy with dirty, tattered clothes, a bulky man in a pin-striped suit, and another Arab man, roughly the same age as me, looking angry and aggressive. We all avoided eye contact. A Western accountant in his thirties was clearly an anomaly, to all parties including me. This was just bizarre.
            The officers returned. Omar followed behind. He gave some orders in Arabic and pointed to me before turning to explain. "You will stay here tonight. In the morning you will get to see the public prosecutor at 7am."
            "What? I have to stay here?!" I freaked out.
            "Yes," said in an of-course-you-are-staying tone of voice.
            "Please, is there no other way to settle this? I am from a crude country. It's different here and I'm trying to learn, but it's hard." All sense of dignity went out the window.
            "Hold on, I will see what I can do." He left the room again.
            After my performance, the man in the pin-striped suit nodded and asked, "What did you do?"
            "I showed my middle finger." He nodded again, knowingly.
            Time ticked onward. Every fifteen or twenty minutes Omar returned to the room to give orders to the underlings. An hour passed before he had the verdict. He instructed the officers to check me in. By this time I accepted my fate. The Omani followed me outside to re-park my car. Inside, he took my belt, phone, and car keys, but let me keep my passport and money. He wrote my name and passport number on a special form and ran a metal detector wand over my body. He then led me around the metal detector framing the hallway to the jail, and unlocked a metal door with a square portal and bars set just below eye level.
            The jail was roughly ten meter by ten meter square with rows of fluorescent light ensuring every grain of dirt was visible day and night. Four cells lined the wall to my left; all were unlocked and served as semi-private rooms. Towels, clothes, blankets, and strips of cardboard were jammed in the bars of each cell to obstruct the ever present artificial light. A quick scan was enough to see that all cells were occupied. Three Nepalese shared one. Two older Arabs, the presiding alphas, each had a cell to themselves. Two other Arab men shared the last cell. A woven mat filled the center of the room. The bathroom was a small rectangular closet built into the far wall, opposite the rear cell. A basin, like a tile cattle trough with four metal taps, lined the wall between the bathroom and the back cell. A pile of sleeping pads and blankets were stacked in the corner to the right of the door at the base of the only vacant wall. A radio blasted 1990s American R&B. I couldn't decide if it was someone's idea of a mix tape or someone's idea of a radio station.
            I stood just inside the door and stared blankly at the surroundings, no longer freaked, just stunned. I was in jail for extending my middle finger. The others did their best not to stare back. Now midnight, sleep seemed like the best thing going. The pads and blankets resembled a pile of debris gathered from one of Qatar's many condemned buildings after the residents abandoned ship. I removed my accountant's shoes, lay down on a discolored sleeping pad, and covered my eyes with a blanket that smelled of cigarettes and 500 previous occupants.
            Sleep might have been an option, even with a brain spinning tales of what was yet to come. A simple fine? Deportation? More time in jail? Would I lose my job if they kicked me out of the country or held me for too long? Did I care if they kicked me out of the country and I lost my job? None of the officers gave a hint of the possible repercussions. Sleep might have been an option. I was exhausted and R Kelly could have been singing an excessively loud lullaby -- but the two alphas were playing cards, slapping them down on the mat while hee-ing and haw-ing Arabic style. I looked up from my blanket and glared. The one with the potbelly and crooked smile looked back. "Hey, why you here? For drinking?" He motioned an imaginary bottle to his mouth.
            "No. I did this," and showed him my middle finger.
            "Ahhhh, oh-kay."
            "Why are you here?"
            "For fucking the lady. I fuck the ladies, the problem."
            "How long do they make you stay for that?"
            "I stay for one month." Pointing to his friend, a darker skinned Arab with a shaved head, "He stays for six months."
            "Why would you go and show your finger?" asked the man with the longer sentence.
            "I don't know." Asking about his crime did not seem like the thing to do. I just pondered the fact that the man with a six-month sentence was questioning my ethics.
            Pot-belly retrieved a Coke from his styrofoam cooler. "You want soda?" he asked.
            "No thanks."
            Club Nouveau replaced R Kelly on the radio, singing Lean On Me over a synthesized beat. Then it was Annie Lennox.
            Through the night, when not kept awake by card playing or music, it was the shower, or tooth-brushing, or nose-blowing, or someone pacing back and forth in the room and talking to himself. The fan in the bathroom sounded jet-propelled. Every time the door opened, mechanical screams reverberated off the masonry walls. At 4am, just as things began to wind down, the call to prayer wept in from the one little window above the basin, far beyond head height. One by one the Muslims climbed up from their cells and performed ritual ablutions in the basin, washing their faces, hands and feet, and clearing their noses once again. One by one they took turns doing prayers on a rug unfurled over the mat. Standing, bowing, kneeling, and touching their foreheads to the ground.
            An hour later I was called from the cell. I stood, wondering if I had slept during any portion of the night. If so, it was thin and vaporous, barely recognizable as true sleep. Omar extended an open palm toward the seat in front of his desk. I sat. He typed the important details from my passport into the system, pecking away at the keyboard with one finger.
            "Oh-kay, so tell me what happened yesterday."
            "I was driving in the left lane at 120--"
            "On Wakra Road?"
            "Yes, I was going from Wakra to Doha."
            "Oh-kay. You were driving north in the fast lane. Wakra Road is three lanes and you were here." He drew the three lanes on a sheet of paper and pointed to the far left lane.
            "Yes, the fast lane. A speeding car came up behind me and pulled to within a meter of my bumper."
            "Was it a big car?"
            "No, maybe a medium-sized sedan. Not big and not small."
            "And you were frightened because he was so close?" I saw where he was going and I liked it. A lot.
            "Yes, very frightened." Quivering.
            "And he was flashing his lights?"
            "No. No flashing." He pecked the details into the computer as we spoke. "There were too many cars for me to switch lanes so I turned on my headlights so he could see the taillights come on."
            "You turned on the lights?"
            "Yes, so he could see my taillights."
            He read the report from the plaintiff. "Did you touch the brakes?"
            "No, I only turned on my lights so the taillights would come on." I wasn't going to admit to tapping the brakes just to fuck with the guy.
            "Ah, so it was a warning?"
            "Yes, he was too close for me to use the brakes."
            "So when I was able to switch lanes he raced by, and I showed my middle finger." I held up my left hand, without extending that special finger, to depict how it was done.
            "You showed the, ah, middle finger when he overtook you?"
            "And it was with the, left hand?" His look suggested it was odd, maybe even a little sinister, to use the left.
            He pecked the tale into his report, stopping to count out the Arabic name of each finger. He couldn't recall the proper name for that special digit. This was not a common case. "What is the name of the middle finger?" he asked one of his subordinates in Arabic. Turning back to me. "Now why would you show the middle finger?"
            "I just lost my temper."
            "Is that a nice thing to do? In America, is showing the middle finger a nice thing?"
            "No, it's not." This is really what it all boiled down to. I couldn't argue that, whether it was nice or not, showing the middle finger in America is like using sign language. Vulgar sign language, yes, but legal nonetheless. We have the right to speak freely. In strict regions of the Arabic world, middle fingers are obscene and obscenity is illegal; much worse than driving like a madman. I was guilty, plain and simple.
            "Even people drive that way around me. Sometimes when I am with my family even. They honk and wave and flash the lights, but never show the middle finger. You are a grown man." Chastised elementary style, Omar led me back to the cell with the other dunces. "Have some breakfast," he said. "This will all be handled today and you will be free to go, inshallah." I could have done without the inshallah part of his statement.
            Now that it was morning and I was close to leaving, the jail was silent. With the lights on 24 hours and the majority of jail activity occurring at night, I was the only person operating on outsider's time. For the tried and true, sleep came during the quiet hours of the day, when the sun was up for the rest of the country. My cellmates ate breakfast in silence on the mat. The dark-skinned man paced back and forth, talking to himself while thumbing prayer beads between his fingers. I sat, waiting.
            At 8am, the officers hauled in three Filipino and two Nepalese construction workers. A third Nepalese motorcycle delivery driver was with them. The twenty year-old Qatari kid, guilty of driving without a license, was brought from the office he was allowed to sleep in. Two by two we were handcuffed to a partner (The Finger remained free) and led to a van outside by three underling Stooges. One drove, one sat in the passenger's seat and smoked cigarettes with all the windows closed, barred, and covered in black, and the third took a seat in the back with us, reserving a bench seat to himself in order to lay down for a snooze. The driver raced off, hanging g's through the roundabouts and throwing us side to side. Halfway to Doha, dashing my assumption that the prosecutor’s office was near Wakra station and this would be a quick mission, Sleepy Stooge bolted upright. He had left something at the station. The driver raced back.
            In Doha's West Bay district we entered one of the brand new office towers built in a clusterfuck of individually goofy-looking high-rises. We took the slow, busy elevator, stopping at each floor on our way to the 8th. The Three Stooges, flopping in their boots down the faux wood-floored hallway, motioned us to a small waiting room with just enough seats for eight handcuff buddies to sit side-by-side. They closed the door. We waited.
            Occasionally Sleepy Stooge checked in on us, smirking with exaggerated authority. He leered around the room at the Filipino and Nepalese prisoners, just looking for a reason. "Put your feet down! Sit up!" His gaze never landed on the Qatari or me. Satisfied with himself, he left. We waited.
            A senior Qatari officer with a clean shave, crisp uniform, and tight boots opened the door. He was Officer Wahib. The Three Stooges stood behind. "So, you guys are the fighters? You, you, you, you, and you? Is he with you? No? Oh-kay. You guys...we will let you work it out on your own. It's between you so handle it yourselves. If you can't work it out then we will have to get involved. But, if you do it again...” A silent pause for emphasis. “It will be big trouble. Why are you fighting anyways? You are here to work and make money for your families. You are not here to fight."
            "Oh-kay. Who's the guy with the motorcycle? You? Oh-kay, you will see the prosecutor." He then spoke buddy-buddy in Arabic to the young Qatari. "You," pointing at me. "Why did you show the middle finger? You are an adult. Even my youngest boy knows not to show the middle finger. Is it oh-kay to do that in America? No, I know it's not oh-kay. We have training programs with the police in the US and UK. In those countries it is much worse. I know. You will see the prosecutor and it will be 500 riyal ($137) for the bail. I suggest you go back to Wakra station and you get the phone number of the man who made the complaint. Call him tomorrow and apologize. Say that you have a family or something and see if he will drop the charges. That way you can avoid going to court and spending more time with this."
            "Okay, thank you," I replied. He closed the door. Relief swept over me. He was the first to give any indication of what I faced. We continued to wait.
            The fighters worked out their dispute. Filipinos versus Nepalese. 
            "Why you punch him?”
            “He say fuck you to me.”
            “His brother say fuck you, not him.”
            “I try stop it and he hit me.”
            “You hit him first.” The volume and intensity of their argument grew.
            “He say fuck you to me!”
            “Who say fuck you?"
            "Maybe we fight again to end it?" one suggested. They laughed and agreed to squash it.
            The Stooges returned to un-handcuff and escort the motorcycle driver, the Qatari, and me to another room. We waited for the elevator as it stopped on every floor before arriving at ours. We loaded and descended to the 4th. Again, the elevator laboriously stopped at each floor en route. On the 4th we stood in a row outside an office. And waited. Wahib occasionally motioned to one of the Stooges, pointing at his watch. He was getting impatient with their performance. Fifteen minutes ticked by before the unlicensed Qatari driver went in. Thirty seconds later he was done; a minimal fine and he was free. Another five minutes and the Nepalese motorbike driver entered to explain his accident. On his second stab at driving a motorbike, he swerved across a lane and ran into a car. He was released with no fine. My turn. Wahib joined me. He pointed to a worn spot on the carpet as though it was an ‘X’ taped to a stage floor. Appropriately positioned before an elder Qatari man sitting at a large wooden desk three meters away, Wahib asked me, "Did you show the middle finger?"
            "Yes, yes I did," bowing my head in shame. The prosecutor shuffled papers. Wahib said, "Oh-kay," and motioned for me to leave. It was done.
            The Stooges and the officer went with us back to the 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th floors. Sleepy Stooge put us in handcuffs. Wahib then told him to release the Qatari and me. Sleepy Stooge followed orders, albeit reluctantly. "Next time, don't go showing the middle finger. Just call and make a complaint. We make no special cases.” He continued, ignoring the fact that he had just given us special treatment, “Qatari, Indian, Filipino, American... All get the same punishment.”
            With the events drawing to a close, I thought of the one persistent question I was asked. Why did I do it? Who knows really? Simple frustration or an accumulation of many frustrations? Maybe it was like the idea of peeking under an abaya or bringing a special lady friend back to my room. Inappropriate use of the finger had the added joy of being forbidden. In a place where the native stalk frequently behave like sacred beings from a dusty, stiflingly hot Eden, common human pleasures were a wicked intrusion; original sins to be purged lest the fantasy crumble. Though few live up to the fantasy and most are rarely, if ever enforced, drinking, inappropriately socializing with the opposite sex, wearing revealing clothes, cursing, and, yes, making certain gestures towards the wrong person, all are punishable offenses.
            Odd things happen when extreme wealth and extreme piety collide. Especially in petro-economies where wealth is a gigantic straw jammed in the earth. The straw also withdraws talent and depth of culture; a boots-on-the-ground awareness of our shared humanity. With no need to work, struggle, or create, a sense of entitlement readily fills the void. In Qatar the roads made this idea most apparent, and for me, most annoying.
            We piled into the Stoogemobile – three Official Stooges and a slipshod band of Unofficials. Relief swept through the unofficial ranks. Driver Stooge cranked up the engine. Passenger Stooge was already smoking. Sleepy Stooge was fully reclined. As the van wheels rolled forward, Sleepy Stooge jumped up nervously. He left his cell phone on the 8th floor and needed to go back to retrieve it. We sat in the hot van and waited.
            Sitting there, already sweating as the sun baked the idling van, I contemplated all the places I had seen up to that point. All the different countries and cultures; all the ways in which I was now different; how the places changed me or how I changed between places. Had I known from that first solitary step on foreign turf that the path would ultimately lead to where it led, would I have continued down that path? I like to think so. But I will never know. The decisions were made and there's no going back. Ever.


Ash Hoden is a writer, foreign correspondent for a California-based design studio, and architect currently living, working, and writing about living and working in Qatar. His pursuits have always involved creation. He firmly believes social contribution is a fundamental requirement for a happy existence. He attended Colorado State University where he received the American Society of Landscape Architect’s Honor Award for exceptional academic design work. In addition to ongoing contributions in the business world, he previously founded an independent design firm and organized CambodiaFund, a method of providing basic school supplies to Cambodian children in need.
The Idiot of Funkyville is his first published book. You can visit Ash Hoden’s website
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