Zouad floored the pedal and we shot off the top of the sand dune, landing with a bone juddering bang on the steep downward slope, half turning over before he accelerated the four wheel drive monster whose door straps we were clinging onto for dear life and raced skywards again. The French sailors in the car may be used to life on le ocean wave but sand dunes taken at speed were clearly a different matter.
Zouad raced up a steep slope again and zoomed down the other, defying gravity and various other laws of physics. He can do whatever he wants, partly because gas in the Gulf is still only 25p a litre - which they regard as expensive - and partly because he was having fun. And "not showing off". Ha!
I asked Zouad how many times he'd rolled the vehicle - he could just hear me above the sound of French squeaking - and he thought for a moment, counting, before saying "none", laughing out loud and accelerating up another dune.
Top fun, a ziggin and a zaggin across the desert towards base camp where coffee and the shisha would be very welcome. The other trucks were trying to keep up but failing as we rose and fell, slid and sprayed the soft sand in our wake. The camels on the farm stared motionless as we shot through, aiming for the firelight in the distance. It grew larger, brighter, warmer. We won. We got the first coffees and the freshest kebabs. Huzzah!
Last night's shisha was grape, tonight's (in the desert) would be apple. I discovered some time later that while I was puffing away a man was stabbing his wife to death just a few hundred yards away but none of us knew. We were in one of the scruffiest towns in the region where rents are low(ish) and immigrant workers like nothing better than to sit outside and talk over a smoke, a strong coffee and watch some TV. The screen, about twelve foot high, was rolled down the wall from it's cover. A young 'technician' on the roof (twelve floors up) threw down a cable which he'd attached to one of the many satellite dishes up there and we were off, scrolling through a list of stations that defies comprehension and all, ahem, for free. Apparently they watch football most nights (the European Champions League being a particular favourite) when the place is packed but tonight it was Morrocan music and dance. A little more sedate but very good all the same, relaxing and - save for the nearby domestic unfolding without our knowledge - all was at peace in a world where money is a rare commodity. The shisha was free, as was the TV, and the coffee, medium strong Turkish with sugar, was pennies. Starbucks will never be the same again.
I sweat and boil in the Middle East, always seeking aircon and drinking gallons of slightly hard bottled water. Not this time. Cool breezes, warm mornings and chilly evenings (a scarf!) are just the ticket. My friends who live here describe it as "cold" so I try to tell them about London in January. They're not listening and in London everyone hates me anyway because they think I'm in sweltering heat.
The only offnote is the arrival of George Bush. Good luck Dubya, trying to say all the right things to everyone. The Gulf News splashed an open letter across the top of Page One laying into him for his record on human rights, his warmongering and his stalwart defence of Israel. Others were more moderate in their critique as everyone wants peace and nobody wants to stem the flow of goodwill towards it.
But it is slightly embarrassing as a westerner to watch the Prez of the USA step up to the mike, where the translation system isn't working, and in response to a joke about doing it in Arabic, crack that he couldn't even talk in English properly, as if he's now laughing at his own caricature. It wasn't funny, it wasn't an ice breaker, it was just plain idiotic.
All together now, "He's got the whole world, in his hands, he's got the whole..."
No, on second thoughts, don't bother.