The Doha Diary
The World Schools Debating Championship 2010
The Bangladeshi contingent with Shaheen, the tournament mascot
From left: Alaka Halder, Mubarrat Wassey, Shaheen, Najneen Sultana, Sumaiya Kashfi, Labib Rahman, Raihan Rumman, Alam Ishraq
12 days of endless buffets (hash browns to baba ganoush!), accommodation at the plush 5-star Marriott Hotel, dhow rides, and the obvious top debaters from 57 nations vying for the pre-university arena's most prestigious debating title. The rollercoaster The World Schools Debating Championship (WSDC) 2010 saw favourites Australia unpredictably fall to an oft-shaky Wales in the Quarterfinals, tier-5 Bangladesh defeat tier-2 Scotland and a rather messy and anticlimactic England-Canada finale which was won by Canada. If only my words could do the whole experience sufficient justice!
The Bangladeshi contingent, comprising debaters Mubarrat Wassey (Bangladesh International Tutorial), Sumaiya Kashfi (Manarat), Labib Rahman (Manarat), Najneen Sultana (Aga Khan) and myself, coach Raihan Rumman and manager Alam Ishraq landed in Doha on 8 February bursting with excitement, nervousness and high hopes. Considering the preliminary draw (Canada, Palestine, Scotland, Sudan, Holland, Sweden, Indonesia and Lithuania), we hoped for at least 5 wins, the minimum required for what could be Bangladesh's first Octofinals break since our 2006 entry into the WSDC.
We won 5. We beat the higher ranked Scottish, Dutch and Indonesian teams on prepared motions about nuclear weapons, marital abuse and the rights of terrorists to civilian trials and narrowly lost 2-1 to Canada in a debate about military intervention in Somalia. Nevertheless, surprise 2-1 defeats in impromptu rounds to Sudan and Sweden left us precariously hanging at the break night party. At around 11pm on 15 February, our death knell was rung. Ranking 18th, we would have either needed more points than Hong Kong, or at least one more win, to proceed.
Sometimes we felt that this heartbreak would be our sharpest memory of Doha. And yet, which debater escapes a competition without bruises? Our experiences were too beautiful and valuable to be marred by a tally of marks. There were the little debating tricks we picked up (fine-tuning our aggression, integrating humour into certain types of arguments, sub-dividing arguments into levels) which took us a long way on the podium and which will certainly help future Bangladeshi teams. And then there were the unforgettable moments. Where else could you ride a camel through the desert, dismount and then roll down some sand dunes to the bluest of seas? How often can a Namibian, Thai, Israeli and a Bangladeshi meet in the same room, let alone play foosball doubles at 3am? The Qatar Foundation, which co-organized the tournament with the WSDC body, provided us a true taste of current and past Qatari culture and heritage in between the intense debating rounds. The schools hosting the preliminary rounds treated us to traditional Qatari food and spiced tea, let us take photographs with tamed hunting falcons and gave us freebies ranging from brooches, pens and travel guides to t-shirts. The semifinals were held at the Museum of Islamic Art and the Fanar Islamic Cultural Center. At the former, we had free access to beautiful exhibits of pearls, mosaics, carpets and calligraphy from the entire Islamic world. At the latter, we were given an introduction to Islam and had our names painted in Arabic by a world-renowned calligrapher for free.
Our first few days at Doha seemed like a long dream that could never end. It was only at the Closing Ceremony, when the Qatari team sang 'Almost Lover' (by A Fine Frenzy) to say goodbye that we realized that the dream would soon mist away into our usual Dhaka routines. By the time the next WSDC comes around, the current Bangladeshi team will be off to university, but we as a nation can definitely keep our fingers crossed for a more thrilling and successful 2011 tournament in Dundee, Scotland!
Baba ganoush: A dish in Arab and Mediterranean cooking made from mashed eggplant, sesame seeds, garlic, olive oil and lemon juice.
Dhow: A low-sided ship with one or two masts and triangular curving sails, used by Arab sailors.
(The writer is a student from European Standard School)