Christmas Cancelled but Visitors from Far North Bring Tidings of Comfort and Joy

All smiles in Aqaba as Norwegian family provides welcome source of motivation

Resident in Norway, Alain, Kristin and Ilka Doval were most welcome visitors on Wednesday 3rd January to recently opened Aqaba Table Tennis Academy; the premises located in the very south of Jordan.

The town, principally a holiday destination, borders Eliat in Israel, a walkable distance; it is somewhat divorced from the current war in Gaza but there is an effect on life.

Many residents in Aqaba have friends and relatives in Gaza, they receive horrific images on their mobile phones; there is sense of helplessness, something is happening over which they have no control. The town has come to a standstill.

Therefore, as a mark of respect there were no Christmas or New Year celebrations, no tinsel in the shops, no music from local radio stations, no pine trees or fairy lights; just privately good wishes for 2024 with the hope conflict will cease and humanitarianism will prevail.

An escape from reality needed to bring a ray of hope; one man above all bringing smiles to faces is Kamel Waleed. He operates the huge crane to unload containers at the port; alongside Jamiel Al-Jaafreh, studying a masters degree at Jordan University, they provide the coaching skills at the Aqaba Table Tennis Academy.

Both give their time freely and willingly, their enthusiasm never wanes; new players arrive, they return for more.

Furthermore, considering they live in a table tennis desert, their level of play is incredibly high, technically both are very sound. Neither would be out of place in the lower divisions of a European club national league, their level well above all others in the area.

A small “L” shaped room is the home, just sufficient for two old tables, the nets sag in the middle, the cost of equipment beyond the reach of most, so worn out rackets have been put together and players share.

On holiday in Aqaba, the Doval family, both mother and daughter having represented Norway at World Championships alongside father, Alain, who played at high level in France, were most welcome guests.

Affording valuable advice, they played against the club members, who as always, every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday arrive in a series of shifts.

Virtually no English spoken, at 6.00pm for one hour, players as young as six years old attend, one hour later from 10 years of age to teenagers, followed at 8.30pm by the more mature, those approaching retirement years.

“I’ve never played so much table tennis for 15 years”, were the words of Kristin. In days of yore, she represented ASPTT Annecy alongside Yveline Lecler and Claude Bergeret, nowadays the President of the Swaythling Club International. In 1982 the trio won the French Club Championships.

Coaching over, tired legs, dinner at the traditional Tche Tche restaurant downtown was well earned!

On departing, Alain, Kristin and Ilka, kindly donated their rackets; a major boost and now the quest is to go further, to find a bigger hall.

Possible? Back Kamal Waleed, he is the man, he will find an answer, the reason being quite simple, his heart is in the sport of table tennis.

No less than seven coaches on duty for two tables (left to right) Jameel Al-Jaafreh, Kamel Waleed, Dana Tokaz, Ilka Doval, Ian Marshall, Kristin Doval, Alain Doval.