RE­VOLV­ING DOOR PUTS SPIN ON IDEN­TITY

Cape Argus - - METRO - Twit­ter: @rid­waan­bawa Bawa, a former news­pa­per ex­ec­u­tive edi­tor and mag­a­zine edi­tor, writes a weekly col­umn about the life and ex­pe­ri­ences of a proud South African liv­ing as an ex­pat in Qatar. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @rid­waan­bawa

“DAD, I’m sad. Se­bas­tian is go­ing back to Venezuela, and he’s not com­ing back.” Yaqeen de­liv­ers the news with a deep sigh. For­tu­nately, though, I know just how to cheer up my 6-year-old son.

“Yes, Se­bas­tian is go­ing to Venezuela, but only for a short hol­i­day to visit his grand­par­ents. His dad told me they’ll be back in Doha in a few days,” I smile. “Daaaaaaad, you’re talk­ing about Se­bas­tian B! Se­bas­tian V is not com­ing back. Don’t you know the dif­fer­ence?”

Ev­i­dently not, it seems. Con­fu­sion aside, though, it’s not the first time Yaqeen’s seen a friend leave Qatar at short no­tice, and it won’t be the last. He just needs to ask his 11-year-old brother, Aqeel, and 8-year-old sis­ter, Saabi­rah.

They’ve ex­pe­ri­enced it on more than a few oc­ca­sions. It’s the lot of the ex­pat fam­ily in the Gulf – we can be up­rooted in the time it takes to say “we’re sorry to in­form you that your con­tract will not be re­newed”.

While some par­ents are forced to change their plans at short no­tice be­cause their ser­vices are no longer re­quired, oth­ers seek a re­turn to fa­mil­iar pas­tures so their chil­dren can fin­ish school in their home en­vi­ron­ments. But the ex­pa­tri­ate flow in and out of Qatar, and par­tic­u­larly cap­i­tal city Doha, is con­stant. The lat­est cen­sus fig­ures show a to­tal pop­u­la­tion of around 2.7 mil­lion, with the num­ber of for­eign­ers un­of­fi­cially num­ber­ing as many as 2.3 mil­lion.

Egyp­tian, Span­ish, Syr­ian, Bri­tish, Bangladeshi, In­dian, Venezue­lan, Ger­man, Swedish, Pak­istani, Filipino, Amer­i­can, So­mali, Pales­tinian, Cana­dian, Ir­ish, Malaysian, Nige­rian, Kenyan – and not for­get­ting South Africans – peo­ple from all around the globe are flock­ing to this im­mensely wealthy, yet rel­a­tively small, Gulf state in search of op­por­tu­nity.

Throw a dart at a map of the world and you’ll hit a coun­try whose ci­ti­zens are work­ing in Qatar. In one hour, let alone one day, you could deal with a plethora of na­tion­al­i­ties. That’s a lot of Se­bas­tians and Se­bas­tians.

I take an­other stab at rais­ing Yaqeen’s spir­its. “I’ve got an idea,” I tell him, “how about we or­gan­ise a play date with Mo­hammed if he’s avail­able to­day? Won’t that be fun? He can come over to our house after your pi­ano les­son this af­ter­noon.”

Yaqeen’s re­ac­tion takes me by sur­prise, yet again. “Daaaaaaad! You know Mo­hammed’s got swim­ming to­day. So he won’t be able to play with me.”

Now I re­ally am con­fused. “But I thought Mo­hammed had swim­ming on a Satur­day morn­ing – that’s why he’s never avail­able then.”

Yaqeen replies slowly, as if that will help me un­der­stand. “Dad, you’re think­ing of Mo­hammed S. Mo­hammed H has swim­ming to­day. Don’t you know the dif­fer­ence?”

Sorry my boy, guess not. But be­tween all the com­ings and go­ings in Qatar, who can blame me?

Dad, you’re think­ing of Mo­hammed S. Mo­hammed H has swim­ming to­day

RIDWAAN BAWA

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