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Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Exiting expat asks, how many of us who live in Qatar really see it?


Vani Saraswathi visiting the Inland Sea
Vani Saraswathi visiting the Inland Sea

After 17 years in Qatar, journalist Vani Saraswathi is preparing to leave the country for good to return to her native India.

As she packs up her belongings and bids goodbye to her friends, she has also been documenting her farewell in a series of Instagram posts.

In them, she recalls how back in 1999, rent could be as low as QR1,300 a month. The Mall was the only place to go shopping, and the Inland Sea was just as popular then as it is now.

Though Saraswathi has spent nearly two decades in Qatar, she said that she does not consider this country her home.

Still, it’s “a place I am comfortable in and find myself defending fiercely against ill-informed assumptions,” she added.

Separate lives

In a blog post explaining why she has decided to capture the images, Saraswathi observes that the city’s residents “live in silos, with little or no recognition of what lies beyond their immediate living and work space.”

“Walking around the city is how I discovered the many lives that it helps build; the lives that remain invisible and in the shadows of the glitzy facade…. Which got me wondering, how many of us who live here, really see it?”

As she photographs her old haunts in Doha – many of which are quickly disappearing as the city’s development continues at a relentless pace – Saraswathi challenges residents and nationals alike to ask themselves some key questions about the places they live and work.

In her post, she asks whether those who live and travel around areas like the Corniche or the Pearl ever stop to think about the men who built it.

She also challenges views that Qatar is “boring” or “not like home,” asking whether “it could be just you, not the place?”

Saraswathi goes on to query attitudes towards the environment, noting the destruction of many of Qatar’s trees, and its trash-strewn beaches.

She also asks Qatari nationals whether they “really bother to understand the sub-cultures that the foreigners bring” and whether Qatar’s residents, both nationals and expats, can “learn to accept criticism as an interest, and not as an attack.”

Finally, Saraswathi mourns the passing of many older neighborhoods, suggesting that Qatar’s race to build is wiping out a lot of its history.

“It’s way too much too soon,” she said.


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