By Irfan Bukhari
DOHA: Every sailor is a stranger on the shore, and for hundreds of expatriates working in boats lined up along the Corniche, Doha’s waterfront promenade, life is a mixture of both excitement and gruelling routine. And their life is different from the tourists they entertain every day.
“The decision to work on foreign shores was hard to take and that too at a tender age, but the employment I found here ultimately vindicated my decision,” said Das from Madras (now renamed as Chennai). But he still nostalgically calls his city ‘Madras’.
He works on a wooden-boat called dhow. There are around 500 dhows parked along the Corniche in Doha. Every sunset brings tourists, some new and many regular visitors, who love the mesmerising effects of seaside tranquility and charm. But for Das, life is nothing but ‘an insipid routine’ which he is spending for the last many years for the welfare of his two sons back in India.
He said goodbye to Chennai when a wooden-boat manufacturer in Kerala told him about a job opportunity in Qatar. The job, the manufacturer said, was on a boat which he was set to sell to a Qatari national. The buyer had asked the manufacturer to help him find the manpower too from his country.
Most of the dhows parked at the Corniche were built in Kerala. Some of them were made from the wood brought from Myanmar (Burma) to India. Its cost varies from QR1m to QR4m depending upon size and amenities attached. Dhows may come in different sizes from 20 feet to 130 feet (lengthwise) but every customer has the liberty to order any sizes.
“Most of the dhows here are not the commercial ones. They are owned by Qatari nationals. They come off and on for dhow cruise with family or friends and during the rest of the time these boats are parked here with the staff waiting for owners’ arrival any time,” says Das.
Hundreds of people from India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh work in various capacities on dhows from captain to cleaner. When their hopes to find some job got punctured in their homelands, they migrated to Qatar. “Life is not very easy. At the same time, it is not very tough either. At least our families are living a dignified life back at home with our hard-earned money,” says Das, adding sometimes they have nothing to do except sit around for hours or days.
It is pertinent to mention here that such leisure is enjoyed only by the workers who are not employed by tourist-boat runners rather they are employees of individuals or companies who use their personal dhows off and on.
The commercial wooden boats or tourist dhows which charge QR20 to QR50 for a brief cruise have a magnetic attraction for visitors. Sometimes, on special occasions, tourists reserve the entire dhow for the extended family or friends or office colleagues for a long tour to some island, paying QR1,500 to QR2,500. It depends on the size of the dhow as well as the time a tourist wants to spend at sea.
The cost increases with other services as well.
Though these workers feel hesitant to open their hearts, a palpable sense of homesickness is always written on their otherwise smiling faces. “We get a two-month vacation after two years,” says Hidayatul Islam, another dhow-man hailing from Bangladesh.
“We live in these boats day and night, cook our food here. Life is good but still we cannot declare it a home away from home. Home is home you know. At times, particularly in scorching summer days, intense heat wipes us out. Air conditioners are turned on whenever the owner comes,” Hidayatul Islam added.
The boatman from Bangladesh celebrated Eid Al Adha in Doha around 2500 miles away from his family. “The workers are paid according to their job specifications and experience,” says Hidayatul Islam. All the workers live like a family, sharing one another’s moments of joy and grief.
The deck of dhow, puffs of cool air of a spring night and cheerful company of friends are the maximum luxury they need to live a happy life. The Peninsula