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Finding My Forever Home in Qatar

By: Dalva Raposo

August 30, 2023

Qatar was never meant to be a permanent home nor was designed to be any migrant or expatriate’s forever home. An oil welfare state located in the Arabian Gulf with a citizenry that composes 10% of the country’s population, it was never the country’s intention to naturalize anyone else. Everyone in Qatar is on borrowed time, wanting to make the most of the opportunities provided to them in the country before leaving to settle back in their own country or somewhere else. There is no such thing as the possibility of becoming a citizen, which is common in other countries around the world, depending on how long one has been a permanent resident.

Hence, integration is almost impossible, as the main Qatari culture exists on the outskirts of a diverse and ethnically segregated society. However, unlike other Gulf countries, Qatar stood out as peculiar to me. Dubai in the UAE was too liberal for my enjoyment, while I found Saudi Arabia and Kuwait too strict and imposing. Qatar stood as the perfect balance between cosmopolitan culture and Islamic society. You could live your life as you wanted without anyone imposing on you. This was due to the awareness of cultural understanding and sensitivity that the country exudes. Despite the existence of many different ethnic groups, from Latinos and Desis to Africans and Arabs, everyone separately co-existed, respecting and regarding each other highly and thus experiencing a sort of harmony.

A diverse spread of food from various African countries.
A diverse spread of food from various African countries.

One of the things that I noticed is how family is valued within every community present in the country. When I went jogging, it had become a common sight to see families in large groups having picnics at parks, be it weekdays or weekends, with kids running around and playing as if there was no tomorrow. Never before had I been so open-minded about different cultural norms and especially different ways of engaging with people to showcase intergenerational respect and understanding. It made me embrace diversity, something I had seldom experienced first living in Mozambique where I belonged to the national tribal makeup of the country, and in the United States, where I was part of a religious and racial minority. In both places, I lived a life where I did not have to interact with people who thought differently than me, as they were simply not around. It was comfortable, sometimes, mimicking scenes from a Hallmark movie in its clichés.

In a desperate attempt to leave my comfort zone, I moved to Qatar out of a desire to be exposed to different worlds and ways of living. I expected to grow mentally, academically, and spiritually. Never would I have thought that I could view this country as home or that Qatar could redefine what home meant to me. It was not about being surrounded by people who shared the same blood as me, or the same race, ethnicity, tribe, or religion, no matter how important these things were to one’s identity. In Qatar, I discovered home as a sense of belonging beyond physical boundaries and cultural norms. Home became a way to see each other’s humanity in a safe environment.

One of the things that my friends and I did was adopt each other's nationalities. Though I am African, I told one of my closest friends, who is Iraqi, that my Arab personality is Iraqi, and vice versa for her. Should she be from any African country, if born again, she would be from my country, Mozambique. Though living in Qatar, our countries remained such a big part of our day-to-day life, surrounded by expatriate communities in churches and schools, that making friends allowed you to experience a wide range of different worlds here. When going out with my Filipina best friend, I started to recognize words and sentences in Tagalog, alongside the cultural innuendos in Filipino society that have shifted my interactions with Filipinos. I am no longer surprised that whenever we are together we get an extra scoop of ice cream or extra cheese on our pizza if the waiter is Filipino or Filipina.

Every day, no matter which group of people I found myself with, I strove to observe and adopt different cultural practices and lingo of the people around me. As an exchange student at heart, living in Qatar felt like experiencing 10,000 world cultures at the same time, and I absolutely loved that. Looking back now, there is no surprise that this place had become a home to me, though I never expected it.