By Mudassir Raja
Diving for collecting pearls once used to be a job and livelihood that required a lot of skill in Qatar. It may no longer be that but it has become the most coveted tradition for the people of the country.
The younger generation of Qatar are keeping pearl diving alive, but in a modern and safer way. It used to be a tough job to go deep into the sea without much safety. However, over time, it has become safer and pleasanter.
Yasser Hassan A Y Alsubaie, 49, is a dive master. His grandfather Ahmed Youseif Alsubaie was a skillful pearl diver. His father Hassan Ahmed Alsubaie had also followed suit as a young man.
Yasser, a long time meteorologist with Civil Aviation Authority, dives for pleasure, teaching others, and sometimes for cleaning the sea. He is also an underwater photographer. He keeps a seasonal camp in the desert some six kilometres away from the sea line where he enjoys his traditional way of living with his friends and family.
In a recent interview, Yasser shared his family tradition of pearl diving and his passion for modern diving with Community at length.
Giving details about how and when he learnt diving, he said, “Qataris are interested in diving and fishing from the very beginning — their childhood. My father taught me how to swim, dive and fish. Since then, the craze for diving has been increasing day by day. Then, there came a stage where I decided to dive in a professional way. It was about 10 years ago that I started to hone the professional skill. Now, I am a dive master and teach others.
I really appreciate Khaled Zaki, a skillful and professional diver and underwater photographer. In my opinion, he is the best of best in the Middle East. He learns and teaches very faithfully. He showed me the way to deep sea diving and underwater photography.
Speaking about his family’s tradition of pearl diving, Yasser said, “I used to sit with my grandfather and listen to stories of pearl diving. He used to wisen me up on the dangers involved in diving for pearls.
If I compare the traditional and modern ways of diving, I will say they are real heroes. They had to stay away from home close or in the sea for months searching for pearls. They had to face inclement weather and bad sea. They had no safety gear like what we have today. They used to have no rescue backup. They used to be by themselves.
My grandfather told me that some of the divers would dive as deep as 30 metres without masks. I do not know how they used to equalise under the water. The divers had to carry a basket to keep the pearls. They would also carry a heavy stone to go deep into the sea quickly. A professional diver can do this. Their colleagues on the boat used to quickly pull out the pearl divers. Today, we cannot do that. They had to do this. They had no other livelihood.”
Explaining the modern day art of diving, he said, “Safety is the first rule. You need to have a professional instructor. You will have the modern technical gear. You will have a mask to see under the water. You have everything to make diving easy.
Today, pearl collection is not legally allowed. However, the government holds a pearl diving competition with the name of Katara Senyar Festival. The divers do it in the traditional way. They keep the tradition alive. Both of my sons dive with me. Sometimes, we have the free dive with no oxygen and the gear.
About teaching diving, Yasser said, “We teach learners both in summer and winter. We will take the beginners to the swimming pool to make sure that the persons can swim very well. Then, we will teach them how to use the gear. We, then, show them how to equalise, how to float and how to set oneself in the sea.
I keep the account of my diving practices and teaching sessions. I continue to learn as I teach. In my camp, I keep all my diving gear ready and do my drills.”
Speaking about the interest young people take in diving, he said, “There is a lot of interest in diving. If you compare it with the trend a decade ago, the interest has increased a lot. They understand what the meaning of diving is. It is a sport that is less dangerous than football.
Even expatriates are taking interest in diving. Everyone likes it. It goes on both in summer and winter. Everyone is a diver. Just break the fear. Most people are afraid of diving. If they do it for the first time, they will ask for the second time. It is very exciting.”
Sharing advice for young divers, Yasser said, “I will ask everyone to jump into the water. Take your gear with you. Follow the guidance of your instructor. You will enjoy it. Always dive with expert people. Get good training.”
“Since I am a meteorologist, many people ask me about weather forecast before they go to the sea for diving. It helps me guide them and plan for my own activity,” he said.
Commenting on the Qatari tradition of setting up camps in the desert, Yasser said, “We are out in the desert as it is also an old tradition. We want to be away from the busy life of the city. We meet our friends on weekends in the camps. Our families and kids can go to the camps to enjoy being close to nature.”
“Initially, the tradition started in old times. Our ancestors used to go out in the desert for hunting, pearl diving or fishing. They used to set up camps in the desert for many days.”
He added, “In my camp today, we also use the place for diving, learning how to dive, fishing and having our traditional food with friends. We are reviving the tradition and keeping it alive for our children. It is a leisure and tradition at the same time.”
He added, “We also use the camp to have clean-up activity. Our friends from different expatriate communities come and carry out beach cleaning. I along with other divers often go into the sea for the drive.”
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