Mohamed Islam Bin Mehr Din keeps remembering the first few years of his stay in Qatar. He came to the country on a ship from Karachi and landed at the shores of Mesaieed. He talks about the house made by stones and mud and the days when there was scarcity of water and electricity but the people were happier.
“It took me seven days to reach Qatar and our ship stopped near the waters of Mesaieed and we reached the shore using boats. There was no regular port in the country those days,” said the 76-year-old Pakistani expatriate from Sialkot district in the province of Punjab, who made Qatar his home in 1965 to work at the electronic appliances shop run by his relative.
Islam, who was born in 1945, started his voyage to Qatar after passing his Grade-X examination. “I came to my brother-in-law (husband of my sister) who had a shop here and I started working with him. His shop was located in Doha next to old Bismillah Restaurant, (a restaurant said to be among the first eateries in Qatar),” said Islam who later went on to own his own shop in Al Rayyan and then a chain of his shops in different parts of the country.
The Pakistani expatriate has eight children and five of them were born in Qatar and they all studied here. “I have eight children. My family had to move back to Pakistan during the first Gulf War. My three sons are currently working in Qatar and two of them have been looking after our old business. I have made a lot of progress and fortune in Qatar as the country provided me an opportunity to start and flourish my business here.”
Islam often likes to talk about his memories of the very early days. “Most of the houses in 1965 were made of stones and mud in Doha and in the villages around the city. There were however some big mansions of Sheikhs, mostly in Al Rayyan area. Air-conditioning was available only in few shops and restaurants. There was a practice of sleeping at the rooftops during nights. Both water and electricity were short in supply in 1960s. There used to be water carriers who would charge minimum amount (a half of Indian rupee) to carry two buckets of water on their shoulders.
“The majority of expatriates were from Kerala in India, Punjab in Pakistan and from Iran. Most of the businesses were owned or run by the Iranian people. In my early days, I did not come across many Nepalese and Bangladeshi people in Qatar.”
“For healthcare, there was only Rumailah Hospital during those days. I remember there was a fish market at the place of current Souq Waqif. There was a small post office in Doha those days. If I can recall properly, there was only one brand of cigarette – Rothmans – available in the country. There were no TV or radio stations in Qatar. Refrigerators were also scarce and we had to purchase ice to cool water.”
Islam, however, was upbeat while speaking about the development and progress Qatar has made during all these years. “Not long after I reached Qatar, the country started generating electricity in abundance. The water supply system was also made very efficient. Then came extended road infrastructure. They soon completed Hamad Hospital. The significant infrastructural progress was made during the late 1980s and 1990s. We saw West Bay and Corniche built. The best thing I have liked about Qatar throughout my stay here is the ideal law and order situation. The country is very secure and peaceful.”
Islam spoke very high about the educational opportunities that were made accessible in Qatar over a period of time. “Numerous colleges and universities have been set up here. If someone does not want to go abroad, Europe or America, for higher studies, one can get the education of similar standards in Qatar. Interestingly, the students from other countries have started coming to Qatar for higher education. I see it as a major investment to uplift the future generations.”
Reminiscing about his earlier days, Islam said that people were happier those days despite having fewer facilities. “Those days we used to have a lot of free time. People used to have lots of get-togethers. We used to enjoy the company of our good friends and going to cinema.”
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