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  • Mercenary Diaries: Day 1

    4th April 2018

    Mercenary by Ahilan Ratnamohan premieres at our 2018 festival and tells the stories of the migrant workers involved in building the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

    During his time in Qatar, Ahilan wrote daily blogs about his experiences, read on to see what he discovered.

    Image: Ahilan Rotnamohan
    Image: Ahilan Rotnamohan

    DAY 1

    The sun’s just gone down on my first day in Qatar and it hasn’t gone to script at all. I was supposed to hate Qatar. I was supposed to have to walk around very secretively avoiding suspicion. I was supposed to be stopped at immigration. Or at least, I was supposed to have to try and explain why I’m stopping over for three days. I was supposed to see a tense atmosphere with migrant workers behaving like slaves.

    I’m in Qatar to begin researching a for a new project, a look into the lives of the migrant workers building the infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup. The Western press has been circling around Qatar for some time now and the shocking details I’ve read over the last 3 years have made me seriously question my humanity, as a football fan who will in all likelihood watch that World Cup in four years time.

    More recently, I’ve tempered those initial anti-Qatar sentiments and also begun to wonder if the whole outrage against Qatar isn’t itself tinted with racism/detest for the fact that the power is being ceded to a small country we didn’t even know existed til about 7 years ago. It’s quite confronting to think that even the best-intentioned arts project may turn out to be propaganda.

    Given that recent history of personal beliefs I’m a bit perplexed because after my first day in Qatar, I’m slightly enchanted by it. On the streets there’s an incredible diversity. It’s almost impossible to identify one dominant race. At the main bus station you get a cross-section of them all and I’m surprised by how amicably they intermingle. The few workers I speak to are all really happy with their jobs and in general the migrant construction workers I see on the street all exhibit really jovial vibes.

    My mind flickers to the articles I’ve read, to the statistics, the deaths, the human rights abuses. But I can’t help but think, in this consciously, naive state of mind, are we just jealous? Are we just jealous that the Qataris have discovered the perfect formula for employing migrant workers? And we (the West) are pissed off because we are besieged by integration problems, cultural identity issues and second-generation migrant who aren’t satisfied with the crumbs their parents once lapped up, after ‘we’ let the migrants stay. In Qatar this will never happen because a migrant worker will never become a citizen. There are people who have been here for four generations who still do not have Qatari citizenship. The Qatari’s see giving citizenship to ex-pats as a threat to national security… Now this is an assault on all of my beliefs for how society should exist and be organised, but in times like these it’s hard not to question these beliefs and in this slightly fragile moment in the glitz and glamour of Doha, I can’t help but admire it.