On cloud nine


Thursday, October 03, 2019

DOHA, Qatar — Jamaicans are known the world over for their colourful attire and personality.

But for Debbie Allen, who has been living in Qatar for the past five years, the tremendous pride and joy the Jamaican track and field team has brought her in this middle eastern country is unbelievable.

“It was so good walking out on that high and I was saying this is what we do, we come, we see, we conquer. It was the proudest moment when you're going out and everybody is saying 'Jamaica, Jamaica',” she explained.

Allen, who has been working here as a teacher, was left on cloud nine inside Khalifa International Stadium as she witnessed Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce's gold medal run in the IAAF World Athletics Championships 100-m final.

“I ran the race with Shelly. I screamed and I didn't know I would have a voice left,” said a beaming Allen.

“It is such a mighty comeback. Even when you were walking out of the stadium you could hear people calling her name. She epitomises what a Jamaican is. You work hard, achieve, be a mother, you have all these multi roles, but you are the best at what you do. She is absolutely the greatest,” Allen offered.

“I always have conversations and I tell them, in Jamaica we harvest talent, it's what we do. They can't believe we are such a small country but yet so powerful.

“And I am saying it's not just track and field; we are more than that. We go out and we conquer. The current [British] X Factor winner is a Jamaican. Jamaica is such household name. They know about the music, and here, lots of reggae music is also played,” stated Allen.

“When you meet people on the street and they do not recognise the accent [they ask] 'Where are you from?' When I say I am Jamaican, they are [say] Usain Bolt, Bob Marley, Chris Gayle, who is very popular here. There are a lot of cricket fans here.”

The mother of two, who hails from Brandon Hill in St Andrew, said she was ecstatic when she learnt that the World Championships was coming to Doha, as she knew that she would be seeing her fellow Jamaicans.

“It's like you on cloud nine. You want to do all the cartwheels there are. We talked a lot about Jamaica and one of the things I like is when we meet a Jamaican on the road, we get to go into patois. I speak in patios in Doha more than I did in my entire life in Jamaica,” she added.

The last survey in 2017 had Qatar's population at 2.6m people with 313,000 being Qatari citizens and 2.3 million expatriates. Islam is the state religion and the country is said to be one of the richest in the word.

Qatar is classified by the UN as a country of very high- human development and is widely regarded as the most advanced Arab state for human development and is a high income economy backed by the world's third-largest natural gas reserves and oil reserves.

An early childhood teacher, Allen said it was a little difficult getting accustomed to the culture coming from Jamaica.

“Even something as simple as dress code you were kind of in a culture shock when you come from somewhere that is a little freer.

“In Jamaica you are accustomed to wearing your shorts and your t-shirts out in public. Here is a total different thing; you can't go out in shorts, it's not allowed at all. If you are wearing shorts, it has to cover your knees and for my work I have to wear things that pass my elbow, my ankle. However, in the mall you can see people dress like how they want, but I am respectful of someone's culture so you wouldn't be wearing shorts here,” said Allen during the interview at Pappa Roti restaurant in the mall just across from Khalifa Stadium.

“It's not as rigid as other Muslim countries, so people tend to kind of get away with certain things, but it's very conservative and I don't mind it; I wasn't walking naked in a Jamaica to begin with. It wasn't a challenge to get accustomed to what it is that they do here.

“It kind of shock you. I will not be wearing abaya [full length outer garment worn by some Muslim women] and that kind of things, but I will definitely try as best as I can to stay within the parameters what they consider respectful.

“There are a lot of rules and regulations but more than anything else what I like about here though is the fact that it's peaceful, it's safe, there is no crime and you can leave your door open.

“I like that kind of safety, but of course we are here for the salary more than anything else. Salary is so much more than [in] Jamaica; cost of living is good, health benefits are great, things are accessible, but in the end you are Jamaican so you would be black, green and gold.

“It is good, but Jamaica is home. I don't intend to come home to teach because having been here, I recognise what I did all these years was a volunteer job,” said Allen, bursting out into laugher.

There is a population of over 100 Jamaicans living in Qatar and they cling together. They meet on Fridays at Jamaica House for chit-chats and authentic Jamaican food and music.

“It's a Muslim country but we have had people here from Jamaica performing. We have had Sean Paul, Beenie Man, we have had Alaine and we put on our colours and go celebrate with our people. Here it's different, but not that different,” she said.

But of course, there is the ugly side of racism and classism and Allen has seen it all.

“Racism is present, but it's subtle. Because you are black some people might assume certain things. My personality is a little confronting so people might not come up to me and say certain things.

“But when you open your mouth and they don't recognise the accent and it's not from Africa, you are treated differently. You are well-respected. Teachers are well respected. People like us who are educated are respected,” reiterated Allen.

But her one major disappointment is with the Jamaican government for closing the embassy in neighbouring Kuwait a few months ago.

“So many of us living in the region, how could we not have any embassy? Just in case we need assistance there is no embassy. Why wouldn't a government want to tap into what is happening in the Middle East? Even if you feel that nothing is benefitting you as a county, but your people live in the region you must have an embassy here. This is not our home, this is people's place,” Allen concluded.