Ask me what I know about Qatar. Wait, what do you know about Qatar? Can you even pronounce it? Most folks in America, if they’re aware of the small, oblong country nestled between Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, would say “KUH-tar.” The correct pronunciation is actually something between “gutter” and “cutter.”
Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar, a woman of South Asian birth and north Florida upbringing, has lived in Qatar for over seven years. She is married to an American of Lao-Thai ancestry. I mention their ethnicities because her collection of essays, FROM DUNES TO DIOR, explores the challenges of a South Asian woman living in the Arabian Gulf.
She writes with alacrity about the amusing dichotomies in Qatari life. People “gorging on McDonald’s and fasting during Ramadan.” “Flashing Gucci shoes in bags but covering [their] hair.” And “driving…Toyota Landcruisers or another SUV because gas costs 36 cents a liter.”
I, like most of the Americans Dr. Rajakumar encountered, knew nothing about Qatar, but I devoured these essays with the same enthusiasm she held for her chocolate Dunkin’ Donuts munchkins (yes, even in Qatar, the ubiquitous DD thrives).
FROM DUNES TO DIOR is an easy read, but a compelling one also. The author’s insight and commentary on the old-fashioned ideas of ethnicity and ancestry are relevant to everyone, and the assumptions and misunderstandings between “us” and “them” should bring pause to the reader.