Kerala Craftsmen

Kerala craftsmen

Shajilal Pallikuniyil of Kerala, India, is known as “Jalal” in a loft located above a gold shop in Doha, Qatar. Below the thick concrete floor is a glitzy storefront stocked with over $7 million in gold jewelry, peddled by a half dozen Arab salesmen. Customers never know Jalal is upstairs in a secluded area, but requests for handcrafted jewelry depend on it.

The most productive and top performing goldsmiths working in the Middle East are from Kerala, said Mohammad Al Salahi, deputy general manager of Al Salahi Jewelry. The Yemeni chemist lives near his family-owned gold factory in Saudi Arabia, where out of more than 300 goldsmiths, nearly everyone is from India. Salahi frequently travels to Doha to check on his five Qatar showrooms, which exclusively employ Kerala men to complete custom gold requests. Continue reading

Qatar's Old Pearl Diver

Qatar’s old pearl diver

Saad Ismail Al Jassim, 73, is widely recognized as “the old pearl diver” in Qatar. His store attracts a steady stream of intrigued patrons at Souq Waqif, a newly renovated shopping establishment that models ancient Islamic architecture. Surrounding structures resemble a fort constructed of sharp geometric shapes covered in creamy gypsum. Mazes of merchants stockpile handicrafts, fabrics, perfumes, spices and fresh foods. Known for its art and culture, the mall complex is appropriately anchored by Jassim’s shop.

The aging merchant reveals remnants from a lifetime spent conquering the salty waters of the Arabian Gulf. An old stone and rope rest near his doorway. Many years ago, they helped submerge him into the depths of the sea. A crudely created nose clip always sits in his pocket, where its significance in early diving adventures is ready to share. A note of appreciation for his pearl diving stories is hung from a far wall, signed by students at the American School of Doha, Qatar. Continue reading

Qatar’s radio voice

Recently, I met a prominent person in Qatar: the morning disc jockey. Many people complain about Qatar Broadcasting Station’s content, but this is expected since an Islamic state is deeply regulated for public modesty. He is a talented jockey with a long history in the entertainment industry. He’s committed to keeping within the standards imposed on him. Bernie Lyons is also a devoted family man.

Lyons hosts the QBS “Breakfast Show” on FM 95.7, from 6 a.m. to His early-morning silliness, laced with an Irish accent, is hard to ignore. Lyons is capable of generating smiles without becoming offensive to anyone; a mandatory trait while broadcasting in an Islamic nation. His show delivers a necessary distraction during frequently frustrating commutes in Doha, Qatar’s capital city. Continue reading

Hassan at Zubara

Hassan at Zubara

Qatar army 1st Lt. Hassan Al Sheeb explained artifacts located at Fort Zubara in Qatar, June 17, 2007. The fort stands as a reminder of Qatar’s history and the royal family’s rise to power.

Qatar, an Islamic nation situated on the eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, is a constitutional monarchy ruled and administered by an emir. Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani holds absolute power over one of the richest countries in the world. Today, Qatar exhibits a glamorous and prosperous nation, but it wasn’t always this way. The Al Thani royal family understands success is a product of struggle. Continue reading