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17 January 2011 02:48 pm

Recording Qatar’s Oral History

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There is no question that the Qatar of today is shockingly different than the Qatar of 50 years ago, or even just 10 years ago. Yes, there was a Qatar well before the skyscrapers, giant malls and endless line of luxury cars, and the story of that Qatar is one that three driven, young Qatari college students want to capture for future generations. Mariam Dahrouj, Sara Ibrahim Al-Khalfan and Shatha Hassan Farajallah, students at Qatar University recently presented their truly remarkable project, Swalif, to their classmates and some people from the community, including me. Swalif, which loosely means “every day stories” in Qatari Arabic, is an ambitious project that aims to record the oral stories of everyday Qataris who have lived through the country’s transformation, and then share these stories online through a clean, simple website. Already the website has more than 60 audio-stories featured from 12 different Qataris. They cover a wide range of compelling and often touching topics, including a woman’s reflections from her wedding day, an old man’s description of traditional pearl diving, and another woman’s account of the first time she wore a batula (a traditional veil or mask worn by some Muslim women). The three young women developed the website, designed the logo, conducted all the interviews and recording for the oral stories, and then edited and translated the stories. An incredible amount of work, and if this project is going to grow, they will certainly need some committed volunteers to help. If they can find away to enable people to contribute interviews through phone recordings or an online platform, I think it would help build the database greatly. As Swalif continues to develop, I would love to see the site incorporate some social media elements so the stories can be shared more easily and hopefully spread virally. It would also be great if there were videos of the actual interviews – facial expressions often add to a story – however the team was very honest about some of the cultural issues they faced in even getting people to agree to have their story recorded and shared. Swalif also seems like a perfect project to take advantage of Creative Commons. If all the oral stories are made available under a Creative Commons license that allows for reuse and remix, these stories could be woven into songs, movies, poetry and other forms of art, thus expanding their reach and bringing Qatar’s unique voice to even more people. We applaud Mariam, Sara and Shatha on their impressive start and hope they continue their work on Swalif. If you or a relative have a story to share, contact them. Encourage your parents and grandparents to lend their voice to this project and help create a truly rich platform that tells the incredible story of Qatar directly from those that have lived it.