World Cup host Qatar leaves pearl diving past far behind

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Seventy years ago, Saad Ismail Al Jassim used to free dive 40 feet (13 meters) deep into the waters of the Persian Gulf, holding his breath to comb the seabed for oysters in the hope of finding a cluster. of pearls.

Today, an 1,100-foot (335-meter) yacht that serves as a floating hotel for thousands of soccer fans is docked by the shore where divers on wooden boats once left to hunt for pearls — emblematic of the stunning transformation World Cup host nation Qatar has experienced over the past century.

Like its Gulf Arab neighbors, Qatar’s main commodity before it began exporting oil and natural gas to the world was pearls, the iridescent precious bead formed when an irritant slips into an oyster’s shell.

Al Jassim, now 87, was among the last of the country’s professional pearl divers. “Our journey would take three to four months,” he said. “We (would) eat, drink, sleep only on the boat.”

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