Although Valentine’s Day came and went, the shop is still flourished with heart-shaped gifts designed on big, glittery stands of chocolate dangling from ribbons. A teddy bear inside a blown-up balloon tied only with ribbons hangs down from the ceiling. At the back of the shop, there is a staff member decorating yet another chocolate stand that takes him about 30 hours to get ready for the customer to buy for thousands of Riyals.
“Ahlan,” said Nezzar Gayak in Arabic, greeting a customer as she walked into the shop. She walked toward the teddy bear balloon stand, her mouth dropped, and she said, “WOW,” looking at a staff member. Gayak walked toward her and started explaining how it was done and took her to the back of the shop to show her the instruments used to make the gift.
Swan is a shop in one of Doha’s most popular shopping destinations, Al Merqab St., that makes decorated gifts for all occasions such as weddings, birthdays, baby showers, Valentine’s Day and pilgrimage.
“He is like my brother, like family,” said Jiwan Rai, a two-year staff member in Swan, about Gayak. “He loves me, so I love him.”
Gayak has been working in and managing Swan for about five years. Swan is one of the many stores that received a notice from the government in January to leave in three and a half months so that the shop and others close to it could be demolished for reasons Gayak does not know.
“We might go to Al Wakrah or Al Khartiyat,” said Gayak calmly. “My sponsor has connections, so it won’t be a problem.”
Gayak is among the seven staff members who work in Swan. All of the staffers are males except one, Gayak’s wife. Gayak brought his wife on her own working visa from the Philippines a few months after he began working at Swan. “Al hamdulilallah for my sponsor,” said Gayak joining his hands together, “he made working here for me easy.” Two years later, Gayak and his wife had their first daughter in Qatar. They bring her to work with them everyday. She sleeps under the desk table on a small mattress with a blanket over her little body.
“I know Nezzar from the Philippines,” said Saed Ramensa, a four-year staff member in Swan, as he glued blue ribbons on chocolate-wrapped sticks. “He is good to work with. Filipino Muslims are good to work with.”
Muslim Filipinos make up approximately 30 percent of the 200,000 Filipino population in Qatar, according to the Filipino embassy. In Al Merqab Street, Filipinos make approximately 18.1 percent among a big population of Indians, Pakistanis, Nepalese and Arab nationals.
The staff members work two shifts a day that are 10 hours long, but on Fridays staffers work one shift that is five hours long. When a holiday like Valentine’s Day is coming up, staffers work one shift a day that is 14 hours long.
Swan is not the first time Gayak has worked in a gift-decorating shop. He has been in this kind of business for about 25 years. Gayak started off as a farmer in the Philippines where he is from, then moved into his preferred field of study. “I like art,” said Gayak. “Farming is for strong people and the benefit is little.”
Gayak also worked as a gift decorator in nearby Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Gayak lived in Bahrain for two years and in Saudi Arabia for 20 years where he learned Arabic fluently. “I like speaking Arabic,” Gayak said. “I prefer speaking it more than English,” which made it simple for him to communicate with people in Qatar. Before working at Swan, Gayak worked for two months at another gift decorating shop near Al Merqab St..
Gayak frequently travels Dubai in order to buy materials for the shop. If Gayak is in Qatar, he does the material shopping for Swan in shops like Al Rawnaq and the Home Center.
But with all the shopping and time Gayak spends at the shop, he rarely considers his own personal needs. “In a month, I go out two times,” said Gayak unenthusiastically. The only places Gayak and his family go to have a good time are the Sealine Beach Resort in Masaieed and the Corniche, a park in Al Dafnah.
Gayak sees himself spending the rest of his life in Qatar. “I want to stay here because of my job.”