By Umer Nangiana
Like any other job, a career in Foreign Service comes with its ups and downs. But the best it offers is the opportunity to explore and interact with so many different cultures. And it gets even better when you experience multiculturalism at a single station.
This is how the four-year stay in Qatar has been for Ernesto D Plasencia Escalante, the ambassador of Cuba to Qatar. For Escalante, it has been the experience of his life.
“To be a diplomat is to share a part of you with the world and at the same time to be ready to be impacted and loved by so many cultures. At the end, you are little pieces of many cultures,” says Escalante, speaking to Community, in an interview.
His four-year term as the sixth ambassador of his country in Qatar is coming to an end as he prepares to say goodbye to Doha in August. As a diplomat, Escalante has been to many countries in the Middle Eastern region and to United States of America, Qatar is his first ambassadorial assignment.
While representing his country and its culture here in this “mosaic of cultures”, the Cuban ambassador says he has absolutely cherished the exclusive opportunity presented by Qatar to experience multiculturalism.
“I am 100 percent Cuban but I now (I feel) I am a mosaic of multiple cultures. I had the chance to interact with so many nationalities and to be among so many beautiful people here,” says Escalante. He has been one of the most socially active members of the diplomatic corps in Doha.
“You come to Qatar and you would find pieces of culture from countries like India, Pakistan, Nepal, Ethiopia, Europe, North and Latin Americas. It indeed is a mosaic. It is a small united nations, I would say. You have people from everywhere here,” the ambassador elaborates, with a smile.
Before coming to Qatar, he has been posted to Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and other Middle Eastern countries before spending “five long winters” in Washington, DC. Cuba opened its embassy in Qatar in June 1994.
Escalante recalls they were among one of the first embassies opened in the state of Qatar and the first Latin American embassy opened here 22 years ago. The embassy of Qatar in Havana was opened in 2001. It is a long history of bilateral relations, he says.
Cuba established a hospital in Dukhan here in 2012. It has more than 40 specialities and over 400 Cuban physicians and nurses working in it.
“It is our treasure that we are sharing with the state of Qatar to assist them in enhancing the healthcare system. It is something that we rejoice (in). In 2012, there were 200 Cubans working in the hospital, now they are more than 450,” says Escalante.
The Cuban diaspora here is a small but growing community, says the ambassador. At present, there are over 600 Cubans working in Qatar, the number however is growing.
“At this moment, we are concentrating on co-operation and collaboration between Qatar and Cuba in the field of healthcare. But we are discussing other sectors such as tourism, culture, sports and many other fields,” the Cuban ambassador adds.
Moving on from just services at the moment, Escalante says he would love to see more Cuban goods in Qatar and Qatari goods in Cuba in future. Tourism is one sector where Cuba has great potential.
“The Cuban government and the people decided in the 1990s to develop tourism as a way to improve our economy, and show to the world its wonders. The basic wonder of my country is its people. We are very candid, very open and very warm people,” says Escalante.
At the moment, Cuba is receiving tourists from almost all over the world. Last year, they received around 3.7 million tourists and this year, the Cuban ambassador hopes it will get very close to touching 4 million tourists.
It is difficult to say how many Qataris exactly go to Cuba, he says, as a lot of people from here travel to Europe or Latin America and from there they go to Cuba. However, he is certain the number of local Qatari nationals visiting Cuba has increased manifold compared to previous years.
Whenever he finds leisure here for himself, Escalante says he loves to take a stroll at Corniche or visit Doha’s museums if he is not going out into the desert or the beaches. Katara Cultural Village and Souq Waqif are among his favourite places in Doha.
However, there is one thing he has missed in Qatar. “I think Qatar would have it in future and I always wonder why it did not have it. I think Qatar, being a country by the sea, needs a very beautiful big aquarium,” Escalante points out.
He regrets he would not be here to see the under construction National Museum when it opens but he hopes to return to Doha to see all the unfinished mega projects when they are finished.
Besides being socially active in the diplomatic community, Escalante remains closely in touch with his Cuban community.
“I interact with my community almost every day. We are a small community so all of them have my cellphone and all of them contact me directly at any time without hesitation. All of them are welcome to the embassy at all times,” says the ambassador.
“We also organise twice or thrice a year a gathering at my home. It gives me a chance to interact with them to basically know their problems and their needs or concerns. And then we also organise parties where we have children running around my house, ripping leaves from some of my plants,” he laughs.
Recently, he held a meeting of the first half of the year in his house, attended by more than 80 members of the Cuban community. Escalante also takes every available opportunity to promote his country’s culture here in Doha. A Cuban band performed for four days at Grand Hyatt last month.
In February, Cuba participated in an exhibition in Katara from 11 Latin American countries. Last month, a Cuban-Balkan musical group performed at Katara as part of Cultural Diversity Festival.
Escalante arrived in Doha in 2012 and after four “beautiful and happy years” his stay here is coming to an end. However, he feels he now has a part of Qatar in him. “We might be physically leaving Qatar but I think I am going to always remember Qatar as a very nice experience,” says the Cuban ambassador.
He expresses his thanks to the state of Qatar especially to HH the Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and HH the Father Emir for the warmth and love, he says, he received here.
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