My friend’s father turns 70 this year. He has lived in Kuwait for over 50 of those 70 years. Lately all he says is that he wants to die peacefully in ‘his country’- Kuwait. Sadly we know that, that will not be a possibility, because to live or die in Kuwait is not so easy- you need the all important Iqama (residence permit) which we all expatriates require, and not many people can legally get it after a certain age. He is deeply saddened and does not want to leave Kuwait to die in a foreign land. Recently he was even told by someone to go back to where he was from, to which he calmly replied that he was from Kuwait.
This got me thinking that I could be in a very similar situation.
People often ask me - where are you from? Kuwait comes my prompt reply. Confused, they ask again- but where are you really from, where is your family from?
So here is the story of my roots and my family. Maybe you can help me answer where I am really from.
My Grandfather came to Kuwait in March 1949, when Kuwait was still under the British rule, Rupee was the currency used, water was distributed every morning on donkeys and there was no electricity. At that time he started and successfully built one of the first few canned food business and introduced many food brands into Kuwait, and in doing so, I believe he made his small contribution in the building & developing of Kuwait. My grandmother followed him to Kuwait in 1954 to help him in his business. My father along with his siblings spent his summer holidays in Kuwait in the 50’s until he permanently moved to Kuwait in 1961 to join the business. Later that year when Kuwait gained its independence my grandfather, grandmother & father were all there parading and happy in the streets along with everyone else.
So where am I really from?
My mother came to Kuwait right after getting married to my father in 1970 at the age of 21. Both my brothers and I were all born in Kuwait. All the stories we heard from our grandparents and parents were in and about their life in Kuwait. My brothers and I grew up here, we went to school here, we dressed up in the Kuwaiti flag colors on National day & celebrated with everyone else. I always participated in the February 25th program which used to be telecast on TV. We picnicked & made sand castles on the beach near Kuwait towers, basically we did all the normal and same things like all the other ‘Kuwaiti’ children did. I wept for our beloved Kuwait as it burnt in the Iraqi invasion in 1990. I prayed and carried the yellow ribbon for our POW’s. All my childhood memories and all my sorrows and joys are connected to this land.
So where am I really from?
In late 1990’s, my nieces and nephews became the 2nd generation of our family to be born in Kuwait. I went to study in California and was back after completion of my studies because I wanted to come “Home” and did not want to live in a foreign land. I even got married here because I did not want to get married anywhere else other than in my home country Lately a lot of acquaintances & friends have been immigrating to other countries to secure their future since they feel they don’t have one in Kuwait as there are no old age facilities here for them. If I am left with no other option I too may have to do that one day but I left the west and came back years ago, (which many people told me was the biggest mistake I made) but this is my home; this is where I was born, where I live, where my roots are. I live here not because I am more successful here than I would be elsewhere; the fact is that I live here in spite of the fact that I could have more opportunities elsewhere.
So where am I really from?
This is my only home- so where are people like me ’really’ from and where do people like me go? Who one day like my friend’s dad want to retire & even die in the same country that they lived in all their life? A lot of my friends make fun of my passion & patriotism towards a country that’s “not mine” but I know a lot of us feel exactly like I do. Most of us don’t even want anything from the government, like a pension, medical or a nationality. Though that would be nice. We would just be really grateful for self or state sponsored permanent residences so that we are ‘allowed’ to live and work peacefully in the only country that we call home. It would also be gratifying to see some differentiation in terms of residency laws and benefits for people like me whose family has lived here for over 63 years and a person who has recently come here on a labor visa. Currently there is no differentiation.
All said and done I don’t consider myself an ajnabi (expatriate), In my heart I am as Kuwaiti as anyone with a Kuwaiti passport. Foolish I know, but such are matters of the heart anyways. Four generations of my family have lived in Kuwait. I did not choose to be born here, but I consciously choose to live here because this is the only country and home I know.
So now maybe you can decide for me-Where do you think I am really from?
I think I am really from Kuwait.
P.S- Recently a lot of articles are being written by a few Kuwaiti writers who have not only recognized this situation but also given excellent solutions to this dilemma. I would like to thank you for making the effort and Inshallah one day we might actually have a real solution. Feel free to share this little note with other people who may feel the same way. Who knows someone somewhere could read it and start a change.