Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Why do I care so much about the Bedoon issue?

I write a lot about the Bedoon issue and do my darndest to help.  It is an issue that I strongly believe in helping to resolve to end the suffering of this group of people.

My personal experience with the Bedoon began when I met Hilal Al-Shammari (and Shammari can be spelled many different ways in English:  Shemmari, Shimari, Shimmeri, etc.  They are all part of the Shamar tribe).  Hilal was a big, sweet man who reminded me of a gentle teddy bear.  I had just arrived in Kuwait. 

My friend, Salah, from Florida (who I knew in the US) helped me ship my car to Kuwait and Hilal was helping me out on the receiving end.  Salah was formerly Bedoon, but with the help of someone in the US, had gotten US citizenship.  His two brothers were in Australia getting citizenship. Their cousins and other family members have Kuwaiti nationality.   They tore up their travel documents in-flight and flushed them down the toilet in order to get political assylum when they arrived in Australia.  This was years ago and the laws have changed a lot since.  Now, the brothers would probably be returned to Kuwait where they would spend an unspecified amount of time in the deportation center if not jail.

Salah arrived in Kuwait and we started hanging out with Hilal.  Those were the days when the "family sections" in restaurants and cafe-tents were a lot more common.  Salah and the gang invited me to many dinners before I wised up and figured out that they were having me go with them just to gain access to the females on the family side!  (A "crime" that did not go unpunished by me later.)

So, we became friends and Hilal and I got closer.  We started going out to eat and shopping together (in the days before Al Kout mall was there).   He helped me fix things in my new apartment and took my car to get serviced/fixed when it needed it.

I had my eye on a beautiful piece of art; an antique wood carving cut from a single piece of wood in intricate designs of birds and foliage.  I looked at it for months and Hilal finally went down and bought it for me.  It still hangs on my wall.

I eventually met most of Hilal's family.  He introduced me to his mother and from behind her niqab, I could see that she wasn't terribly pleased.  Hilal wasn't concerned at all.

Unfortunately, Hilal's feelings for me were not returned. I cared about him, but more like a brother and friend.  We cut most ties soon after he started talking about marriage.  We still talked on the phone, but that was about it.  Salah talked to Hilal and said something to the effect that I was "out of his league" (which is not true and I felt bad).  It all had to do with feelings.

Months passed and I went on to do other things.  One night, he called me and sounded very upset.  He wanted to come over to talk.  When he arrived, he was visibly shaken and started sobbing.  I couldn't understand everything that he said.  I tried to get him to calm down, but he said he had to leave.  I told him I would always be there for him 24/7 if he needed me. I called later, but no answer.

That was the last time I ever saw him. 

About a month later, I was somewhere and saw a mutual acquaintance.  I asked about Hilal.  The man's answer was, "He's dead.  And he owes me money."  I thought it was a joke.  Who could be so incredibly cruel?  I called one of Hilal's friends (a business partner) here in Kuwait who said that it was true, but told me that he had died of a heart attack (trying to soften the blow for me, I suppose).  Hilal was only in his 30's.  I still didn't believe the story.  I called Salah.

Salah related a story that I wish wasn't true.  Hilal had gotten involved with drugs and had spent most of the money he had accumulated with his long-time friends in business partnership.  He felt desperate and  (I assume) decided that suicide was the only way out.  One night, he stopped his car on an street overpass, left his wallet and keys in the car, and jumped.

Hilal was Bedoon.  One of his business partners was an older Kuwaiti man (a very good man who is well-known in Kuwait for his former soccer career) who had known him since Hilal was 10 years old.  The man tried to help him establish a business and get a better life.  My assumption is that when Hilal lost the money to drugs, he felt ashamed and confused.  I know - people will say that he didn't have to kill himself and it goes against God and all that; and it does.  However, I can't imagine the desperation he must have felt in feeling that he had no other choice.

I blamed myself for a long time not being a better friend or for not handling my relationship with him better.  But the reality is that there was nothing I could have done.  It was a horrible period of my life (I found out about Shamlan's death within months of Hilal's so it was a very dark time for me - come to think of it, around this time of the year).

I remember Hilal all the time.  I look at my wall art and see him smiling.  I see an older model Jeep and see him.  I drive around town to places where we used to go and I see him. [Sadly, I remember him when I see an overpass.]  And I remember him when I meet other Bedoon people who are ashamed to tell me that they are Bedoon.  I always wonder about their situations and if there is some way that I can help.

...And I take it very personally.


Anonymous said...

So nice of you DG. I know it's a noble cause. But believe me not all bedoon are honest. A lot are Iraqis and Syrians and hiding their documents. We can tell from the accent and language. Some bedoon should be Kuwaitis but they are minority compared to the cheaters who are Iraqis, Syrians and Iranians who just want the Kuwaiti citizenship. Still, I respect you for your noble cause. ALWATAN days ago stated that 40 thousand bedoon are Iraqis.

Desert Girl said...

Don't believe everything you read in the newspapers. Don't believe everything a government says (Case in point: W Bush....).

Are we now to believe the Iraqi government? Really? Everybody is just good friends now and they suddenly have "a list"? At the same time when Iraq is negotiating their debt to Kuwait in retribution to 1990 and 1991? Hmmmm.

This was not a post about who is qualified for the Kuwaiti nationality, nor did I mention anywhere within the post anything in reference to honesty (did I say that my friend was honest or dishonest? No, I did not.). This was a post about a friend and how I became involved in the Bedoon cause.

If you read my previous posts, you will note that I have stated several times, I believe that the Bedoons who QUALIFY for Kuwaiti nationality should be naturalized. I don't believe that ALL will QUALIFY. I do believe that perhaps that not only are these non-qualifying individuals "hiding" their identities, but that perhaps the governing body granting citizenship is "hiding" the identity of those who DO qualify (as you say, "minority"); i.e. via DNA testing that would link current Bedoons to their Kuwaiti national cousins.

Regardless, you can not argue that the Bedoon people are not suffering. They are.

While I respect your comment, I don't believe that it is appropriate for this post. It may have been better stated on an earlier post where the argument was made.

Desert Girl said...

I am going to take the comments off if I get posts from people who are trying to hinder and not help.

If you're not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

Anonymous said...

Please forgive me if I offended you or any one else. I repeat, I totally respect you for helping bedoon who suffer. Regarding the Iraqis who pose as bedoon. Reason I say this is because I hear their accent and notice that they speak Iraqi or Kuwaiti with Iraqi accent. The government did not tell me that. I noticed it, and I'm not the only one who did notice. The reason for my previous comment was that one should not think that all bedoon are victims. I do sympathise with the ones who suffer. After liberation, when the government said that they will put bedoon who helped the Iraqi army in 1990, many bedoon fled the country when they heard that. Some stayed, which means that the ones who stayed are the ones who deserve citizenship. Again, I am sorry my previous comment upset you and I did not refer to your firend. I meant those who hid their passports. I am not defending the government, they are part of the blame for not solving the problem when it happened.

Hamed said...

will , its a tragedy that cant be denied , but in another hand alot of bedoun have original documents been hidden from the local authorities , and because of this the peoblem wont get a step fowrard, ive seen and witnessed alot more tragedies during my work in hospitals.

American Girl said...

I wish I expressed myself as well as you do, DG. Over the past week I've been attacked, condemned, belittled, and accused of 'hating Kuwait' because of my support for the Bedoun.

I've always held the highest level of respect for you for many reasons -- this being one. It's very kind of you to share your personal experience, as I know it must still be very painful for you.

Desert Girl said...

American Girl,

You are not un-patriotic at ALL towards Kuwait. I know you have the same concerns that I do and carry the same load. People who KNOW you wouldn't say it or think it. In the circles you are in, those people should be ashamed of themselves!

But again, you have to hit them where it will get them, "You look like a smart person. Don't take my word for it. Ask questions from different sources. Insult me all you want, but you are still ignorant on the subject and should look into that."

I have discussed the Bedoon issue -vocally and heatedly - with friends in the Kuwaiti government -(I can't say who, but you would be surprised). They know that I love Kuwait. They are also sympathetic towards those who deserve nationality. Some of the people in the same room during our conversations - their FRIENDS - are bedoon. People that they knew from school, people that they grew up with. People that have, in some ways, helped their families over the years.

Anonymous dudes - again, this is not the appropriate post to comment on. You can still leave your comments, but I would prefer that you would do so on a post that is not personal like this - leave it after some of the articles.

This post SERIOUSLY was not intended to open a discussion of the pros and cons of granting citizenship. It is a personal experience.

and yes, American Girl, still very painful.

Anonymous said...

This is such a contentious issue in Kuwait and stems from several phenomena, some unique to the Gulf. How you mentioned about the Shimmari, my tribe is also spread across Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain. Are national borders just lines in the sand, or should we lay down our tribal identity and embrace our national identity? Of course people can identify themselves as different things simultaneously.

More on point, I think the Bedoon are victims of "othering" as a lot of Kuwaitis will rattle off a long list of reasons why they differ to Bedoons.

For what its worth, Bedoons who are in the military and did not betray Kuwait in the invasion (I didn't say run away because the majority of the army did too!) should DEFINITELY get nationality. And ain't it better being Canadian/Australian/American citizen anyway?