Thursday, February 16, 2017

Foreign Resident Rant

I am angry about recent politics on two continents; both places I call home - the US and Kuwait. Kuwait's expat-bashing is very similar to the current expat bashing going on in the States. Both administrations (and in Kuwait I refer to the elected parliament and not HH The Emir) seem to want to build a wall to keep others out (Kuwait, figuratively; the US of course literally).

My blood pressure is so high since Trump was elected not-my-president that I can’t/won’t begin to discuss that subject here.  There is too much ammunition and I’m not in the US at the moment; I’m here in Kuwait where I live.  I prefer local ranting.

The recent local issue making my blood pressure rise? "Expats are ruining Kuwait's hospitals." Ok, maybe overloading the hospitals, as the population of actual Kuwaitis is only 1 million and there are 4 million inhabitants in Kuwait.  But “ruining”? 

The highly-skilled Kuwaiti doctors that I know in Kuwait often talk about how difficult it is to perform their jobs at Government hospitals; NOT because of "expats" but because they are not paid well and don't have the resources they require.  Are expats to blame for that?

There is a universal healthcare system in Kuwait.  Yes, that is overloaded for sure.  But, most of the professional-level expats like myself have only set foot in a Government-run hospital a few times. I’ve been here 20 years now and I have been to 1 Government clinic and in a Government hospital only once after a car accident.  (I can assure you, the second time, I had no intention of going there, but I was semi-unconscious and they wheeled me in.)  The first time, I went to get blood tests done and I would never go back. Too many procedures.  Too stressful.   Oh, and then there are the mandatory tests for TB and AIDS when you first arrive.  God help me if I ever have to go through that experience again.  Women were lined up (most of the women in line were domestic helpers) and asked to remove our upper garments entirely and put on a gown to be x-rayed.  I asked where I could find a gown.  The nurse pointed to a pile on the floor of previously-used gowns.  Yes, oh so hygienic.  (Note:  If you come to Kuwait for the first time and are seeking residency here, buy and bring your own hospital gown.)

I have private health insurance through the company I work for.  I also have a decent salary.  I would willingly and happily donate my government-provided insurance to a less-fortunate person if I could.  I don’t use it and it is wasteful.  But then again, so is the mandatory fee that my company has to pay for me towards the government healthcare scheme in order to renew my residence visa (which is normally done annually).  If the Government is looking to save money on their healthcare scheme, make the Government-provided healthcare optional to those in higher paying jobs.  That may give the opportunity to help the less fortunate.

So ok, in general, I don’t like being lumped into a common term of “expat”.  I hope that I contribute to Kuwait because as I said, I consider it home and I love it here (faults and all). But every other word coming from each new parliament is discouraging.  “Deportation” is the common catch-all phrase for all the wrongs in the country.  Cross a red light:  Deportation.  Gather after a football game:  deportation.  Get caught at a party (“immoral activity”):  Deportation.  New Years events:  Deportation. 

When I was volunteering to come to Kuwait along-side my Kuwaiti friends in 1990 at the McLean Hilton to help in any way I could (fight, Red Cross, whatever), would Kuwait have deported me for such petty transgressions? 

It has all become too much.  I am waiting for the moratorium on smiling, laughing and joking (all attributes that made me fall in love with Kuwaitis in general – as in the past, their unique humor and ability to laugh at their own foibles made them very appealing).  I have watched so many die-hard Kuwait fans (professional expats) leave after one, two, and even three decades of life here.  People who contributed and not “ruined.”  People who helped design buildings and roads and to set safety and quality practices for the country and industries.  People who left their own families to settle here.

Sure, there will be small-minded people who will say, “They were here for the money.”  Maybe so, but if they were only here for the money, they wouldn’t stay for more than a few years (and those people come and go somewhat invisibly).  I didn’t come here for the money.  I didn’t come here for the lack of income tax or the fact that I could get a maid (also an “expat”) to pamper me for very little money (so she could support her family back home).  Those things were just bonuses and to me along the way; not the reasons I came here.   I came to Kuwait because I found a unique flavor here. I found that I missed the country terribly when I went back to the States.  I cried.  Kuwait is different.  The people are (and Inshallah it is still present-tense) unique. The Kuwaitis I know closely are like my family.  I came on a two-year contract.  I stayed for two decades because I loved it here and it felt like a second home. 

I have experienced (not read about or heard about) Kuwait’s history for three decades of my own life.  More time than the people on social media; referring to expats as “kafir” (those without religion) or being disrespectful of foreigners’ holidays or traditions while demanding respect from the same people they insult.  More time for me to talk to the parents, grandparents, and even great-grandparents of expat-bashers; to learn about what the basic tenants of Kuwait truly are:   hospitality, charity, kindness, respect and compassion. 

I no longer like the term "expat,"  although by definition, the term is correct (a person who lives outside their native country), "Expat" has become a derogatory term in Kuwait.  “Guest” isn’t the appropriate term because we are all contributors to the society in some form.  I’m not anyone’s “guest.”  I pay rent.  I pay fees to my bank and car finance company and satellite TV company and I buy products in the local markets. I contribute.  No one is taking me out to dinner or letting me stay in their home for free.   I’m not here to “ruin” Kuwait.  I’m here to live, work, and positively contribute to a society that I have made a conscious choice to be a part of.  I wish politicians would consider that when choosing their words.

1 comment:

layla said...

I have to honestly say that I had never heard of the term expat until I came to Kuwait. My family is originally from India but I grew up in NZ. Not once was I ever referred to as an expat in the 17 odd years that I was in NZ. Not once did I have to carry around identification for fear of random police checks. I had a part time job while in high school and I earned the same rate/hour as all the other employees, citizens included. I was never treated differently because I held another country's passport and I had the same rights as everyone else. I could get a driver's license, I could live where I wanted and participate in any club that I was interested in and because of that, though its been years since I've left NZ, I still consider myself to be half kiwi. Not by birth, but just because I was accepted.

I've been in Kuwait for 8 years now and even if I were to spend another 20-30 years here, I will never see Kuwait as home. It doesn't matter how much I love life here, it just will never be home. The minute I'm not needed, I will be kicked out.