By Ben Garcia
KUWAIT: The lockdown and the curfew have separated many families, not just in different countries, but even inside a small country like Kuwait. On April 7, Jleeb Al-Shuyoukh and Mahboula were subjected to isolation – cut off from the rest of the country. Then on May 10, a 24-hour curfew was imposed in the entire country. As a result, some families were separated from each other.
“Theresa”, a Filipina married to a Bangladeshi, who did not want to give her real name, chose to separate from her family in order to continue working. Her husband and children stayed at their apartment in Jleeb, but Theresa had a job in Shuwaikh, though not with her actual sponsor. So instead of going home when Jleeb was placed under isolation, she stayed with friends in Salmiya to be able to work.
Theresa, in her mid-50s, needed the salary because her husband, a taxi driver, had been out of work since the government suspended all taxi services on March 26. Moreover, her iqama had expired and she was working illegally with her new employer in Shuwaikh, and knew she would not be able to leave Jleeb to get to work.
Tens of thousands of workers locked inside Jleeb and Mahboula lost their income when the areas were isolated. In the first few days, basic necessities ran out as crowds rushed to buy groceries and fill cooking gas canisters. “I intend to return to my house in Jleeb, but I was afraid because my iqama with my old employer had expired, and I did not want to explain and deal with authorities about it. I didn’t want to call my former boss because I didn’t want him to know that I had accepted a job elsewhere. I was still negotiating with them about my fate,” Theresa said.
“So I spoke to my current boss and she told me to live temporarily with my co-workers in Salmiya so I could work. My husband, my daughter and my son agreed to this arrangement, so throughout the lockdown period, I was living away from my family. Then on May 10, my husband died,” she said.
Theresa recalled talking to her husband on the telephone about the hardship and troublesome times ahead of them. “I felt the stress in my husband’s voice and I was worried. I told him to calm down and we shall overcome these trials. I accepted the job despite the threat of coronavirus and being caught by the police because we have two more children studying in the Philippines. Both of them are in university, and we are also worried about their situation there. My husband stopped working since March 26 because he is a taxi driver and taxis were told to stop because of the pandemic,” she said.
“I knew he was worried and over-stressed, and that is why I always talked to him over the phone. I was very concerned with the fact that he could no longer go for regular checkups for his high blood pressure and diabetes. He skipped it for days because we did not have enough money,” Theresa sobbed.
“On May 10, I received an urgent call from my daughter saying her dad was having a heart attack. I immediately called my current employer to help me reach the Jleeb fence near Ishbilya. I was monitoring my husband’s condition through Facebook messenger. My two children were pumping their father’s chest so he could be revived. I told them not to stop, so my 23-year-old daughter and my 10-year-old son alternated pumping his chest. My daughter had called an ambulance earlier but it didn’t arrive quickly. In fact, I reached Jleeb ahead of the ambulance.
“At the gate I was crying hard, and told the police officer at the checkpoint to allow me to enter Jleeb because my husband was dying. I showed them the live chat with my children and I was happy that the police officer did not bother to ask for anything more, not even the civil ID card. They just allowed me to enter the gate. I ran without feeling exhaustion until I reached our house near Jarallah Clinic. I think it was around five kilometers of running in the midday heat. When I arrived, my kids were terribly exhausted pumping and trying to revive their dad, but it was too late. The ambulance arrived 30 minutes after I arrived, and my husband by that time was no more. I blamed myself for working and that my husband died without me. I pray that no other families are separated like this,” Theresa said.
Now Theresa and her children are back in the Philippines. “He was buried in Kuwait since we are Muslim and he had to be buried within 24 hours. For us it was painful to see the head of the family living without any hope of returning back. I am getting strength from Allah and the support of both families in the Philippines and Bangladesh. I’ve been regularly talking to my children – I know they are devastated but we are okay, this is the will of Allah,” Theresa said.
But she has a problem. Her 10-year-old son could not be taken to the Philippines since he was not legally adopted by the family. “I didn’t want to leave him anywhere; I treat him as my own and I don’t want to leave him. I already sought the help of the Philippine Embassy years ago, but they asked too many papers and I didn’t have them. I hope the embassy will be able to help me so I could legally adopt him,” she said.
The boy was abandoned by his parents when he was 2.5 years old. The parents told them they were going for annual leave, but they never returned. The boy has no birth certificate because he was born inside the house to a Filipina mother and Bangladeshi father. “We totally lost communication with them immediately when they left Kuwait; maybe it was their plan. The boy was believed we were his parents and was very close to my husband,” she said.
It is unclear how the boy’s circumstances will be resolved. “That is exactly the reason why I have to stay strong after the death of their father because I have children who are in schools and I have to take good care of them,” she concluded.
By Ben Garcia