The Cruelty of Kafala: Immigrant Life in Kuwait

The heat. The humidity. My first reaction when I arrived in the Middle East was the absolutely unbearable intensity of heat and humidity. ‘It’s 1 o’clock in the morning. How is it so hot’? My newfound Irish friend who I had met at the airport in Dublin laughed. ‘Didn’t I tell you? You’ll get used to it though. It’ll be grand (fine) by mid-October’. We soon had to part ways as she was getting a flight to Doha while I had to wait another two hours for my flight to Kuwait, my final destination and where I would be for the next 10 months. I moved to Kuwait in August 2014 with absolutely no idea what was ahead of me. I was armed with minimal knowledge of Kuwaiti, Arab and Islamic society and, for all intents and purposes, was moving blindly to the Middle East. I had been offered a job teaching in a school in Salmiya, Kuwait. I was put in touch with one of the current teachers, who told me about school life and so on. Even though I had months to prepare, I focused on the logistics of posting my passport to the Kuwaiti embassy in London, as there is none in Ireland. I had to get documents legalized, and then they had to be attested. I needed vaccines, the Kuwaiti embassy was a nightmare to deal with on the phone and everything just seemed to take ages. I never thought to research Kuwait bars coming to terms with the fact it was (and remains) a dry state. No alcohol. No pubs. No nightclubs.

I was stunned. I had not heard anything about this. How do they afford nannies? They all have one, not just princes and royalty? ‘They all have one, some have more. They bring them over from The Philippines and Sri Lanka mainly. They have them working all hours to be honest. It’s shocking really’. I was starting to wonder what I was doing. I had been nervous the night before my flight, which was the first time I had felt anxious about the move. Now, I felt mild panic. How bad will it be? Are they going to be hard to teach if their behavior is this bad? They must be so spoiled if they all have nannies. I was reassured. Behavior is an issue in all schools but it was not always that bad. ‘You just accept it and live for the weekend and the salary’. Once we parted ways, I was on my own waiting for the last leg of my flight from Abu Dhabi to Kuwait.

I landed in Kuwait at 4 am, hours later than scheduled, as I had been delayed in both Dublin and Abu Dhabi. I had informed Human Resources (HR) that I would be arriving late into the night as I was told a member of staff would be there to meet me at the airport and bring me to my accommodation. After a tedious and tetchy encounter with border security, I was in Kuwait. Everyone was wearing a dishdasha or thobe. Everyone, that is, except the odd westerner and the airport staff who were scurrying around in their blue uniforms, heads down, no eye contact, silent. I made my way through the arrivals gates and scanned the signs held aloft by weary taxi drivers. I spotted my name. A small, dumpy woman seemed to know who I was before I approached her. She looked absolutely jaded

English | May 18, 2021



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