Jalal al Ghosn
The family I am amongst is a very large one. There are so many kids running around I cannot keep track of who had which child or how many there are all together. The younger ones were very excited to play with me at first, but quickly lost interest and leave me to run around playing tag.
The father of the household, Jalal, is very welcoming and immediately enters into conversation with me. He begins by taking a lot of time to talk about the displacement issues his family faced during the Gulf war, and the different circumstances that made them move a lot a live between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
Jalal is a Kuwaiti Bidoon. His wife has Kuwaiti citizenship, but he talks of how that means very little to her or the family. According to him, in realistic terms, her being married to a Bidoon means she is practically a Bidoon too.
Their socio-economic status is far from what he wants for his family. ‘We feel like discrimination against us, especially in the workplace, is only increasing.’ Jalal explains, in simple terms, that the money coming into their house is far less than what they need to keep the household running. There is nothing he sees that he can do to overcome this. He speaks, sadly, of how they have to rely on infrequent hand-outs, from the same government that wont make them nationals. They spend a lot of their time, as do many other Bidoon families, making things at home that they can sell for some extra income.
What really seems to upset the father is the concept of loyalty. ‘For some reason loyalty to a country seems to be defined by a nationality. No one will ever pay attention to us as to whether we are loyal or not. What we feel towards our country is irrelevant.’ We get interrupted by the third round of strong Arab coffee which is being poured by a very shy girl with a smile on her face. She seems just a bit older than 10 and her name, Noor, means light in Arabic. After pouring the coffee, she sits next to me and watches me type up my notes whilst her grandfather speaks. I realise at that point that, unlike all her citizen peers who would be fluent in English, she probably has never had the opportunity to learn and would not be able to read what I was writing. ‘Our country is everything to us, but we are nothing to our country,’ continues Jalal.
‘Our situation of statelessness has killed the ambition of our family. We only think of how to get more income. My kids and my grandkids are prohibited from entering most university courses because of their status. Even if they could, our focus has to remain on getting some income to retain our dignity. Every hope of this family has disappeared, or at least, is on hold.’
Jalal’s son, a young man in his 30s and probably the father to some of the children who are running in and out of the room, continues where his father has stopped. He explains to me how they often travel around the country, visiting some of the different cities and sites and exploring their surroundings. This always makes him wonder how, throughout all the land and space they have crossed in the country, there does not seem to be any space for them. ‘We don’t even think of travelling abroad, we are prisoners here for a reason we don’t understand, in a country that doesn’t feel our hopes or energy, even though we have no other.’
Noor clearly senses that the energy in the room is not what she had hoped for when a smiling foreign woman she did not know entered the house an hour ago. She slowly gets up and leaves the room, without saying anything.
Once again it us just Jalal, his son and I. Jalal picks up the conversation again. ‘I feel pressure, mental pressure, social pressure, economic pressure. I see the way our own friends and relatives view us and look down on us because of this status. Every day this pressure gets worse. Every single day.’