Today, Sept. 12, the whole Muslim community around the world is celebrating one of the holy festival in Islam, known as ‘Eid al-Adha’( or the Feast of Sacrifice). Eid -al-Adha is a festival that marks the end of the Hajj -an annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that lasts three to four days. The Koran recommends all Muslims make the journey (or Umrah) at least once in their lifetime. Worshippers typically slaughter an animal like a goat or sheep. Imagine close to 10 million animals are slaughtered in Pakistan on Eid, how about on other countries?
So in time of Eid-al-Adha festivity, for our next Expat Mama around the World series, you will get to know more of surprising facts about motherhood in Kuwait especially from a Muslim Expat-mama perspective. Kuwait is a Muslim country where there are 2.4 Million Expats despite that the summer heat could rise up to 50 degrees and where oil is cheaper than water.
There are roughly 180,000 Filipinos living and working as an OFW ( Overseas Contract Worker) ,in Kuwait and Rechiel is one of them. She left the Philippines for work since 2003, so basically, she lived more than a decade in the Middle East, imagine that! Kuwait has been her 2nd home for a long time now. Surprisingly, she and I happen to go at same school in High School. (which I only found out later when she told me) She is a dear friend of mine and here she shares her Expat Mama Story : A Muslim Expat Mama journey to Motherhood in Kuwait.
Rechiel is a Filipino Expat Mama of 3, and working in Kuwait for almost 13 years now in a Shipping/Logistics Company. Unexpectedly, she found love and eventually got married to her Egyptian husband ,Wasim, who is also an Expat in Kuwait. They have 3 beautiful daughters namely Cha, Salma & Maryam. She is an active member of the Anchors Toastmaster’s Club in Al Bader Company. She loves swimming,photography , and Karaoke of course!
On converting to Islam and raising her kids in Islamic faith
Rechiel converted to Muslim faith from the time that she married her Muslim husband. It was not a mandatory requirement, nor a legal prerequisite for marriage of Non-Muslim & Muslim but it is her personal decision to revert from Christianity to Islamic faith. By changing her views on spirituality and faith, she dressed up in modesty as Muslim women should be, she changed her lifestyle and start to wear Hijab. For her, doing this shows her total submission to her husband and abiding the teachings of Allah from Qúran.
Here’s my Interview-Story of her as an example of a down-to-earth Expat-Mama who is raising her children with Filipino, Egyptian and Muslim values in Kuwait.
Tell us About your Background
My name is Rechiel, I’m the from Philippines and came to Kuwait as an OFW ( Overseas Contract Worker) . I got married, and gave birth of my 2 girls in Kuwait. I am literally living for more than a decade in the Middle East now. It’s been a challenge for me to work full-time at the same time being a mother to a teenager, and 2 more girls. It’s like working round-the clock. From the moment I got home, I spend productive time with my kids but cannot spare anything more than an hours’ time. My interest has always been photography but I do not have time on hand to pursue my interest owing to other responsibilities. I do not know when, but one day I definitely will find time to pursue my interest. It is hard being a mother ,that is a fact, but my life is totally rewarding raising them.
Share something about the current country you are living in and notable aspects of life from an Expat Mother point of view.
On Culture Shock and Arabic language
Kuwait is one of the most prominent countries of the GCC and like all other middle eastern countries has a lot of expats from all parts of the world working and living with their families. Culturally , I found Kuwait to have much Asian influences. There are lots of Filipino/Asian stores so when it comes to food, I felt like I am in the Philippines. In my work, there are also plenty of Filipino colleagues, so basically, I didn’t have much hard time adjusting. Believe it or not, I understand Arabic , but up to this time, I know I still need to make great effort to learn it. When you have kids and needs help with their Arabic homework, you just feel motivated to learn. My kids go to International school where different nationalities so there is always a great culture mix-up. At home, we speak English and Arabic so my children are all bilingual.
On the other hand, my husband being from the Mediterranean region (Egyptian) ,He, too feels very much comfortable to be living in Kuwait. But nowadays he too got confused with the living status here.We have plans to move to Alexandria but still the plans are not that concrete. Being an Islamic country Kuwait has a typical living conditions for women outside their homes. We are Muslims, so socializing is restricted when it comes to interacting with other groups of men and women.
On leisure activities for family and Kids in Kuwait
Kuwait is a desert country, with a hot climate.There are not much greenery like in the Philippines or in Egypt. I got used to the living conditions here even when I was still single but as a family ,we make it a point to enjoy the outdoors when it is not too hot. I am thankful that at least we have the beach for us to have picnics & for the kids to play in the sand or swim. As parents, visiting the Aqua parks, amusement parks, public parks, cinemas, shopping malls, museums, science centers and all such institutions are my favorite spots in Kuwait since both me & my kids can enjoy.
On Arab culture criticism for being Lax at Parenting
I grew up in the Philippines where courtesy & politeness is being taught at a young age. We say “Po & Opo”and respecting the elders is a vital trait. We even have GMRC ( Good Manners & Right Conduct ) subject included in the curriculum. Here in Kuwait,one unusual culture that I don’t like is when an Arab mother tolerate their kids to disrespect them in front of others. Kids are yelling at them if they don’t give something that they wanted. This is very prevalent in malls & restaurants. The teenagers are such a bully . It disturbs me at the same time challenging for me to see that my kids are exposed to multi cultural diversity and how to keep them on the right track.
How is it being pregnant, giving birth and raising your child away from your home country. Or relocating with your kids to another country? What are the adjustments, struggles & rewards you’ve made?
On Pregnancy, Child Birth and Post-Partum Care
For me, It was nothing unusual being pregnant and giving birth to kids in Kuwait as the country has a well-equipped hospitals and gives utmost importance to health care. It is much cheaper and affordable to gave birth here compared to the Philippines. The hospital that I went to was efficient and took care of me during my Caesarean operation up to my post- partum care. I could imagine that if I gave birth in Philippines then this type of service is very expensive. Pregnancy in Kuwait is also different since Kuwait has extensive Prenatal care and taking care of a newborn comes easy for me with the help of my husband and close friends. My work even allowed me to have paid Maternity leave. Vaccination of newborns and toddlers are also within reach, very accessible.
On giving birth alone in the Public Hospital
If you gave birth in a public hospital in Kuwait, you can’t see your husband or others , not right before you gave birth. I feel very blessed to have a very supportive and able husband who arranged everything for me and make it easy for me during the time I was giving birth up to the time I am recovering. It is a normal convenience to have a “Kadama”( maid) in Kuwait so I felt lucky to have such extra help.Even without my immediate families from the Philippines, I did not have a hard time.
On expensive cost of Visa& Residency papers and Tuition fees
Although many things quite cheap in Kuwait, the high cost of living as an Expat family could make a toll on Expats here in Kuwait. The bureaucracy about paper works for a newborn to get residency and visa is quite complicated. It’s a good thing that my husband is well-versed on Arabic and in the in& outs being a Mandoup , ( A liason officer and official representative of a company to transact business & paperworks in the ministries in Kuwait ) so it goes quite easy. For a non-arabic speaker & Expats, this is a big problem and takes time. Aside from the visa fee –100kd ( approx. 300 Euros/ 330 $USD) for 1 year residency plus another 50kd ( 170 $ USD/ 150 Euros ) for Health Insurance, it is costly for an average family with 3 kids that you need to renew every year. Adding up the expenditures are the visa fees for parents, expensive tuition fees, flat rental and utilities. I knew many Expat families chose to let their kids study in Philippines or in their home country instead of expensive schools in Kuwait. Yes, gas is cheap & affordable in Kuwait but maintenance of a car is also costly.This is the reality of the cost of living as an Expat.
On having Fewer friends and Mommy-practicality
When you’re an Expat, got married and have kids– your lifestyle turns 360 degrees change. You have fewer friends, and limited time to socialize because your priorities changed. I knew many friends in Kuwait but being an Expat Mama, my days are filled with family, work & little time for myself. I guess, this is the consequence. I can’t even have the latest fashion & cosmetics out in the market, not because I can’t afford it, but I become practical and go beyond the material value.
What is your say about raising your kid as a third culture kid?
I am raising Filipino-Egyptian kids in a Kuwaiti environment. My kids love Adobo at the same time eat Kubz everyday, adores Kebab,Biryani, and mostly Egyptian dishes. They can speak both Tagalog, English and Arabic. Raising a Third-Culture Kid is both challenging and fascinating because for example, in school they are exposed to different cultures and social media is a big influence too. At their young age, I try my best to teach them important core values we have at home so they remain open-minded & flexible.
How do you make an impact as an Expat Mama in your country of residence?
I’m thankful that my work have given me the chance & exposure to contribute my views. I feel honored when I got the chance to have a Speech about the role of Women as mothers in the society. It is a great privilege that a Filipino like me could have a chance to make an impact in my work, and being a Muslim now gives me the respect from the community we belong to.When an Arab person approaches me and makes comment about how I am raising such adorable kids, it is more than money can buy. A true happiness any mother wants to have.
Being an Expat-Mama is a privilege. It gives me the chance to raise my child in a competitive world to prepare them in their future. It’s not always a glamorous life, but it sure does the best life I want. Wherever we are, either in Kuwait, Philippines or in Alexandria, home is where me & my family stands close to each other, and that’s what matters most.
Thank you Rechiel for this wonderful story of your life as an Expat Mama. It is a pleasure being your friend and this post is for you and your family and Eid Mubarak !
Are you an Expat Mama? Do you want to be featured in this series? Feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org .