Views of Kuwait City. — Photos courtesy Ramil Sunga Views of Kuwait City. — Photos courtesy Ramil Sunga

"A massive transformation has taken place, and this is very clear to people who have been here for quite some time."

The two women have one thing in common - the length of their stay in Kuwait. Although Rosario Garcia and Sheila Tamayo did not witness the Iraqi invasion, as they both arrived in Kuwait in 1995, the incident was still fresh in the memories of every Kuwaiti when the two women came to the oil-rich emirates.

Garcia, 58, wondered how she would survive when she left Manila for Kuwait. "Kuwaitis had lived through a dark period of history," Garcia noted. "In fact, destroyed military trucks still littered some streets of Kuwait. But people were friendly and everyone was busy with their work," she reminisced.

Rosario came to Kuwait through a friend on a tourist visa. "She told me there were many jobs available in Kuwait. So I came over, and after a month, I got a job as a manicurist at a hotel in Bneid Al-Gar. I earned a good salary and worked there for eight years," she recalled. "There were small villas then in Bneid Al-Gar and it was not very crowded. People were very generous when it came to tipping, so I was able to save a bit. This helped a lot, especially in sending my children to school, who are now professionals," she said, beaming with pride.

Garcia loved Kuwait, but a time came when she finally decided to go back home for good, in 2003. "But after a few months, I missed the life I had in Kuwait. I requested my old employer to rehire me, so she obtained a new iqama for me and in a few days, I found myself back in Kuwait," she said.

Returning 'home'

Returning to Kuwait wasn't easy though. "I convinced my husband that I was going back for our children's higher studies, but at the back of my mind, I really missed the country. I mean it - I didn't have a boyfriend here as many assumed. Maybe it was the easy life I had experienced, maybe the tips from customers, or the people I met every day," she said.

Garcia lived in Bneid Al-Gar for many years. She has noticed the area's transformation from 2004 till now. "My God! That place only had a few small houses. The only prominent building at that time was the Continental Hotel and a few other hotels. Now the place is crowded with many towering buildings," she said.

Tamayo also witnessed the transformation of almost every corner of Kuwait City. She has been working as an optometrist for several years at the same company. "I have been with them for 22 years. Since I was hired, I have never changed employers as they are good people. I am also very loyal to them. They entrusted the business to me, so I have stayed with them until now," she said.

The meeting point for many Filipinos and other nationals has always been in Kuwait City proper, near the Catholic Church. "This place in Kuwait City is the meeting place for many Filipinos and other nationals out to fulfill their weekly religious obligations. You can notice the crowds of people here, especially on weekends. This has not changed since I came to Kuwait in 1995. On Christmas Day, it is as if the world has come to a standstill - you won't be able to move because of the crowd. It is same during the Eid holidays," Tamayo said.

Kuwait City now has many skyscrapers, but in the '90s, one could count the few high-rise buildings on one's fingertips. "At that time, we only had one major mall in Kuwait - Muthanna Complex. It used to be crowded at that time. Other tall buildings were the Kuwait Airways headquarters and Carlton Hotel, plus the ministry buildings on the other end," Tamayo notes. "Now, these are all dwarfed by several skyscrapers around them. A massive transformation has taken place, and this is very clear to people who have been here for quite some time."

By Ben Garcia