Andrew & Lorraine Thomas: Leaving Kuwait after 54 well-spent years

Kuwait will always be dear to our heart

In a land of golden opportunities and towering ambitions, lies a remarkable journey of courage, strength and unshakeable determination of Andrew Thomas. From the city of dreams, Bombay (now Mumbai), to the land of plentiful opportunities, Kuwait, the life story of 74-year-old Andrew is nothing less than a blockbuster full of raw emotions, startling twists and real love.

By Smriti Rana Singh
Special to The Times Kuwait

Upon stepping into Andrew’s humble palatial abode nestled amidst the bustling streets, one is immediately greeted by a serene ambience that tells the story of diversity and unity. As I sat down with him in his tastefully decorated drawing room, adorned with memories from a lifetime of adventures, Andrew shared with me the remarkable journey that has shaped his life in Kuwait. He traces his fingers over the frames adorning the wall with memories flooding back to him – the challenges he faced, the great things he achieved, the friendships he nurtured and the successes he accomplished. Their adorable companion of 13 years, their pet Monty’s memory is also lovingly preserved on a table.

Andrew’s story began in the vibrant landscape of India, in a city that never sleeps. His parents valued tradition yet embraced change with open arms. His father was a technocrat and a Second World War veteran and despite witnessing adversity, including loss of business and financial setbacks, his determination remained undeterred; he rose again. And it was this foundation of his father’s grit and grace that would fuel Andrew’s resilience, adaptability and the courage to carve his own destiny in the coming years.

At the age of 20, it was here, in between the chaos of days gone by and the glittering lights of the city, that Andrew’s story unveiled. Reminiscing on the years gone by, Andrew says he didn’t want to leave out on any experiences that gave him any chance to learn and grow.

Despite an academic background in Economics, Andrew started as a radio assistant at Gulf Fisheries and then worked at a bank for a brief period thereafter. However, the confines of a desk job didn’t succeed to satiate his zeal, prompting him to explore new horizons. Working as a salesman for 12 hours straight, showing samples to potential buyers introduced him to mastering the art of persuasion and negotiation with finesse and precision. Propelling his career trajectory forward, Andrew then worked at a reputed organisation as a sales manager and then as a country manager in a leading publishing company. “I embraced each role with open arms and just gave it my best. Courage is the only thing I came here with and that helped me navigate the labyrinth of new opportunities and challenges without a thought of giving up,” says Andrew proudly.

As his career blossomed, so did his personal life. He met his beautiful wife, Lorraine, while working at the publishing company. A true partner in every sense of the word, Lorraine stood by his side through thick and thin, giving him her unwavering support and strength in moments of doubt and uncertainty. A potential relocation to Nigeria made Andrew move to another leading trading and contracting company, so he could stay back. Here, his leadership skills flourished, and how! Nurturing his entrepreneurial ambitions alongside, he further ventured into realms of video shops and restaurants.

With family priorities taking the forefront, he showed his exemplary devotion to his loved ones and decided to delve into trading, leaving his other ventures behind and taking the experiences and the learnings forward. Through the highs and lows, gains and losses, Andrew found solace in the enduring bliss of marital harmony.

“We have been married for 44 years now. I owe everything to my wife. She has been my steadfast support and a beacon of light. She handles our finances, drives me to wherever we are going and makes me the healthiest food ever. A workaholic herself, she has been the calm to my storms, my pride, and a wonderful mother to our three beautiful children – Ashwin, Anup, and Anisha,” says Andrew glancing lovingly at his wife.

Holding onto memories of simpler times, he says, “Can you believe sandwiches were available just for 30 fils and soft drinks were for just 25 fils. So, in a monthly salary of 50 KWD, it was quite affordable. Rent and car instalments were also notably lower.

As Andrew’s remarkable journey unfolded, so did the chapters of Kuwait’s history. Through Andrew’s narrative, I saw Kuwait as a land that witnessed the devastations of war and rebound to the marvels of modernity.

In the midst of an invasion, Andrew and his family faced harrowing challenges. His children aged 10, 7 and 4 witnessed the grim reality of war firsthand. As the turmoil resonated through the streets, a soldier weary and hungry made his way to their doorstep in search of food. The moment shook them, and they decided to leave for India. Fearing for theirs and their children’s safety, they embarked on a journey by road to Baghdad, and then to Jordan. While Andrew’s wife and children reached India safely, Andrew gave his seat to someone else more in need. After enduring a nerve-wrecking period of ten days with no communication, they were finally reunited in India.

In India, the couple ventured into leather business promoting women empowerment. The innovative approach empowered entrepreneurs to foster self-sufficiency. Eventually they started their own company WENPA, derived from the final alphabets of the family members’ names.

However, the irresistible allure of Kuwait called them back. Lorraine started working at a bank in Kuwait upon arrival, and after a long inning retired as a manager in correspondent banking at a leading bank while business-minded Andrew started another trading venture 34 years ago known as RAYS General Trading & Contracting Co W.L.L with Kuwaiti partner, Mr. Yousef Al Ghussain, who Andrew treats as a brother. “However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, I opted to sell my share to my Kuwaiti partner”.

Despite the setback, my beloved wife supported me. Together we weathered the storms of life, building a foundation of love and patience that stood the test of time,” expressed Andrew. Lorraine adds, “Andrew believes in taking risks and persevering through hardships. And knowing his quest for more, he never sat through difficult times. He used to wake up at four in the morning and source vegetables from local vendors to get them delivered to over 85 establishments.” Despite setbacks, Andrew feels luck and hard work played a major role in overcoming difficult times.

My vision has guided me through every path of life.” He believes there is a big world out there, brimming with infinite possibilities waiting to be discovered and explored. As we spoke further about his achievements, Andrew believes that every facet of his life, even the challenging times, has been an achievement.

Going beyond mere appearance and designation, his actions have always been driven by a genuine desire to help wherever he can. Andrew quietly supported various causes in the last 5 decades in Kuwait without seeking recognition. “I don’t do things for namesake, I do it because I can and I want to,” says the well-known name in the Indian community.

Reflecting back on his early years as a bachelor, Andrew fondly talks about the times when sleeping by the seashore from 11 pm to 5 am was quite common. However, the practice permitted at that time changed as the country evolved. Holding onto memories of simpler times, he says, “Can you believe sandwiches were available just for 30 fils and soft drinks were for just 25 fils. So, in a monthly salary of 50 KWD, it was quite affordable. Rent and car instalments were also notably lower.”

Talking about his yesteryears and experiences in Kuwait, he says he feels grateful to the country for it helped instil a strong work ethic in him. “Everything was easy for my family in India. I was born in a well-to-do family. But things changed, and then as luck would have it, my brother and I landed here in Kuwait.” Notably, Andrew’s brother, an engineer by profession, returned to India after retiring seven years ago.

He affirms, “While India gave us a comfortable upbringing, it was Kuwait that compelled me to step up, explore and excel. I truly learned the meaning of responsibility here. I may not have cultivated a strong work ethic as intensely if I were in India.” Additionally, it also honed his culinary skills. As a youngster, four of his friends would gather every Friday and indulge in the joy of cooking. “Oh! It used to be a great stress buster. These lessons and experiences kept him humble through his journey, eventually shaping Andrew into the person that he is today.

Expressing gratitude for the friendships he formed here, he says, “They are just a call away and I’m going to miss them the most.” He cherishes the strong bond that they share, considering them as close as family. “Our connection is going to extend beyond borders. We have plans in place and will make sure to keep the bond alive. We plan to meet in Japan soon. We love to travel,” says Andrew while, affectionally calling his group of friends as ‘Super Six’ – a friendship built over years of shared experiences, laughter, and unfazed support.

Andrew’s deep inclination towards Kuwait makes him want to stay here indefinitely but he also acknowledges that it’s time to depart. “Kuwait will always be dear to our heart,” he says, pointing out that there are no retirement laws in Kuwait for foreigners hence its time to leave, through reluctantly, the country that gave him so much. “There’s value in the experiences gained from every situation and at the end of the day, that’s what matters”, and he also acknowledges that he has many Kuwaiti friends who are always very supportive in every aspect of life.

In India, the couple ventured into leather business promoting women empowerment. The innovative approach empowered entrepreneurs to foster self-sufficiency. Eventually they started their own company WENPA, derived from the final alphabets of the family members’ names.

Along with the experiences and learnings, Andrew takes back a few aspects of Kuwaiti culture. To maintain familial bonds, Kuwaitis schedule regular gatherings where siblings, in-laws and parents along with other relatives gather for meals together. This practice fosters harmony and deep respect for elders, with familial bonds taking precedence over other engagements. “I have already adopted this practice for ten years now. Our family plans to meet once a year, from wherever in the world we are,” says Andrew, whose eldest son is settled in Australia, middle son is working in Kuwait and daughter who is settled in New Zealand and now pursuing her PhD.

In Kuwait, people come to work, support their families back home, and save money with sheer hard work and honesty. Kuwaitis are known for their generosity and strong sense of community, making the country a positive and welcoming experience for the expats. “The sense of security and safety here is unparalleled, my wife can drive here at 1 am and feel absolutely safe,” says Andrew.

Talking about expats, he feels that the camaraderie among expats in Kuwait is absolutely extraordinary. Regardless of background or tenure, they come together as a close-knit family, supporting and helping each other along the way.

Based on his extensive experiences, Andrew advises newcomers to secure stable jobs with a minimum of a two-year contract. With their hard work and sincerity, they can explore opportunities not only within Kuwait but globally as well. “When you have a job, it’s simpler to understand the expectations of employers but when you don’t have a job, you’re giving them the liberty to negotiate differently and this situation should be avoided,” says Andrew recalling his past experiences.

Talking about his retirement plans as he embarks on a new chapter of his life; Andrew says he wants to travel to quench his thirst of adventure and discovery. Along with his wife, he has already travelled across the globe. “I’m always seeking new horizons. Exploring endless possibilities in my career and globe-trotting escapades have made my life a truly fulfilling one,” says the self-made man, proudly wearing the journey of 54 years as a badge of honour.  After enduring numerous moves across different neighbourhoods of Kuwait, Andrew and his wife are now packing up their final Kuwaiti residence to relocate to Australia.

As I bid farewell to Andrew and Lorraine, I take along with me not only their story but a piece of Kuwait where dreams take on a newer dimension. And as they prepare to embark on a new adventure, they sign off, leaving behind a piece of their hearts in the place they called Home.

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