(Left) Mourners carry the coffin of Jerges Shagra during his funeral in 1973 in Kuwait. (Right) The gravesite of Jerges Shagra at a Sulaibikhat cemetery.

By Ben Garcia

Former Kuwait Times photographer Joseph Shagra’s long wait will be over when his father’s remains will finally arrive in Aleppo today, almost 50 years after his burial in Kuwait. The exhumation of his father’s remains took place Tuesday at a small graveyard near a residential area where Christians were previously buried. This cemetery is now closed, but is only a few meters away from the Sulaibikhat cemetery.

Shagra’s father died in Kuwait in 1973, and since it was winter and snowy at that time in Aleppo, the family decided to bury him in Kuwait. Joseph and other members of the family continued to live and work in Kuwait. But as years went by and most of his relatives went back to Syria, Shagra wanted his father’s remains to be buried in Syria near his mother, who died a couple of decades ago in Damascus.

Joseph Shagra also returned to Syria, but before leaving Kuwait, he applied for the exhumation of his father’s remains in 2017. “My plan was to send his remains back to Syria before I finally bid goodbye to Kuwait Times and my colleagues. At that time I was 64 and was planning to return for good to Syria with my family in 2018. Now I am 67 and am happy to hear the good news from my friend, who was assisting me when I left Kuwait in 2019,” he said.

The Shagra family.

“For almost two years, I was hoping for the immediate permission for the exhumation, but it didn’t happen, until I had to leave Kuwait. Thank God a Lebanese friend arranged everything for me, and I am waiting for my father’s remains to arrive here in Syria this Friday,” Shagra told Kuwait Times.

When he decided to end his contract with Kuwait Times as a photographer, he calculated his remaining days in Kuwait and thought maybe he could go home with the remains of his father. “In 2017 I did not get permission, but I appealed and applied again in 2018. I realized things wouldn’t proceed quickly, so I requested Kuwait Times to extend my visa for another year. That extension also expired, and I couldn’t stay in Kuwait without a visa and work, so I asked my friend to take charge and secure all the permits and documentation,” he said.

“In 2019 I had to leave Kuwait without the remains of my dad. Thankfully, my friend promised to complete the job for me and I am happy my father’s remains will finally be reunited with my mother’s on Friday,” he added.

His father, Jerges Shagra, came to Kuwait in 1953. By the early 1960s, most of Jerges’ children including Joseph were in Kuwait. In 1973, his father died and his mother left Kuwait and went back to Syria. “Most of my brothers and sisters were here. I was the youngest. When my father died, my mother took some of my siblings back to Syria because they wanted to stay in Aleppo. I remained in Kuwait because at that time I had a job and was helping my uncle in his small business,” Shagra said.

“We were seven members of the family (five males and two females) and our life in Kuwait at that time was simple but happy. But as the saying goes, everything comes to an end. But I remained hopeful and stayed in Kuwait until my twilight years,” he told Kuwait Times.

Joseph said the arrival of his dad’s remains is a gift for him and his family, after he nearly died because of the coronavirus. “I was infected with the virus from December 15, 2020 to January 10, 2021. I have now recovered but my legs are still weak. My mother-in-law, who also caught the virus on the same day, didn’t survive. Thank God I am okay, and I am praying for my mother-in-law’s soul. This corona is really very serious and I pray for everyone to be spared from it,” Shagra said.