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Return to Kuwait 1990 to 2010

KUWAIT | Saturday, 20 February 2010 | Views [347] | Comments [1]

I’m sitting here looking out over the Persian (Arabian) Gulf at my hotel’s beach cabana. Nice! The only one here on a quiet Saturday morning (Kuwait’s version of Sunday - their weekends used to be Thursday/Friday (which is their Sabbath) but two years ago they switched it to Friday/Saturday.) Odd. Anyway, quiet is not the rule here - one thing about the Arab world that has always struck me is how noisy it is. This started on the plane ride over - hacking coughs, screaming children, excited talk and last night driving on Gulf Road - blaring music, honking horns, revving engines. To backtrack a little - the flight was long (and of course noisy) but I arrived safely and stayed up until a normal bedtime - watched the latest episode of American Idol - yes, it is beamed over here in all its glory - and dropped. The next morning I checked out the hotel’s health club - which Mary Anne and I had belonged to all those years ago - now it’s expanded to include a beachfront area with cafes and cabanas and an indoor pool which is actually an Olympic sized Jacuzzi with massaging jets at different corners of the pool - all to myself. After breakfast, I spent the day touring with a former teacher from ELI who has been teaching at Kuwait University - in fact at my old department for the last fourteen years. We went downtown to the site of the old souk (market) which is still mostly intact and which is now surrounded by a new souk containing a fish market, vegetable market and the assorted spice, tea, rug, gold markets. Went to the old women’s souk where the Bedouin women are still there sitting on their piles of thobes (robes), henna packs, hair oil and scarves. What a flashback that was! Still an anachronism in this city of high rises and luxury cars.

After a few bargain-laden purchases, we were off to visit the university - first to the Shuwaikh campus - once the site of the administration and teacher lodging and now the site of the main campus - lots of improvements and even more important - lots of parking lots which when school is in session looks a Mercedes showroom. The usual inexplicable outbuildings, gates, monuments, decorative fences, etc. At my friend’s flat, I was treated to some homemade liquor fashioned from 100% alcohol procured from the medical school - ah, yes, I was reminded of the days of making our own batches of beer, drinking ethanol laced orange juice and smuggling in blue-colored vodka and gin in mouthwash bottles.

Then visited my old work site which has now become the W.C. (no, it stands for Women’s College). A little trouble getting through the security but “English doctor - five minutes only “ finally got us in. Saw my old neighborhood of Meidan Hawalli - now turned into an amusement park and then went in search of chicken shwarma on the gulf. Finally, found some after a long walk - not the best, but okay and then off to Salmiya - our old stomping ground - the high street - one of the most popular shopping streets at the time. Of course, its popularity has waned and there is not much left of the old Salmiya -except for the gold souk, a deserted mall and The Sultan Center - the Super Target of Kuwait which just opened while we were there. But connected to Salmiya by pedestrian bridge is the new Marina Mall and the seaside hangout which was packed with people. One thing that had always puzzled me during my time at Kuwait was that there was this great coastline but there were no seaside cafes, etc. I think it may have been a concerted effort to places where people might gather and - god forbid - mingle - but that seems have to given way to a more upscale, trendy nightlife on the beach. It was very nice having a latte at the marina watching the parade of families and groups of young men and young women strolling by. The latest thing for the women are these scarves that seem to be hiding some kind of oblong helmet or bizarre bouffant. My friend said that the women are putting big bows and ribbons in their hair and then putting on the scarf. She said that sometimes it looks like horns and her students have trouble balancing it all on their head while taking tests.

Of course there are cell phones everywhere. As if driving wasn’t dangerous enough, now you see a Kuwaiti driving a car, on a cell phone, smoking a cigarette, adjusting his head gear and still managing to finger his prayer beads while driving. Traffic has gotten worse and the young men (chabob) are now racing down Gulf road on ATVs and popping wheelies and running red lights. Parking is a nightmare and people just park anywhere including behind other parked cars.

The city is getting ready for its Independence Day Celebration on February 25 (and to celebrate their Liberation Day in 1991 which was on February 26) so the buildings are draped in lights. In my time it was strings of Christmas tree lights blanketing buildings, now its light tubing and large photographs of the emir and crown prince. I hear that on the actual day, people drive up and down Gulf Road,cars bedecked in flags, people bedecked in red, green and black (Christmas funeral colors?) , shooting foam at each other.

Walked back to old Salmiya got an excellent (and cheap) street shwarma and some tasty mango juice and called it a night.

Of all memory triggers, I have to say that smell is one of the strongest - the incense burning in the old souk, the grilling shish kabobs on the beach, the expensive perfume, the spices - very evocative - and of course the sounds - the call to prayer, the strident beat of Arabic music. It’s odd to feel so connected and still so much of an alien here.

That’s all for today.

Comments

1

Thanks, George! An excellent read... I felt like I was there. Looking forward to more.

  Diane Feb 21, 2010 3:04 AM

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