Saturday, February 04, 2012

Blogorrhea re: Kuwait

Except for a momentary panic about the currency conversion for Kuwaiti Dinars - we were tipping the hotel dudes 1 dinar and there was some confusion after the fact as to whether that was a couple of bucks, or a couple of cents - our vacation in Kuwait has been wonderful. It's our first time traveling without the kids and while we are enjoying doing what we want, when we want to, with no regard for the whims and fussing of children, we are also finding ourselves pointing out all the little things they would enjoy if they were here, and wondering what they would say at certain times. Sigh.

We went to church in Kuwait.

My impression of Kuwait being a rough-and-tumble Gulf state, some combination of Syria and somewhere nicer, has been reinforced at every turn. In this neighborhood there were nice villas on a dirt/mud road.

Exhibit B: totally normal, shabby storefronts selling ripoff technology products in the shadow of fabulous skyscrapers.

Or take this small store. We walked in to buy some water and I was instantly transported back to Damascus. In Syria, this is what a grocery store IS. It might not look like much, but you can buy almost anything at a place like this. I asked the clerk if I could take a picture and he said sure. It turns out this store has been here since before the Iraqi invasion. I got chills just thinking about it as I stood there.

This is the view of that same store, from outside and across the street. Pre-war neighborhood market + fancy lights skyscraper = Kuwait.

I can't get away from thinking about the Persian Gulf War at every turn. Maybe this building is just one of those buildings that never got finished. It happens a lot in the Middle East. But maybe it was bombed or bothered during the war. Who knows?

This is the British Embassy, or the old British Embassy, or something. I would like to imagine that Freya Stark walked on this street long before it was paved. You see what a sucker I am for nostalgia?

Now, Kuwait Towers. Aren't they huge? We walked to them along the lovely Kuwait City Corniche.

Once we got up to the observation gallery, we were confronted with the wonderful view over the well as an endless row of ashtrays (!!!). Here, Jeremy is pretending to light up as he enjoys the sights. We've been so pampered in the UAE because hardly anyone smokes in public there. It's different here.

The Kuwait Towers were really fascinating to me, but not for the reasons you might think (or for the reasons Kuwait Towers wants you to think). The view was neat and the towers are visually arresting, but I found myself much more charmed by the quirks like the row of ashtrays, or the mini exhibit on the destruction of the towers during the war. There were pictures of the damage Iraqi troops inflicted on the towers' facilities in 1990 and it reminded me so much of Quneitra, in the Golan Heights. There, too, you can find pictures and places of destruction by the enemy preserved and labeled so that those horrible acts can never be forgotten.

There was an extensive water park below the towers, but it wasn't open. It is quite cold here - much colder than the UAE, to my surprise.

The overall impression I get of Kuwait is that it is a place that was designed and built with great care and attention...30 or 40 years ago. In the meantime, the country has endured a war and other changes and the general infrastructure gives off a shabby and neglected air. However, the people are as pert and lively as ever and don't seem to notice, or care. I don't know that I care, either. I enjoyed being somewhere with a great sense of real history, even if it isn't ancient history. It's history I can remember from my own lifetime, which makes it more meaningful.

I have to also give homage to the long-standing joke of Kuwait being the 51st state in the United States of America. Have you heard that one before? I heard it all the time in Syria. I don't know what the Kuwaitis think, but many of the youth certainly emulate Americans in their style of dress. I haven't seen so many hoodies and track suits since I left the US. Even the veiled girls wear hoodies! Further evidence of Kuwait having oh-so-special ties with the US include the fact that Google Maps has street directions here, and also you can send SMS to mobile phones here through Gmail, for free. Hmph.

We head back to Sharjah tonight, just in time for the start of the semester tomorrow. I'm going to do my best to enjoy my second airplane flight without children (my first was on Thursday).


Katie Lewis said...

Really fascinating, Bridget.

Kathy Haynie said...

I appreciate the ways I am learning to differentiate among the different middle eastern countries as I read your blog. They were all one desert-y blur to me before. So glad you had a good trip!

Anonymous said...

I saw an American flag flying in downtown Kuwait, which I have never seen in the Middle East (except for in embassies). And no, this one wasn't in any embassy. Wow! Bonus for Kuwait.

breanne said...

People don't smoke much in public in the UAE? Wow, that IS amazing. Why not?

Also, that's incredible that Google Maps has directions in Kuwait. I can always tell where the Israeli territory ends and the West Bank starts when I am looking at google maps because suddenly the street names end and all the roads look like little dirt trails.

Crys said...

So cool!

Jennifer said...

It still just blows me away that you're in Kuwait--like you, my opinion of it is stuck in the past like there is still a war going on there. Yeah for a kid-free vacation!


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