Published: August 11th 2010August 6th 2010
Friday, August 6th
Touch down in Kuwait without a visa or hotel reservation to our name. The visa was a no brainer with our new spiffy non-Israeli stamped passports and $11, we were good to go. Assuming they would have a tourist information booth we didn’t make reservations for a hotel. Surprise surprise! We were greeted with “hey lady, wanna a hotel? Cheap!” as men covertly asked us. Not a good scene. We ended up booking with the Holiday Inn that was lovely.
- Kuwait got its Independence in 1961 from the UK
- Has 2.6 million people and in terms of land mass is only slightly smaller than New Jersey.
- Petrol is 95% of its export and government income and ½ of its GDP
- Unemployment is 2.2%
- Women got the vote in 2005 and one needs to be a citizen for 20 years before they can vote.
- Students on average go to school until they are 13
- Arable land is less than 1%
- On Aug 2nd 1990 Iraq invaded Kuwait and the US led UN forces in liberating Kuwait in 4 days
Our first impression from the airplane was the immense desert, flat
and monochrome. We met lots of people, none of whom were Kuwaitis; Bangladesh, Indian, Pilipino, Pakistani, Egyptian, Moroccan and even Sri Lankan! When we looked at the world fact book it explained that only 45% of the population is actually Kuwaitis. It is interesting to ponder the effect that would have on the society. Then again I wonder what percent of the people in America are “American.” Our cab driver from the airport told us that foreign workers become involved in involuntary domestic servitude and have an abounding suicide rate. Since Sadaam was killed, in the last five years there has been a huge building boom. Testing our independence we decided to take the local bus downtown. Unfortunately when we arrived we were clueless as to what to do. So we cruised around staggering with every step in the 55 degrees Celsius (around 130 degrees Fahrenheit!) heat which was thankfully dry, touched our toes down in the Arabian Sea and took the bus back.
We asked to be dropped off at the mall but ended up in the middle of nowhere and had to take a taxi anyway. The mall is the place to be. Every American brand we
love to hate was in the mall. It was fascinating to see the burka-clad women fingering the finery of American consumerism.
We conceded defeat in the heat and retreated to the roof top pool before heading out again to the souk back downtown. Sasha tried on burkas and we decided that it really doesn’t suit her style though it wasn’t half as bad as she expected it to be. I feared that the black color would make the already intense heat unbearable but in fact I think I might have been cooler because it was a light loose flowing robe. When I wanted to find the woman who had helped me put it on however I couldn’t distinguish which woman she was because with only the eyes exposed it was very confusing. Instead I smiled at many women and hoped one of them was her. I wonder if the Shieks with their many wives had the same problem. Surprisingly I felt refreshingly comfortable with the anonymity however I couldn’t help noticing all the women holding their hands out to their husbands in the stores asking for money because they weren’t allowed to have any themselves. Actually I don’t know
if they weren’t allowed to have any themselves or if they didn’t want to hold money or what was the situation because I didn’t ask - but with the knowledge that women weren’t allowed to vote until five years ago and were thus marginalized in society I assume that their indolence is greatly curtailed. That said we felt very safe and comfortable traveling around ourselves which made be due in part to the fact that 55% of the population are foreigners. Sasha was a great hit in the meat market too with all the butchers. At dinner Sasha asked to see the drink list and was informed by an apologetic Moroccan waiter that alcohol was illegal in Kuwait. Ramadan starts the day after we leave so I guess we’re lucky as would have made it very hard to eat (they fast all day for a month eating only after sunset so all food establishments are closed.) It was interesting to hear the call to prayer and watch men bowing on the ground in prayer next to where others were playing basketball. This complicated dichotomy is reflected all over the place in the different manner of dress. There is a range
of conservatism/liberalism from women wearing western clothes and huge buffant hair styles to women just wearing the veil to women wearing a burka with a veil and their face showing to women wearing a burka with their face hidden and only their eyes revealed. If you look closely you could catch a glimpse of color from the finery beneath the robes. In the burka mall we saw the beaded designs and touches of color that ornament the robes and show the hierarchy of fashion even in this uniform. We caught the end of the sunset on the beach and came back to finish this blog!
Inshallah is Arabic for “God-Willing” but we learned that it in fact has infinite interpretations and can also mean “fat chance.” As both Mom and I are looking forward to a year of more changes than we’ve ever known before we say that it will all work out, Inshallah.
There are more photos below