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Published: September 1st 2014
Apparently they offer a great view from the top. In July; closed for Ramadan.
If like me you have numerous large gaps on your CV that often require quite constructive/imaginative explanations while in job interviews, then here is the best justification I have so far discovered. (Although if they take big issue with gaps due to travelling then I’d suggest these aren’t people you want to work for.)
“Not too hot today is it?” I say to Kishore the site civil engineer from Andhra Pradesh as we arrive back at the cabin at the same time.
“No sir, perfectly manageable.” He replies as we go to check the thermometer in the shaded porch. It’s 46C. It’s 8.30am. We’ve already been out in the desert working for 4 hours.
You know you have been in Kuwait too long when any temperature below 50C is deemed “mild”.
Think about when you’ve put a pizza in the oven and you want to check if it’s ready. You know when you open the oven door and you get that blast of baking hot air? Well imagine it isn’t just a blast but it’s continuous. Then imagine climbing into that oven and closing the door behind you. Then have someone pelt you
Fellow desert survivor on the 1.5-hour drive to work (actually "from" work - "to" work it was still dark).
with sand. You are coming close to what it’s like working in the Kuwaiti desert in July.
Fortunately Kuwaiti law states that you can’t be out working in the heat beyond 10.30am. Unfortunately it reaches 50C long before that and it means waking up before 3am to drive 1.5 hours into the desert.
Remember to stay hydrated. Oh no, you can’t: it’s Ramadan. Even non-muslims caught drinking in public will get fined. Therefore, all restaurants, cafes and supermarkets are closed during daylight hours. So get up at 3am; can’t possibly have breakfast at that time, nibble on a few packet things while at work, get back from work at midday; can’t cook or store food because I’m in a hotel; have to wait until 7pm to eat my one meal per day, but then because I have to get up so early I really should be going to sleep immediately after eating that one big meal – which is pretty difficult.
When not working, Kuwait does have a few supposedly interesting museums. However, all are closed during Ramadan for maintenance. There are the Kuwaiti Towers, a quite attractive set of structures
Me in the middle.
with apparently great views from the top of the coast and desert: closed for Ramadan. At least the hotel has a pool where you can escape from the heat: closed for maintenance during Ramadan. There is a bit of scuba‑diving; I’m not sure how good it would be in the polluted Gulf. And I never got to find out because according to all the dive centres I called; “we don’t dive during Ramadan, nobody has energy”.
I asked the people working in the hotel (all Philippino) what they do when they aren’t working. “You may go to a mall sir”. So when Friday came around and I had the day off I went to a mall. All the shops were closed because it was Friday. Tried to have a wander about; obviously I was the only person having a wander about, it being 50C. So back to the hotel. The hotel may be nice, and the room is big, but spending this much time in any one room and it begins to feel like a prison after a few weeks. Similar to getting snowed-in, I felt imprisoned by the heat.
So what was I
doing there? Work, obviously. You wouldn’t come here on holiday. Even on a 5-hour layover I think you would struggle to fill your time if you did venture from the airport (you may be tempted though because most of us don’t need a visa and the airport is only 30 minutes or so from anywhere by lightning fast taxis).
Normally I like deserts. Wadi Rumm in Jordan and the Namib Desert are two of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. The Kuwaiti Desert isn’t really like that. Endless pancake-flat grey-beige gravel on concrete (technically called calcrete because it’s natural but it is essentially concrete). Multitudes of pipelines and electricity pylons break the monotony, as do blackened areas of oil-spill remnants; left over from when Saddam invaded in 1991 and lit the wells on his retreat. Even after the fires were extinguished, huge quantities of oil still gushed out into the desert. Which is why I found myself in Kuwait; for 23 years nobody has done anything about it.
When I asked the people on the site what they do in Kuwait when not working, some gave a much different answer to the Philippinos
in the hotel: “We go to Basra”. I think it says a lot about how fun-filled Kuwait is when people go to Iraq for a good time.
Enough whining. I find that if I write a blog while I’m still in the country then I tend to exaggerate the positives if I like the place and make the bad bits sound worse if I’m not keen on being there. So imagine how even more negative this blog could have been if I would have written it while I was still working in Kuwait during Ramadan.
Actually, I am writing it in Kuwait. After four weeks away when I constantly bored people with tales of woe as shared here in the opening few paragraphs, I now find myself back here. And I quite like it. It’s just for three weeks this time (due to a mix up with flights that saw me just about to leave for the airport when I got a pleasant email saying I had four days probation) which seems like a massively shorter period of time than a month. What’s more, while on a little trip that will comprise the subsequent
blog I got a semi-unexpected phone call meaning what happens after this time in Kuwait is all very different, rather exciting, daunting, and will send me off in whole new directions. Let’s call it; Brand New Life Mk.6.
It is still 50C, the site is still a 1.5-hour drive away, now they start work at 1am rather than 4.30am, and the shift still finishes at 10.30am. But I can eat when I want, so go to bed when I want, and it’s nice to see everyone again. (It’s only been six days since I returned – if I’m still writing this blog in a week you may note the tone becoming increasingly negative).
My first trip here I think I went a whole month in Kuwait without actually having a conversation with a Kuwaiti. Surely a record for anywhere I’ve ever been. I was once in a meeting with some but it was around what I can confidently say was the biggest table in the known universe and if I wanted to speak to the Kuwaitis at the other end my comments had to be relayed by someone half-way along (true story). On the
Note that nobody else is daft enough to be out of doors in the afternoon heat.
site are Indians, Egyptians, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis and Nepalis, while in the office are Syrians, Lebanese and Palestinians. In all the restaurants and shops you are served by Philippinos. In the middle of them all is one quite out of place lad from Yorkshire. I formed a pretty negative opinion of Kuwaitis based on the only times I ever came across them: driving on the motorways and on the way they treat staff in restaurants. I also heard some stories from the Indians/Philippinos/Egyptians/et al about how the Kuwaitis are provided with so much from their government that they have become fat, lazy and arrogant who no longer do anything for themselves; hence 67% of Kuwait’s population of 3.7 million are non-Kuwaiti. Back here a second time and I have actually met a few locals. Predictably, they are all sound as a pound. Many do drive like nutters, but then so does everyone else here, and there is still often a real lack of respect for waiters and waitresses but the many times more Kuwaitis who are actually lovely people don’t stand out as much. Therefore, I’m glad I came back if only to convince me that people are generally pretty nice
Somewhere in the Kuwait Desert.
everywhere you go.
When I arrived on the site there was quite a lot of animosity between the different companies involved with the works. I feel like I managed to resolve a lot of this and ended up getting along really well with all parties. And that is due to travelling so much. Big boss from one company was from Bohol – that was the first island I visited in the Philippines so we could happily chat about Panglao, San Miguel beer, and the Chocolate Hills. Another important engineer was from Cairo – a city that I loved and we even supported the same Egyptian football team; Al Ahly. Several important people were from Kerala – I could honestly tell them it was my favourite part of India (apart from Ladakh, but that’s not really India) and I had spent time in the towns on the somnolent backwaters where they were all from. The Bangladeshis couldn’t believe I’d been to Bangladesh as a tourist and could even remember a few phrases of Bengali. Same same with the Thais and the chap from the West Bank, etc, etc. Everyone loves talking about home, especially when, in many cases,
they don’t get that much chance to go back there if they moved to Kuwait along with their families. Having chosen to visit someone’s home turf, really enjoying it, and then telling them about it is an easy way to ingratiate yourself, as long as you’re being genuine – and it’s pretty obvious if you’re not. Thus I looked forward to talking to people in the morning rather than seeing them on the site and worrying what kind of issue they were going to raise next. I’m sure it helped the job run more smoothly. You can use that in your next job interview if you want.
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