Archive for kuwait
Every year (or decade, as necessary), Lonely Planet and Explorer choose with alacrity the face of many nations, one that is both representative and alluring: Pakistan boasts majestic, snow-topped mountains; Saudi Arabia fronts the angular domes of Medina’s Qoba Mosque as its guide’s cover photo. Kuwait’s good side, in the eyes of both publishers, is the two giant balls of the 32 year-old Kuwait Towers. Both balls are filled with water; the tallest, which reaches 187 meters at the top, also has a restaurant. That’s where we ate our first night, savoring the most authentic and traditional Gulfi fare: the intercontinental buffet.
Most of Kuwait is behind a curtain, only to be lifted on appointment. What Lonely Planet’s latest Kuwait guide (from eleven years ago) leaves out is the necessity of friends of friends to arrange tours and visits when and where you’d like them. One such friend-in-law told me repeatedly, “Four days, it’s not enough!” — and with him in charge, local and well-connected, he was right. In Abu Dhabi, colleagues had a different tone: “Four days in Kuwait? Christ.” They were right, too.
He handed me the card below:
“GRAND MOSQUE: western perception of islam dept.” Wow. I don’t think anyone has ever cared so much about what I think. He was our tour guide, Khalil, a short man with a long beard who spoke bits and larger bits of a million languages and answered his phone with, “I hope it’s not my wife!” He knew just how to make us laugh.
Gulf countries are, for the most part, young and successful parvenus that don’t seem to need your help or give half a damn whatchu think, but it isn’t so. In Kuwait especially, where George Bush the First finds his framed place among family photos, allies are more precious than gold, and blood runs thicker than oil.
Yet, to borrow the title question from one chapter of Werner’s Fassbinder’s 16-hour Berlin Alexanderplatz, “How is One to Live if One Doesn’t Want to Die?” How can a country thrive it is afraid to be vulnerable? Good question. The answer, as always it appears, is spin. Perceptions are monitored and framed in a manner made possible by Kuwait’s particular circumstances: small population, strong governmental oversight, little economic disparity amongst citizens, high percentage of unassimilated residents, money. If this is starting to sound like a political science paper, it’s not. Look at this silly picture:
A man and his son.
Kuwait City, Kuwait
On our first day in Kuwait, the full moon was closer to the Earth than it had been in 18 years — only 221,566 miles! It really did look bigger: learn about the science.
With thousands of dollars wrapped up in a paper envelope and tucked away in my backpack, I packed onto a bus for the Dubai Airport — Terminal 2, where budget flights leave daily for all the places they don’t let most of us go anymore. Kuwait isn’t one of those places. In my role as “trip leader” (I couldn’t help but think of the line in Star Wars where one of Luke’s friends radios “Roger, red leader,” before exploding into a billion pieces), my job was to keep things safe.
We launched out of Dubai and very simply left The World behind. In less time than it took to drive from Abu Dhabi to Dubai, we were descending over a stretch of oil-soaked desert so barren it looked like a sandbox that had engulfed some of those old spiny antennae TVs used to have.