(Written December 2011) In Cairo my Expat Wife outings usually revolved around shopping or exploring some ancient, or at least fairly old, structure or site. Here in Kuwait, my latest Expat Wife outings involved organized tours to two local hospitals. Surprisingly there wasn’t a waitlist for tickets.
However, in fairness to the exploration opportunities afforded us in Kuwait, it wasn’t a bad way to spend a few hours. We toured two hospitals, the New Mowasat Hospital and Royale Hayat Hospital. Both are fully functioning hospitals, but they definitely specialize in birthing the babies – and make quite the pile of money doing so.
Now, there were several ways in which these were different from any other hospital I’ve ever visited. To sum them up, I’ve never felt so severely under-dressed in a hospital before. At times I had to stop myself from confirming in a passing mirror that I was not clad in soiled dungarees with hay peeking out of the pockets that were covered in dried pig snot all way down to my cow-pat-covered wellies.
Everyone we saw was dressed and pressed and made up to the nines. From the spotlessly white dishdashas that many of the men wore, to the black galabeyas on the women, showing only their eyes with curled luscious lashes, dramatic eyeliner and eyeshadow application that would make Max Factor proud. This is how many people look when they leave the house here, regardless of whether they’re perusing the mall with their nanny and kids in tow, or shopping for $8 broccoli, or apparently heading to the hospital either as a patient or a visitor. But regardless of how often I see it, it always has the pig-snot affect on me.
In addition to the human component, both of these hospitals were by far the swankiest, poshest, most luxurious hospitals I’ve ever seen. In truth, the Royale Hayat felt more like the Four Seasons, than a hospital. And New Mowasat visitors are greeted with a towering wall of water cascading down in the lobby; a definite indication that this wasn’t going to be like the Emergency Room at George Washington University Hospital in DC (no offense to DC ERs).
As the pre-tour PR presentation at the Royale Hayat began, I found that I was completely distracted by a beautiful young woman sitting near us wearing the full black galabeya, hijab and niqab, with only her eyes showing (fluttering eyelashes and all), eating a sandwich. With each delicate bite she would raise the sandwich up to her mouth, lift the niqab covering her face ever so slightly to slide the sandwich underneath, take a dainty bite, place the sandwich back on the plate, and wipe her fingers. This went on for a few bites, until she got a phone call and since she couldn’t do the double-handed method anymore, I watched as she nibbled on French fries while she chatted. There was also a man in traditional Gulf Arab attire (white dishdasha and red and white checked kefiya) speaking with a woman who might have been a hospital employee. They themselves weren’t that interesting, but I was noticing the Chocolatier shop in the corner behind them selling gourmet Lebanese chocolates from Alpina. A bit of a variation from the carnations, mylar balloons and stiff teddy bears selections I’m used to in the U.S. I was able to tear myself away from the glittering distractions, including the water feature behind me that looked like a wall of water droplets falling endlessly, in time to hear that the hospital has been open for less than ten years, and they perform 250-300 births a month. And then it was time to head off on the tour. We were shown all the floors and were even taken into the NICU (not all the way in, of course). But the highlight, and I do mean highlight, was seeing the poshest of the posh guest rooms for birthing mothers.
The basic is the Lily room. For a mere $4,000 you can have this room for two nights that comes with a kitchenette, sofas and chairs, living quarters in addition to the mother’s bed, multiple TVs, and two marble bathrooms. From here they only get better. The two top of the line go for $16,000 (Lotus) and $20,000 (Orchid) and are large enough to hold about 100 guests, in addition to the same amenities. (If you'd like to check out the panorama view, see http://www.royalehayat.com/oursuiteshome.html) They are both about 1,400 square feet, with reception and living areas, but in addition the Orchid comes with its own rooftop garden/patio and, as we were told on the tour, “much higher quality wood and marble… you’d notice the difference.” Right, don’t let the pig snot get on your Donna Karan chiffon bodysuit, lady.
The reason for the grandiosity is that in Arab cultures it’s customary to receive lots of visitors after the birth of a child, so in traditional Arab hospitality, you “host” them. Now, in less wealthy environments, i.e., the normal world, these people come to your home. But here in Kuwait, you can just rent a room that puts the presidential suites in five-star hotels around the world to shame. We also heard that you can apparently have your own furniture brought in if the dregs they offer you are just too vile. I wonder if that goes for the immense crystal chandelier as well?
We ended our tour of “how the other half lives (and births)” at the Elements Spa run by Bayan Tree, which takes up half of the second floor. To say it was like no other spa I’ve been to would be obvious, but I’ll say it regardless. We then sat in their reception area and were offered fresh fruit cocktails, little hors d'oeuvres (perfect for niqab manipulation), and five-minute neck massages, which I gratefully took advantage of.
As we stood to leave, we were handed gift bags full of brochures on the dentistry practices (whiting and straightening are very popular) and the myriad of services offered by the cosmetic surgery wing. We also got a bit of hospital swag, with a key chain, letter opener, and the ever-practical Royale Hayat money clip (no, it’s not any larger than any other money clip, but I, too, thought it might be). So with the promises of luxury glimpses, a bit of shiny swag and a free massage, all I can say is “When's the next tour?”