A few months ago, my husband and I were invited by some expat friends of ours to a Thanksgiving dinner. They’ve lived in Kuwait for over seven years now, so they’ve been a great source of living-in-Kuwait information for us. But for all the find-a-framer, find-a-jogging-path, discover-a-good-movie-theater help they’ve offered, the best introduction they’ve made was to some friends of theirs: a genuine Kuwaiti family!
You may be a bit perplexed as to why I’m so thrilled with this. I mean, we’ve lived in Kuwait City for almost 18 months now and we’re just now getting to meet some Kuwaitis? Two years ago, when we learned we were heading for Kuwait, we were told by several people who’d lived here, that it wouldn’t be unheard of for us to spend two years and never meet a Kuwaiti. This was not due to an inherent reclusiveness on the Kuwaitis part, nor our part, but for the simple fact that most of the people we would interact with in shops or restaurants or typical places we’d frequent, would be expats like ourselves, most commonly from India, Pakistan, Egypt, or other Middle Eastern countries. So getting the chance to sit and chat with a Kuwaiti sounded like a pipe dream, at best.
I thought I had one opportunity on a plane, when I sat next to an Arab woman and we began chatting. I was trying not to show how eager I was to find out if she was from Kuwait, and when I learned she lived here I was thrilled! But then I learned she was originally from Morocco, but married a Kuwaiti. But we did chat and I learned that she loves the Kuwaitis and Egyptians, but had some rather strong opinions about Jordanians. In a funny twist, she was describing a neighbor of theirs, an American and his wife, who taught at the university. I’m not sure what prompted me, but I asked, “Is his name John? Is he really tall?” “Yes,” she said, “how did you know?” I have no idea, but I somehow knew instantly that she was talking about other friends of ours. Small world, indeed.
But back to last Thanksgiving. This family we met was delightful. The father was born and raised in Kuwait, and he told stories of growing up just ten miles away, in a small house with his parents and grandparents. His wife was from Greece, and their two adult daughters (who were there, also), had been raised in Kuwait primarily, but were also very well-traveled, and currently both lived outside of Kuwait. They were charming and chatty and at one point when Bean decided to projectile her stomach contents all over the floor, the Kuwaiti father was immediately at my side offering to take the drippy baby while I cleaned up.
Knowing how rare this opportunity was, and fearing I may never get the chance again, I just couldn’t resist asking all the questions I’d been dying to know, which basically came down to traffic, sewage, and tourism.
For the traffic question, Father Kuwaiti readily admitted that driving here is insane and very simply told me to avoid driving as much as possible. But if I couldn’t avoid it completely, to just stay in the right lane, the alleged slow lane, and stay away from as many other people as possible. When I told him that I sometimes gave a little wiggle of the wheel to get someone off my tailpipe, he admonished me and reiterated, “stay off the road, or stay to the right.” Both daughters felt very strongly that Kuwaiti women were the worst drivers on the road. Frankly when they fly by me at 120mph, I don’t have a chance to check the gender of the driver, so I don’t really have an opinion. Someone else pointed out that there were more and more traffic cameras about, and wondered whether that might help matters. Father Kuwaiti didn’t think so. Unfortunately, he held strong to “stay off the road, or stay to the right.”
I mentioned that we had recently visited Dubai, and casually commented that there seemed to be a lot of similarities between the two countries, in terms of money, land, and room for growth. What I was really trying to ask was, “Dubai has built this amazing global mecca, with gleaming skyscrapers, retail monstrosities, and pristine beaches; Kuwait has more money and more beaches, but lacks any tourism draw. Why?” Understanding my comment completely, one of the daughters said quite simply, “Kuwait has no interest in competing with Dubai. We have no interest in tourism.” She may not be an official spokesperson, but based on what I’ve seen around Kuwait, she’s definitely spoken for the people.
My final question required some delicacy, and I honestly wavered about asking it at all. But fearing I may never get another chance, I finally said, “Why do certain areas of town smell?” We’d been hearing rumors since we’d arrived that a sewer pipe had cracked and the foreign company who had built and installed it had been fired by the government, and no one else had been brought in to repair it. Frankly it seemed like a rather stupid excuse, but I’ve learned to never doubt the stupidity of any government. Father Kuwaiti’s story was similar, but involved aging sewage treatment centers that were in desperate need of repair. But it still comes down to the fact that a country with piles of cash, who proudly maintains an enormous desalination project so they can grow geraniums along the highway, should also be able to fix the poo smell.
All in all, it was a delightful evening, in spite of baby projectiles and obnoxious expat questions, and I left wanting to see them again. I wonder how they’d feel to an invite for a vegetarian lasagna night and they can bring the Kuwaiti history lesson slides?