So, the last remaining item on my Kuwait Bucket List (that wasn’t closed for renovation or involved taking a boat) was to visit the Kuwait Heritage Museum. Technically it would be the third time I’d been there, but I managed to time it right and finally arrived before the four-hour daily lunch break. I also managed to convince two friends to come along and bring their toddlers.
Based on previous museum outings, I had forewarned them that it might be a bit “quirky,” which I think only intrigued them more. The museum is located behind the Sadu House on Gulf Road (north of the Grand Mosque).
The entrance looks a little unassuming, but once you walk through their “welcome center” (which was empty sans a sleepy guard and some dusty security equipment), you are in a compound of sorts, with interconnected buildings and a grassy quad that’s actually partially roofed, which offered lovely shade on a day where temps hit 118 degrees. We asked Snoozy the guard where we should head to first and he indicated the building on the left; so we headed out. This building housed an extensive exhibit on the history of Kuwait’s coins and bills as well as their stamps. Things were well-displayed in glass cases, and had some labels in English, but most were in Arabic. For an avid philatelist or numismatist, I'm sure it would have been rip-roaring fun, but for me I mostly appreciated the air conditioning and good lighting.
When we first walked in, the woman at the desk told us not to miss the archeological exhibit in the room off to the rear far right, but also made sure we knew that there was nothing to see on the second or third floors -- sounding suspiciously like, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” Yeah, heard that before! But we did wander in to the archeological exhibit which had an impressive display of ceramics and coins that have been unearthed on Failaka Island, just 12 miles off the coast in the Arabian Gulf. They had even uncovered some Alexander the Great coins, along with the standard potsherds and questionable shiny bits.
The next building we came to was labeled the “Heritage Museum.” Inside there was a rather imposing Conan-like guard. As we smiled and walked past him to head back into the exhibit, he stopped us and in broken English said something about a film. It took twenty months, but I finally found someone to practice my Arabic with... too late. We were at a standstill; even with my go-to mime talents we were clueless as to what he was trying to tell us. But regardless of the content, it was quite apparent that he did not want us to enter the exhibit. Finally he dashed off and after waiting around for a minute and staring at each other, we decided to just explore the exhibit anyway. Within a few minutes Conan returned with a woman at his side who spoke English. She explained that the film, or show, at the planetarium was starting now so if we were interested we could go do that first. How sweet, Conan just wanted to make sure our museum-going experience was complete. We did a quick confab and decided that taking three squirming toddlers into a planetarium show might not have the best outcome, so we thanked them for the information, but decided to forego the planets and continue on through the exhibit.
The Heritage Museum is set up like Kuwait City must have looked pre-riches. We followed the windy "street" past the old-fashioned cobblers shop and the spice shop and the dishdasha shop, peered into mock-ups of dining rooms and living rooms and even a bridal suite. There were hundreds of mannequins used (maybe those who couldn't work here, ended up at the Othman Museum on balconies and flying carpets) and yes, I still found them creepy. Since we had the museum to ourselves, we let the toddlers toddle and just meandered behind them. I'm all for using any safe (relatively contained) opportunity to get the wiggles out, be it an Ikea display room or a mock-up of Kuwait City. Wiggle on!
As we concluded our tour of olde time Kuwait, we wandered back outside into the quad area and let the kids explore the paths and the grassy bits. My daughter has spent over a year of her 15-months of life in Kuwait, and in all that time it never occurred to me that I had been neglectful in exposing her to grass. But that was quite apparent when I went to put her in it and she just sat there, frozen in horror. Hmmm, okay, "Expose child to more nature" is now on my new bucket list.
From here we wandered over to the remaining building that we had yet to explore. As if on cue, Conan returned to our side and proceeded to lead us to his favorite, the planetarium.
When we were inside, he then, without any warning, scooped up my friend's son and carried him up the ramp leaving us no choice but to follow him. Note, trying to scoop up my own toddler with one hand and push a stroller up a curved ramp with the other was a feat I was ill-prepared for. But I made it to the top where Conan proceeded to open the door and walk in to the darkened theater where we heard the unmistakable sounds of... Elmo? Yup, that's definitely Elmo in a Kuwaiti planetarium. So, feeling more curious than pressured I pushed the stroller in with one hand and carrying my daughter found myself in a very very dark theater staring up at an immensely large Elmo and Big Bird on the planetarium ceiling. I parked the stroller to the side, having no idea if it was on someone's toes or not, and felt around with my hand trying to find a seat. I finally found one and we sat; for about three minutes. Even with the lure of a Godzilla-sized Elmo, my wiggly daughter was unimpressed. So, feeling around again, hoping not to grab anyone's hijab or toupee, I managed to find my stroller and backed out of the theater.
As we waited for our friends, we explored the few exhibits in the planetarium's lobby area and wandered outside to try not picking up all the trash bits we saw -- such a hit with toddlers. After the show finished, we were curious if the Elmo film was a daily thing. So we sought out Conan or one of his friends. We found Conan, but even with my minimal Arabic, he couldn't understand, "Is the Elmo/Sesame Street film every day?" (I think "Elmo" was throwing him off.) But we again located the woman who helped last time and she was able to dig up a planetarium program; from last year. Here was where she shared a little secret with us, "Just come and ask for the Sesame Street film, they can play it anytime." Good to know. There were several other buildings on the compound, but it wasn't clear that they were meant for public exploration, so we took a little snack break next to a large dhow boat, then headed out. All in all, it wasn't quite as quirky as I was expecting, but at the same time, it had just enough "quirk" to make it well worth the visit.