Living with intent, social engagement, learning, growing, giving
Last week I took my first trip to Kuwait. The invasion of Kuwait by Iraq in August 1990, and then 7-month occupation of Kuwait by Iraq, brought that small country to my attention. I was reminded in vivid detail of these atrocious acts when recently reading The Arabs: A History.
As this was my first trip and I’d heard that the visa on arrival process is a little bit convoluted I opted for the ‘Hala’ Service which involved a man meeting me at the arrival area but before immigration and walking me to the visa area. Here he told me to take a seat, took my passport, took a number in the electronic queuing system and held a pre-filled form with my details on it. The one visa official took a break shortly after we arrived and after about 10 minutes he returned, called the first customer, then noticed my helper, chatted with him amicably, processed my visa and in doing so, saved me waiting behind the 5-6 people who had obviously been waiting for some time already. I normally believe in waiting turns but there was nothing I could do at that point so I instead enjoyed the privilege. My form was then promptly stamped by a 3rd official and we were finished in an astonishingly fast time.
I stayed at the Rotana hotel. I am very impressed with the Rotana hotel chain, with it’s highly trained staff, attention to details, courtyard layout and beautiful amenities. On arrival at the airport a friendly man advised me that I could wander around outside alone without my abaya so long as I dressed ‘normally’ and indicated long sleeves and trousers (which I wear in the Middle East anyway), so when I got to the hotel I gratefully shed my abaya and hijab and strode outside, leaving the seclusion of Saudi Arabia behind.
I wandered along the thronging street, weaving between double-parked cars that covered the footpath and then headed for the harbour. I enjoyed watching the traditional wooden fishing boats, one of which was being filled with ice ready for the night of fishing to come. I was amazed that dozens of fish were thrashing around in the harbour. Next I wandered through the Al-Kout produce markets, starting in the fruit and vegetable section with mounds of gorgeous, fresh looking produce including big gourds, mini-mountains of lemons and other mouth-watering looking fresh food. From there I made the mistake of walking through the butcher pavilion. I will be forever tortured by the sight of whole sheep hanging from their back feet, flayed of their skin but still with staring eyeballs, and blood on their faces. Not nice and enough to make me ponder returning to strict vegetarianism instead of the flexatarianism that I have adopted. I finished by walking through the fish market where auctions most be sold in the mornings. There was an impressive abundance and variety of fresh looking fish and seafood on display.
I chose a Cuban restaurant on the harbour front to dine alone, enjoying the warmth of the evening, the freedom of being outside and the tasty food. There were many, many people at the other restaurants and cafes that surround the fountains. Some women wore abayas with huge, elegant hijabs that form a sort of tent from their heads, some wore no abaya and just a hijab and some foreign women wore western clothes with no other coverings. Some men wore beautiful white thobes and others wore western clothes.
The next morning I reveled in the freedom of using the gym and swimming in my bikini in the early morning sunlight.
When I was ready to leave I took a hotel car to the airport, thinking that FlyDubai would fly from what to my knowledge is the only airport, however after wandering around the airport I discovered that they fly from a smaller Sheikh Saad Al Abdallah Airport Terminal normally reserved for private jets. So, I set off to change some USD to Kuwaiti Dinars, find a cab and go to the other airport. The cab driver was a friendly Kuwaiti man. He enjoyed discussing football with me and was delighted to hear that I’m going to see Kuwait play when they come to Australia for the Asian Football Cup. He likes Australians and thinks us friendly but for some reason he doesn’t like French or German people and hopes to never go there. He has travelled widely and told me about his trips to Japan, China, Italy, and Indonesia. I was very alarmed however by his driving, especially when he took his hands off the wheel, while driving at over 100 kph to check the ambient temperature!
My other posts so far on this trip: