Archive for the ‘Kuwait’ Category

What Could I Possibly Title This Post?

15 November 07

So the DH was in Beijing last weekend, and he ate out at Hooter’s with a few friends. I don’t condone Hooter’s. I think it is a bit tacky and it isn’t exactly my idea of an upper-class family restaurant either, but in Beijing apparently that is what it is. The DH reports that in addition to the expected Hooter’s girls (though I don’t see how they can keep those costumes going over the cold Beijing winter) there were also kids celebrating birthdays and couples obviously on dates.

Back where I come from, Hooter’s is a novelty. It’s basically a sports bar for men and people who like chicken wings. Isn’t it? Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure I’ve only ever been in one before and that was because of the roof-top patio.

For some reason, talking about Hooter’s, I am reminded of the most politically-incorrect restaurant ever seen in a conservative Arab country – Chi Chi’s, a Mexican restaurant that was hugely popular in the Kuwait of my youth. As I recall, it was pretty much the only Western style restaurant, other than Sizzler’s and fast food. And no, I didn’t speak Spanish at the time.

So is this the kind of face that America is spreading around the world? Hooter’s and Chi Chi’s?

August 2nd and Kuwait Reflections

2 August 07

Every year, I pause and give a few moments thought to what occurred on this day, 17 years ago. Seventeen years ago? How is that possible? Children who were born that year will be graduating from high school soon? To think that 15 years ago I landed there, in Kuwait, in the hottest place I had ever been in my life.

When I close my eyes and think of that day, almost two years after the invasion, when I stepped out of the airport…

My dad had been in Kuwait for a month already. He’d be waiting for us at the airport. This was the first international travel for my mom and me both. I was sixteen, and not too sure of this move. We had a lot of luggage and I remember what a nightmare it was trying to get it all from Gatwick to Heathrow in London. Or was it Heathrow to Gatwick? Whatever it was, it was via a big passenger coach and in it I saw my first peek at the English countryside. I was so nervous about the whole experience I hardly noticed.

We were traveling to Dubai first and since it was the middle of the summer, no one was on the flight with us. Who in their right mind travels to the Middle East in the summer? Everyone who can gets the hell out. We arrived in Dubai very late at night and the arrival hall was deserted. I was wearing blue jeans and a t-shirt and for some strange reason I was carrying a black Stetson hat. I felt instantly out of place among the dark robed women herding their children through the immigration lines.

We spent the night in a hotel near the airport. At check-in, the clerk told us to just leave the luggage we didn’t need in the lobby. Sounded highly suspicious, but they seemed so serious and sincere about it. One of my mother’s old hard-sided Samsonite suitcases had popped open on the flight over. It didn’t want to go back together again. We left it there, in the bright lobby, with its guts exposed along with a few other suitcases and settled in our room for a short sleep. An attendant came by a few moments later with a tray full of canned drinks. We took a coke and the only can of Fosters beer. We planned to smuggle it into Kuwait for my dad.

The next morning, our luggage sat in the same spot, waiting for us. A well-intentioned repair had been attempted on the broken suitcase – it was closed with a good amount of tape wrapped around it. We were soon at the airport, anxious for our arrival to Kuwait.

We flew first class from Dubai to Kuwait City. It was my first and last experience in first class for another 16 years! The flight had been chartered by Bechtel, a construction company rebuilding a great deal of Kuwait’s damaged infrastructure. Economy class was full of Indians and Bangladeshis who would be doing all of the work.

At last we landed. Immigration and customs was ahead of us, and we wondered if the agents were going to look in every suitcase we’d brought. The agents in the immigration booths were polite, but we noticed that every so often, one would get up and take a passport over to the others. They’d look at it, laugh, and then the agent would return. Were they conferring over some visa matter or were they laughing at passport photos? The customs agents made a half-hearted attempt to check our things and we were allowed to pass.

One of the things that I like least about international travel is the “Miss Universe Runway” phenomenon that every traveler encounters upon exiting the customs area. You know, were you are confronted with the masses of people, kept back only by a bar or fence, all of them straining and staring, calling out and holding up name placards. The wall of anonymous faces stares at you from top to bottom as you walk along, until finally, one of the faces looks familiar (if you are visiting friends/family), you see your name on a board (if you are a businessman or tourist) or you manage to get past all the family reunions and awkward introductions and leave the building wondering just how the heck you get to the beach (if you are an independent traveler). Like the Dubai airport, the Kuwait airport was nearly empty, too. We didn’t have to walk the gauntlet with too many faces watching us and we easily found my dad, who greeted us with a smile and a pat on the back. (No hugs and kisses in public!)

Then, there they are, the impressions I still feel so vividly – I walk through the exit doors and a whoosh of hot, dry desert air pounds at me. A kind of heat I had never experienced before. Like someone opened a furnace door in front of me.

I am mildly amused at the Kuwaiti men and their long dishdashas – like a Monty Python movie, four men in dresses and headscarves, piling into a Land Rover. Later it would become so commonplace that when I return to America it will seem odd that no men are wearing it.

We get in my dad’s company car – an old Jeep Cherokee, the kind with the wooden panels on the sides – and make our way home.

I hardly listen to my dad’s commentary. I am too busy staring out the window. It is so barren and brown…and flat. Where are the sand dunes? I’d mistakenly imagined the Sahara. Kuwait is flat. The sky is brilliant blue, no clouds in sight. The sun, intense. Just like you imagine it would be in the desert. I thought about the oil fires and what it must have looked like here to my brother, who had been among the allied forces at the airport in February the year before.

Everyone drives very fast and before long, the city appears before me. Concrete houses the color of mud. And huge. Like palaces.

I am still thinking about the heat when we reach our apartment building. It takes several days more to realize that I have arrived.

Kuwait shall never be forgotten because it completely changed me. My parents thought it would be a great opportunity for me. Little did they know I’d never stop traveling after that move. It’s been 13 years since I left…I’ve completely changed and they say Kuwait has too.